As a way to address sustainability on campus, Indiana University Parking Operations has decided to discount parking passes by twenty percent in the coming fiscal year for low emitting vehicles. Among Big Ten institutions, IU receives low marks for its sustainability efforts from ranking organizations, including the Princeton Review and the College Sustainability Report Card.
IU is taking steps to improve its sustainability efforts. Not only does the university have a new Sustainability Director it is also erecting more buildings in accordance to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, standards.
IU Sustainability Director Bill Brown said it’s a rating system used for earning LEED certification.
“It’s a metric, it’s a rating system, a voluntary rating system and it was achieved over a period of fifteen years by a nonprofit organization called the Green Building Council,” Brown said.
LEED is a rating system that addresses everything from water use to the quality of insulation and is now used by thousands of institutions. In the early stages of the LEED certification process, developers comb through a list of potential points, or credits, a building can earn.
This is precisely what IU Director of Engineering Services Jeff Kaden said he and university engineers did with the development of the school’s new Multidisciplinary Science Building.
“One of the credits available is related to low emission and fuel efficient vehicles,” Kaden said. “In evaluating all the credits that are eligible for that building and through USGBC, one of the opportunities we felt was to do something with Parking Operations.”
What Kaden’s office found was that IU could offer a twenty percent discount to drivers of low emission vehicles, or LEVs, and receive a credit toward the building’s certification.
What’s unique about this particular credit is it can be applied to more than one building on campus. IU is currently trying to get eleven buildings LEED certified, so by offering the parking pass discount, the credit is essentially multiplied by eleven.
What’s more, there is no quota of discounted passes Parking Operations actually has to sell to earn the credit, the university just simply has to offer it. On top of which, there is nothing stopping someone who owns two cars from switching their discounted pass to another vehicle which does not meet LEED requirements and driving that car to campus.
Although gaming the system in this way could cost the university a substantial amount of money, Parking Operations Director Doug Porter said he is not too concerned.
“We’ve had about 275 people bring their registration into the office and show us that they’ve got one of those cars,” Porter said. “So it looks like right now the percentage is a little over five percent, I’ve got a feeling it will be close to five percent of our total sales.”
Porter estimated the total hit could be $20,000 out of Parking Operations’ total yearly budget of more than $5 million. Shortly after Parking Operations announced the discount, CWA Local 4730 President Peter Kaczmarczyk says his office, which represents the clerical and technical staff at I-U, received a lot of complaints. Aside from the announcement coming out of the blue, Kaczmarczyk said many union members saw the discount not as an environmental issue, but a class issue.
“They saw it as another benefit going to people who weren’t necessarily the ones who needed it or would benefit the most from it,” Kaczmarczyk said. “Some people also pointed out rightly so that while it was being tied into environmental issues it wasn’t going to in fact do anything for the environment. Whether or not you drive one already is said and done.”
However, in this case, the bottom line is getting campus buildings LEED certified, which carries a different set of benefits and issues. LEED buildings are more efficient, therefore cutting costs.
According to the Indiana Office of Energy, there could also be some monetary incentives on the horizon in the form of competitive energy efficiency grants funded through the Federal Stimulus package. Then there’s the question of those sustainability rankings.
Although the credibility of college rankings systems is often questioned, they remain influential. Brown said the Office of Sustainability is even devoting manpower to studying these various ranking systems.
“We actually have an intern who is working rankings this summer, who’s looking at what does the Princeton Review look at in terms of rating campuses,” Brown said, “We’re also starting to accumulate a proactive data base of this information.”
The issue is whether alternative forms of transportation are really part of IU’s sustainability efforts and, if so, what office will take responsibility for it?