San Marcos,
12:03 PM

CSUSM: A Sustainability Leader

By David Ogul

A high-tech, landscape-monitoring system that detects leaks, automatically shuts off when it rains and measures the atmosphere for moisture before sprinklers are activated.

A policy on using recycled water to wash fleet vehicles. Low-flow faucets, dual-flush toilets and waterless urinals.

Welcome to the latest sustainability efforts at Cal State San Marcos, where water use is down by 58 percent—or 21 million gallons—since 2010 despite surging enrollment, the addition of three new ball fields and five new buildings.

With California suffering through another year of historic drought, those measures and more, such as digging a campus well that satisfies most irrigation demands, are having a profound impact.

And that just covers the growing challenges with water supplies.

CSUSM also diverts more than 75 percent of its waste from being dumped at local landfills through recycling and composting, with a goal of zero waste by 2025. Since 2010, the university’s efforts have kept more than 19,000 tons of waste from being sent to the dump.

“It’s an incredible rate that is one of the highest in the California State University system,” said Lindsey Rowell, director of Energy Management and Utility Services. “We are aggressively approaching our goal of being a self-sustaining organization.”

The University’s Sustainability Master Plan, adopted last year, calls for CSUSM to become a national leader in the area of environmental stewardship.

Among the myriad sustainability endeavors:

  • Last year CSUSM installed more than a dozen “hydration stations” across campus, allowing users to refill their own refillable water bottles. The move has avoided approximately 400,000 single-use 16-ounce plastic bottled waters from ending up in the recycle bin or trash can.
  • The University also is working on converting to more environmentally sensitive LED lighting that can be controlled individually so that lighting is used only where needed, including in sections of classrooms.
  • Construction is now underway for a new fuel cell that will enable the University to produce its own electricity. The fuel cell, powered through natural gas, will produce up to 880 kilowatts of power, offsetting up to one-third of the University’s demand during peak hours.
  • Solicitations will soon be going out for a solar panel system that can produce one megawatt of electricity— an amount that could power more than 200 average-size homes in California.
  • University Village Apartments has turned off its water fountain and will be installing low-flow faucets and a new and improved showerhead this summer. Also, The QUAD will be installing artificial turf to replace current grass around the complex before the start of fall semester.

“We’re striving to be leaders in the CSU system and higher education nationally when it comes to sustainability efforts,” said Juliana Goodlaw-Morris, manager of CSUSM Sustainability.

Building Green

In large part because of its sustainability features, CSUSM’s new University Student Union received LEED Gold and was honored with an Award of Merit from the local chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects and an “orchid” from the San Diego Architectural Foundation.

Wrote the San Diego Architectural Foundation:

“The design of the Student Union is focused on sustainable site planning and design principles, enhancing pedestrian access to the facility and through the site, while creating the `living room’ for the campus. The new buildings were carefully integrated into the existing hillside, creating new outdoor spaces that enhance interaction of visitors, students and faculty from the campus at large. The amphitheater is composed of a mixture of artificial and real lawn to minimize water use while maintaining cooler temperatures in the space.”

Other LEED Certified campus buildings include the Student Health and Counseling Building, the Public Safety Building and the Social and Behavioral Sciences Building.

Taking Green to the Classroom and Beyond

Now CSUSM is bringing its message to the classroom and the community.

Through the recently launched Environmental Studies program, and Goodlaw-Morris noted efforts include working with faculty to incorporate sustainability themes in the curriculum.

In addition, CSUSM's Ethnobotany Gardena living educational laboratory established in 2007, won an Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Best Practices Award for Sustainability in Academics from the California State University’s Chancellor’s Office in 2014. 

And, most recently in June, Extended Learning and the Environmental Leadership Academy at CSUSM's Temecula campus hosted two workshops on important environmental laws. One focused on the seminal California Environmental Quality Act, allowing community leaders, planners, and developers to learn about the implications of CEQA for their organization, plan, or project. The second workshop, Endangered Species Act: Habitat Conservation Planning, offered similar benefits.

“The Environmental Leadership Academy at CSUSM Temecula is designed to engage and inform students on policies and issues that are critical to our quality of life,” said Mike Schroder, dean of Extended Learning. “We hope that these workshops, led by educators and experts, will support both current and next-generation regional leaders in making decisions that will impact future generations in San Diego and Riverside counties.”

To learn more about Sustainability at CSUSM, visit: