Going Green On the Hill

April 2, 2014

Every day Denison is investing in sustainability, making big changes and small ones that add up, and the net result is a campus that’s getting greener all the time.

For example, Facilities Services has added occupancy sensors that automatically turn off the lights and reduce the heating and air conditioning in unoccupied rooms, and they’ve replaced old-style light bulbs with others that consume less energy and have a longer lifespan.

Most recently, the facilities team has started working on updating the heating and air conditioning systems in Knapp and Olin halls. “We started the work over spring break. We hope to be done by the end of summer,” said Bob Jude, Denison’s energy and project specialist.

The funding for making campus buildings more energy efficient comes from Denison’s Green Hill Revolving Loan Fund, which was started in 2011. The university is committed to setting aside three million dollars over a four to six year period to pay for energy efficient projects. The fund is revolving, in the sense that it uses the proceeds from energy savings to cover the costs future projects. It’s part of the national Billion Dollar Green Challenge initiative, in which a group of more than 30 colleges and universities have made a commitment to creating “green” revolving funds.

“We were already spending money on sustainable campus renovations—and we knew we would continue to reinvest in our buildings—so it was an easy decision to be part of the Billion Dollar Green Challenge,” said Seth Patton, vice president for finance and management. “These kinds of investments make sense for our campus and for our community.”

In fact, Denison’s Green Hill Fund recently was featured in a case study by the Sustainability Endowments Initiative, a special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

Here’s an example of how it works: When money is invested in replacing older lighting in residential halls with newer, more efficient florescent lights, then the savings from what would have been spent on electricity goes back into the fund. In roughly three to six years, the improvements will result in a return on investment.

“We don’t do it just for sound financial management; we’re also concerned with conserving energy and reducing our carbon footprint.”

“Since the start of the fund, we have invested about $1.2 million, mostly on lighting. Through these sustainable investments, we have saved roughly $300,000,” said Jeremy King ’97, the campus sustainability coordinator.

Each year, the facilities team has about $450,000 to invest in making campus sustainability improvements. A set amount of $50,000 is used for community initiatives, such as solar panels or outdoor LED lights. Ideas can be submitted by anyone to Jeremy King.

With improved heating and cooling systems as well as lights, energy consumption has decreased by ten percent. “But, this doesn’t mean that our costs are down,” Jude said. He explained how with rising energy costs, the reduction in energy consumption results in spending roughly the same each year. The reductions help to combat inflation.

Art Chonko, director of Facilities Services, appreciates how Denison has built in maintenance and renovation costs into the operating budget. He said that does not happen at all universities. “We don’t do it just for sound financial management,” he said. “We’re also concerned with conserving energy and reducing our carbon footprint.”

After Olin and Knapp, Chonko hopes the Facilities team will be able to work on making the library and the Mitchell Center use energy more efficiently. He said that the idea of using more solar panels was also being explored.

While the Facilities team works to reduce energy consumption through upgrading technology, a fair amount of energy can be saved by making simple behavioral changes. “When devices are left plugged in, they still use energy. They don’t use a lot of energy but there are a lot of these devices around campus,” said Jude.

King encourages students to turn off lights when they leave a room and to “be more aware of where they are using energy.” And Chonko said that heating and cooling rooms can be very costly. “Even adjusting the temperature a few degrees can use significantly less energy,” he said.

Chonko said that Denison is making good steps in using energy more efficiently and reducing energy use, but there is still a ways to go. “We need to continue doing what we’re doing,” he said, “And it needs to be a community effort.”

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