You’ve Got the Power to Conserve: Empowering the Campus to Reduce Energy Waste

By Mary Ellen Mallia, Director of Environmental Sustainability, University of Albany

(This article appears in the March, 2012 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

Since signing onto the President’s Climate Commitment in May 2008, UAlbany has implemented a series of initiatives designed to reduce its carbon footprint. While many colleges and universities focus efforts for sustainability in areas of recycling and waste reduction, the University at Albany has used students to focus on another wasted resource: energy.  It is estimated that the United States could reduce its energy load 25% by simply implementing better energy practices.  It is with that in mind that the “You’ve Got the Power to Conserve” energy program was created.

Hundreds of light bulbs were purchased thanks to a grant from National Grid. These were distributed to students living in the residence halls.

This program knits together a series of student actions to change campus energy behaviors and university policies in order to cut carbon emissions, save money, and reduce electricity, water, and heat consumption.  Programs focusing on energy behaviors included a campus wide energy campaign which tracked electricity use in both the residential halls and academic buildings; a mock electric bill program at the Empire Commons apartment complex where residents receive a faux electricity bill each month and the development of several educational materials including brochures, “lights out” reminder stickers and energy tickets.

Students play a key role in the success of the behavioral change programs.  Members of the sustainability council get the word out about the program through presentations to res life staff, partnering with resident assistants on programming and putting up fliers in strategic locations.  In addition, students serve on the energy team, which canvases the academic buildings three times a week, turning off lights in classrooms and leaving reminder notices about energy use.  They also read meters at several locations weekly in order to calculate electricity use and create mock electric bills for the on-campus apartments.  Since the residence halls receive a portion of the monetary savings from the campaign, they are highly motivated to perform well during the program and the concepts of energy conservation have become embedded in the culture.

As the Times Union reports, “To help drive home the point to its 15,000 on-campus students, the program created simulated electrical bills for dorm rooms, and encouraged competitions, with cash prizes, to see which dorm floors could reduce energy use the most. And student volunteers would issue simulated “energy tickets” to those rooms whose owner appeared to be energy hogs.”

In the photo: Paul Guarnieri and Gene Howe from Facilities, Joe Martens, DEC Commissioner, Mary Ellen Mallia, Director of Environmental Sustain-ability, Indu, Energy Officer, Adam Donaghy, Green Scene Energy Team member and Council Recycling Chair, Stephen Ellis, Green Scene Energy Team member and Council Energy Chair, Jackie Mirandola Mullen, Council Communications Chair.

Creating new university policies with regards to energy use is another element of the “You’ve Got the Power to Conserve” program. These changes included establishing an aggressive intersession energy initiative which cools buildings to 55 degrees during break, a temperature set point policy during the academic year and the alignment of the mechanical air handling schedule with occupied class times.

Overall, these efforts have achieved an 11% reduction in CO2 emissions, reduced electricity use by over 5 million kWh (a 7.5% decline), reduced heating use of more than 33,500 MMBtu (a 7.4 percent reduction) and the reduction of 1.1 million gallons of water. From its inception, these conservation programs have achieved an annual savings of $701,025.

Recently, the University was honored to have these efforts recognized at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s 8th Annual Environmental Excellence Awards ceremony.  The DEC established the awards program in 2004 to recognize innovation, sustainability and creative partnerships that achieve exceptional environmental, social and economic benefits for New York. A statewide review committee, made up of 18 representatives from public and private sectors, provided DEC advice in selecting the award winners from an array of applications.