Connecticut College Greens Up :: E Magazine :: Katharyn Arroyo :: July 10, 2007

Opening the door and switching on the light, I step into my dorm room at Connecticut College to see the reds and oranges of the setting sun sending a warm hue over the tops of the trees.  I take a seat at my desk and pull a book about green power down from the shelf, leafing through its pages before I start my reading assignment. But as I turn the pages, my thoughts wander, and begin to think about how I was able to turn on my light in the first place.  What type of energy does my dorm use? How much electricity does it use?  How efficient is the energy source? These are all questions that run through my head as I put pen to paper and start taking notes on green energy, my lamp burning as the colors of the sunset fade into the deep blue of the night sky. 

            During the day, while the sun beats down strongly upon the roof of my dorm, Park, lights within the building illuminate the hallways as students pass through on the way to the dining hall.  On top of the roof of Park is a 10 kW array of solar panels which was installed when the dorm was renovated in 1999.  Along with the installation of solar panels, however, there was also a boiler plant established to power the dorm.  The solar panels that adorn the roof of Park are used more to counteract the power required by the boiler plant than to power the dorm itself. However, combined with the greater efficiency of the renovated boiler plant, the solar panels have helped to save 90,769 kWh per year.  To put this figure into perspective, this is the amount of energy that a dorm at Connecticut College would use in an entire academic year. Solar panels have proven themselves to be so useful in saving energy that it may not be long until several other buildings are fashioning themselves to look like Park. 

      But this information leads me to think about the rest of the campus and its energy consumption.  If we can offset the energy used by a single dorm, is it possible to offset energy used by the entire campus? In the academic year of 2006-2007, Connecticut College proved it was possible. Moving away from the sun and into the wind, Connecticut College met the challenge of offsetting campus energy consumption by utilizing wind power. Even after a wind feasibility study concluded that a wind turbine on campus would not generate an adequate amount of electricity for the college, members of the Connecticut College Environmental Model Committee (EMC) and student activist organizations such as the Renewable Energy Club were not disheartened. Instead, they helped to direct the college toward an energy solution it has been using since 2001- purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).  Only this time, the purchase was more significant. With 111 wind turbines running out on the Mountain View Wind property in California, Connecticut College was able to offset 100% of their electricity purchase for the academic year of 2006-2007 by purchasing enough RECs to offset 15,000 MWh's of energy.  Funding the purchase of RECs was the student comprehensive fee surcharge of $25 that goes directly towards renewable energy purchases. This commitment to investing in renewable energy resources represents a significant increase from REC purchases in the 2005-2006 academic year, in which the college bought enough to offset 50 percent of its electricity purchase.  In recognition of the increased REC purchases in 2006-2007, Connecticut College received an award from EPA Green Power, an honor Connecticut College’s Environmental Coordinator Amy Cabaniss attributes to “the cooperative participation of students, faculty, staff and administration.” Confronting energy consumption by obtaining RECs that put wind power into the national grid is one just one angle in which to attack this problem, and is certain to continue in the future. But in order to most effectively address wasteful energy consumption, we first need to find where it begins.  

      Walking down the hallway of a dorm or lecture hall, you see all too often that computers, stereos and lights are left turned on, contributing to the overall amount of electricity the college uses each year. This is the root of the energy consumption issue, and furthering environmental behavior change is imperative to preventing its growth. By encouraging the campus community to reduce their consumption of energy, environmental leaders on campus have sparked the interest of an increasing number of students. The Renewable Energy Club, for example, is a significant force in educating the campus community on solutions and alternatives in energy consumption.  By emphasizing the difference individuals can make in turning off their electronics when not in use and replacing conventional light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)

Through the Concert from Conservation, a program created by the Renewable Energy Club that uses 25 percent of the money saved in reducing energy to raise money for a concert on campus, students have found an incentive to diminish their environmental impact.  “Not only was Concert from Conservation effective in raising awareness, it lowered overall power consumption by 12% from the five year average,” says Tyler Dunham, co-president of the Renewable Energy Club. While tapping into college students’ love for live music, the Concert from Conservation is simultaneously demonstrating to the campus community the benefits of changing the way people use electricity. 

            The extent of student interest in alternative energies is also exemplified by the Environmental Model Committee and Renewable Energy Club’s Renewable Energy Questionnaires distributed during the spring of 2006.  This netted one of the largest responses seen in a survey of the campus community.  From the survey of 1161 students and 434 faculty, staff and administration, approximately 90 percent supported the use of renewable energy resources on campus.  Bringing these results to life, however, is where the voices of the campus community can make an impact. As Connecticut College’s Environmental Coordinator Amy Cabaniss notes, “What makes the campus environmental culture at Connecticut College so strong is the fact that the students are listened to, their voices encouraged, and from their voices we see results on many levels.”   Environmental education in the campus community is not just coming from professors and found within the walls of the classroom, but also from peers and everyday conservation efforts.  At Connecticut College and many other colleges and universities throughout the nation, campus communities are becoming more and more aware of how they fit within the picture of climate change, and what they can do to help return the earth to a state of balance if not slow its rate of decline. 

            If education and individual and collective action are recognized as catalysts in attempting to slow climate change, colleges and universities have an enormous role to play in creating new possibilities for environmental education. But while students, faculty, staff and administration at colleges and universities are working to minimize our national environmental footprint, what are our educational institutions themselves doing to address this issue? One of the ways in which American colleges and universities are seeking to educate their students and respective local communities about global warming and climate change issues is through the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC).  Through the ACUPCC, an agreement for higher education institutions to offset their greenhouse gas emissions, Presidents of colleges and universities throughout the United States have pledged to lead their institutions in going carbon neutral.  Additionally, signatories of the ACUPCC have also promised to further education on ways that American society can take steps toward alleviating our contribution to global warming. As a signatory of the ACUPCC, Connecticut College has joined 319 colleges and universities throughout the country in facilitating both a top-down approach to climate neutrality in addition to bottom-up efforts led by students, faculty and staff.  The impending success of the ACUPCC is based upon the idea that colleges and universities serve as important examples of responsible and environmentally sound practices both for their own community and surrounding communities.  “Being a microcosm of society, we face many of the same challenges as our local communities in attempting to affect environmental behavior change. In a way, we serve as a pilot study for the broader community by acting as a good model for sustainability and supporting efforts toward energy solutions that others have not yet been able to,” Cabaniss says.  In providing towns and cities with information on what forms of energy solutions are viable in their respective areas, colleges and universities can further expand upon their bridges to their local communities and begin an effective dialogue on how to work toward reducing their environmental impact.    Hopefully, the promising aspects of both grassroots campus activism and the ACUPCC will soon be seen to create a green ripple effect moving across our nation.