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Going Green While Saving Green: Team Energy

These IHEs have stopped relying solely on construction projects and new purchases to lower their energy bills and started bringing students, faculty, and staff into the equation.
University Business, Jun 2006

When Hillier Architecture conducted a study to explore how colleges and universities deal with space crunches, the Princeton, N.J.-based firm exploded a few well-loved myths in the process. Among them: American schools are indiscriminate and inefficient energy users.

It's a forgivable mistake. After all, large institutions are large consumers, and in this case the buildings may well be old and leaky to boot. Today's students live a 24-hour lifestyle, burning lights, computers, and television sets every minute of the day and night.

Yet Hillier discovered that 95 percent of schools say sustainable design issues will play a large role in future building and planning, and 8 percent have recently completed a LEED-certified building.

That future isn't long in coming. In November 2005, administrators at the University of New Hampshire wrapped up an 18-month project to build a cogeneration plant to power 75 percent of its own electrical and thermal power-while using energy-saving #2 fuels that reduce 45 percent of emissions compared to the university's previous system. That same month, Syracuse University (N.Y.) unveiled its Energy Council in response to citizens' concerns that the school wasn't focused on conservation. It's a blatant public relations attempt to not only showcase SU's efforts and progress at town hall meetings over the past 15 years, but also to involve student volunteers who spread the energy savings message.

"Many schools have student-led green or sustainability efforts," says Katy Hatcher, Energy Star's national manager for the public sector partnership. "However, there is a lot of room to increase the amount of energy efficiency activities at colleges and universities." The Department of Energy now counts 140-plus IHEs among its partners-schools where administrators are striving to present buildings that use as little energy as those in the top quartile for similar building types (across all industries). The current campaign in the commercial building category challenges users to improve energy efficiency by 10 percent or more over their baseline. It sounds simple until officials realize they must squeeze that 10 percent from across the entire campus rather than a mere building or two to qualify for the kudos. That feat requires creative behavioral changes to accomplish because, as the successful schools will tell you, energy savings isn't something you buy. It's something you buy into.

"Students are our built-in allies," says Steve Lloyd, associate director of energy and chair of Syracuse's Energy Council. "They are hipper to a lot of this stuff than the faculty and staff, who are the ones we need to reach because they're the last to leave most of the offices and classrooms."

Department staffers, who tend to notice deficiences and want to help, are easily brought on board, shares Lloyd. As for faculty, many of them resist breaking old habits.

Susan Kulakowski, the campus energy manager for Stanford University, tackles that tangle by dangling a conservation incentive program. A few years ago, she created an annual kilowatt-hour budget for each school within the institution. If they use fewer kilowatt-hours than anticipated, they keep the value of the difference, typically between 10 and 12 cents per unit. Exceed it, and they write a check for the difference.

To date, the engineering school counts itself among the winners, pocketing $50,000 each year in savings. Others, which Kulakowski refuses to embarrass publicly, have had to fork over between $10,000 and $15,000. "They have to find local school funds to cover [it]; the university doesn't come in and bail them out," she assures. "We know, at least in one case, it gave them some motivation to look harder at what they are doing in their operation and try to find ways to save electricity."

Kulakowski also sees the incentive program as an exercise that bonds students and faculty, since they need each other to help keep the lights turned off and lab equipment shut down when not in use.

Iowa State University sponsors a similar program known as Energy Heroes. Collectively, the campus saved $1.2 million in fiscal year 2004-2005. Of its 47 benchmark buildings, 20 used less electricity over this time period compared to their average use over the previous three years. Stanford officials are striving to see a 5 percent reduction in electricity use overall. So far, their program has shaved off approximately 2 percent campuswide. But because the number of campus buildings is growing, Kulakowski considers that a victory in itself.

"I don't think it would have happened without our provost buying into the concept of giving schools more responsibility for some of the expenses associated with doing business with the university," says Kulakowski. "And because we've been able to show success, that keeps the ball rolling." She's currently mulling over a plan to pit schools against each other in a competition-an idea she gleaned from Harvard University-to reach her 5 percent goal. Departments would compete against each other rather than just against themselves. "I just have to see if we have the measurement tools in place because you know they will nitpick every number," Kulakowski adds.

