With Earth Day right around the corner, what better person to profile than Neal Cooper, UTMB's Utility Operations and Sustainability Manager? Neal oversees campus sustainability initiatives such as recycling and energy and waste management. He also represents UTMB with groups such as the Houston-Galveston Area Council in its efforts to promote commuting solutions for UTMB staff, employees and visitors through Island Transit, Island Connect and METRO vanpools. Take a minute to get to know Neal and find out his suggestions on how you can contribute to the greening of UTMB.
What is UTMB doing to conserve energy and resources?
It seems we are all focused on savings and conservation lately. In Sustainability, we have a great opportunity to lead the way when it comes to conserving energy consumption and resources. Construction contractors are now required to submit an energy performance compliance document before construction can begin on any new building. It certifies that new construction will comply with specific energy standards. Utilities can be a significant expense with a campus our size, and it is something that each of us can still affect.
Business Operations and Facilities (previously known as FOAM) has embarked on an aggressive plan to actually reduce energy consumption by 2 percent each year over the next five years by improving our operating efficiency. With that, we are looking at better air exchange rates, enhanced equipment control and the implementation of a comprehensive energy management software system to more effectively manage control of the energy consumed. Our efforts to improve automation with our processed water have already saved the institution over 18 million gallons of water in FY10.
Sustainability is always interested in cost-saving initiatives from everyone throughout the UTMB community. Most recently, we have assisted one of the clinics on the 5th floor at UHC in the removal of light bulbs in certain hallway fixtures. Careful consideration was taken to affect only those areas that would not impede patient care or administrative office work. In fact, light measurements were recorded by representatives from Environmental Health and Safety and the Sustainability Department to guarantee safe lighting levels were not compromised through the initiative. All in all, 33 fluorescent light bulbs were removed, which over a year’s time, will represent significant savings to the institution. I would be very interested in speaking with people in other departments who feel that they can do the same thing.
Another way that UTMB conserves energy and resources is through the recycle program. For many years, people across the campus have participated in the recycling initiatives available. Whether it is from standard office paper or cardboard, plastic or used toner and printer cartridges, so many people have worked to reduce waste and conserve our resources. For example, in FY10 our overall goal was to recycle 24 percent of our municipal solid waste. That is waste going into landfills, etc. Just that 24 percent represents about 1,881 tons of waste, or 2,194 cubic yards of landfill space, and more than $60,000 in avoided landfill fees and assessed charges. With the amount of recycled paper collected throughout FY10, UTMB saved 11,700 trees, more than 7,800 barrels of oil, more than 16 tons of iron ore from aluminum cans, and over 400,000 pounds of air pollutants were not spewed into the air for my daughter to breath. From landscape debris and broken or damaged pallets, we produced 733 tons of mulch to be used as a soil amendment to enhance our soil on campus with organic matter.
In addition, Sustainability has a responsibility to educate the community on conservation initiatives. Through special events such as Earth Day, which is coming up on April 29, we work to further the causes of Sustainability. We offer the Swap-Shop, which in FY10 exchanged or gave away over $5,000 worth of used office products and gently used equipment to other departments, and we donated 50 boxes of unused office supplies and equipment to local schools.
One other area that Sustainability is participating in is transportation. We actively promote alternative commuting solutions and work closely with representatives from Island Transit, Island Connect and METRO to provide shuttle services to and from the Mall of the Mainland, and around Galveston Island. These efforts greatly reduce the number of cars on the road. It saves individuals gas expenses, wear and tear on their vehicles, and provides a more stress-free commute to and from UTMB every day. We also work with representatives from the Houston-Galveston Area Council with regional transportation long-term planning and development to better enhance transportation opportunities along the I-45 corridor.
Why is conservation important? How can the UTMB community participate?
The definition of sustainability embodies a stewardship of thought and process design that meets the present need without compromising the needs of future generations. It takes into consideration options that will not further deplete natural resources or harm natural cycles. With that in mind, conservation should be everyone’s responsibility. For example, how many water bottles do we go through in a week? Multiply that by the number of people on our campus, and you are looking at significant numbers. That is plastic that won’t soon disappear by simply covering it with a scoop of dirt. Each one of those bottles will be sitting around underneath our feet for many, many generations to come. Conservation is not just global warming theories by someone somewhere; it is taking what is handed to me and using it as creatively and responsibly as I can so that the waste from it is as minimal as possible.
People across the UTMB community can actively participate in paper and cardboard recycling every day. Blue recycle bags, locks and racks are available for free from Materials Management. For large volumes of confidential or financial data documentation, locked green totes are available from our Recycle Center. Every document is securely shredded before it leaves our campus for recycling. Used toner cartridges can be returned via the blue recycle bags to the Recycle Center. Used ink-jet printer cartridges can be sent through campus mail to Rt. 1113. Additionally, everyone can keep an eye out for plastic or aluminum can recycle containers across campus. If they have an idea or want to know of other opportunities, they can contact our offices at ext. 72958 or 72959.
Here’s where I plug in the commercial. You see, we can do a lot, but we can’t do it alone. We need everyone on our campus to help control and better manage our energy consumption and waste. We greatly depend on people to turn off lights, computers or office equipment when they are not in use. We need their assistance to control the thermostats and temperature settings. Our interests in Sustainability are focused on reducing first, then reusing and recycling.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? The most rewarding?
The most challenging aspect of my job is getting people to realize how much of an impact their actions have on landfills and eco-cycles. In an era where individuals have become single-use minded, it is challenging to help people think outside of the box.
The most rewarding part of my job is when I hear of or see a person or a department taking the initiative to do something to conserve energy or resources. Because it is so important, Sustainability has begun to recognize these individuals or departments with Certificates of Appreciation to say thank you for their initiative.
What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
I am also an associate pastor at my church and love music. I love dealing with people and creative out-of-the-box thinking. My first degree was in vocal performance. I’ve sung with the Houston Symphony Chorale, as well as in the Houston Grand Opera Chorus, and have written music and dramas for national recording artists. I have written and directed five full-length musical dramas produced at local theatres.
If you could travel anywhere in the world where would you go?
Right now? Hawaii. I recently went there to celebrate my 25th wedding anniversary. Aside from that, I really, really, really want to visit Europe someday.
Any favorite books?
My second degree was in History. I have always been enthralled with autobiographies because I enjoy learning from people’s history (i.e. what made them the person they are, and what causes them to act or react the way they do.) Because of the far-reaching impact of their lives and the dynamics that exert external pressure on their decisions, I most often find myself reading United States presidential autobiographies. I just started George W. Bush’s book “Decision Points."
What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
From a person: If you do what you’ve always done, you’re going to get what you’ve always got.
From a movie: My favorite line (advice) from a movie is from “Mame” with Lucille Ball. In it she says, “Life is a banquet, and most poor ‘blankety-blanks’ are starving to death."
What three words would people most likely use to describe you?
Creative, exuberant and caring.