News

How green are we really?

Every Monday during the first semester of the academic year at Castleton, First Year Seminar Students can be seen going around campus with their advisors collecting recyclables. This activity, which became a school-wide custom in 2005, still remains with a purpose as clear as ever: to promote sustainability through recycling and energy conservation. The organization that gave birth to this concept was Castleton’s Green Initiative.
With the founding of the Green Initiative in 2005 by Castleton students, the college started its crash course in environmentalism and sustainability practices. But the program still needed professional guidance to grow. That mentor turned out to be Professor Paul Derby, who first encouraged students in his “Anthropology and the Environment” class to take matters into their own hands.
Seven years later, much of the work of the initiative still remains unseen by the majority of students, even with the mass-promotions of their “Frog Sticker” campaigns – promoting turning lights to save energy whenever possible.
“Very few people know about the activities of the Green Initiative at Castleton. It has been an ongoing issue,” Derby said. “For example – everyone knows about recycling, but I don’t know how many people realize that the recycling program was actually started by students.”
Derby and others do believe that there is a way to bring the Green Initiative into minds of students at Castleton though – by urging students to “Do It in the Dark.”
The energy conservation competition of that name, which first began on April 23, 2011, encourages students to reduce the amount of electricity used during night time. The residence building that reduces the most amount of energy from their average usage percentage wins a designated prize. In 2011, the competition was originally a week long – but for 2012, the competition began on Saturday, March 24 and will end on Friday, April 27.
Castleton Residence Life has a strong involvement in the competition, advertising it with frequent flyers among the residence halls. One of the strongest advocates for this competition is Area Coordinator Maria Marinucci, who is in charge of several residential buildings on campus – including the oldest hall on campus – Ellis Hall. But with these different buildings comes differing challenges.
“There are different challenges with each building, especially Ellis, due to its large boiler,” said Marinucci. “Another [challenge] is factoring the average out-put per student. In the challenge though, everyone can stand a chance by reducing their energy usage. It is a level playing field when it comes to these competitions.”
In addition to attempts at reducing energy through programs such as “Do It in the Dark” and opting for more efficient technology such as automatic lighting, ultra-low energy consumption CFL light bulbs and motion sensor controlled toilets; Castleton also has attempted to lower its carbon footprint while on the move. Castleton State purchased three hybrid vehicles in 2006 and two additional ones in 2007. Castleton’s Public Safety Department also purchased an all-electric Segway in addition to their fleet of electric golf carts – reducing the use of their gasoline-powered Ford Escape.
Despite these sustainability efforts and energy saving measures by the college, Castleton finds itself with an ever-increasing carbon footprint in addition to a skyrocketing electric bill. In 2008, the college used 5,019,249kilowatts over the course of the year – resulting in a cost of $501,924.90. With the addition of the Spartan Stadium and the Spartan Area, from 2009 thru 2011 – the energy use spiked to 6,113,171 kWh/year, translating to a bill of $611,317.10 – a more than $100,000 increase over three years. The energy used by Castleton in 2011 was almost double the 3.87 million kWh/year usage in 1990.
According to a recent Green Initiative study, electrical usage patterns do not appear to coincide with student enrollment patterns. Blamed for the increase is air conditioning, increased numbers of computers and “smart” classrooms, they say.
The change in the style of residential life also plays a part – with almost every student bringing a personal computer to college in addition to playing video games, watching television, or even cooking their Ramen noodles in microwaves commonly found in residential halls.
Despite the efforts of the Green Initiative and the college though, some students do feel more could be done to save energy on campus. One student’s concerns arose during the March heat-wave at Castleton.
“When it was 90 degrees outside, the heater in my room was still on. I know the heaters in the other suite were still on as well, so it wasn’t just my room,” said Julie Asta-Ferrerro, a junior theater student. “I sent an e-mail to my AC and she sent me one back. I was basically told it costs more to turn the heat off for several weeks versus having to reboot the system for one night. It doesn’t make any sense to me because how much energy would it take to turn the heat on versus turning it down? It boggles my mind.”
Other students have similar concerns.
“One thing that I don’t like is how the lights in Huden are left on all night,” said Krista Flavin, a junior biology student. “I also feel there are a lot of other things that can be done too. If they could use the heat from the boilers to heat the lower level of buildings or even use wind energy and more solar panels, it could save money. The key is for these ideas to be creative, but also cost effective.”
With the opening of “New Hall” in 2012 comes the opportunity for the Green Initiative and Castleton to make this new residence hall as energy efficient as possible. According to Derby, the goal is to have the new building Gold Leed certified like the Campus Center – and he said the new building will have solar panels.
While Castleton’s energy usage has increased significantly over the past few years, Dean of Administration Scott Dikeman – one of the administrators over-seeing the Green Initiative-suggests there is a solution in sight for the increasing energy problem.
“Once we stop adding buildings, [our energy usage] will plateau,” said Dikeman. “Hopefully energy usage will come down once we start educating everyone on usage. Every new one is built with energy conservation in mind.”
Even with the increased energy usage at Castleton, Dikeman still feels that the Green Initiative still has an ever-increasingly important role at Castleton.
“I think it’s made folks around campus aware of what we’re trying to accomplish here for people. We’re trying to conserve more energy and water,” said Dikeman. “All of which have more of a financial benefit to us.”
Derby acknowledges that it will not be an easy task to keep the Green Initiative growing, he stressed that it is here to stay.
“We’re making progress as a college community, but we still have a long way to go.” said Derby. “For example – we’re signed on to what is called the President’s Climate Commitment, which commits the college to becoming carbon neutral.”
According to Derby, the goal is to reach the first phase of that commitment by reducing the carbon footprint of the college by 25 percent by the year 2021.