NU becomes first university since 2004 to be named ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year


(Daily file photo by Alec Carroll)

Faculty senators discuss the Strategic Sustainability Plan in November. Those guidelines will help the University reach its environmental goals for 2020 and 2050.

Rachel Kupfer, Reporter

Northwestern has been named an ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year for energy management, an honor given to partners who have continuously organized and carried out plans to monitor and conserve energy, becoming the first university since 2004 to win the award.

Thousands of organizations applied for the honor, but only 15 — including NU — won in the energy management category, according to the website for ENERGY STAR, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program that provides organizations with energy information.

Winners are leaders “in the development and adoption of strategies that provide substantial energy and money savings in the buildings where we live and work,” according to ENERGY STAR’s website. A ceremony will be held by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., later this month, according to a Northwestern news release.

Kathia Benitez, NU’s director of sustainability, said she hopes the award will be a catalyst and inspiration for other universities to follow NU’s environmental efforts.

“I see Northwestern as being a pioneer for change in higher education,” Benitez told The Daily. “It’s about being thought of as leaders and movers and shakers in this industry.”

This was the third year in a row the University has applied, and Benitez said ENERGY STAR’s guidance over time, along with a recent audit of six years of energy data, helped NU finally achieve Partner of the Year status.

The audit revealed NU has “reduced energy use intensity (energy use per square foot) 12 percent compared to the baseline year of 2012, despite adding 815,000 square feet of space,” according to the NU news release.

In addition to the audit, NU also uses ENERGY STAR’S Portfolio Manager to track energy, water and waste in buildings across campus. Education and outreach efforts, including participation in an annual Evanston street festival and activities surrounding Wildcat Welcome and Earth Day, were also among the reasons NU received the award, said Stephanie Folk, the University’s sustainability communications manager.

“Not only are we making improvements, but we are monitoring and measuring the impact so we know we are making the impacts we want,” Folk said. “We have inspiration and motivation to keep up that momentum in our efforts for sustainability and accomplish even more going forward.”

Looking ahead, Northwestern’s sustainability programs will follow the Strategic Sustainability Plan, which includes the goals of reaching zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and reducing energy consumption 20 percent by 2020 from a 2010 baseline.

Benitez said NU will also continue the partnership with ENERGY STAR that began in 2015 and allowed the University to utilize company tools to compare benchmarks and statistics with other organizations.

Amid the buzz surrounding the award, though, the University hopes to leverage resources and increase visibility and campus engagement, Benitez said.

“We’ll have a lot of opportunities to stand on national platforms to talk about how we’ve gone about auditing our data and coming up with strategic energy management programs that will get us to this energy reduction goal,” Benitez said. “We want to overall affect the greater mission, which is climate change.”

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