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Focus on Energy awards UW-Stout statewide honor for sustainability, energy efficiency initiatives

Energy Efficiency Excellence Award, nominated by Xcel Energy, recognizes 79 energy-saving projects at Stout since 2017

by Abbey Goers, UW Stout

For its collaboration and commitment to sustainability and energy efficiency in multiple campuswide initiatives in the last two decades, University of Wisconsin-Stout has received an Energy Efficiency Excellence Award from Focus on Energy, Wisconsin’s statewide energy efficiency and renewable resource program.


UW-Stout, the only university among 10 Wisconsin businesses and government entities awarded this year, was nominated by Xcel Energy, which partners in the award with other state utilities.


Since 2007, UW-Stout’s partnerships with Focus on Energy, Xcel Energy and the City of Menomonie has fostered a multifaceted approach to facilitate energy savings projects, which provided the university access to state and federal program funds. UW-Stout participates in Xcel Energy’s Partners in Energy Program.


An award ceremony was held on June 26 at UW-Stout’s Memorial Student Center. Chancellor Katherine Frank and Senior Facilities Officer Justin Utpadel accepted the award, presented by Focus on Energy Business Portfolio Manager Mike Plunkett.


“Thank you to Focus on Energy for this recognition and to all who have supported these projects. It truly is an honor,” Frank said. “As Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, UW-Stout has a unique opportunity to do more than simply implement energy efficiency projects within our facilities.


“Everything we do must be applied, and everything we do must positively impact our students. We use these improvements to educate our students and impact future generations by providing applied learning opportunities, utilizing real-world infrastructure and building systems that prepare our graduates for their careers. By doing so, Stout will continue to fulfill its commitment to addressing the workforce development needs of the future.”


Utpadel appreciates the recognition. “This award isn’t just a recognition of one person’s work or one stand-alone project but a demonstration of a shared, ongoing commitment to sustainability projects and initiatives from multiple people, committees and organizations.

“Through these projects, we have been able to install new renewable energy systems, but more importantly, we have been able to reduce the amount of energy we consume to begin with, resulting in a reduction of energy demand for our university facilities.”


Also attending were UW-Stout’s Sustainability Manager Kadi Wright, Facilities Management Associate Director Zenon Smolarek, Trades Supervisor Matt Herum, Engineering Specialist Josh Kohnke and Campus Planner Michael Higgins.


Focus on Energy attendees were Energy Adviser David Voss, Portfolio Program Operations Director Erin Soman and Marketing and Outreach Specialist Casey Davidson, as well as Xcel Energy Energy Adviser Michael Yates and State Rep. Clint Moses of Menomonie, a UW-Stout alum who noted the university’s importance to Wisconsin and the quality of its graduates entering the state’s workforce.


The award is UW-Stout’s second major sustainability recognition this year. It was named a national Green Ribbon school this past spring by the U.S. Department of Education.


Sustainability and energy efficiency initiatives


Focus on Energy has 107 partners in electric and gas utilities across the state and offers incentives and rebates for energy efficiency efforts. Established in 2001, it has helped 2.8 million residents and customers save more than $730 million.


Since 2017, UW-Stout has completed 79 energy-saving projects on campus. More than 23 of those projects have earned it more than $272,000 in incentives from Focus on Energy and include various energy-saving programs such as Energy Design Assistance, Mid-Stream, and Schools and Government.


The university’s Focus2030 goal of Institutional Sustainability will systematically strengthen its financial, social and environmental outlook. A new University Long-Range Plan focuses on campus infrastructure and systems and reinforces its commitment to energy efficiency and sustainability priorities.


Voss has worked with the university on its initiatives for 17 years. “Stout has correctly positioned itself for the benefit of its students, staff and Menomonie community, and it is very deserving of this award. We look forward to continuing working with Stout in the future,” he said.

Campuswide projects include:


  • Installing rooftop solar panels, destratification fans and LED lighting

  • Weatherization improvements of 23 buildings

  • Incorporating sustainable practices into building construction and renovation

  • Switching in 2020 from coal to natural gas for campus energy to reduce emissions

  • Maintaining a three-acre outdoor classroom with natural habitat

  • Operating UW-Sprout, a campus garden, to provide locally grown, healthy food options

  • A campuswide waste reduction system, with recycling and composting bins

  • Rideshare programs and sustainable transportation options, such as bike rental, helping UW-Stout earn a national Bike Friendly campus rating

  • Reusing and recycling campus surplus items, saving more than 215,000 pounds of material from landfills in 2023

  • Planned installation of two electric vehicle charging stations

UW-Stout, its Sustainability Office and seven committees on sustainability address sustainability in every aspect of operations. Students are involved in the Campus-wide Energy Committee and the Sustainability Committee, and student organizations have committed more than $500,000 to sustainability-related projects since 2014.


In the last 15 years, UW-Stout’s efforts have resulted in campus emissions dropping by 33%, excluding emissions from commuting. It was a charter signatory in 2007 of the Second Nature Carbon Commitment, with the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. UW-Stout has most often placed first or second among Universities of Wisconsin schools and in the top 50 nationally in the Campus Race to Zero Waste recycling competition.


Since 2011, Focus on Energy has aimed to deliver real, measurable energy and financial savings for Wisconsin’s residents and businesses. It has delivered more than $1 billion worth of net economic benefits to Wisconsin.


With 50 total nominations this year, other Focus on Energy award recipients were BiOrigin Specialty Products, Ladysmith; Kaysun, Manitowoc; Kerry Group, Jackson; Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Keshena; and PMI Manufacturing Inc., Bloomer.


Trade Ally Contractor Excellence award recipients recognized for helping residents and organizations make better energy efficiency choices were Automated Energy Solutions, Inc., Green Bay; Badger State Lighting LLC, Marshfield; Ethos Green Power Cooperative, Viroqua; and Roberts Irrigation Company, Plover.


Xcel Energy is one of more than 15 members of UW-Stout’s Career Services Partnership Program, which connects employers to students, including at the university’s biannual career conferences.


National Green Ribbon school


UW-Stout’s Green Ribbon award is based on its long-term and ongoing efforts to infuse sustainability into operations and the classroom and to create a campuswide culture that advances environmental initiatives.


It was the only Wisconsin university to be recognized in 2024. A ceremony will be held on Wednesday, July 10, at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency William Ruckelshaus Conference Center, in Washington, D.C. Frank, Wright and Smolarek will attend.


“UW-Stout is honored to receive the Green Ribbon award. This was possible due to our students’ investments in Stout’s sustainability efforts, our faculty who incorporate sustainability in their curriculum and applied research, and our staff who plan, implement and practice sustainability at the university on a daily basis,” said Erik Guenard, vice chancellor for Business, Finance and Administrative Services.


The Green Ribbon award, a one-time honor, is given annually to a select number of schools, including early learning centers, elementary, secondary and post-secondary institutions.


UW-Stout, a member of the Universities of Wisconsin, is Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, with a focus on applied learning, collaboration with business and industry, and career outcomes. Learn more via the FOCUS2030 strategic plan.


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