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Education Key Component in Sustainability Initiative

Education Key Component in Sustainability Initiative

By Carolyn Fleder and Henri Gendreau

Kermit the Frog was right: Its not easy being green. But its about to get a whole lot easier.

A new aspect of the Colleges 20-month-long enterprise, known as the Energy Conservation Project (ECP), to improve energy-efficiency which involved the extensive replacement of lighting, pipes, showerheads and other devices is in its developmental phase.

Now that [the ECP] is becoming completed, the campus isnt really aware, I feel, of the environmental changes that have happened, Anna Peery 14, administration liaison of the Environmental Campus Organization (ECO), said. Peery also serves on the Behavior Modification Committee, which is the Office of Sustainabilitys advertising and planning arm for the new phase of the project.

The next step in this project is an educational piece that will be designed specifically for Kenyon to help get more awareness of how we use our energy, Chief Business Officer Mark Kohlman said.

The College plans to install two electronic kiosks that will inform the Kenyon community of its energy consumption. Students and staff will be able to see the real-time energy usage of almost every building on campus on a monitor. This dashboard may include a virtual room, where students can see, for example, a space heaters effect on the environment, information about the Colleges carbon footprint, data on how much money and energy the College spent last year compared to this year and energy goals the College hopes to meet.

Basically anything can be stored in these kiosks, Peery said, but she added that specific interactive devices are still in discussion. One kiosk will move around the campus while the other will remain in an area where many students gather, such as Peirce Hall.

In addition, the College plans to acquire up to 50 iPads and other tablets with the assistance of Ameresco Inc., the company that is spearheading the ECP, which the College willuse to try to raise awareness of energy usage. Although the specific plans for distribution are still in the works, the College hopes these tablets will enable students to more closely monitor the sustainability efforts. The College is also exploring converting the information on the kiosks and iPads into a smartphone application that all students could access. The idea, according to Sustainability Director Ed Neal, is to provide tools for people to make good decisions.

Just knowing where youre at is a very useful tool, he said.

Kohlman agreed, and said that this element of the project is vital to foster awareness of how the community uses energy. It will allow us to get some real direct feedback on usage and whats going on, he said. Kohlman expects the kiosks to be up and running by, appropriately, Earth Day.

Kohlman said the educational component could reduce the Colleges energy usage by as much as seven percent. He said this part of the ECP is at the heart of the project and would influence the choices students and staff alike make about their energy usage. If you dont know, youre not going to change your behavior, Kohlman said. If you know more about whats going on potentially well see a fairly substantial reduction just from that.

More specifically, the College expects to see a 28 to 30 percent reduction in energy usage.

Neal said he remains confident that the College will achieve this reduction. I can say that we have seen a 22 percent reduction at this point, he said. And we dont have everything complete, so Im relatively sure were going to hit our mark.

The educational component is the final phase of the ECP. Throughout the spring and summer, maintenance workers went into the Colleges 125 academic, residential and administrative buildings to replace, renovate and retrofit. The improvements they implemented include occupancy sensors that regulate temperature, more efficient lighting and EPA-approved water fixtures, including low-flow shower nozzles, sinks and toilets. This project enabled us to do a whole group of things that normally would have taken us a lot longer to do, Kohlman said.

But the project isnt just about acruing good karma. Its not just being eco-friendly this is saving [the] College a lot of money, said Peery.

The $7.5 million project is beginning to pay dividends. With expected savings of $600,000 a year, the College already has seen its lighting costs slashed by 18 percent, according to Neal. While Ameresco guarantees this payback (and will make up the difference if it is not met), the $600,000 savings is a conservative estimate. Our expectation is that well do better than that, Kohlman said.

Heather Doherty, program manager for the Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC), said she was delighted to see the project put in place.

She said that such energy-efficient efforts were a long time in the making. Until now it just hasnt been a top priority, Doherty said. I think some people wished that some of these things had happened a little sooner, but I certainly am happy to see it happening now.

In fact, the College, while boasting a variety of sustainability initiatives such as a focus on local food, does not rank as highly as some of its peer institutions. In 2011, the College Sustainability Report Card, an independent evaluator of sustainability that rates colleges based on surveys and data collection, gave Kenyon a C+ ranking it fourth among The Five Colleges of Ohio, just slightly better than The College of Woosters C-.

Neal said the Office of Sustainability remains hopeful that after 15 months, when the project is estimated to be completed, Kenyon will improve this score. I think that this project is definitely going to help us there, Neal said. They wont give us credit for things in progress.

President S. Georgia Nugent agreed the College has been slow to initiate sustainability efforts in the past. I think sometimes thats okay, to not be on the cutting edge, because you actually learn from the experience of others, she said.

We moved a little more slowly, but by the time we did that, there were more opportunities, like this energy contract and so forth, that had developed during that time.

Peery said that while the ECP is an attempt to keep up with the range of colleges and universities that have improved and promoted their energy efficiency, more than anything, it is common sense.

I think there is influence from other institutions, but I also think that the cost was a big appeal, she said. Its better environmentally, its also better financially so why not?

Likewise, Nugent pointed out the Colleges sustainability as a priority among prospective students. [Sustainability] has been a pretty front-burner objective for Kenyon [to] really think about the environment in which we live and preserve it in many different ways and protect it. It also happens that sustainability seems to be the one cause that young people care about today. So that also is a reason why it makes sense for a college especially to be thinking about [environmentalism].

Neal agreed that the ECP is helpful on many fronts. The charge I have as the sustainability director [is] to use our energy as efficiently as we possibly can, he said. To him, though, the project has become about more than that. The educational component encourages personal involvement, which provides the opportunity to not only reduce our negative impact on the environment, but to do something positive.

Doherty said she hopes the outcome of the ECP will ultimately promote environmental improvement and create sustainability-minded students. I think the more we can do the more our graduates, I hope, will be people who have the energy to go forward with these things [in mind], she said.

Neal was similarly optimistic. I think the behavioral modification portion of this project is really going to make a nice impact, Neal said. My experience with the college community is if they know what better is, then they will definitely do it.

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