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Energy Management

There was a time, and not all that long ago, when many organizations looked at energy costs as a fixed cost of doing business over which they had little control. But rising energy prices, coupled with a challenging economic environment and an increasing focus on carbon reduction, have grabbed American leaders by the shoulders and shaken them into a greater state of consciousness when it comes to energy.

The sustainability movement is on pace for rapid growth in the United States, with some analysts predicting it will approach $50 billion by 2013. Stanford University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of California, Berkeley, and MIT top the U.S. News and World Report list of universities offering degrees in renewable energy, sustainable design, and conservation. It was only a matter of time then that a college, focused solely on preparing grads for careers in this field, would appear on the map.

When Zach Waickman was a senior at Loyola University Chicago, he had just completed an internship with a major news network in Chicago and planned to pursue a career within his communication major. But, a course focused on biodiesel completely changed his path.

Waickman, who graduated in 2008, is now working toward obtaining his MBA and is biodiesel lab manager for Loyola's Center for Urban Environmental Research, facilitating students in the process of turning waste grease into biodiesel to fuel the university's shuttle busses.

Electricity. It turns on the lights, powers the smart boards, and runs the computers that are all vital to a modern campus. Acquiring that electricity can be both an expensive proposition and a key part of an environmental action plan. With the size and variety of buildings on campus, some colleges and universities have their own power stations on campus to ease their dependence on public utility companies. Most have their own microgrids to distribute power generated from any source. Now campus leaders are looking into giving those microgrids an education.

When colleges and universities start assessing their carbon footprint, the IT department is likely to come under fire by virtue of having oversight of much of the energy consumption on campus. Just how much energy do IT functions account for? At Harvard, for example, Sustainability Office Director Heather Henriksen says that IT functions--from data centers to network equipment to desktops and laptops--make up between 13 and 25 percent of the institution’s peak electrical load. “Research computing needs are set to double in five to six years under business as usual,” she adds.

Students at the University of Albany (N.Y.) are being challenged to calculate their carbon footprint and then make strides to reduce it. This fall will be the third year UAlbany is providing two living and learning communities--one for freshmen and one for upperclassmen--focusing on the environment. They emphasize energy in the fall and recycling and waste reduction in the spring.

Saving the environment isn’t just a goal at Medaille College in Buffalo, NY. It’s a way of life. Concerned about its impact on the environment, the college is taking aggressive steps to reduce its energy consumption.

Colleges and universities have long competed for students, faculty, and funding through academic excellence, research success, and athletic prowess. Now, they have a new arena for competition—the size of their carbon footprint. This is a way to measure an aspect of environmental impact through determining the amount of carbon produced by the institution and its activities. Schools wanting to distinguish themselves for being “green” now have hard numbers to back up their claims.

 

SOMETIMES WORDS AND PHRASES CAN trigger images that we use to define things. For example, when I hear the word “sustainable” it often brings to mind a trip I took some years ago. I was among a group of people touring one of the largest working dairy farms in western Connecticut.

 

TODAY’S JOBS MEAN NOTHING without tomorrow’s education. To be sure, stimulus dollars should be deployed to create jobs now. But that deployment also represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in the expansion of our nation’s educational capacity and facilities.

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