Treading Lightly

The University of La Verne has become the second seat of higher education in California to join the Billion Dollar Green Challenge — for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do.

The Challenge, launched by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, encourages colleges, universities, and other nonprofit institutions to invest a combined total of $1 billion in self‐managed funds to finance energy efficiency improvements.  This is something that could be an action item pulled straight from La Verne’s own Mission Statement.  It is in La Verne’s institutional DNA.

In other words, La Verne is again not just talking the talk, but walking the walk, joining Cal Tech as the only two California schools so far to sign on with the program.  Thirty-eight other schools are also making such a commitment to sustainability.  The Challenge seeks to create a network of institutions that will launch cost-saving sustainability projects on campus.  Each institution committed to the challenge must establish a fund, separate from other capital projects, which will be used only to fund green initiatives on its campus.

When the plans were drawn up for the Sara & Michael Abraham Campus Center, it had enough green components built in that it earned Silver Certification from Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED).  The university’s next project, a 100,000+ square-foot residence hall now known as Vista La Verne, earned LEED Gold Certification for going to extensive lengths to promote and facilitate sustainability.

It was a little more expensive, but going to such lengths fit right in with the way La Verne operates.

“The University of La Verne has had a long history of concern for the environment and sustainability and this is reflected in the language of our new 2020 Strategic Vision,” said Clive Houston-Brown, La Verne’s Associate Vice President of Facility & Technology Services & CIO.  “Our last two major construction projects, a 40,000-square-foot Campus Center and a 102,000-square-foot residence hall, are both LEED-certified buildings (Silver and Gold respectively). It is only natural that we would seek to participate in a challenge that would allow us to take more active steps towards implementing sustainable solutions on our campus.”

During the next six years, La Verne will work to build its fund, which could be used for such things as replacing traditional light bulbs around campus with energy-saving LED fixtures. Under the plan, all money saved by such measures goes back into the fund to be used for additional projects that will save additional energy and operating costs. These “revolving” funds remain dedicated to green projects, where the savings realized from such measures are reinvested into the account.

There are additional benefits suggested by, such as:

  • Institutionalizing a mechanism for funding efficiency. Green revolving funds provide perpetual resources, even if budgets tighten and funding becomes more scarce in the future. A dedicated fund, rather than a series of one-off investments, provides a formal and more secure commitment that ensures cost-saving efficiency projects will be funded.
  • Streamlining the internal loan process. It is often easier for facilities staff to access a dedicated fund for financing projects than to navigate a more complex funding structure each time they want to acquire capital from the university.
  • Implementing performance tracking. A revolving fund helps guide the measuring of cost savings and energy data, which can then be used to benchmark against the performance of peer institutions.
  • Instilling sustainability as an institutional value. All members of the campus community interact with a green revolving fund, whether through student research, implementing facilities projects, financial tracking, or Board and administration leadership on sustainability. Green measures are also very marketable, and provide tangible evidence that demonstrates a commitment to sustainability in ways that one-time allocations do not.

“Establishing a Green Revolving Fund ensures that the university is always able to continue its commitment to sustainability,” Houston-Brown said. “The fund will allow us to implement projects that will reduce our carbon footprint and ensure we are efficient and judicious in our energy use. It will also provide us with the opportunity to develop living laboratories whereby our students can be exposed to hands-on sustainability efforts and projects in addition to the intellectual exposure to such issues in the classroom.”

Thirty-nine other schools feel the same way and have backed it up with $72 million, so far.  Along with them, La Verne leads a new movement to reduce the environmental impact of industry, even one light bulb or one plastic bottle at a time.