Jack Baum, left, and Ray Gonzalez put in solar panels.
University of Colorado Engineering students started to install roof-integrated photovoltaic panels in the school's latest Solar Decathlon entry in 2007.
Cliff Grassmick
Jack Baum, left, and Ray Gonzalez put in solar panels. University of Colorado Engineering students started to install roof-integrated photovoltaic panels in the school’s latest Solar Decathlon entry in 2007.

The University of Colorado Student Government has reached carbon neutrality in its student-fee funded facilities, which includes the University Memorial Center, the Recreation Center and Wardenburg Health Center — just five years after announcing the goal.

Dave Newport, director of CU’s Environmental Center, said reduced energy consumption, increasing renewable energy and helping reduce carbon emission in the community helped the facilities eliminate the emissions of greenhouse gases.

“CU students are doing what they’ve been doing for decades, leading national sustainability efforts,” Newport said. “This is another step towards becoming and living up to our reputation as the nation’s greenest campus.”

The three largest student-run facilities on campus — the UMC, Rec Center and Wardenberg — have reduced energy use by 15 percent over the last five years, saving about $1.6 million, Newport said.

“Turning off the lights is No. 1, when it’s not being used,” Newport said. “Then if we are running a light, we need to make sure it’s as efficient as possible.”

CUSG also worked with Facilities Management to install solar panels on CU buildings, which contribute enough energy to power about 80 houses, Newport said.

Carly Robinson, CUSG vice president for internal affairs, said while the student administrations change yearly, the Environmental Center has remained the constant enforcement that ensures the success of CUSG’s sustainability goals.

“We can’t really take credit, it’s all due to the Environmental Center,” Robinson said.

Newport said the student-run buildings were unable to produce zero emissions within the five-year goal, so fees were used to support others reducing carbon emissions. This allowed CU to subtract the remaining carbon emissions from the facilities on campus to zero.

One of the offsetting projects included solar thermal system installations to heat water for low-income housing in Loveland.

“It was not possible to do it all at once without offsetting,” Newport said.

According to the most recent data from 2009, the Boulder campus emitted about 138,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas and offset about little more than 4,000 metric tons.

“That’s only about 3 percent,” Newport said. “That’s tiny.”

About $50,000 of student fees are going to offsetting programs, Newport said.

The ultimate goal is to reduce the offsets to zero with the campus producing no carbon emissions, but it will take a “completely rebuilt campus” and more renewable energy to achieve the lofty goal, Newport said. 

A $63 million renovation of the campus Recreation Center, which is expected to reduce the building’s energy use by 75 percent or more from the current facility, is just one of the future improvements expected to help reduce offsets, he said. 

Robinson said upholding the carbon neutrality will be important for the future, but said she is confident the Environmental Center will be able to maintain that goal.

CUSG is also looking at increasing sustainability training across campus — specifically in Student Affairs, teaching faculty and staff about zero waste stations and energy use, she said.

CU faculty and staff will discuss the achievement and future sustainability efforts at a conference Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the UMC. Visit ecenter.colorado.edu to register.