Sustainability practice with ASU’s Bonny Bentzin

Interview by Sean Briggs and Kari Utley

> Link to podcast

Kari Utley: Welcome to a special edition of iPopping Podcasts from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at the campus of Arizona State University, I'm Kari Utley.

For thousands of years the human species has called planet earth home. Within the past few decades, the health and vitality of our planet has been threatened. Perhaps now more than ever the term sustainability is being explored. Our very own Sean Briggs sits down with Bonny Bentzin, Manager of Arizona State’s Sustainability Business Practices, to find out more.

Bonny Bentzin: Sustainability is about really balancing multiple priorities, about taking a holistic view to evaluating decisions and thinking really on the long term not just the short term. And I need everyone’s help with this. I've seen a change in language on the part of students on the need to fix this, to we need to fix this and I want to help. That’s an important change, and that gets me really excited.

Sean Briggs: So ASU was recently listed as one of the top green universities in the nation, could you tell us a little bit about how we got that?

Bonny Bentzin: Well, there are actually quite a few review systems. There are probably about five different surveys that we have responded to and we have received awards from four of them actually. But on the top green school, which could be the Princeton Review rating or the Sierra Magazine rating, depending on which one you’re talking about - it’s the breadth of what we’re doing; we are a huge university with multiple challenges and by no means does this award say we’re done. This award is simply recognizing the fact that we are making great strides and that we are leaders in sustainability, in education in our operations, in the breadth of things that we’re doing, not in any one single area.

Sean Briggs: So you mentioned the breadth of what ASU has done, can you mention some of the larger projects that we have done?

Bonny Bentzin: Well, first of all we have the first school of sustainability in the country, some people say the world - I don't have the documentation on that one.

Sean Briggs: I understand we're viewed as a leader in solar power why is that?

Bonny Bentzin: 1.8 megawatts of solar by December, we’re shooting for a total of 7 megawatts of solar on the Tempe campus, and additional installation on the West and Polytechnic campuses. And I’ve actually heard said from a local official that a lot of people talk about solar and that ASU is actually getting it done.

Sean Briggs: With all that solar what kind of energy savings could we see?

Bonny Bentzin: This is a sort of a tricky question. The eventual goal of 7 megawatts for the Tempe campus - we use about 30 megawatts at any given time. I'm not a math major but you can do the math there. You know it’s roughly 25 to 20 percent of our energy consumption. The savings won't be seen immediately up-front. We are actually going to be probably paying about a half cent more per kilowatt-hour than we are regularly from APS. But based on an analysis of the future of the energy market, the security of the energy grid, we should see actually that we're paying less for power within the next two years.

Sean Briggs: Do you know approximately know how much the university has spent on sustainability, such as the solar panels?

Bonny Bentzin: We’re actually not paying anything for those. We are buying the power. We don't pay for the installation; we don't pay for the maintenance. If the system goes down we don't buy the power.

Sean Briggs: So with these solar panels it's kind of win win for us, isn't it?

Bonny Bentzin: It is, and that visual piece that people need to see as well. You know, that is one of the tricks of this. People need to see a visual indicator. We can tell them we changed the chillers out, but they don't know what that means. We can tell them we changed light fixture out, but they don't know what that means. They need to see it and interact with it. And that's why the solar panels are that extra piece; people can see a visual commitment.

Sean Briggs: Something I've heard lot about, especially in the newsletters you've sent out, is the sustainable Sun Devil. Could you tell me what the sustainable Sun Devil means?

Bonny Bentzin: There is an online news organization called Grist. It's national and it’s kind of an edgy news-about-sustainability newsletter: It has a really interesting twist to it.

The Sustainable Sun Devil is sort of a really unique pilot partnership. And it took about a year and a half to get this partnership in place with all the different factors being comfortable with this partnership. But basically it's Grist wanting to try to do a more local, regional university specific newsletter for college students at a specific university, and we're its pilot school.

So basically it's an opportunity to share sustainability news, either about the university, about the city, the region with our students, and it’s actually for students as well. Students can submit articles. So this isn't just our little propaganda tool, this is supposed to be for students, it's just right now we're having to populate it with articles until we get some articles from students.

Sean Briggs: What are some of the smaller projects around campus, that maybe we don't think about?

Bonny Bentzin: An example of that type of project is a program called Campus Harvest. It was a small pilot last semester and is growing this year, and basically it's a way to engage volunteers in helping us harvest some of the produce we grow on campus. Because we're an arboretum, we have twenty varieties of citrus; we have a world famous date collection: nuts, herbs and other things. It's food that we're paying to send to the landfill. And why don't we use volunteers and help harvest it? Guidelines and issues we needed to work out. We worked with Aramark who is actually going to be integrating that produce into the dining hall. It shortens our food miles; it reduces our waste tipping costs and engages volunteers in campus.

Sean Briggs: What are the biggest challenges you have when you're dealing with sustainability, and the cost and implementing new things on campus?

Bonny Bentzin: Multiple challenges! One thing is that universities as a whole across the country, not just ASU, work in silos and that is part of what my position is about. People need to realize that, yes, we do have individual budgets, and individual priorities but we're a stronger university because we are in this together.

Kari Utley: That was Bonny Bentzin from Arizona State’s Global Institute of Sustainability, speaking with ASU senior Sean Briggs. I’m your host Kari Utley, thanks for listening and stay green.