This week’s interview is with JR Fulton, who works as the Capital Planning and Sustainability Manager for Housing & Food Services (HFS), at the University of Washington. Continue reading to learn more about JR’s work promoting sustainability, the many ways HFS at UW works with students and the advice he has for other campus sustainability professionals. Also, be sure not to miss his ideas on the need to make campus sustainability go viral!
What campus sustainability initiatives are you working on at the moment?
I am working on the Climate Action Plan implementation for campus buildings with Capital Projects and Engineering Services. I am also reviewing the possibility of using a ‘tax equity flip’ to provide renewable energy systems to the University for about 5 percent of market cost. I am assisting the UW Program on the Environment (PoE) with an ongoing class, FYI: Roots and Responsibilities of Sustainability. I’m continuing to work to integrate sustainable thinking into our Housing & Food Services (HFS) culture. Finally, I am working on three residence halls and one apartment building that are targeting LEED Gold and meeting the 2030 Challenge for fall 2012.
How did you get started in campus sustainability?
I volunteered and volunteered again, until they let me help, so I could show some usefulness. For me, buildings were the entry point and are still my major passion. Once I realized the devastating effect bad buildings have on the environment and the future of the planet, I began focusing on the energy aspects of buildings. My appetite for change has been expanded to other areas now including students, food, purchasing, etc.
What campus sustainability success are you most proud of?
Watching students and staff initiate, implement, and expand projects like the HFS striving for zero waste compost program or the student-led Campus Sustainability Fund. Personally, I had the opportunity to train over 40 UW staff who became LEED-accredited professionals.
AASHE has featured a few stories on U Washington’s composting initiatives in its weekly bulletin. How does it work and how successful has this program been?
The HFS compost program has been extremely successful due to the work of my colleague Michael Meyering and the HFS residence hall student group, Students Expressing Environmental Dedication (SEED). We work on a large scale, serving over 30,000 meals each day. Compostable food, beverage and service ware waste is collected at all 36 of our food service concepts. We currently are able to provide 98 percent fully compostable service ware at our facilities. Last year we composted over 600 tons of food waste and compostable service ware. We work closely and partner with our local commercial compost company, Cedar Grove, as well as with International Paper, Coca-Cola and other manufacturers to test compostable service ware and ensure that it meets Cedar Grove’s standards for acceptance at their facility. (Items must decompose completely within 60 days in order to be accepted there.) SEED students provide the majority of our peer-to-peer education; they are always asking us to do more and are always available to get it done.
What advice would you give to others in your position who are just getting started?
Find and get to know your partners and allies and what is important to them. Your program’s success is based on motivated people, who are often volunteers. Immerse yourself in ‘sustainable’ knowledge; you will probably need to be a content expert in a few areas and have a good understanding of most areas. Be flexible and persistent. Seek out early successes to build your program, even if they are small, and don’t be afraid to fail or face initial rejection.
In what area(s) do you see the biggest room for growth in the campus sustainability field?
Every member of the university community needs to become a ‘change agent’; we need to campus sustainability to go viral. We need to better integrate ‘sustainable thinking’ into business-as-usual. Sustainability is still seen by some as an add-on; it’s not. The biggest issue we face is getting to carbon neutrality in our operations. Most universities have begun addressing carbon neutrality, but very few have made the significant leap necessary to even get close. The second biggest issue under the radar is for us to begin ‘adaptation planning’ for the coming warming.
How are you incorporating the social dimensions of sustainability into your work?
In many ways, I think that the social equity aspect is the hardest to measure, but it is a viable part of everything. I am a grandfather, which makes me ‘future generational equity’ focused.
How are you tracking your progress toward sustainability?
In our buildings we are using LEED certification and, more importantly, the 2030 Challenge’s focus on energy reduction, as benchmarks. We are beginning to track more metrics on resources and waste reduction.
Is there a particular insight (learning experience or “ah-ha” moment) you have had working on campus sustainability?
When I first started, I was arrogant enough to incorrectly think that I could do much of it on my own and that it would be a matter of years before I could make big changes—a kind of slow-motion ‘ah-ha.’
As the Capital Planning and Sustainability Manager, what are you doing to make housing and food services more sustainable?
We recently had an internal work group, the HFS Sustainability Task Force (STF), which was made up of members of almost all of our units. The STF developed an internal document, Purple goes Green, which identified actions we could take to make environmental stewardship a part of every aspect of our business.
Do you have any exciting projects you are currently planning for the HFS?
The goal of the HFS Housing Master Plan is the addition of approximately 2,500 beds in the next ten years, including the construction of 3–4 new residence halls and 5–6 apartment buildings, and the renovation of all six of our existing residence halls—one or two major buildings every year, for which I am hoping to continue targeting the 2030 Challenge and LEED Gold, and ultimately transform the West Campus neighborhood.
Are there any specific innovative green building features on the U of W campus that may not be found on other campus buildings?
In the planning of our new residence halls, we have used a modified version of the Passive House strategy. This includes providing a better building envelope with significantly less infiltration, as well as better windows and insulation, which will be coupled with high-efficiency heat pumps and 75 percent efficient heat-recovery ventilation (HRV). The HRV will allow us to reduce the amount of air changes (and energy) and maintain healthy ventilation, as it will be 100 percent outside air coming into the buildings. We have also attempted to focus our new projects to create a ‘green’ urban district with mixed use, public amenities and lots of street trees.
In what ways are students involved in your work?
We have a very strong residence hall student group, SEED, within our housing system. SEED has been instrumental in initiating some of our programs, such as composting. SEED also provides the majority of our peer-to-peer education, training students and Resident Advisers. SEED has done research in our buildings, field testing all of our old shower heads to initiate a replacement program. They also assisted in a CFL replacement program within our residence halls. (Over 5,000 incandescent bulbs were replaced with CFLs). One former SEED student then created a CFL replacement program for housing in the Greek system, and followed that with CFL replacements for over 300 UW campus buildings. The SEED students are my ‘go-to’ people.
Are you involved in efforts to advance sustainability in curriculum at University of Washington? How?
I am the only UW staff member on the PoE’s academic advisory board and I have been given the opportunity to help create an ongoing class, FYI: Roots and Responsibilities of Sustainability, which is a survey course in sustainability and focuses on creating and expanding a ‘sustainable wedge’ within the University. The students interact with UW staff members and other outside consultants, such as the City of Seattle and public utilities, to create individual projects. We have created ’sustainable wedges’ on water, energy and the newly renovated PoE offices to date, with Food planned for the spring.
How are you approaching the issues around carbon offsets and or renewable energy credits (RECs)?
Seattle is blessed with electricity that is 93 percent renewable, due to low-head hydro off the Skagit River. For several years, the UW has paid a premium on the remaining 7 percent in order to provide 100 percent renewable electricity on campus. Under the Climate Action Plan, our initial impetus for the UW campus was to use carbon offsets as a last resort, or as required by regulations. That direction has recently shifted and we are now looking at an earlier purchase of carbon offsets.