Most students who enter Berea College (Ky.) aren't environmentalists-yet internal studies show the environment is among four areas where graduates show the greatest amount of growth in understanding, reports President Larry D. Shinn. Part of the credit goes to Ecovillage, a housing complex designed to reduce energy and water consumption by 75 percent compared to conventional buildings.

Ecovillage offers single-parent students something they badly need: economically affordable housing, including day care, in exchange for their behavioral cooperation in reaching steep energy reductions.

"It wouldn't be very realistic if we simply let people self-select into the village. ... You'd have people who would behave in the fashion you're trying to teach from the beginning," Shinn notes. Residents agree to hang laundry on a clothesline (the 32 units provide washers but not dryers) and irrigate vegetable gardens with captured rainwater. They also learn to use composting toilets and are participating in a sewage treatment experiment that should lead the state to revamp its public policy on where this grade of recycled water can be used.

Those lagging state laws make up half the reason the Ecovillage has yet to meet its 75 percent reduction goal, Shinn says. The other reason remains the human behavior factor: It simply takes time for people to learn to turn off the water while brushing their teeth.

A Stanford program to save energy has reduced electricity use by
2 percent campuswide-despite the campus growing.

He sees it as a worthwhile mission to stick to. "These are young people who will spread out as knowledgeable citizens who don't see energy reduction as something only people with long hair who hug trees use. For those of us paying 40 to 50 percent higher natural gas bills this year, it's no longer a fringe movement for green people.

"We certainly don't have every faculty member or every student who believes in what we are doing," he adds. "But in times when we face higher natural gas prices, we have a 40-percent drop in actual usage. That's a positive economic impact on our campus."

Crowder College (Mo.), a three-campus community college, took the village concept a step further. Under the direction of Solar Program Director Art Boyt, students are building an energy-efficient complex and entering each house in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon annual competition. Their 2005 entry had a full kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom, and bath with Jacuzzi tub. It also boasted the second-most powerful solar array among the contenders displayed along the National Mall in Washington, D.C.-"enough to run four average homes, so it was very much intended as a house that would make more energy than it consumed," Boyt reports.

There wasn't "a single minute of sunshine" during the competition week, he adds, so "it was hard for us to demonstrate how good the solar array was. But we were one of only three teams that generated all the power we consumed during the competition. Some of the other teams, including the winners, depleted their batteries in order to do their operations."

The dozen or so participating students may well have been inspired by the institution's tradition of focusing on alternative energy. In 1983, a Crowder team developed the first solar-powered vehicle to cross the country. In the works is construction of the Missouri Alternative and Renewable Energy Technology Center, the first "net-zero" energy building in the state and one of very few of these buildings, which produces as much energy as it consumes, nationwide.

The ramifications of the Solar Decathlon team's efforts are reaching the entire campus. For starters, the village will serve immediately as a classroom learning tool for a number of different disciplines, and ultimately as married student housing or possibly a retirement village after the students put a few more competitions under their belts.

Local businesses are also throwing their support behind Crowder's blueprint. "The solar projects make good advertising," says Boyt. "When you need high-tech components for elements of these projects, it's surprising how many of those needs can be met by regional businesses." That's crucial, considering he must fund his houses without a budget. "We have essentially said, 'We're going to do this. Here's the design, here's a group who wants to build it,' and then we find the partners to make it happen. In many cases, these aren't resources traditional for the college, so they're here because of the excitement generated around the project." Those project volunteers are, at least, guaranteed fun. "But it's a party with a purpose," Boyt stresses.

At Tulane University in New Orleans, the return to campus operations after Hurricane Katrina meant that Liz Davey, program manager in the Office of Environmental Affairs, could pick up where she left off in crusading for energy efficiency. Previous efforts involved using federal grant money to hire four students to brainstorm energy efficiencies. One semester, the crew calculated Tulane's greenhouse emissions, as well as did a hilarious study of energy use in one four-bedroom student apartment. (Its occupants operated more than 56 appliances and lights.)

