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School district sustainability: saving 'green' by going green

Rod Berger | May 15, 2017 | Forbes

Original article

Make no mistake about it. Education is big business. Our children may be the primary beneficiaries, but the business of education is one that you and I bankroll daily. In any given school district, about 45% of the funding comes from local funds, about 45% comes from state funds and about 10% comes from Our Father Who Art in Washington. From these three buckets, you and I fully fund K-12 public education. Our K-12 education business is currently costing us just shy of $700 billion per year. Is business good?

K-12 public education is one of the hardest businesses in which to measure a return. Inherently, we know there is a lot of waste in the education business. If we measure its net profit by the amount of money directly used for student learning, everything else is either a fixed cost or cost of sales. Like any business, if you can reduce the overhead, more money drops to the bottom line.

If employee costs are the cost of sales, then the largest fixed costs are energy and transportation. In business, fixed costs will kill you. In San Francisco, they’re attacking their largest fixed costs through an energy sustainability program and they’re seeing some remarkable results. Back in 2008, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) hired Nik Kaestner as its Director of Sustainability. Since that time, Nik and his team have saved the district over $16 million in energy costs, and they are now on a path to produce as much energy as they use, which by 2040 will come to fruition and save the district millions, all of which will drop to the bottom line.

Kaestner said “Utility bills are generally the second largest budget item after salaries. Depending on utility rates and climate, a school district the size of San Francisco could be paying $20 million in utility expenses per year. Reducing the energy use of its buildings vis behavior campaigns, modernization projects or deferred maintenance can therefore help to improve a district’s bottom line.

Since 2008, SFUSD has been able to reduce the energy intensity of its buildings by a third, and its natural gas usage by almost half. This has resulted in electricity savings of $600K and gas savings of $1.4 million per year. (Note: SFUSD has a subsidized electric rate; without this municipal power, electric cost savings would have been four times as high)

We don’t expect savings in building costs. If anything, a small up-front investment is needed to build better, more efficient buildings.

We have also not calculated the savings associated with increases in fuel economy of our fleet. Our current project, to switch to renewable diesel, will likely be cost neutral although it will reduce greenhouse gases by 50-60%.”

There is a lot of talk about zero net energy buildings in the sustainability world. According to Kaestner, “Zero net energy means that a building’s energy usage is offset by onsite renewable energy. It is achieved by reducing the energy intensity of a building to 20-25KBTU/SF/YR. (Note: according to the Department of Energy, an average school has an EUI of 58 KBTU/SF/YR) In general, an efficient two or three story building can offset its energy usage with rooftop solar panels if the roof is kept mostly free of mechanical equipment.

Page updated on 05/15/17