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10/17/2011 07:00:00

Caltech Joins Billion Dollar Green Challenge

In a collaborative effort with 32 other leading U.S. institutions, Caltech has helped launch the Billion Dollar Green Challenge, an initiative to invest a cumulative total of one billion dollars to fund energy-efficiency upgrades on campuses across the country.

Caltech was the first institution to make the commitment to use self-managed green revolving funds for sustainability improvements as part of the challenge. These profitable investments help create green jobs in campus communities while lowering operating costs on college and university campuses.

"We're transforming energy efficiency upgrades from perceived expenses to high-return investment opportunities," said Mark Orlowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, which is coordinating the challenge along with 13 partner organizations, in a statement. "Caltech should be commended for rising to the challenge and investing in energy efficiency improvements on campus."

The Billion Dollar Green Challenge launched publicly on October 11. Guided by a 34-member expert advisory council, the challenge offers technical assistance, best-practices sharing, access to an advanced web-based tool for managing green revolving funds, peer institutions' project-specific data, and invitations to specialized webinars and conferences.

Caltech currently has an $8 million revolving fund for sustainability efforts, which is getting a return of about 30 percent while improving building performance, says John Onderdonk, manager of sustainability programs. Initiatives supported thus far by the fund include mechanical-equipment upgrades in eight buildings and lighting upgrades in over 50 percent of the campus structures.

"We are proud to be a Founding Circle member of the Billion Dollar Green Challenge," says Onderdonk. "For the past three years we have proven that a revolving loan fund is an effective vehicle for investing in our campus to save energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the Institute's bottom line.  The challenge gives us the opportunity to share that success with others and ensure our program remains state-of-the-art."

Caltech's growing commitment to sustainability has not gone unnoticed. Recently, the Annenberg Center for Information Science and Technology and the Schlinger Laboratory for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering were selected to be honored at the inaugural Sustainable Innovation Awards during the Green Gala on November 3, 2011. The Green Gala is a United States Green Building Council, Los Angeles chapter, event that highlights sustainable building in Southern California.

In addition, the Institute won the award for Model Community Achievement from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD). Presented jointly to the City of Pasadena, Pasadena City College, and Caltech, the accolade recognizes contributions to cleaner air and is part of the AQMD's 23rd annual Clean Air Awards.

"From an organization that plants trees to a manufacturer that builds all-electric cars, this year's honorees demonstrate their creativity and commitment in showing us there are many ways we can improve our air quality," said AQMD governing board chairman William A. Burke, in a statement. "Their actions speak to the difference that one person or organization can make in cleaning the air."

Caltech was recognized for its implementation of a wide range of complex energy-efficiency projects that resulted in an annual energy savings of 8.3 million kilowatt-hours, equivalent to $1.3 million in utility cost savings in 2009–2010. These projects reduced Caltech's greenhouse emissions by more than 6,000 metric tons.

In addition, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education recently announced that Caltech is home to the second largest rooftop solar installation among universities in the United States.

"These awards recognize the significant investment that everyone at Caltech has made to improve the Institute," says Onderdonk. "Whether formally as a member of the sustainability council, the committee on greenhouse gas reduction, or a division green team; or informally by taking individual action in your daily lives, the entire campus community has helped raise the bar."

For more information on environmental efforts around campus, visit the Sustainability at Caltech website

Written by Katie Neith