Black and white photo people gardening


Sustainability FAQ



Q: What is the difference between the Institute for Sustainability, the Green Core Team, and the Sustainable Office Program?

A: The Institute for Sustainability is responsible for coordinating efforts to increase sustainable initiatives on campus. The Green Core Team is part of the Institute and is an active working group of faculty, staff, administrators and students who manage projects aimed at greening the campus. The Sustainable Office Program engages students in assessing the office environment of staff and faculty and helps employees implement sustainable practices in their workspaces.


Q: Does CSUN’s administration support sustainability efforts?

A: Yes! The Institute for Sustainability was founded by the Provost and the Deans. Sustainability is one of President Harrison’s seven priorities for the campus. The President asked the Institute to develop a campus Sustainability Plan and lead the university through the implementation. President Harrison signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), and, more recently, the Alliance for Resilient Campuses.

Q: What are some sustainability initiatives for dorm students?

A: There will be new Matasphere” housing, sustainable-themed dorms for 50 to 100 students who are interested in sustainability, starting fall 2014. The students will be directly involved with running projects focusing on energy, water conversation, organic gardening, alternative transportation, and hosting events. All dorm students can compete in the Campus Conservation Nationals where the goal is to reduce water and energy use in housing.


Q: Are there plans to divest Cal State investment funds from oil and gas corporations?

A: The investment policy is to not directly invest in oil or gas companies, but some funds are tied up in managed funds that may have a portion invested in those companies. Currently there are no plans to divest from those managed funds, but this is something that the university is looking into.


Dining Services

Q: Why is there no nutrition information available for food sold by TUC?

A: The nutritional information is available, but the most effective display method has not yet been determined. The material fits in binders and not on display boards, so we’re trying to find a method that is useful for students, faculty and staff.


Q: Are the utensils offered at campus restaurants recyclable or compostable?

A: The utensils on campus are compostable and made from Eco-friendly Polylactic Acid (PLA).  The utensils are made from a plant based material and can be recycled but should be separated from traditional plastic recycling.

CSUN Dining is researching environmentally options available for serving utensils and catering supplies.



Q: What are the sustainability involvement options for students on campus?

A: The Institute offers a minor in sustainability with three core courses that provide a solid foundation of sustainability principles, both from an academic and practical standpoint. Students can also get involved with the A.S. Sustainability Committee, or volunteer. And the Institute frequently hosts exciting workshops and special events throughout the year, like Orange Picks, Water Day, or Campus Sustainability Day.


Q: How can I plan an event on campus in a sustainable way?

A: You can green your event in many ways: send out eCards or use social media instead of printing flyers or paper invitations, use biodegradable utensils and paper products made from recycled materials, or suggest people bring their own reusable items like stainless steel water canteens. Try to avoid using plastic bottles. Lastly, shop locally and aim for organic produce. Wrap up your successful event by composting, recycling or reusing your leftover products.


Q: What are some interesting sustainability career paths?

A: Knowledge of sustainability principles provides students with an advantage in many professions in both the private, public, and non-profit sectors. Green building requires skilled architects, engineers, and designers. Research in renewable energy calls for imaginative chemists and biologists, and communicators are vital in the fields of media, outreach and education. Managers, coordinators, and auditors help move all the innovative projects along on budget and on time. Whatever career path you choose, sustainability principles can be incorporated.


Energy & Buildings

Q: How much energy does CSUN use per month, and how much is the yearly energy bill?

A: The Institute’s 1990-2011 Energy Analysis revealed that the monthly electricity consumption on campus (2011 data) is 4.71 million kWh, which cost $493,000 per month. On top of that is 128,200 therms of natural gas per month which cost about $96,000 per month.


Q: Could we use motion-activated or natural light in classrooms to save energy?

A: We’ve experimented with motion-activated lights, but there are issues with people having to wave their arms around when the lights go off! New technology moves toward thermal sensors, but using natural light provides plenty of light and it’s free. Just ask the instructor to turn off the lights in the classroom.


Q: What types of renewable energy sources does campus use, and could we run 100 percent on green energy?

A: We generate about 18 percent of our electricity on campus, but most of that comes from the fuel cell which runs on non-renewable natural gas. We get about 2 to 3 percent of our energy from solar panels. We could supply all of our own electricity from solar, but it would take quite a large area. However, we are looking at installing more renewable energy sources.


Q: How much energy is wasted when something is plugged into an electrical socket, but is not in use?

A: Most electrical devices use some energy when plugged in, but the amount depends on the device in question. Cell phones use practically nothing, but some other appliances, like printers, can draw more power. If you compare leaving your cell phone plugged into the electrical outlet versus driving one mile less in your car, or turning off your lights when you leave a room, it’s a drop in the bucket.


Environmental Quality

Q: Are “green” cleaning products used by custodial staff on campus?

A: All cleaning products used to maintain the housing facilities are Green Seal certified, which means that they’ve been tested to ensure compliance with health and environmental criteria. A variety of cleaning products have been tested by custodial staff throughout the rest of campus and traditional products are replaced with Green Seal certified ones when they’re comparable in results.



Q: What happens to campus food waste?

A: Kitchen waste gets composted in the Food Garden right here on campus, and post-consumer food waste–meaning discarded food still in its wrapping or package–goes to landfills. There’s practically no food waste because the campus only prepares as much as it needs day by day.


Q: Why should students participate in the Food Garden, and what happens to the fresh produce?

A: Students interested in organic food production and/or gardening, or those looking to complete Service Learning hours in the great outdoors, should consider volunteering in the Food Garden & Compostng program. All the hard work is rewarded with fresh produce for the volunteers.


