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7 sustainability initiatives at MSU Denver

The idea of sustainability resonates in a big way at MSU Denver; see how the Auraria Campus is using innovative practices to be as environmentally friendly as possible.

By Kristen Lotze

August 22, 2017

MSU Denver junior Aldo Ascencia holds on to a B-cycle bike that are available to rent at a station located on Auraria Campus. Photo  by Alyson McClaran
MSU Denver junior Aldo Ascencia holds on to a B-cycle bike that are available to rent at a station located on Auraria Campus. Photo by Alyson McClaran

On the Auraria Campus and at MSU Denver, groups such as the Sustainable Campus Program, the Auraria Campus Sustainability Council and the Auraria Higher Education Center work to ensure sustainability efforts.

Here are seven sustainability initiatives:

1) Renewable Energy

Finding viable sources of renewable energy has presented a challenge for different types of industries for many years. The ability to produce continual energy without the use of fossil fuels not only saves money, it works wonders for the environment. One such technology has found its way to the Auraria campus: solar panels.

On top of the Arts Building rests the Solar PV Array (phase two complete). The panels generate 110,000 kilowatt-hours per year, which decreases carbon-dioxide emissions by 100 tons. This project not only reduces the campus’ need for fossil-fuel consumption, it will also serve to educate the campus community. The SCP continues to explore additional solar-panel installations to continue the long-term goal of reducing campus use of fossil fuels as an energy source.

2) Energy Efficiency

MSU Denver has made some amazing strides in using energy efficiently and effectively. Most of the buildings on campus have been retrofitted with LED lighting, and many have state-of-the-art lighting controls, thereby reducing overall energy usage. Also noteworthy is that Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a rating system devised by the U.S. Green Building Council, evaluates the environmental performance of a building and encourages market transformation toward sustainable design; there are different tiers (platinum, gold, silver, etc.), based on various LEED criteria.

MSU Denver is home to two LEED Gold-certified buildings: the Student Success Building and the MSU Denver HLC and Hotel. For the rest of the Auraria Campus, the Science Building and The Auraria Library have been awarded LEED Gold. The Fifth Street garage is pending silver certification but is expected to receive a gold certification as well, as it boasts three electric-car charging stations plus LED technology and lighting controls, making it highly energy-efficient.

3) Waste Diversion and Management

Any college campus can produce a lot of waste. With tens of thousands of students and faculty on site every day, the garbage can really start to pile up. To combat this issue, MSU Denver implemented a campuswide single-stream recycling program in January 2010, allowing paper, plastics, metals and more to be reprocessed. The initiative has since reduced the amount of waste sent from the campus to the landfill significantly.

The Tivoli Student Union is also host to a custom three-bin waste, recycling and composting program that produces a tangible waste-diversion system that can be used year-round for campus events. These composting efforts helped MSU Denver earn the Environmental Protection Agency’s Certificate of Achievement in the 2014 Food Recovery Challenge.

4) Water Efficiency and Conservation

Water is a precious and sometimes-scarce resource in this part of the country, but through several updates and innovations, the MSU Denver campus has found a way to reduce or eliminate unnecessary use. For example, retrofitted shower fixtures in the PE/Events Center have made the showers 65 percent more efficient. More spectacularly, the Auraria Campus underwent a total overhaul of plumbing fixtures, which has resulted in saving 3 million gallons of water per year. That’s a 5 percent reduction of water use overall.

The Student Success Building is one of two LEED Gold-certified buildings at MSU Denver. The other is the Hospitality Learning Center. Photo: Aly McClaran.
The Student Success Building is one of two LEED Gold-certified buildings at MSU Denver. The other is the Hospitality Learning Center. Photo: Aly McClaran.

As if that’s not impressive enough, the Total Dissolved Solids project ― currently in the works ― will aim to reclaim and reuse cooling-tower water until it becomes unusable, instead of sending it down the drain after one use. The project is expected to save 19 million gallons of water per year, which breaks down to roughly 30 percent of campus usage.

5) Education and Outreach

Educating and reaching out to the community about the best ways to responsibly use natural resources is just another way MSU Denver is helping to shape future sustainability efforts. Informing others about current issues and teaching them how they can make an impact in their own community will only help to perpetuate and expand environmental innovations down the line. Through projects such as the mural at the Fifth Street Hub (commissioned by AHEC and the City and County of Denver’s Urban Art Fund) which serves as a billboard to promote sustainability, and the Arts Building Real-Time Energy Display that promotes the solar-panel project and educates occupants about solar technology, MSU Denver is finding inventive ways to get the word out about sustainability.

6) Food and Gardens

Food and gardens are also an integral part of the “going green” process. The SCP seeks to reduce the negative environmental effects often associated with traditional landscaping and agriculture practices and promote sustainable urban horticulture.

To grow healthy vegetation in our metropolitan location, some creative thinking went into the process. First, there is the vegetated rooftop at the Student Success Building, which provides such benefits as improved stormwater management, a reduced urban-heat-island effect, reduced dust/particulates in the air, roof-membrane protection (which increases the life of the roof) and improved building insulation. It has also been suggested that being in proximity to, or even just viewing, vegetated roofs can improve health, well-being and productivity.

The SSB vegetated roof isn’t the only notable garden on campus either — there’s also the Auraria Shade Garden at the Plaza Building. The area received an update several years ago in which all of the old plants were replaced with drought-tolerant plants that flourish in shaded areas. The garden also implemented a new, high-efficiency irrigation system that eliminates wasting of water.

The third project funded by SCP is the Connect Auraria Community Garden adjacent to the Science Building off Arapahoe Road. Construction on the community garden commenced in fall 2015 and was completed in early spring 2016. To make the Connect Auraria Community Garden a reality, AHEC partnered with Denver Urban Gardens. The community garden has 16 plots available to campus participants who wish to grow plants and vegetables but may not have access to a space to do so at their home.

7) Alternate Transportation

Colorado has long prided itself on being commuter-friendly ― it’s common to see people walking or biking to work on a daily basis. To encourage such healthy habits, MSU Denver has tried to make its campus as bike-accessible as possible. The solar-powered B-Cycle station at Ninth and Curtis, two tool-equipped Fix-it Stations on campus and abundant bike racks (including a new secure bike-parking facility in the Tivoli Parking Garage and accessed with a campus ID card) make biking to work or class more convenient. The light rail also has two stops on campus, so even if biking isn’t an option, there are still easy alternatives to driving a car to work.

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