In Fiscal Hard Times, Colleges And Universities Find Environmental Measures Pay Off

Release Date: November 8, 1995 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Environmental issues on campus are sparking as much interest from university administrators as from students, according to a new book, Ecodemia: Campus Environmental Stewardship at the Turn of the 21st Century, published by the National Wildlife Federation.

The book describes how colleges and universities, including the University at Buffalo, are demonstrating that environmental responsibility can help cap, and even cut back, campus costs at a time when higher education is increasingly feeling the financial squeeze.

Author Julian Keniry, national coordinator for the federation's campus ecology program, writes that today's fiscal concerns are putting a new spin on environmental efforts at colleges and universities.

"Now, accountants can actually track the savings," she adds.

Keniry notes that some schools have begun to solicit business with environmentally friendly vendors and to make waste reduction an important criterion for doing business.

"Colleges and universities are uniquely situated to make a real difference," according to Keniry, "partly because they deal with so many vendors."

She points out that where successful, environmental initiatives in the workplace are also great morale-boosters.

"They foster teamwork among scientists, administrators, interns and others who might otherwise have little contact," she writes. "They provide a forum for employees and students eager to participate in the decision-making process. Ecodemia is about both the tangible and the intangible benefits of 'greening' our institutions."

The book contains numerous examples of environmentally savvy college and university administrators who have implemented substantial cost savings through "green" programs.

The University at Buffalo, for example, is mentioned prominently as a campus where a progressive, energy-conservation policy has been successfully implemented.

"While Congress, for example, seems incapable of formulating a farsighted and economically smart policy to promote energy efficiency, administrators at SUNY Buffalo have developed their own," writes David W. Orr, professor and chair of environmental studies at Oberlin College, in the book's foreword.

"As a result," Orr continues, "the university will save $3.2 million per year, equal to 15 percent of the present energy budget. They will also substantially reduce institutional contributions to global warming, acid rain and national cynicism. By decisive action they have demonstrated to students, faculty and the public at large that the future does not have to be bleak and that with sufficient leadership, large institutions can act responsibly."

The self-financing project is the result of a unique partnership between UB, Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., CES/Way International, Inc., a Houston-based energy-conservation company, and the State University of New York (SUNY) Construction Fund.

Funded at no cost to New York State taxpayers, the project would not have been possible without a $4.3 million incentive from Niagara Mohawk under the utility's "Power Partners Program" with CES/Way.

Among the project's environmental benefits is an annual 15 percent reduction in UB's energy-related air emissions, including about 70 tons less of sulfur dioxide and 107 tons less of nitrogen oxide, prime components of acid rain.

UB's program is described in detail in a chapter on energy and utilities that quotes Walter Simpson, the university's energy officer at length, describing how UB's comprehensive program succeeded because it incorporated both short-term and long-term payback measures.

The chapter also notes that universities -- and other businesses, for that matter -- can ensure success of conservation programs by utilizing employees to build energy awareness.

Simpson cites the example of UB's comprehensive employee network of building conservation contacts, or BCCs. These employees, representing academic departments and administrative offices throughout the university, disseminate information about environmental policies, monitor participation and act as liaisons to UB's conservation programs.

He notes that one program that has been successfully launched through the BCCs is UB's Green Computing campaign, an effort to encourage more prudent use of computers. The program encourages faculty, staff and students to:

• Turn on computer equipment only when it is going to be used.

• Turn off computers -- or at least monitors -- when attending lunch or a meeting.

• Discourage use of a "power strip" master switch that turns on all equipment at once if not all of it is necessary.

• Eliminate screen savers with moving images, which generally do not save energy.

• Gently remind co-workers of the need to conserve energy.

The program aims to cut as much as 50 percent of the annual $300,000 cost for operating the estimated 8,000 personal computers in use on UB's two campuses.

Simpson says one measure of Green Computing's success surfaced during the 1994 campus shutdown between Christmas and New Year's. Before the campaign began, he discovered "literally dozens" of computers left on during the shutdown while patrolling offices to make sure machinery is turned off. Last year, he found only one computer left on during the campus shutdown.

• At Rutgers and Northwestern universities, for example, purchasing departments now include "public-awareness clauses" with requests for proposals and contracts. These clauses hold contractors responsible for helping the schools meet their waste-reduction goals.

• At the University of Minnesota, staff have identified new ways to recycle old laboratory equipment and centralize and consolidate purchase of chemicals.

• To cut down on the use of paper and plastic bags, Whitman College gives students one unbleached cotton bag at the beginning of each year to use for purchases made during the year.

Other topics covered by Ecodemia include landscaping and grounds; transportation, parking and fleet maintenance; energy and utilities; dining services, communication services; solid-waste management, and hazardous-waste minimization It also provides resource and contact lists.

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