SIRF shores up financing for sustainability initiatives

A small group of people stand in a campus commuity garden.

Funding is available to invest in projects that support campus energy reduction at Arizona State University and deliver an economic return on investment. Funds are accessible through the Arizona State University Sustainability Initiatives Revolving Fund (SIRF). The money saved through the implementation of small- and large-scale energy-efficient projects is reinvested into SIRF, enabling more funding for future endeavors.

Individuals or departments across all four ASU campuses can submit SIRF proposals for projects such as community gardens that utilize sustainable features, motion-detecting lighting systems, energy metering projects, and thermal insulations for cooling and heating pipes.

“Since we started SIRF in fiscal year 2012, we’ve funded projects like the thermal insulation for pipes at the Tempe central plant which has an estimated payback of five years and the potential to save ASU more than $81 thousand a year in energy costs,” says Lisa Frace, associate vice president of Planning and Budget and the SIRF committee chairperson. Insulating the pipes lessens energy losses, alleviates the risk of plant employees being burned and lowers the temperatures in smaller confined spaces.

Larger energy projects funded by SIRF include the ASU Energy Metering Project that provides meters to Las Casas and 18 other buildings on the ASU West Campus, Taylor Place and 11 other buildings on the ASU Downtown Phoenix Campus, and the central plant and other 27 buildings at the ASU Polytechnic Campus. These buildings will be connected to ASU Campus Metabolism, an interactive web tool that measures energy output from ASU buildings.

“To conserve energy effectively across all four ASU campuses, it’s essential to have a metering system that can detect steam leaks, give our facilities team a chance to act quickly to mitigate problems and enable us save money on campus energy costs,” says Ray Jensen, associate vice president of University Business Services and SIRF committee member.  

Jensen also is the university’s sustainability operations officer. He believes in the direct correlation between awarding more funds to SIRF project proposals and moving ASU closer to achieving its 2035 carbon neutrality goal.

“It’s not only large-scale infrastructure-type strategies that can help us move closer to carbon neutrality across our four campuses,” Jensen says. “A project like the Hayden Library motion-detecting lighting system is an example of an easy energy-savings solution that a department can propose for SIRF funding.”

In most cases, funding decisions can occur within a few weeks after submissions are made. Depending upon a project’s size and economic and sustainability justifications, SIRF funds are granted based on a three-tired award system:

• Tier 1: University Community Sustainability Micro Grants: Smaller projects that are designed to build a campus sustainability culture and promote student engagement. A small funding pool is set aside each year to award grants of up to $5,000, and is overseen by Nick Brown, director of Sustainability Practices at ASU and SIRF committee member.

• Tier 2: Fund Matching and Efficiency Loans: Medium-scale, capital-improvement initiatives that return a project’s costs within 6 years or less. These loans are ideal for projects to upgrade or renovate space and equipment to improve efficiency and reduce carbon emissions, and require that the department match-fund the proposed investment as well as share in the return generated.

• Tier 3: Capital Expansion Loans: All large-scale initiatives that make a significant and measurable sustainability impact and return a project’s costs within 10 years or less. These loans are targeted at strategic internal and external partnerships that reduce carbon emissions.

The SIRF committee enacted minimum financial goals that Tier 2 and Tier 3 projects must achieve to receive funds. Each project’s yearly savings are incorporated into ASU’s annual and multi-year fiscal plans.

“Nearly all of the proposals received that meet the economic return on investment criteria are approved,” Frace says. “As the word spreads about SIRF funding availability, the review process will become more competitive; ensuring that the committee will see more creative proposals that can lower the university’s energy costs and carbon output.”

To learn more about SIRF and how to submit a SIRF proposal, visit: or email: