November 25, 2008

C.U. Campus Life Strives to Increase Sustainability

Print More

This is the first article in a series analyzing how various aspects of campus life impact Cornell’s collective commitment to sustainability.
Have you ever opened your window in the winter time to cool down an overheated dorm room, or left the lights turned on even though you left your room for several hours?
These types of environmentally unsustainable decisions “have both economic and environmental impacts,” according to Student Trustee Mike Walsh grad, a member of the President’s Climate Commitment Implementation Committee.
Anshul Kumar ’09, a Jameson R.A., considers himself “fairly conscientious” about energy consumption; he turns off lights when not using them, turns the heater down when leaving for breaks and does not use full pressure in the shower.
However, he noted that some of his residents are “fairly frivolous,” particularly when they open windows to reduce heat.
According to Dale Walter, general manager of Facilities Operations, there is a knob on the front of almost every student’s heating unit that controls the heating valve. In the newer rooms, this knob can regulate heat in the 68 to 72 degree range.
The problem emerges, however, when a student leaves the heat on five, the highest setting, and then opens the window.
Elizabeth Martinez ’11 keeps her heat on the lowest setting in the Gothics, but still finds that she must open her window in the winter to make her room less stuffy.
“We’re not as successful as we’d like to be,” Walter conceded, but said that Facilities tries to put valves on each unit so that each student can regulate his or her room temperature.
Joshua Novy ’09 thinks that students are too lazy.
“[Students] pay $3,000 a semester and think that it’s all inclusive,” he said, and so they waste energy by opening windows to let out heat, leaving lights on and leaving appliances plugged in.
Jessica Wilson ’12 believes that students living on-campus would benefit if they knew the specific environmental and economic impact of their lifestyle choices. Campus Life constitutes 12 percent of electric consumption on campus.
“Students living off-campus are more aware [of their impact] because they have to see the utility bills,” she said.
Walsh believes that it is necessary to “incentivize” reduced energy usage.
“When multiple students make poor decisions,” he continued, “they start to build up.”
“Green buildings aren’t just green on their own,” Walsh explained. “They are designed to use less energy, but people need to be cognizant of how to live in a green building [and] feel empowered to make some decisions on their own.”
The Greek system is also beginning to hop on the sustainability bandwagon with Greeks Go Green, a program that will require each Greek chapter to elect an environmental chair who will be in charge of making the house more sustainable.
According to Christina Copeland ’11, outreach coordinator for the Sustainability Hub and a team leader for Greeks Go Green, houses can improve their sustainability record by doing things like getting compact fluorescent lights from Hillel, creating a compost pile, putting clocks in showers to time the length of each shower or ordering organic cotton t-shirts. Additionally, Sustainable Business Investors from Ithaca College will conduct free energy audits for Greek chapters.
Improvements resulting from changes in the Greek houses will be reflected in the end-of-year reports submitted by all of the houses, which forms the basis of the rankings of chapters on campus.
Kristen Vitro ’11, a team leader for Greeks Go Green and sustainability chair for Alpha Zeta, said that while some houses reacted favorably to this program, others did not.
Paraphrasing the negative reactions, she said that some chapter presidents have said, “We hate you because you’re making us do all this extra stuff.”
However, Vitro explained, “We’re trying to design it so that there’s not a lot of changes required, but rather simple lifestyle changes.”
According to Walter, Facilities has ongoing initiatives to encourage sustainable practices in on-campus housing.
Walter cited examples such as the massive replacements of light bulbs with the more energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs, the installations of low-flow shower heads and the replacement of old appliances with ENERGY STAR-rated, low energy appliances. All laundry washers are now front-loaded so that they reduce water consumption by 30 percent, and Facilities has installed hundreds of motion detectors in bathrooms, common rooms and laundry areas to reduce unnecessary lighting and conserve electricity.
Despite the increase in energy consumption from the construction of new buildings over the past decade, this raise is offset by University conservation initiatives, resulting in a relatively “flat” trend in energy consumption, according to Dean Koyanagi, sustainability coordinator in the Office of Environmental Compliance/Sustainability.
In regards to Campus Life, Walter said that this is a positive trend because students’ “plug load” is significantly higher. That is, students bring far more electronics with them to Cornell than they have in years past.
In examining Mews residence hall, only minor fluctuations in electricity usage are evident; according to the Finance and Administration for Facility Services website, in the 2005 Fiscal Year Mews used 875,520 kilowatt hours of electricity, in FY2006 804,864 kWh, in FY2007 794,880 kWh and in FY2008 Mews reduced the total usage to 814,080 kWh.
According to Randy Lacey, University Engineer, these relatively minor fluctuations in newer buildings are due to weather and occupant behaviors.
“In a dormitory,” he said, “students have a lot of impact on energy use.”
Karen Muckstadt, director of Facilities Management, explained that Facilities engages in a big push to educate students, particularly at the end of the semester. They urge students to do things like close windows and unplug electronics and appliances.
“With 7,000 people [living on campus], every little bit helps,” she said.