University of South Carolina

Luna: Sustainability 'mainstream' at Carolina

USC’s Gene Luna, associate vice president for University Housing and Student Development, was recently appointed to the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s National Advisory Council until 2015. We caught up with Luna to discuss USC’s sustainability efforts and his role in the “greening” of campus.

Why is sustainability important for USC?

As the flagship for the state, the University of South Carolina is uniquely positioned to model and promote sustainability throughout South Carolina. In addition, regardless of a student’s major and planned career, having basic understanding of sustainability will be increasingly important. Sustainability issues touch all employment paths and will only increase in importance for our future graduates.


What role have you played in making USC “greener”?

I’ve been a member of the World Future Society since my mid-20s and recognized that sustainability was going to be much more than a societal trend many years ago. In my former role as director of University Housing, I had the ability to experiment in the early and mid-’90s. 

I started with the laundry rooms in the residence halls and had engineers provide an estimate of the potential savings if we converted to the emerging technology with front loading washers and dryers. Over the objections of our laundry vendor, we required the company to change all our equipment to these machines, costly as they were at the time. The result was a savings of 2 million gallons of water and $15,000 savings in gas and electricity annually.


How did that lead to Green Quad, the university’s first “green” building?

In 1999, Dean Bruce Coull, then the School of the Environment had the president establish the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) and I was one of the first members. After one meeting of the EAC, I mentioned to Coull that I was getting ready to start designing a new residence complex. He casually suggested I make it a “green” building and I agreed, although I didn’t really know yet what a “green” building was and who certified them. 

In 2001, we began design of Green Quad with architects and engineers who had never done a green building and hired a contractor who had never built one. Together, with University Housing, we delivered the university’s first LEED-certified building, opening it in 2004, and it quickly became as we envisioned, “a beacon for sustainability” for the university, the Columbia metro area and throughout the state.


What has been the impact of that?

What I failed to realize at first was the regional and national attention it would bring to USC. In the first two to three years, we hosted thousands of visitors for tours, hosted the creation of initial meetings of the S.C. chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, hosted and toured the secretary of energy and Stanford University’s architect among others. I also participated in the ultimate development of a state statute that requires all publicly funded new construction to meet the same LEED criteria as Green Quad. 

We have won numerous awards for these and other efforts, and the university has been seen as a nationwide leader in the sustainability movement. University Housing continues its leadership and now has built or renovated six “green” residence halls, with Patterson Hall and the Honors Residence achieving LEED Gold certification.


Green Quad was the largest green residence hall in the country in 2004. How has the university, its sustainability efforts and Green Quad itself changed since then?

In the “early” days there was considerable resistance to green buildings and other environmental initiatives from pockets of campus. That has changed 360 degrees.  While early initiatives were started by staff, we now have students providing leadership for many initiatives. Now all new buildings and major renovations have environmental stewardship central to the design. 

As for Green Quad itself, the activity level has skyrocketed with students, faculty and staff working together on numerous projects. There is now a “Green Living Community” of 40 or so residents embedded among the 500 residents of Green Quad. There are many more, and 95 percent of these initiatives began after Green Quad opened in 2004 – just eight years ago.


Since then the university seems more committed to sustainability on campus. What is going on on campus to continue moving forward in green efforts?

Currently I’m involved with several housing projects and the new health center project that will add to our inventory of green buildings on campus. 

The Moore School of Business has implemented a sustainability focused curriculum and is building our first “net-zero” building. Outdoor recreation has adopted green practices -- planting trees, starting the bike program, initiating the garden plot project on Preston Green and planting the second organic garden on campus. 

Transportation Services has adopted a sustainability plan. University Housing now has eco-reps in each residence hall. The Campus Master Plan now has a sustainability section. There are now eight or so other organic gardens sponsored and maintained by different departments. We have provided workshops to teach faculty across disciplines how they can incorporate sustainability into their courses. We now have a University Office of Sustainability staffed by three full-time employees and numerous peer leaders and interns under the umbrella Sustainable Carolina.

More departments have adopted or created additional pockets of sustainability enthusiasts. All new buildings and major renovations are required to meet sustainability criteria for “green” buildings. Sustainability has simply become mainstream at the University of South Carolina.


What do you hope is the outcome of these efforts?

I want every student who attends USC to become articulate about sustainability issues, particularly as it relates to their major course of study and understands practical applications for the professions they pursue as alumni of the university.

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Posted: 03/04/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 03/04/13 @ 2:29 PM | Permalink