That sparked the idea of a model energy-efficient dorm room, which two of the students agreed to assemble and live in. They eventually hosted every administrator who influenced purchasing decisions during the 2001-2002 school year. A newsletter article about the endeavor generated more than 10,000 hits on the office's website for additional energy-efficiency tips.

The room's fame set off an energy-efficiency contest between residence halls. The prize? An ice cream party with Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry's. "Students enjoy working together. It makes it easier to have continuity of projects even as individuals go abroad or have heavy course loads, and it makes the projects more student-driven than staff driven," Davey says of her young employees. She hopes to turn the time students spent on other campuses during Tulane's hurricane clean-up into solid contacts that will spread the program throughout the South.

Sarah Hammond Creighton, program manager for the Tufts University's Climate Initiative, also purchases student input. She pays student "eco reps" a $100 stipend per semester to spread advice such as how to shut down the dorms properly for winter break. It's small potatoes savings compared to the lighting upgrades and consolidated HVAC systems she's invested in, but her real goal is to buy acceptance to new ways for new days.

"We are moving from a cultural customer service angle to one of energy savings," Creighton explains. "When somebody phones to say, 'I'm too cold,' instead of ... jacking up their heat, we say, 'It is at our temperature policy, so I am terribly sorry. May I suggest a sweater?' That process will include human resources, our college's citizenship, our facilities folks-supervisors as well as technicians.

We don't want to have the Ronald Reagan reputation of energy conservation being about freezing in the dark. We want to identify opportunities for savings and develop a uniform policy."

Western Michigan University officials surely scored popularity points with students when they announced an extra seven days off for winter break at the Kalamazoo campus. Spring break, too, will be extended by seven days-moves they anticipate will save $600,000 in heating and lighting.

On the other end of the country, 85 percent of Western Washington University students voted to pay $1.05 more per credit hour, so the school could buy 35 million kilowatt-hours of green-powered electricity from Puget Sound Energy in 2005-2006. It was a $350,000 investment decision.

Down the road in Olympia, students at The Evergreen State College copied that initiative, while The University of Oregon's student government spent $100,000 on solar panels for campus buildings. Tim Wynn, director of that campus's facilities management, gives WWU credit for expanding the idea of renewable energy. "Every kilowatt of renewable energy generated and used is a kilowatt less of fossil fuel being burned and dumped back as heat and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere."

Not to mention, WWU's move brought national recognition when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, DOE, and Center for Resource Solutions selected the university for its 2005 Green Power Leadership Award.

Wynn's advice on how to duplicate that success: "Get a group of active, intelligent, articulate students and turn them loose. Students initiated this action and supported it strongly to the administration and Board of Trustees. It would not have been considered otherwise."

How to Walk the Talk

"The status quo usually has evolved to solve problems. As an advocate and environmentalist, I feel it is important to recognize that and make sure that your solutions solve those same problems."

-Sarah Hammond Creighton, program manager for the Tufts Climate Initiative, Tufts University

"You have to be willing to take good analysis of the extra cost and the benefits. True, you'll get incentives and savings to pay it back over X number of years. But if the other benefit is that you're not consuming all the electricity in the middle of the summer or burning all the gas in the winter, then you set a good example as a public instruction."

-John Dunn, dean of Administration,

Dutchess Community College (N.Y.)

"Get the students involved as soon as you can. They can have the biggest impact on your energy and water use."

-Larry D. Shinn, president, Berea College (Ky.)

"If Facilities Operations isn't on board, you won't be able to do the types of projects-the lighting and the motors and the HVAC systems-that really get you concrete savings. You could have an education program but without that, you are just nibbling around the edges, cutting 5 to 10 percent of your total load."

-Susan Kulakowski, campus energy manager,

Stanford University

"Communication to everybody is a challenge because there are a lot of little groups around campus: different schools, different residence halls, fraternities and sororities, apartment complexes. So it's tough to get an audience in one place together. We unveiled a website to solicit input and we're going to start holding town hall meetings-a road show, if you will."

-Steve Lloyd, associate director of energy, Syracuse University

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