Q&A with Sustainability Director Liz Davey

The following was submitted by students from Professor Renata Ribeiro’s Global Environmental Change course. 

What is your work like on a daily basis?

I work with students, some of which are interns, assisting them on their projects. I have a student currently working on a project called “Shut the Sash,” which is trying to raise awareness on how much energy lab fume hoods use. Each hood uses as much energy as a house each year, and Tulane has 400 of them. Additionally, I manage a consulting team on a climate action plan, tend to my ongoing list of activities for the recycling program and do some research of my own.

What are your immediate goals for Tulane in the upcoming years?

A priority is making sure buildings are certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The new Barbara Greenbaum House at Newcomb Lawn is a LEED-certified [residence hall]: it has things like individual thermostats in each room, which not only reduce energy [spent] on air conditioning, but also aid in the comfort and wellness of the residents. In addition, we just went though our Climate Action Planning Process, which produced guidelines on how to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and energy waste that can now be applied to both existing and new buildings. Having institutionalized conservation efforts on a college campus is an excellent small-scale model for urban areas. People do not always realize, but the university is like a city — we have 90 buildings at Tulane!

Why does Tulane recycle only two out of the seven plastic recycling codes (#1 and #2)?

The Materials Recovery Facility we have in New Orleans only takes plastics #1 and #2. The city of New Orleans sends its recyclables to another facility in Baton Rouge, which takes all types of recyclable plastics (#1-7). We decided to use the one in New Orleans because it is more convenient, cheaper and because it promotes local jobs.

What have been some of the challenges of working in post-Katrina New Orleans?

Before [Hurricane] Katrina there was a fairly strong recycling program in New Orleans and the greater Louisiana area. After Katrina, most of the recycling facilities were flooded and forced to shut down. It took a while for the program to be regrouped, [though] aluminum cans, white paper and cardboard were the first things that were able to be recycled again. The 2008 recession also hurt these efforts, because recycling plants were forced to shut down. Tulane’s role in the wake of all of this has been to be a steady supporter of the recycling economy. 

Where do you personally draw the line between what is environmentally sound versus what is reasonable economically?

I always try to consider how to get the “biggest bang” for your environmentally conscious “buck.” It is tough because sometimes comparing environmental choices is like comparing apples and oranges. For instance, paper versus plastic bags [are a] controversial issue. Both have effects on the planet, but which is less harmful?

LEED certification such as in Dinwiddie Hall, and the Climate Action Planning Process are obviously important and impactful. In terms of making our school more eco-friendly and reducing our emissions, do you see renewable energy, such as solar power, ever being implemented on campus?

Renewable energy is going to be more expensive, and right now the cheapest thing to do is to work on energy efficiency. Installation of solar panels on campus may take 30 years to pay itself back, whereas we can get this money back from things such as occupancy sensors in a much shorter period. But this brings up a bigger question: how do we prioritize these things? Should we get started and maybe do a solar project as a demonstration project? Is it important that we support the solar industry? What is the potential for savings? These are the questions we are considering right now when we think about the next steps.

How can students become agents of change, specifically at Tulane?

Tulane is very responsive to making things better. Students can become agents of change through class projects and through their own research. By collecting groundwork information, formulating a proposal to the right people and bringing together a team to implement the idea, great things have been accomplished at Tulane. For example, my job was created as a result of a student’s honors thesis making the point that universities should serve as models for places that promote sustainability and conserve resources. Another example are the reusable containers at Bruff to Go, which were the result of a student putting together research and preparing a proposal.