The Catholic University of America


Taking Care of the Environment

  9/11 service day

Brian Alexander on the roof of Flather Hall, one of the buildings on campus covered by solar panels.

Brian Alexander

Director, Energy and Environmental Systems

Brian Alexander spent 25 years as an engineer working in the oil and gas industry. “I drilled oil and gas wells in Louisiana and built pipelines from Canada into New York,” says Alexander.

“I went from the supply side to the demand side when I came to Catholic University five years ago, and now I’m having more fun at work than I’ve ever had before. Instead of finding, moving, and buying energy, I get to find ways to help reduce our use of it.”

As the director of energy and environmental systems, one of Alexander’s jobs is to reduce the carbon footprint of the University. “Some of that is easily done by turning lights off, recycling, examining how we ventilate the buildings, and keeping on top of schedules. When the play is over at 10:30 at night, we are going to power down the theater,” says Alexander.

Catholic University is by all accounts the greenest campus in Washington, D.C. The University began its sustainability efforts 10 years ago with the purchase of wind energy credits. CUA’s system of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels is now the largest in the District of Columbia, with more than 2,600 solar panels generating in excess of 830,000 kilowatt-hours of clean electricity per year.

“As the national university of the Catholic Church in America, we strive to be a living example of environmental stewardship,” said President John Garvey recently in announcing the installation of the University’s third green roof.

“It’s our obligation not to hurt the environment,” says Alexander, who lectures in the School of Architecture and Planning master’s program in sustainability. He works closely with faculty members in the School of Engineering and the School of Architecture and Planning who are teaching the latest theory and techniques in sustainability. “Students have great ideas when it comes to environmental stewardship. It’s really exciting to see them take what they are studying and make it work right here on campus.”

Alexander likes to work in collaboration, and not just with the faculty, staff, and students at CUA. “By bringing energy companies to the table to form partnerships with the University, we have opened up some great opportunities,” says Alexander, pointing to Washington Gas Energy Systems and Standard Solar, who have collaborated with CUA on recent solar panel projects.

With sponsorship from these two companies, Alexander has launched two design competitions that have challenged students to play an active role in the University’s sustainability efforts. In 2010, a group of students designed a solar-powered picnic table that now sits on the patio of the Edward J. Pryzbyla University Center. In 2012, groups of students designed models for a solar-powered bus shelter. The contest was created to make public transportation a more attractive option and thereby reduce the number of cars traveling to campus, a goal of the University Master Plan.

“I’m really proud that we have made energy companies our partners. They too want to be part of the sustainability movement. By allowing them to work with us to create clean energy, we have increased our potential for innovation, and we’ve given students opportunities to showcase their talents and make connections for employment,” says Alexander.