Wash U. to spend $30 million on energy conservation projects | St. Louis Public Radio

Wash U. to spend $30 million on energy conservation projects

Mar 27, 2013

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Washington University plans to spend $30 million on sustainability efforts over the next five years, a push that comes as the institution gears up to host a big meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative.

The university announced on Wednesday afternoon that it plans to spend $30 million over the next five or six years on energy conservation projects.

Hank Webber, the university’s executive vice chancellor for administration, said that money will accelerate investments in improving energy efficiency,  heating and cooling systems and waste management.

The roughly 60 energy conservation projects will be implemented on the Danforth and medical school campuses and are projected to reduce emissions by more than 50,000 metric tons of CO2, according to a handout from the university.

“It is announcing a win-win-win,” Webber said in an interview with the Beacon. “It’s announcing a program that will be good for the environment. It’s announcing a program that will show how a large institution can reduce its environmental footprint while meeting its mission. And it’s a program that over time will more than pay for itself. It’s economically good for the university because it will pay for itself by reduced energy costs over time.”

The above video shows Webber making the announcement.

The announcement comes as Washington University is set to host the Clinton Global Initiative University from April 5 to April 7. Former President Bill Clinton established CGI in 2005 to bring global leaders together to “create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.”

Webber said the Clinton Global Initiative asked for an “institutional commitment” from the host institution. 

“This is an effort that we have been working on,” Webber said. “We have been making these energy investments over time. And we said, ‘Is there a way we can jumpstart this? Is there a way we can speed up what we’re doing? Is there a way we can bring greater focus to it?’ We have a working group that was thinking of this. But the [CGI] gave focus to our activities and helped us see through the decision of what would happen if we speeded up this activity considerably.”

He went on to say that the projects could range from something as simple as replacing lighting around the university to complex energy efficiency plans for the institution’s older buildings. He added the $30 million investment is coming from the university’s general fund, not a large donation.

The investments are part of a broader goal to reduce greenhouse emissions at Washington University 22 percent by 2020.

“It is a large investment; we’re a large institution,” Webber said. “We have on our two core campuses – not counting west campus or north campus – we have almost 12 million square feet of real estate. So I do want to note that. But we have a large physical presence. But it’s a large investment.”

Webber said he hopes this initiative will push other large institutions – such as health-care institutions, city governments and state government – to take similar steps to increase sustainability. Asked if it was easier for Washington University to undertake such an investment because it is a private institution, Webber said, “I can’t speak for institutions that I’m not part of.”

“We’ve proven that you can do good and do well in this area,” said Webber, adding that the university has been instituting sustainability measures for some time. “What it requires is capital. You do need to make an investment up front.”

Colbert comes to town

The Clinton Global Initiative University meeting at Washington University is expected to draw hundreds of college students from around the country.

In addition to appearances from Clinton and his daughter Chelsea Clinton, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and actor Matthew Perry are among the dozens of speakers expected to participate.

One of the marquee events of the weekend will feature comedian Stephen Colbert interviewing the former president. The Saturday interview will air on the Comedy Central star’s "Colbert Report" on April 8.

Colbert said in a statement earlier this week that he is “thrilled and honored to be interviewing President Clinton, and I assume he is aware this is happening.”