Going Green at the Big Green: Dartmouth’s Energy Campaign
By Sarah Frostenson
Published on Friday, April 17, 2009
"Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" is a slogan as familiar to Dartmouth students as, "One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish." Emblazoned everywhere, from the paper cups in the dining facilities -- which, ironically enough, are not recyclable, though they are compostable -- to the posters hanging above the recycling bins in dormitories, Dartmouth is intent on promoting an environmentally friendly message.
But are we, as in you and me, actually willing to listen? And more importantly, now with the College's Energy Campaign thrust upon us, are we ready to take action? Or are we content to sit back and hope that our empty Collis salad containers will recycle themselves in the same way our term papers will write themselves?
Now before you flip your non-biodegradable lid and throw down your (recyclable) copy of The Dartmouth in a huff, dismissing me as some "Eco-facist," rallying you to join the brigades of a recycling crusade to wipe out the unsustainable infidels on campus, hear me out.
I'm going to break down the ins-and-outs of Dartmouth's Energy Campaign like that cardboard box of baked goods your Mom sent you. And to think you thought about throwing it away.
In September 2008, College President James Wright made a commitment to make Dartmouth's energy future brighter, cleaner and, well, "greener." (In case you were worried, there'll be plenty more quality eco-jokes throughout. Environmentalists can have a sense of humor too, you know).
By 2030, Dartmouth hopes to have reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30 percent from 2005 levels, with two intermediary stages in between: a 20-percent reduction by 2015 and a 25-percent reduction by 2020.
Andrew Friedland, environmental studies department chair and longtime environmental studies professor, is a member of the Provost's Energy Task Force, which was established in the spring of 2007 to address the College's greenhouse gas emissions. He believes the goals recommended by the Task Force and adopted by President Wright are more than doable. Little known fact: Professor Friedland was also one of the founding chairs of the College Board's Advanced Placement Environmental Science test (oh hey APs!)
"Having worked on the Resource Working Group to help make the recommendations for Dartmouth's current energy plan, I know we can reach our goals," Friedland said. "Could we be doing more? Sure, you can always do more. But our goals are attainable, and more importantly, realistic."
I know. I know. You're thinking that's fine and dandy that Dartmouth is making all these commitments to be more energy efficient as an institution, but why should Dartmouth's pledge for a cleaner, greener and meaner energy future involve you? And what's this "Energy Pledge" that they keep blitzing, canvassing and tabling about?
"This ain't 'Nam," you say, "They can't force me to sign nothing!"
And why should you, anyway? Dartmouth is consistently ranked among its peers as one of the premier college institutions for recycling and sustainability. Receiving an 'A-' from the 2009 College Sustainability Report Card, Dartmouth scored high not only in the Ivy League division as a leader in sustainability, but was ranked 12th nationwide when compared with 300 other colleges and universities for its overall sustainability. For over 30 years, Dartmouth has made, and continues to make, a commitment to raising environmental awareness.
Acting with innovation and creativity when it comes to energy usage and sustainability, Dartmouth continues to be a forerunner of change, both with its programs including computer science professor Lorie Loeb's energy monitoring system, "GreenLite Dartmouth," the Big Green Bus and the organic farm. Dartmouth seems to pride itself in being environmentally conscious, and many of the College's buildings are already LEED certified, or working towards certification through major renovations, as outlined in the Energy Campaign.
According to Steve Shadford, Facilities Operations and Management energy engineer, the Energy Campaign's areas of concentration can be broken down into four main categories: fast track adjustment and calibration for all of Dartmouth's buildings' control systems, larger capital investments in the refurbishment of Dartmouth's most energy-intensive buildings, retro-fitting of existing building infrastructures and the continuation and further development of Dartmouth's steam-trap maintenance program.
So, if I didn't lose you with all the stimulating talk of calibration and retrofitting buildings on campus to make them more energy efficient, I'd like to renew my question: "Why bother signing Dartmouth's Energy Pledge?"
Honestly, where's the incentive (excluding the snazzy button you receive for signing the pledge -- and who knows, maybe green just isn't your color, so the button isn't as enticing a factor for you as it is for me).
It sure does seem as if Dartmouth's already pretty green without any involvement on our part. And, signs seem to point to Dartmouth continuing to be green, regardless if we decide to turn off our lights and "do it in the dark" or leave them blazing 24/7 as we make hay while the sun shines.
