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The greening of Loma Linda University

By James Ponder

In an age of dwindling natural resources, Loma Linda University demonstrates its commitment to environmental stewardship by implementing a series of green initiatives and projects to make a difference in the health of our planet.

After recycling more than 6.5 million pounds of concrete, drywall, asphalt, metal, cardboard, and paper when Gentry Gymnasium was torn down in 2007, the department of construction and architectural services wrote recycling clauses into its agreements with all outside contractors working at LLU.

The department also supported the power plant with a number of measures designed to conserve resources. By increasing the temperature difference across water-cooling coils in campus buildings, the department achieved a significant reduction in pumping costs. It further improved the chilled water system’s efficiency by replacing two steam-driven absorbers and one centrifugal chiller, adding an extra chiller, and re-circuiting the system to allow variable flow for energy efficiency.

By far the most visible energy saving endeavor on campus is the six-million-gallon water tower currently under construction alongside the Anderson Street overpass. When fully operational, the monumental tower will further reduce electricity consumption.

“By generating chilled water at night, this system will consume far less electricity,” observes Ken Breyer, MS, assistant vice president. “It will also reduce costs since power is purchased at lower, off-peak rates during the night, and cooling towers operate more efficiently in the cooler evening air.”

Bhushan Shelat, MBA, executive director of support services at LLU Medical Center, recently designed and installed recycling bins throughout the facility. That, however, is not the big news from his department.

“Everybody does commercial recycling of glass, paper, cardboard, plastic, and aluminum,” Mr. Shelat acknowledges. “LLUMC is one of the very few hospitals in America to have recycling containers for clinical supplies in the operating room. Imagine the millions of pounds of material resources that could be saved if this practice were implemented worldwide.”

Another way Mr. Shelat and his team help the environment is by utilizing equipment certified by the Carpet and Rug Institute, which increases efficiency, improves indoor air quality, and reduces water and energy consumption by 30 percent (30%). He also insists that all cleaning products the Medical Center uses are certified by Green Seal, an organization that ensures compliance with eco-friendly standards. 

“If you take a stand for the environment,” he insists, “Mother Nature is going to tell your kids, ‘Hey, your parents did a good job!’”

Donna Gurule, MPH, REHS, environmental health and safety officer, points out that in 2008, LLU recycled 1.6 million pounds of paper. “That equates to 13,377 trees!” she says. Shredding and recycling this amount of paper also saved more than $44,000 in landfill disposal fees and conserved 5.1 million gallons of water.

“We recycle most of our hazardous wastes,” Ms. Gurule says. “We collect solvent wastes from laboratories, and sell it to be used in processing cement. We recycle batteries—alkaline and metal-based—computers, electronic devices, and fluorescent tubes. Last year, we recycled 55,000 pounds of such wastes.

“By using electronic records in the Medical Center,” she adds, “we eliminated rooms full of paper-based medical records. We also reduced hazardous wastes by going digital and eliminating X-ray film.”

Ms. Gurule says we can still do more for Mother Earth. “If we insist on receiving supplies in reusable plastic containers instead of cardboard boxes, we can save lots of time and money in cardboard recycling, which is very labor-intensive.

Do shuttle buses really make a difference to the health of the planet? Steve Hertel, executive director for parking and transportation, insists they do.

“Our shuttle bus rideshare program transports between 25,000 and 32,000 riders per month,” he notes. “Short-haul car trips produce the highest pollution factors because engines don’t have time to fully warm-up. Someone driving from the Medical Center to Palm Springs creates more air pollution in the first mile than the rest of the trip. The Air Quality Management District asked us for a twenty percent reduction in specialty equipment emissions, but we achieved a forty percent decrease by installing the most advanced systems available.”

Mr. Hertel says that whenever the approximately 350 vehicles in the campus fleet come in for routine maintenance, several components—catalytic converters, fuel injectors, electronics, and vapor recovery systems—are inspected to maintain full operating efficiency.

While Mr. Hertel admits tougher environmental standards will be required in the future, he is very proud of what his team has accomplished so far. 

“Taking 25 to 32 thousand drivers off the road every month by our employees riding the shuttles saves an estimated 97,000 gallons of gasoline every year,” he reports. “And that’s not even counting the tons of emissions they eliminate. Not bad for a start!”

Gerhard Steudel, director of landscape services, says his team uses as few natural resources as possible. “We haven’t hauled any green waste to the landfill since 1986,” he reports. It saves thousands of dollars in landfill fees, and significantly reduces the need for expensive and harmful chemical fertilizers.

By practicing integrated pest management—only using pesticides when there’s no other way to control or eliminate infestations—recycling as much trash as possible, and replacing water-guzzling plants and lawns with drought-resistant alternatives at every opportunity, the landscape department seeks to enhance the quality of life in the Inland Empire.

In evaluating the university’s progress towards responsible environmental stewardship, Richard Hart, MD, DrPH, president of LLU, is optimistic about what has been accomplished so far. “Loma Linda University has clearly endorsed the commitment to a greening of the campus,” Dr. Hart observes.

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