Going Green at Pomona College

The "College in a Garden" Performs Comprehensive Audit of Energy Systems Using Spatial Data


  • ArcGIS provides a comprehensive approach for one million square feet of facilities including 60 buildings.
  • Student auditors used map books created from ArcGIS for a more accurate field assessment.
  • Area calculations were performed on spatial data captured in the geodatabase.

Members of the Pomona College audit team.

Pomona College is the founding member of the Claremont Colleges, a unique consortium of seven affiliated institutions that also includes the Claremont Graduate University, Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, Harvey Mudd College, Pitzer College, and the Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences. Pomona College, located in Claremont, California, had a vision to be "a college in a garden" from its inception in 1887. Today, ivy and palm trees coexist under the warm, sunny skies of Southern California.

The college is committed to sustainability. Recently, it built three buildings to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building standards (see "The New Gateway to Green Building"). One of those, the Richard C. Seaver Biology Building, was awarded a Silver LEED certificate, placing it in the top 1 percent of all academic laboratory buildings in the country in terms of energy-conscious design.

In 2007, Pomona College president David Oxtoby signed the President's American College and University Climate Commitment, an agreement that commits Pomona College to a variety of deadlines and programs for moving toward carbon neutrality. One of the first milestones was to conduct a campus-wide greenhouse gas inventory. Pomona College expanded the inventory to include a holistic range of sustainability and tied it to the academic mission of the college. The college worked with Esri Partner CTG Energetics, Inc., based in Irvine, California, to develop an innovative approach to the inventory. CTG trained and coordinated a team of six students who spent most of the summer conducting the inventory. At the end of the audit, the college hired its first director of sustainability to ensure that the college continues to move toward a greener future.

A Central Repository for Data Collection

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Auditing the water usage on campus has allowed the Grounds Department to change its landscape palette and reduce water usage.

The college maintains a site license of Esri software and used ArcGIS as the central data repository and analysis platform for significant portions of the audit, including landscape water use, embodied greenhouse gas emissions, green waste generation, storm water management, and on-site renewable energy potential. An aerial topographic survey, producing an accompanying aerial image of Pomona College, was performed in 2006 and saved in CAD file format. The CAD file was processed in AutoCAD to hide all the layers except the key landscaping elements that were required. The file and accompanying image file were then imported into ArcGIS and Microsoft Access and digitized by a student with prior class experience using the software. The result was a detailed geodatabase of Pomona's landscaping, including layers for building footprints, roof sections, streets, sidewalks, hardscape, landscape zones, and tree canopy.

Once the area was digitized, including 60 buildings and one million square feet, the audit team, consisting of six students, used the digital map data to create customized landscape audit forms that characterized Pomona College's landscape and identified irrigation and storm water conservation opportunities. Map books consisting of ten 11" x 17" pages reflecting the different zones of the college were used to assist with collecting the information accurately. Data from the field surveys was entered into the geodatabase.

Data on the number of roof segments, including slope, orientation, roofing material, and shading; parking lots; and other information, was also captured on the audit forms. This was later used to calculate solar energy generation potential on rooftops and parking lots; irrigation water use; water conservation measures, including "California-friendly" landscaping; and storm water management measures, such as permeable paving, green roofs, and other low-impact development (LID) strategies.

Translating Book Knowledge to the Real World

CTG provided background training sessions to introduce the student auditing team to the basic issues, technology, and auditing processes for each sustainability issue. The training sessions were held both indoors and outdoors and took two to four hours. This helped ensure data quality and consistency.

CTG and the audit team also visited various campus sustainability examples and LEED-rated green buildings—the Richard C. Seaver Biology (Silver certified) and the Lincoln and Edmunds Buildings (Gold certified), Pitzer's new LEED-rated dorm, and Harvey Mudd's LEED-rated Hoch Shanahan Dining Hall. The team examined the low-water-use landscape features of these buildings, as well as storm water measures and other relevant green building features. Permeable paving, low-water-consumption plant palettes, efficient irrigation systems, landscape shading, and building energy impacts were all examined. This direct experience of sustainability measures aided the student auditors in identifying appropriate areas for additional applications as they conducted their field surveys.

Once the training was complete, the students fanned out across the campus to conduct the auditing fieldwork and entered the results into audit forms. The GIS database was then updated to reflect changes on the ground identified by the audit team. The geodatabase and supporting data were used to analyze current resource use, including current landscape irrigation requirements and estimated storm water runoff, then analyze a range of sustainability measures and on-site renewable energy potential.

"Using GIS allowed us to perform the survey in a more efficient way," says Jon Roberts, PhD, principal consultant, director of building sciences, CTG. "There was a tremendous amount of data that we were able to process and use to make informed decisions that we couldn't have done any other way."

Findings on Campus

According to the survey results, the campus should continue to move toward a California-friendly landscaping palette, which includes water-efficient, drought-tolerant plantings; increased use of permeable hardscape, such as mulch; and reduction of the use of turf grass.

The Grounds Department used the information found by using ArcGIS to identify areas for changing landscape plant choices and irrigation technology. Since the completion of the audit, the department has

"Using GIS to view and analyze this vast amount of data had a significant impact all the way around," says Bowen Close, LEED Accredited Professionals, director, Sustainability Integration Office, Pomona College. "Incorporating spatial data into our audit was very helpful; we could calculate areas that we wouldn't have had time to solve by hand otherwise."

Providing a mechanism for everyone to view the campus data and analyze energy use introduced a systems-based approach to the analysis. "I'm starting to see others view GIS as a critical tool for collecting sustainability data," says Roberts. "Seeing the various meters, such as energy and water meters, and knowing which buildings feed which data is so much more organized and efficient than having to take file cabinets full of data and organizing it."

For more information, contact Jon Roberts, principal consultant, director of building sciences, CTG (e-mail:, tel.: 949-428-6285) or Bowen Close (e-mail:, tel.: 909-607-1765).

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