Frequently Asked Questions

Governance  

Q: Does Soka University have a governing body that specifically handles sustainability issues on campus? 

A: Yes! Our Campus Sustainability Committee meets twice per semester to review campus operations, student proposals, data for STARS reporting, and address concerns. There are 3-4 elected Student Sustainability Committee representatives each year that also attend each meeting. The committee is represented by staff members from facilities, student affairs, higher administration, dining, human resources, and one faculty member. Any questions or proposals for the committee can be brought to the Student Sustainability Committee or to Arch Asawa, who chairs the Sustainability Committee.  

Q: What is STARS? 

A: STARS stands for Sustainability Tracking and Rating System, and Soka has been an active member since 2016. Participating in this program and receiving our first rating was a sustainability milestone. It gives us a third-party verified, standardized method of answering the question, “How sustainable are we?” It is a program specific to institutions of higher education, meaning that in addition to tracking our use of water, energy, and waste production, it also assesses sustainability in our curriculum, our student activities, residential hall programming, and more.   

Waste and Recycling 

Q: How does Soka handle our recyclable waste (plastics, aluminum, glass, paper)? 

A: The University recycles and receives credit for our paper and cardboard recyclables on our invoices for hauling fees. As for plastics, aluminum, and glass, any items placed in the compactor are sorted and diverted. Non-CRV (California Redemption Value) plastic and glass go to the compactor and are eventually recycled by CR&R at their recycling centerStudent groups and facilities/custodial staff members are allowed to individually collect CRV recyclables to redeem for cash value and have done so in the past.  In April of 2017, the compactor had a recycle diversion rate of 48% and the commercial bins had a diversion rate of 57%. 

Q: How does the cafeteria green waste get composted?  

A: The University pays CR&R for food waste from the Dining Hall to be picked up and used at a compost preparation facility in San Juan Capistrano.  

Q: Does it still get composted if the bags of compost are thrown into the wrong dumpster? 

A:  The organic items are sorted out and called “fine” waste.  Currently “fine” waste is spread over landfills each day. This promotes decomposition. Next year, they are planning to take the fine waste directly to the green composting facility where our food waste current goes.  

 Energy  

Q: How much energy do we consume at Soka per year? 

A: Soka designates about $1.6 million dollars a year to the electricity bill alone. On average, Soka consumes 1 million kWh of electricity per month. 

Q: What is “peak demand” and how does it affect our greenhouse gas emissions? 

A: “Peak demand” is when the demand for energy is at its highest, due to factors like people coming home and using appliances, the temperature outside and our use of air conditioning/heating, etc. During peak demand, our electricity consumption exceeds the amount that regular power plants can supply.  Therefore, our energy is supplied by burning fossil fuels at “peaker plants”. The peaker plants only exist because the demand for electricity exceeds the normal production for a few hours per day. By reducing our peak energy consumption, we can vastly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.  

Q: How much energy do the solar panels on top of the Performing Arts Center generate? 

A: The Performing Arts Center has a 102-kilowatt solar panel array on its roof that generates approximately 15% of the building’s energy usage. In terms of the whole campus, it is less than 1% of our total energy use.  To date, the solar panels have generated 1,084,173 kWh of electricity. That is the amount of electricity to power 6,188 60-Watt light bulbs for one year 

Q: What is a STEM battery and how does it affect our electrical usage? 

A: In partnering with STEM, a company that utilizes artificial intelligence to monitor and optimize energy usage, Soka installed a 400kW battery storage system. The batteries are made of lithium-ion and have a similar design to cell phone batteries. These batteries are housed in the gymnasium, but a follow-up system will be located in the Ikeda library. The battery system is designed to work in two ways. The first is to decrease peak electricity usage. The system will draw energy from the grid during the night when the university uses the least amount of electricity. Then, during the height of electrical consumption, the batteries will discharge into Soka’s electrical grid and reduce the draw from the utility grid. The second way the battery operates, which is how our system currently operates, is that it discharges once a determined electrical demand is reached. 

 Q: Why are lights kept on in unoccupied buildings at night? 

A: Buildings are required to have Egress lighting on 24/7 per Orange County Fire Authority 

Q: Do the lights in residential hall MPR and living rooms have sensors and/or timers? I noticed that some automatically turn off, while others do not? 

A: There’s a combination of sensors and toggle switches for the different rooms as per design. There’s a sweep timer that shuts off the lights. This, of course, will be overridden if the user presses the switch and extends the on-time for the space. 

Water 

Q: Why is the lawn sometimes watered in the afternoon?  

Some areas are scheduled to be watered during the day due to the size of the irrigation system and the pressure requirements needed to cover all the landscape areas in a 24-hr period. 

Q: If we notice an irrigation leak, what should we do?  

Please report the leak to Campus Security! 

Landscaping and Biodiversity 

Q: Do we have drought tolerant landscaping? 

Yes. Our landscaping team has been gradually converting areas of campus into drought-tolerant succulent landscapes.  

Water savings through turf conversion: 

From 2014-2015, we saved 4,241 gallons of water. 

From 2015-2016, we further reduced 9,452 gallons. 

From 2015-2016, we saved 6,823 gallons. 

 Total water savings = 20,516 gallons! 

Q: What’s with all the owls on campus? 

A: We love the owls. Our resident barn owls are not only beautiful, but they also help us control our rodent population without resorting to harmful chemicals. We have several owl boxes on campus to provide shelter for our helpful bird friends.  

Questions and Contacts 

Q: Who can I contact with other questions about sustainability and operations? 

You can contact Mal Thomas 949.292.1918 or email the Student Sustainability Committee at ssu_sustainability@soka.edu 

Credit Thank you to Hunter Somsen for his campus energy research, Scott Collins and Mal Thomas from Facilities Service Partners for providing information and answering these questions. Some answers were edited for clarity while others were kept in their original form. The content was written, compiled and edited by Lauren Ng. If you notice any errors or information to be updated, please contact us.