UC San Diego Construction Commodity Manager
To find out more about sustainable practices in campus construction, I conversed with Gary Oshima, the Construction Commodity Manager.
What is the role of a construction commodity manager?
In its simplest sense, my role is to develop strategies to maximize our campus spend for construction related expenses. My position is within the Procurement (IPPS) department of Business Finance but my role deals closely with Capital Planning Management (CPM) which is responsible for new and large construction projects, Housing, Dining and Hospitality (HDH) which is responsible for construction of all student housing and dining projects, Facilities Management (FM) which is responsible for maintenance, repairs and minor remodels of the buildings on campus as well as limited work with the Medical Center and the UC Office of the President regarding system wide construction measures. I look for synergies in each of these departments that may not be realized individually. “Maximizing our spend” of course means reducing costs but it also could mean adding value where it didn’t previously exist. For example, I am working to establish a campus standard interactive information kiosk which will provide immediate, on-line information for any user on campus.
What Procurement Sustainability Goals is UC San Diego trying to achieve? How are we doing?
You are certainly aware of the Sustainability goals that the University has both system-wide and campus-wide. CPM and HDH have similar construction goals – minimum LEED Silver, Energy and Utility efficiency, Sustainable materials, etc. For Procurements, our goals are not as well defined because part of what we are trying to develop is a mindset that includes environmental responsibility in the all the decisions that we make. Yes, we do procure energy efficient or environmentally friendly products but we are also looking at how we can improve our services or how we can influence our suppliers to be more responsible.
An excellent example of improving our services is our Material Support Services team. The MSS is responsible for delivering packages and supplies to all the campus users. They have set daily routes and have knowledge and access to all buildings on campus. With the rise of Amazon, Federal Express and other direct shipping services, there was a considerable increase of delivery trucks on our already crowded campus. MSS has reached an agreement with these private companies to provide the “last mile delivery”. Essentially, all packages are now delivered to our central receiving and MSS has assumed the responsibility of delivering those packages to their final destination. The benefit to the shippers is that they no longer have to negotiate delivery to a campus which has no building addresses and the benefit to the University is that we get more reliable delivery, considerably less traffic and a reduced carbon footprint.
An example of how we influence suppliers is that we encourage companies who have implemented good sustainable practices. Each RFQ that is issued has a “Sustainability” component in the evaluation which rewards those suppliers who are awarded the contracts.
What challenges do you experience when trying to incorporate sustainability into a construction project?
IPPS procures nearly everything that the University buys: equipment, furniture, office supplies, clothing, food, cars, and more. The one exception is that, typically, we do not buy construction materials. The reason that we don’t is because we hire General Contractors to build our buildings and it is the Contractor’s responsibility to procure all of the materials that they need. As such, we don’t directly control what materials and products are purchased for our capital improvements. Certainly we have some impact in the materials by what we require in our specifications but we cannot dictate which suppliers or sub-contractors that the General Contractor selects. In general, the Contractors that work on new capital projects on campus have sustainability goals and values that align with the University but construction is a very budget oriented business. There is a saying, “In the end, nobody cares about being noble – show me the money” that is apropos. Everyone agrees that Green building practices are beneficial but each initiative still must prove to be fiscally prudent. One of the challenges that we face as a University is to look at the cost of a building holistically on a life cycle cost basis rather than on a construction cost basis. In short, there are decisions that we can make during the construction phase which may cost more initially but will prove to save money during the lifetime of the building. We need to adopt this long range vision of our buildings in order to justify some more significant changes our new buildings.
The recycled plastic asphalt road was such a huge success. What other cutting edge solutions are being considered?
The Recycled Plastic Asphalt road has been a success for reasons that are yet to be fully realized. The amount of waste plastic that we used for our road is insignificant and, even if we paved every street on campus, the impact wouldn’t move the needle on our global waste plastic problem. The real success of our road is that we got the ball rolling. Our road was the first of its kind in the United States and the increased interest that we have seen in cities and counties and national paving associations is increasing every month. The cities of San Diego, Los Angeles and Oakland are considering pilot programs with this product. California State Senator Ben Hueso’s office has contacted us regarding our street. Two California based manufacturers have signed licensing agreements which will allow them to source the waste plastic locally – a huge plus for the domestic viability. Studies with CalTrans have begun as well as the DOT – approval from these agencies would be instrumental in pushing the technology. It has been 18 months since we laid our street but I feel like the technology is finally taking traction with the public and I expect the interest to grow exponentially over the near future. What direct impact does that success have to UC San Diego? None. How much money is saved or generated by the University? None. However, the fact that we were instrumental in introducing this technology to the US and the potential global impact that that technology might have is immeasurable.
Why are sustainably minded projects important to you?
UC San Diego is one of the leading research Universities in the country. In fields ranging from nanotechnology to climate science to social mobility to marine biology to geopolitical policy to animal behavior to Alzheimer’s research, UC San Diego is a hub for cutting edge technology and the testing of unproven theory. Innovation and Invention and Discovery are the hallmark of what makes this University thrive. It is core to our campus and is integral in everything we do. Perhaps the most important result of this mission is that it teaches our students to open their minds to new ideas and new possibilities; reach beyond the status quo and search for new answers. And that attitude isn’t something that should just come from the classrooms and labs; that is an attitude that should be fostered everywhere on campus. No one knows what small idea may trigger another idea that leads to something bigger. The mindset to always be looking for new opportunities should permeate the campus in every facet of college life. The reason why it is important to build a recycled plastic asphalt road is not so that our students will go out and build a better street; the reason it’s important is because it helps show people that maybe there’s a better way to do things. Innovation is everywhere and it is the responsibility of all of us in the University community to remember to promote that ideal. We don’t offer any classes in it and we don’t offer any degrees but the ability to wonder and experiment and invent are among the greatest lessons to be learned.
Each fall, we get 10,000 new students coming to campus. They’re young, they’re bright and they’re eager to learn. We have four years to influence how they look at the world and how they are going to make their mark. After that, they all go off in 10,000 different directions to shape the world in their own way. Who knows what small idea or thought leads them to greater things. We will never know exactly how their four years with us have impacted their careers or their lives – or if it’s even impacted them at all. But it’s important to remember that it is all of our responsibility to be sure that those four years are a positive and responsible experience. That’s all we can do. The road starts here – and our road is paved in recycled plastic asphalt.
“We are the University of California, and there is no reason that UC can’t lead the world in this quest, as it has in so many others.” President Janet Napolitano, University of California. Statement issued during the announcement of the Carbon Neutrality Initiative of the University of California.