World Water Day

March 22, 2013

Today is World Water Day, a day to focus on sustainable management and conservation of freshwater resources. College campuses are large consumers of water, so here at The Billion Dollar Green Challenge we decided to celebrate the day by highlighting some exciting projects that green revolving funds have supported, with an eye towards water conservation.

Water efficiency projects are a natural fit for a green revolving fund (GRF) as they provide tangible environmental benefits and can have quick paybacks. Even smaller-scale projects such as installing low-flow showerheads, toilets, and faucet aerators in bathrooms or setting up water bins to collect rainwater for campus gardens can have big impacts. Schools like the University of Southern Maine, Harvard University, and Bethany College (Kansas) have already devoted some of their GRF funding to projects that conserve water.

Last year, the University of Southern Maine spent $17,000 from their Revolving Green Fund to upgrade over 300 showerheads in student dorms. These higher-efficiency showerheads reduced water use from 2.6 to 1.5 gallons per minute, as well as the amount of natural gas needed to heat the water. The project was paid back with cost savings in a little over four months, and is saving the University over $48,000 per year or around $200 a day. William Dunlay, the Director of Energy and Utilities at USM, says that the cost savings have actually increased since the project’s completion due to recent spikes in natural gas prices. This project’s environmental benefits are also impressive, with over three million gallons of water saved per year.

Harvard’s Green Loan Fund used a small portion of their $12 million fund to purchase high-efficiency toilets and waterless urinals. The water-saving equipment, which was installed in in three academic and administrative buildings in 2008, cost the fund $34,000. With a 37 percent return on investment and 2.7 year payback, the project has saved over 210,000 gallons of water each year since installation.

Grand Valley State University (Michigan) used a GRF loan to reduce plastic water bottles by installing 14 water stations on campus. The stations have removed 20,000 bottles from the school’s waste stream.

While many infrastructure changes at a university can save water, some schools focus on changing the behavior around consumption. The Bethany College Green Fund, for example, funded seven ‘hydration stations,’ or water bottle refill stations, through a GRF loan. Bethany’s student activities board gives out water bottles to the student body every year, which students can use at the new stations.To raise awareness of water use, the hydration stations measure the amount of water that users consume, a figure that Bethany tracks at an average of 5,101 liters per month. This equates to thousands of plastic bottles not used on the Bethany campus each month and more than 10,000 liters of water not used in the production of the plastic bottles. Students also benefit by saving money not spent on buying bottled water, a cost savings that Bethany uses to justify a 1.4 year payback.

“We chose this project as the first one to fund from our green revolving fund because it would impact students in their daily lives and would make the revolving fund more visible,” says GRF committee member and Bethany’s Campus Pastor Noni Strand, whose committee also advertises the GRF above the water refilling stations to promote the fund. “Water is becoming a limited resource in Kansas. People think we can keep using water and it will always be there, but it is becoming a huge issue.” Due to the area’s recent water scarcity, the grounds crew at Bethany has also taken some steps towards water conservation and recently removed some campus flower beds in favor of vegetation that is less water-intensive.

The potential for water conservation projects remains a largely untapped area for investment through the GRF model, but with the development of the Green Revolving Investment Tracking System (GRITS) it will become easier than ever to share successful projects with institutions across the country. Over the coming year, we hope to see more facilities staff, students, faculty, and administrators get creative about how their school can save water and become more sustainable campuses.