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Local Colleges Take Measures to Reduce Carbon Footprints


by Dan Roth, Marian Brown and In Shik Lee

The "Big Three" — the Tompkins County higher educational institutions — have each adopted the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from campus operations. Cornell University and Ithaca College have each pledged to meet a goal of 100 percent emissions reductions by 2050 and are currently implementing their Climate Action Plans. Tompkins Cortland Community College has submitted the first draft of its Climate Action Plan.

Cornell University reports that, over this past winter, new programmable digital heating and cooling controls were installed in the Cornell Campus Store. They are projected to cut energy costs by as much as $75,000 each year, about 49 percent of the store's energy bill. The upgrade is just one of dozens stemming from Cornell's increased investment in an Energy Conservation Initiative that aims to reduce energy use by 20 percent by 2015.

Most of the projects involve lighting retrofits and upgrades for controls of heating, ventilation and air conditioning in spaces as diverse as animal care rooms and greenhouses to Statler Hotel kitchens. The Department of Energy & Sustainability is also creating content and providing assistance for programs to educate people about the cost of energy use and its environmental impact.

Participants in a pilot project in six buildings have pledged to take such environmentally conscientious actions as switching off lights, shutting down computers and composting as part of the CALS Green competition launched in October. Their combined commitments should save about 530,180 pounds of carbon and as much as $60,000 this year.

Additionally, a student-led initiative, Lights Off Cornell, has evolved into a movement for energy conservation. More than 160 students have been involved, and the group now covers seven buildings. So far, the effort has saved an estimated $2,500 and reduced 13 tons of carbon emissions

Ithaca College has been able to "flatline" its annual utility budget — as well as substantially reduce its emissions — for the past few years, despite bringing online several new building projects, two of them LEED Platinum-certified and one LEED Gold certified. The college's new Athletics and Events Center is on target to achieve at least LEED Silver certification. The college also earned Energy Star building ratings for three of its oldest residence halls through implementing various "state of the shelf" energy-saving strategies.

The Center for Natural Science, the college's only laboratory building, was retrofitted with ultra-modern, energy-saving devices to make its dozens of fume hoods more efficient. Other campus-wide energy-saving strategies undertaken in recent years include direct digital control systems allowing programmed HVAC system shutdowns after hours, use of occupancy sensors, and installation of LED lighting and variable speed drives.

The college's partnership with Sodexo to improve energy efficiency in its dining operations has reaped substantial energy- and water-saving benefits as well as national publicity. Ithaca has also successfully engaged students in the work of implementing its climate goals, creating related academic internships and class projects, and developing integrative classes like the climate action research teams that study the college's climate action plan and identify new strategies to meet emission reduction goals.

At TC3, the sustainability council oversees all aspects of the climate action plan to include facility impact as well as curriculum alignment. The college has made a concerted effort to infuse the concepts of sustainability into core curriculum through freshman seminars as well as through the sustainability literacy program. TC3 gave its first degree this spring with a highlighted "sustainability designation."

Several projects to reduce the energy use and carbon footprint of the college have already been implemented. These include the retrofit of plumbing fixtures installed in the original building to low flow models. The classroom addition project the insulation of the exterior walls and added a small photovoltaic array that provides electricity to the building.

The college is currently sampling the performance of LED lighting in several locations and is evaluating additional lighting changes. Controls for the building management system have been modified and other improvements to the controls are being implemented.

The energy use measured in BTUs per square foot at the college have been reduced from about 130,000 in the 2003-04 academic year to a little less than 81,000 in the 2009-10 academic year. This has been accomplished with both increased space and population. In addition, a composting program reduced about 68 tons of materials being sent to a landfill. TC3 has adopted a Sustainability/Energy Star procurement policy for all purchases.

TC3.biz, the continuing education branch of TC3, has created a green energy technology program to offer courses in areas of energy efficiency, renewable energy and sustainable building science.

As three of the major employers in the region, Cornell, Ithaca College and Tompkins Cortland Community College can communicate with employees and students living, studying and working not only in Tompkins County, but from many counties around us. As we get more students, faculty and staff to reduce emissions, conserve energy and reduce resource waste, those members of our campus community who "get it" will disseminate that new knowledge and their changed behavior to their home communities as well.

Roth is sustainability coordinator at Cornell; Brown is special assistant to the provost for sustainability at Ithaca College; Lee is SUNY GREENS NY program coordinator at TC3. All three institutions are members of the Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative.

Ithaca Journal 8-20-11