In case you hadn't noticed, I'm dripping with sarcasm as acerbic and biting as acid rain. (How's that for an environmental analogy?) Because in reality, I'm that awkward kid who digs through her residence hall's trash cans to retrieve recyclable items. Yep, it's true; I have witnesses. (Hi, male population of Dartmouth, still interested?)
Yet firing statistics at you isn't very effective, or sustainable, really. Just like pointing at you with an accusing and absurdly large index finger never does garner much of a fan base. At the end of the day, we're all intelligent individuals -- we know what plastic looks like and what bins marked with three green triangular arrows mean. Yet, without fail, some of us choose not to recycle. I freely acknowledge that most of us will not go out of our way to recycle if it isn't convenient, or if it requires putting forth extra effort to find that special recycling bin for batteries only. It isn't my job to judge.
Interestingly enough, however, out of 10 people I spoke to who described themselves as "non-recyclers," only one would go on the record as saying such. And this is most likely only because he is my friend. But then again, perhaps I asked the wrong people.
"Simply put, I don't want to compromise my lifestyle," Matt Scott '11 said.
Of course, I would argue being more sustainable can only add to the enhancement of one's lifestyle, quite often with unforeseen benefits, particularly within the realm of monetary savings. It's what I like to call "green economics" -- saving tree bark (amongst other things) while getting more bang for your buck.
This concept of using economics as a way to frame an argument for increased energy efficiency is becoming more common. In fact, in light of the current economic crisis and necessary budget cuts the College must make to account for the losses in its endowment, Dartmouth is banking on this strategy yielding untold dividends.
With the Board of Trustees having granted the College a generous $12.5 million to make Dartmouth's Energy Campaign and commitment to reduce carbon emissions a reality, a lot is riding on the success of the Energy Campaign as it is more than just a sustainability endeavor -- it's an economic one as well.
"In a preliminary study conducted by the Resource Working Group, we estimated a potential savings of $2.2 million for the College for an expenditure of about $10.5 million and a payback period of roughly four years," Shadford said.
When talking about the Energy Campaign, Kathy Lambert, Dartmouth's Sustainability Manager and driving administrative force behind the Energy Campaign, outlined the three main goals as being an annual reduction in electrical consumption on campus, an annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and securing 2,000 individual energy pledges from the Dartmouth community. All of which are goals that translate to energy savings, and monetary ones as well -- because the less electricity Dartmouth uses, the more Dartmouth can save.
"If Dartmouth was to reduce its energy consumption by just 10 percent, $1.5 million could be saved in a year. Think of all the different ways this money could be allocated -- funding for new academic programs or as a supplement for salaries that had to be cut," said Marissa Knodel '09, who has been actively involved with environmentalism here at Dartmouth since her freshman year and is the student organizer of the Energy Campaign.
Associate Vice President of FO&M John Gratiot touched on the importance of the Energy Campaign's role in getting the whole campus on board to support the College's newfound energy initiative.
"All that we have done at Dartmouth in the past has come about as a result of a few people who felt passionate about energy and energy conservation in general," he said. "But now we have an institutional commitment, and it's not just a few people anymore. It's going to take a whole campus to raise awareness to the issues, though, and we've got to create some personal accountability."
Fostering a sense of personal accountability is exactly what the energy pledge is hoping to do in 12 easy steps -- asking those who take the pledge to commit to fulfilling eight of the 12 "simple actions that, collectively over time, will reduce consumption and greenhouse gas emissions at Dartmouth."
Actions range from agreeing to turn off the lights, taking shorter showers, plugging in all electronics into a power strip that can be powered off when not actively in use and monitoring energy usage through GreenLite Dartmouth.
Shadford describes the dynamic between the energy initiatives the College is undertaking and the actions of the student body as a symbiotic relationship.
"Students and staff can help out in ways that the systems are not able to achieve by themselves," Shadford said. "While we could install occupancy sensors everywhere on campus to turn off the lights, it reaches a point where it becomes cost prohibitive, and behavior becomes important, adding incremental savings to what we are doing."
Susan Milord, the administrative assistant for the environmental studies program and an avid environmentalist herself, walks 2.5 miles to work everyday, and is excited by the Energy Campaign and its potential to become a permanent fixture of Dartmouth culture as more and more students, faculty and administrators take the pledge
"From what I know, the students have incredible ideas regarding energy and energy efficiency, but because of the constant turn-over it is hard to keep up the momentum," Milford said. "Which is why I think the changes have to be initially made by the staff, faculty and administrators. We're the constant; we can put the students' ideas into practice and ultimately change the culture."