Richard Hsu: USF’s First Sustainability Coordinator

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Alex Minnick
Contributing Writer

The Office of Sustainability looks out onto the construction of the Benedetti baseball diamond from the ground floor of Hayes-Healy, along the perimeter of the building. Small and unassuming, the office aims to make a sizable impact on campus in the coming years. Richard Hsu, the office’s new Sustainability Coordinator, presents a streamlined, serious figure. His notepad is filled with talking points in a kind of studied chaos.

In 2009, former USF President Rev. Stephen Privett S.J. signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Hsu explains that it was “basically pledging to complete a carbon inventory of the campus and then create a climate action plan with the ultimate goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. One of the key action steps in the Climate Action Plan—which is publicly available—was to create an Office of Sustainability and my position.” Both were created over summer 2015. Hsu will lead the implementation of the plan. “We have an ultimate goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 which means net zero emissions, but we also have several milestones along the way to make sure we’re on track. The closest one is in 2018, which is 20% reduction from 2013 levels” says Hsu.

Hsu has only held the position for a month but is no stranger to USF. He attended UC San Diego and majored in Environmental Systems before coming to USF for grad school. He received his masters in the Science and Environmental Management program. Just out of grad school, he worked as the Sustainability Coordinator at Skyline College in San Bruno.

Hsu is working with newly formed campus committees and clubs with the ultimate goal of conservation. The drought is a major issue for all of California, and Hsu is helping the University adjust. USF is participating in the SF Public Utilities Commission’s “Brown Is The New Green” campaign, and is letting some of the peripheral lawns go brown to save water, the baseball diamond is putting in artificial turf, and the Market Cafe has installed a new water saving dishwasher. According to Hsu, these changes will make a major impact. “All of these will help reduce water usage on campus, but the main usage is domestic. Showers, faucets, laundry. And that’s where students come in and help us out. Reducing shower times by five minutes, making sure the faucet is off while brushing your teeth or lathering soap while washing your hands. These are small things that accumulate over time. Individually you can save 20 gallons a day just by doing those things.”

In terms of energy, the University uses a 1.5 megawatt cogeneration plant that runs on fossil fuel. Hsu said, “It provides almost 60% of the total electricity to the lower campus and about half for the entire hilltop campus. It also produces waste heat, which we use to create steam to heat the buildings.” Although it is more efficient than a traditional power plant, Hsu says it will eventually need to be replaced with something cleaner.

Hsu wants to focus on increasing USF’s composting. He says, “It’s an easy opportunity to one, show that we’re doing something and two, it’s cost-effective. That’s my main project this semester.” Hsu has implemented the use of compost bins in the UC bathrooms, which decreases the amount of waste USF sends to the landfill. In turn, this reduces USF’s carbon footprint.

While all of these changes happen around campus, Hsu keeps an eye on the future. “For us to get to the 2018 milestone, a lot of it has to come through behavioral changes. If we change the culture on campus, then that will help us permanently eliminate a huge amount of both water and energy use.” The subsequent saved funds will help the University upgrade the power plant.

One of his major goals is community involvement. Hsu says, “It’s about getting enough students and employees to be mindful of their actions so they can serve as examples for others.”

Despite his reserved personality, he speaks with determination and passion for the issues. He admits, “Obviously not every student here is [Catholic]. I’m not a Catholic. But I wholeheartedly believe in the University’s mission and its emphasis on social and environmental justice, making the world a more humane place, and ensuring that we take care of it for future generations.”

Hsu is hopeful students will take part in the crusade against climate change. “I hope students aren’t here just to get an education and graduate. I hope they buy into our mission and try to make the world a better place. That’s why we have the tagline: change the world from here. And I’m hoping they’ll take ownership of that.”

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