From catchy campus billboards to expensive advertisements in TIME magazine, CSU has thrust itself into the national spotlight and the environmental movement, but as economic survival instincts kick in, the “green university” has found it’s not so easy being green.
Just weeks preceding his abrupt resignation last semester, former CSU President Larry Penley in his State of University address sought to solidify a bold “green university” initiative, pledging the school to carbon neutrality by 2020 — a lofty investment even in a time of economic prosperity.
But Penley’s lauded pursuit to bring CSU’s environmental focus into the national spotlight — the predominant theme of his contentious five-year tenure — may have left with him, as drastic budget cuts became the impetus of a dramatic downturn in the heavily marketed campaign and, further, the university’s new identity.
Amid a jarring recession, state budget cuts in higher education totaling $12.5 million so far will thwart CSU in achieving its carbon neutrality goal and have left the university scrambling to sustain its academic core and to avoid layoffs in its faculty and staff.
In an effort to buckle down on spending and keep the university afloat, some of Penley’s most ambitious and expensive green goals may hit the pavement, officials say.
And while CSU heads say the school still deserves the green university moniker, under the leadership of Interim CSU President Tony Frank, administrative focus has starkly shifted from public relations and advertising to one of budgetary forecasting and adjusting.
“We’ll be continuing marketing around the ‘green university’ theme,” Frank said in an e-mail.
He explained, though, that CSU’s public relations department, which includes its marketing efforts, will see budget reductions, as it is at a “place where some level of reduction can be attained without losing personnel” because of the money Penley funneled into it in past years.
CSU still has $4.2 million currently invested in green projects university-wide, but the initiatives necessary to complete the goals, such as the purchase of wind turbines and major sources of solar power in five to 10 years, may no longer be economically viable options, said Brian Chase, director of Facilities Management.
“We still have reason to believe we’ll achieve most of (Penley’s goals),” Chase said, “but it may take a few years longer.”
Still outstanding initiatives include:
-The implementation of a 100-acre wood tree farm at the Foothills campus, which will absorb carbon and help in storm water retention — Funded with Board of Governors grant money designated for energy conservation
-A solar biomass plant, which will allow the university to burn wood chips in a boiler that produces 96 percent fewer emissions than natural forest fires — Funded with Board of Governors grant money designated for energy conservation
-Solar panels that will be installed on the new parking garage and on the Engineering building — Paid for with student parking fees
-The replacement of fluorescent tubes with more efficient energy efficient lighting
-A wind farm, planned for construction on CSU’s Maxwell Ranch property, located near the Wyoming border, which officials hope will bring the university upwards of $30 million in revenue — Financed by a private wind developer, Wind Holdings
Carol Dollard, an engineer with Facilities Management, said CSU’s current carbon footprint is “a long way from zero,” resting at 250,000 metric tons, or 250 million kilograms, of CO2 equivalent.
“At some point, when you’ve made your buildings all very efficient and you’ve done what you can with smaller projects, you’re going to have to install wind turbines or solar things that might be more expensive than the university has resources for right now,” she said, emphasizing that CSU’s carbon neutrality date is not firm.
Dollard said now, the university’s progress in its initiatives will depend on its next president’s priorities.
“Frankly, there’s a lot of transitions going on right now between budgets and leadership, (as far as) if Tony Frank is going to be our president or if there is going to be someone else, and so, we’re sort of waiting for a little bit of that to shift out,” she said.
A month after he took the university’s helm, Frank, whose interim term could contractually last up to two years, said it was necessary for CSU to evaluate where it wants to be on the curve of change in pioneering green developments.
The university, he said, must decide whether it wants to be first to introduce new practices or whether “watching to see what develops” would be a better choice.
At that time last semester, Brad Bohlander, top university spokesperson, went so far as to say that Penley’s carbon neutrality goal would be referred to in the future as a plan, because “‘goal’ might be a strong word.”
Frank acknowledged that the possibility of taking a more conservative stance regarding carbon neutral technologies may forego some benefits but said he believed re-evaluation of the university’s initiatives was necessary.
