Armando de Leon and Elizabeth Bowling Luca DiCecco

Think your utility bills are high? During the month of August, it cost $21,769.85 just to cool Newcomb Hall. The University is making eye-opening numbers like these available on its online “Building Dashboard,” which displays energy use in Newcomb Hall. With the click of a mouse, one can view the amount of water or energy that has been used in the building during the last hour in terms of dollars, toilet flushes or light bulb hours—whatever format is easiest to visualize. The Web site helps students understand how their own energy use is part of a combined total and that their personal behavior can have a big impact. Sustainability program manager Armando de Leon and energy engineer Elizabeth Bowling, both of the Facilities Management Department, can tell you exactly where and how energy is used on Grounds.

Bowling (Col ’75, Educ ’78, Engr ’82) has degrees in environmental science and mechanical engineering from the University. “I’ve been interested in energy conservation since I was a student in the ’70s,” Bowling says. “After the ‘oil crisis’ was over, there was little emphasis on energy conservation. I was pleased when [conservation] returned to the forefront.”

De Leon, who came to the U.S. from Havana, Cuba, with his parents in the early 1960s, got his start in resource conservation and engineering management at the University of Miami. De Leon acknowledges that managing energy use at a university of this size is challenging but exciting. The University has roughly 15 million square feet of building space—with one million more to be added by 2012—and there are plans to make each square foot as sustainable as possible.

The University uses new technology to save energy: motion sensors that turn off lights in unoccupied spaces, electronic service vehicles and remotely adjusted temperature controls. While there is a fair amount of paperwork and phone calls to return as with any job, de Leon and Bowling spend time out in the field, looking at mechanical rooms, assessing sites and data, and speaking about how to conserve energy. Their efforts are paying off, and improvements quickly pay for themselves. One medical research building, MR4, saved more than $500,000 last year after a sustainability audit and upgrade. The audits focus on every aspect of consumption—heating, cooling, lighting, recycling and insulating the fittings and valves of steam pipes in mechanical rooms. A faulty steam trap—a valve that discharges the condensate from the steam that heats the building—can cost thousands of dollars a year.

Environmental programs piloted at the University tend to set an example for the rest of the state; for instance, the University was one of the first institutions to begin a recycling program in the 1970s. Now it diverts almost half of its waste from landfills. “Metals, plastics, cell phones, computers. Pretty much everything but polystyrene is recycled,” Bowling says.

“It’s important for people to think beyond the point of contact,” says de Leon. “When you drink one of those [plastic] bottles of water, it’s not just the bottle. It took about a third of a bottle of petroleum just to produce that one bottle.”

De Leon suggests that we should remember that every time we flip a switch or turn on a faucet, we are making a purchase. “It’s important for people to understand that there is a cost associated with their choices,” he says.