By Ed Brennen
Some of the energy-saving measures, like the 600-panel solar array atop the South Campus parking garage, are impossible to miss. Others, like occupancy sensors to control lighting in O’Leary and Lydon libraries, are much more discreet.
But big and small, they’re all part of the university’s recently completed $23.1 million Accelerated Energy Program (AEP), an ambitious three-year initiative designed to make the campus more energy-efficient while reducing its carbon footprint.
Four years to the day after announcing the program, officials from UML and the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) marked its completion at an Earth Day celebration at University Crossing.
Chancellor Jacquie Moloney used the occasion to also announce that the university has moved closer to Platinum status from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) for its campuswide sustainability efforts.
With its latest STARS Gold score of 77.56, UML is now the highest-rated campus in Massachusetts and among the top 10 of the 900-plus higher education institutions that use the reporting tool nationwide.
“These are milestones of pride for the entire university,” Moloney told nearly 100 guests at the Earth Day event, which featured a tour of the new Green Roof vegetable garden on the second floor of University Crossing and the unveiling of a sustainability-themed art installation by Asst. Prof. of Art and Design Ingrid Hess. “As faculty, staff and students join together, we are proud of this important work.”
Massachusetts launched the AEP in 2012 as a collaborative effort between DCAMM, the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and Massachusetts utility companies to develop and implement energy- and water-savings projects at 700 locations statewide.
As the state’s largest AEP site to date, the university implemented more than 100 energy-saving measures in 30 buildings across campus over the last three years. More than 6,000 pieces of mechanical equipment and lighting were updated or replaced, including the installation of a new solar hot water system at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, new LED lighting at the Tsongas Center and Costello Athletic Center, and low-flow plumbing fixtures in residence halls.
As a result of these improvements, the university expects to see $1.2 million in annual energy savings. The upgrades will save 1.7 million gallons of water and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 9 million pounds each year. The AEP also eliminates $10 million in deferred maintenance across campus.
Noting that the university has added nearly 1.5 million square feet of campus building space and seen enrollment grow by 57 percent since 2007, Moloney called the results of these improvements “staggering.”
"UMass Lowell is an outstanding example of how to grow in a manner that is both environmentally and fiscally responsible,” said Moloney, who thanked faculty, staff and departments – including Facilities Management, Financial Services and Administrative Services – for their efforts.
Senior Vice Chancellor for Finance, Operations and Strategic Planning Joanne Yestramski pointed to Moloney’s addition of sustainability to the 2020 Strategic Plan in 2015 as a pivotal moment for the university.
“The results we have seen since then have been nothing short of remarkable,” Yestramski said.
DCAMM Commissioner Carol Gladstone praised the university for its commitment to sustainability, adding that it has inspired her agency to raise the bar on sustainability, climate change and global warming in the projects it manages.
“Young people are going to have to deal with what we haven’t dealt with,” Gladstone said. “So thank you for inspiring and exhorting us to do this, because we have to.”
One of those young people, sophomore computer science major Michael Doherty, was impressed by what he learned at the Earth Day event.
“A lot of people I know really care about sustainability, so to see that the administration is listening and cares what students care about is really cool,” Doherty said.
The university submitted its latest STARS assessment to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) in February. UML’s Gold score of 77.56 was a seven-point improvement over its 2016 score of 70.52 – and surpassed its 2020 Strategic Plan goal of 72.0 points.
Director of Sustainability Ruairi O’Mahony, who submitted the report, attributed the jump to gains in categories such as grounds, waste, sustainability literacy assessment and employee well-being.
“No one person or office can change the entire campus; it has to be partnerships and teamwork,” O’Mahony said. “And that’s one area where we do well.”
O’Mahony said the university’s strength is in campus and community engagement. In the past three years, the Office of Sustainability has launched the Sustainability Engagement and Enrichment Development (S.E.E.D.) Fund and partnered with Mill City Grows on the Greenhouse and Urban Farm on East Campus, the FarmShare CSA program and the new Green Roof at University Crossing.
The university has also worked with the city of Lowell to improve conditions for cyclists and pedestrians, and it has partnered with the Lowell Regional Transit Authority and the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority to provide free bus service for students, faculty and staff.
To become the sixth institution in the country to achieve STARS Platinum status, the university needs to reach 85 points. O’Mahony is confident.
“Our whole idea of sustainability here is based on reality, not just saying, ‘Hey, we’re green,’” O’Mahony said. “How we get around campus, how we build our buildings, how we produce students who get good jobs and live good lives – that’s what we do well. And that’s what sustainability means to us.”