Q: Does CSUN have a farmers market?

A: Not currently, but Associated Students is looking at hosting one in 2014-15 on a pilot basis, perhaps one day per month to start.


Q: Why does CSUN grow grass instead of more water-friendly plants, like cacti or succulents?

A: We’ve started the process of transitioning from lawns to native and drought-tolerant plants to reduce water use whenever it seems feasible. However, a lot of the lawn area is used for recreation activities, like relaxing or playing sports, so it will stay that way.


Purchasing & Consumption

Q: What is the cheapest sustainability change that I can make?

A: The cheapest and best change is simply to consume less. This simple act (buying less clothes, furniture, electronic gadgets, or turning off the water faucet and ceiling lights, or driving less in your car, and so on) has a huge impact: it saves money, reduces waste in landfills, extends the life of our finite natural resources, and requires less energy in the manufacturing process. Another simple change you can make is to not take part in practices that are patently destructive to the planet but easily avoidable, like using bottled water or Styrofoam and driving gas guzzlers.


Q: What are the paper savings from going digital in the classrooms and during meetings?

A: There are many variables to that question, but campus spent about $105,000 on standard copy paper last year; not including printing that students do through the University Student Union. At an average cost of about $3.65 per ream–that’s 14.1 million sheets of paper–more digital use could make a big dent in that number.


Q: Could we replace paper towels with air hand dryers in the bathrooms?

A: The problem with replacing all towels with hand dryers is that our bathrooms experience frequent peak-use periods between classes and we couldn’t install enough machines to accommodate all the users in those rush periods. In some restrooms we have installed both options so people have a choice whether to use environmentally friendly hand dryers, or paper towels.



Q: How can I commute in a sustainable way, and does CSUN offer financial incentives for those who carpool or use public transportation to campus?

A: Walking, bicycling, and using public transportation are all environmentally friendly ways to commute to campus. CSUN is also a hub for Zipcar which, once you’ve registered, lets you rent a car on an hourly basis right here on campus. Another option is the Rideshare program where you connect with other CSUN students to create a carpool.


Q: How can I prevent my bicycle from being stolen?

A: The best way to prevent bike theft is to invest in both a U-Lock and a cable lock, and then lock your bike to the free-standing racks near major buildings through both the frame and the wheel. Another option is to use the locked bicycle compounds located in the B3, B5, and G3 parking structures, and at the student housing complex. Also consider registering your bike with the police department to facilitate a quick return in case the bike does get stolen.


Q: How environmentally significant is it to drive a hybrid or electric car?

Where are campus charging stations located?

A: Switching to hybrid or electric vehicles has a huge impact on air quality, carbon emissions, and energy use. A hybrid car is typically more than twice as fuel efficient as an average gasoline engine, and electric cars are the equivalent of four times as efficient. There are several campus charging stations and it’s currently free to charge your electric vehicle on campus.


Waste & Materials Management

Q: What type of materials can be recycled on campus, and where does potential recycling revenue go?

The Associated Students’ Recycling Services properly disposes of paper, cardboard, pallets, inkjet and laser toner cartridges, cell phones, cans and bottles. Recycling revenue goes back to AS to help run the program, but so far there is no actual profit.


Q: Where can students donate their used items like books, clothing, or furniture?

A: The Matador Exchange is the place to list your household items for sale, trade, or to simply donate free of charge. It’s also the place to go if you’re looking to buy items to sustainably furnish your new dorm room.


Q: What happens to disposable batteries when they can no longer charge, or single-use plastic bags?

A: Batteries are recycled through the campus’ Environmental Health and Safety Division. Ask your department where the collection bucket is. Plastic bags can be returned to some grocery stores for recycling. However, plastic bags are a huge environmental problem. Most end up in landfills or simply fly away because they’re so light. That’s when they end up in all the wrong places: stuck in trees, damming rivers, clogging drains, and so on. Simply buy or make a few heavy-duty canvas bags and bring them with you when you go shopping.


Q: Where do we recycle paper, and how can we reduce paper consumption?

A  Big blue paper recycling bins are located in every department office or floor in all buildings on campus. Simply follow the Recycling Guide to make sure your paper product is recyclable. The best way to reduce paper consumption is to use less of it by printing on both sides, and re-using paper that has only been used on one side. Try to use paper that is made from 100% post-consumer waste whenever possible.



Q: How many square feet of grass do we have on campus, and what is the irrigation cost per year?

A: The total amount of irrigated space on campus is about 100 acres which includes grass, shrubs, ground cover, and trees. The estimated annual irrigation cost is approximately $689,000.



Q: Where should water leaks be reported to?

A: Report water leaks to Physical Plant Management (818) 677-2222 or email


Q: How can I use fewer plastic bottles and still drink clean, filtered water on campus?

A: Bring a reusable bottle to fill at one of several free refill stations across campus to greatly reduce the number of single-use plastic bottles discarded every day. FloWater is a solution for those who want to pay a small fee for their filtered, chilled water. Stainless steel bottles are an affordable, durable and hygienic choice.


Q: How can students contribute to saving water?

A: Turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth or reducing your shower-time to less than 5 minutes will result in dramatic water savings. Another easy fix is to install free faucet aerators and water-saving showerheads. And consider involving your family, friends and neighbors in your water conservation efforts by encouraging them to reduce the amount of water-intensive lawn in their yards, and avoid watering sidewalks and driveways.


Q: Could CSUN filter gray water so that it would be usable for landscaping?

A: There are significant environmental regulations for putting water into the ground and very high costs associated with the required dual plumbing used in filtering gray water, but we’re looking at ways to be able to recycle some of our water in the future.