Mark Minor, vice president of public affairs, said cuts to CSU’s administrative side, which includes public affairs, are causing the green marketing campaign to scale back.
The effort — which, under Penley’s direction, saw full-page advertisement spreads in publications such as TIME magazine — will see fewer billboards and commercials, with no supplemental advertising to take place this spring.
And when Frank cut administrative positions at the end of last year to create what would become a $1.5 million reserve fund, the managing director of climate initiatives and carbon assets title — one that Penley created at the beginning of the fall semester — was among those to go first.
Additionally, in January, Karen Klimczak, the CSU System’s marketing director and associate vice president of Marketing for the Fort Collins campus, was laid off from her system position and, because the Fort Collins campus’ budget could not afford to fund her salary on its own, CSU “had no choice but to let her go,” Minor said.
But last week, Bohlander said no green initiatives — save for Penley’s neutrality plan — have changed.
“Our timeline might change, but we certainly are going to move forward toward a carbon neutral university,” he said.
And though Chase said his department had agreed with Penley’s assertive timeframe when the former president pitched it, he also said the university was not yet aware of the impending cuts it would face soon after Penley gave his September address.
Chase said the costly purchases of the green energy-producing mechanisms were pieces of the carbon-neutrality goal that were still “seven to 10 years out,” and CSU, he said, is still pushing forward in its already-undertaken green projects.
Michele McKinney, head spokesperson for the CSU System Board of Governors, said the board, which will be responsible for hiring the next president, has not yet determined a criteria list for the position but said the university’s work in energy efficiency was one of its top strengths.
“Early on, (the board has been) very pleased with the progress CSU has made in the field of green work and sustainability and wants the university to continue in that direction,” she said.
What’s next for the ‘green university?’
Utility and natural gas consumption make up the largest parts of CSU’s carbon footprint, Dollard said, and the university’s green initiatives require further work to make a noticeable impact.
“It wasn’t one issue that got us into this problem, and it’s not going to be one project that gets us out,” she said. “You’re not going to plant your way out of a carbon footprint.”
This September, CSU must officially document its carbon footprint per the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment, a Penley-signed pledge to work toward eliminating global warming emissions and to provide knowledge to students about how to become carbon neutral.
Additionally, in September 2010, CSU must write its climate action plan, which will set forth a date by which it will actually achieve carbon neutrality.
Bohlander said the university intends to seek federal stimulus money coming from President Barack Obama’s national economic recovery package to fund additional projects in working toward that goal.
And future buildings will all be built to Leadership in Energy in Environmental Design Gold certification, Chase said, which mandates that budgets for new buildings must allocate money to be spent on solar paneling.
Though this makes such construction more expensive, he said “it’s going to look like a bargain,” should electricity costs go up.
Additionally, Chase said his department tracks utility information for university dormitories to track extraneous costs, and he said Frank intends to bring in a consulting group from Portland to help create a program that would give incentives to students biking, carpooling or busing to campus.
Chase said the university can take the money it’s spending on “wasteful” expenses and use it instead for energy conservation projects. This, he said, will help such projects pay for themselves.
“If you can eliminate waste in order to pay for renewables, it really is a win-win situation.”
News Managing Editor Elyse Jarvis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By the numbers:
-$300,000 – The amount the university budgeted in the past two years for brand advertising. CSU’s brand includes four key points, one of which is “deep expertise and commitment to advancing global and environmental sustainability.”
-$112,000 – Money spent from the budgeted $300,000 for cable TV commercials in Denver and Fort Collins.
-$33,000 – Money spent from the budgeted $300,000 for bowl and national advertisements.
-$45,000 – Money spent from the budgeted $300,000 for billboards and outdoor advertisements in Denver.
-$24,000 – Total money spent on the Green Man campaign, which included the banners in the Lory Student Center, local print advertisements and the $1,050 paid to the student who played the Green Man in two photoshoots and one personal appearance.
-$14,800 – Money spent on a three-way media deal for a single ad that appeared in TIME magazine, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report in the Denver area.
-$25,000 – The amount of money pulled from the marketing for the green campaign this year, though many of the advertisements were run and already paid for last fall.