In this weeks podcast, we sit down and discuss all things sustainable with Kathia (Kat) Benitez from Northwestern University. Kat has been in the role Sustainability Director of SustainNU since 2016, with a lot of early success and momentum on her side.
"Northwestern is committed to fostering environmental and ethical stewardship. The Northwestern Strategic Sustainability Plan is a comprehensive planning resource that supports and guides the University’s sustainability programs."
Kat lays out her vision for sustainability at the University, including the stakeholders that are involved in the commitment of the university to this vision. Northwestern is fortunate to have a president that is very committed to making Northwestern a leader in sustainability, which makes Kat's role easier.
Northwestern has 3 solar PV arrays that are up and running at the time of the interview (just installed a 150 kW capacity system recently), with plans for more in the near future. Kat discusses the solar REC system, and how they are helping universities move forward with renewable energy in Illinois. She also discusses the potential for PPAs and other creative financial mechanisms that will be needed to help move the next round of distributed renewable power at the University.
Kat also discusses the challenges of the built environment at a complicated building network like a University system - often majority of the buildings being incredibly old and lots of mixed usage. Unpredictable usage by faculty and students can make it difficult to save energy when systems are all tied together, but this has spurred creativity and challenged the school to look at new ways to address this type of operational challenge.
Northwestern University is truly a leader in the local Chicagoland community, with a ton of examples of environmental sustainability on their campus to date. With an ambitious goal of Net Zero by 2050, Kat has quite an incredible job ahead of her.