Sustainability initiatives light up campus

Stephanie Boyd is in for a busy year. Formerly the manager of special projects in the operations office, Boyd was recently named the acting director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives for the next year, a position which puts her in the prime position to clarify the still-developing plan to drastically reduce the College’s greenhouse emissions to 10 percent below 1990-1 levels.

Boyd, the 2006 chair of the Climate Action Committee, comes to the position with substantial experience working in sustainability and a pointed sense of optimism about her task. “Now that we have an official home, and directed resources, we will be able to make even more progress than we have in the past several years,” she said.

According to Boyd, the emissions reduction target is an aggressive goal that will require efforts in areas as varied as conservation projects in existing buildings, carbon footprints in construction and cleaner fossil fuels in College heating systems. She also cited waste management, composting and recycling, material and product selection and sustainable food as areas that will be taken into consideration in the coming months. But even more pressing than tackling these micro-level projects, she said, is developing a campus culture of sustainable living.

Boyd’s job is daunting, but she is hardly alone in her efforts. Facilities, Dining Services and students have continued their strong campaign to increase awareness of environmental issues and take a bite out of carbon emissions, so to speak.

Facilities recently took on holiday lighting as a site for environmental reform. The trees beside Thompson Chapel and at the corner of Spring St. and Walden St., the shrubs in front of Goodrich Hall and the President’s house are now all adorned with a new, sustainable holiday wardrobe: LED string lights.

According to Irene Addison, associate vice president for Facilities and auxiliary services, “old fashioned” C-9 bulbs previously lit the tree in front of the Chapel and cost the College $1247 each winter and used 9235 Kilowatt-Hours (KWH). Now, the tree has twice as many lights, costs $53 for the season, and uses only 396 KWH.

In years past, the tree near the end of Spring St. was lit by smaller twinkle lights that used 2772 KWH to power. With 67 percent more lights, the tree now only requires 396 KWH.

Addison explained that, between these two trees alone, the College is saving 11,215 KWH. Morgan Hall, one of the largest dorms on campus, used approximately 13,000 KWH during the month of September, she said.

”The power required to power these trees has been decreased by 96 percent, yet we’ve doubled our lighting,” said Bea Miles, director of Facilities services.

The new lights also save approximately 2000 kilograms in carbon emissions, Addison said, equating the change with the annual carbon savings of switching out 130 incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescents.

The lighting switch comes on the heels of several other sustainable changes that have been enacted around campus this semester. Dining Services has offered some form of permanent bag for Grab ’n Go lunches for several years, but this year’s model is a thermal drawstring, which many students consider an improvement on the canvas sacks given away in years past. For three days in mid-October staff passed out 1000 bags along with cards that, once punched ten times, can enter the user into a drawing for prizes including a bike, iPod, $500 gift certificate to the Mountain Goat and several chances to win 10 Ephdollars.

According to Carol Luscier, Snack Bar manager, Dining Services’ goal for the bags is that 50 percent of students use them. She calculated that even this level of participation would save 47,000 paper bags per year.

The usage of biodegradable products has also become a major project. Everything from the cups used for smoothies at Snack Bar to takeout boxes and silverware, from napkins to deli paper that will soon replace the plastic bags that hold Grab ’n Go sandwiches, are now biodegradable. Though biodegradable versions of these products cost 10 to 15 percent more than regular kinds, Luscier pointed out that the cost comes out in the wash. “Biodegradable products are costly, but either we pay now, at the consumer end, or we pay later at the landfills,” she said.

Oil used in the Fryolater in Snack Bar is another site of new green thinking. The Flying Pig Farm picks up the used oil and converts it into bio-diesel fuel for their trucks.

Despite these strides, Luscier pointed out that there is more to be accomplished. “We’re doing what we can, but I think we can do better,” Luscier said. “It’s a lot about how we market sustainability to the students and other members of the College community so that they pay attention to it.”

The Do It In the Dark program, a subgroup of Thursday Night Grassroots, recently finished its November campaign for residential houses to compete for Snack Bar points based on how much energy use residents cut back on. A “Dinner in the Dark,” held the week before Thanksgiving break, drew hundreds of students to a candlelit dinner in Driscoll during which all lights in the dining hall were turned off.