University struggles to cut consumption

In a year, the average person at Yale uses about 80,000 gallons of water, consumes enough energy to drive a Ford Excursion from New York to California and back eight times, and produces about 1,750 pounds of solid waste.

Recent statistics publicize what some at Yale have seen in their own research and everyday life — although University-wide efforts to make the campus more green have become more extensive and coordinated in recent years, new construction and individual carelessness are contributing to growing energy use, waste and pollution at Yale.

Yale power plants’ emission of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that furthers global warming, more than doubled between 1998 and 2004, according to a report released on Earth Day, April 22, by Yale’s Advisory Committee on Environmental Management.

The growth in emissions occurred despite a recent changeover to cleaner-burning oil and greater fuel efficiency in Yale’s power plants, and is largely due to rising energy consumption.

Over the last two years, Yale’s overall energy use increased by about 9 percent. The University used 15 percent more chilled water and 36 percent more steam between 2002 and 2004, mostly for climate control, ACEM coordinator Bailey McCallum FES ’06 said.

Total energy use in Timothy Dwight College, for example, increased 70 percent after renovations, Yale energy manager Thomas Downing said.

“As we add program space and air conditioning and install commercial grade kitchens, it is easy to see why energy consumption increases significantly,” he said.

Plans to decrease energy waste across campus will first focus on conserving energy and then investing saved money in renewable energy sources, Downing said.

One of the past year’s conservation projects is building recommissioning, which involves cleaning and checking heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to make sure they are running efficiently. But Downing said completely overhauling these systems to run on renewable energy sources is a long-term goal and would likely be part of a future renovation schedule.

“With larger renovations, we really have to take the buildings apart and attack them one at time,” he said.

Recommissioning has targeted buildings on Science Hill before others because science buildings consume half of the University’s chilled water and a third of its steam, though they account for only about 15 percent of central campus’s area, Downing said.

He said adjustments will also be made to limit certain buildings’ “occupied hours,” during which climate control is most active. Over the last few years, often due to complaints from people working early or late hours, heat or air conditioning has been cranked up nearly 24/7.

“We want to bring it back to the eight to five schedule,” Downing said.

Though it has not yet made a large dent in University energy consumption or emissions, there has been a green shift at Yale’s institutional level over the last few years with the creation of ACEM in 2001 and the establishment of a sustainability director position last year. Until recently, Yale’s environmental management initiatives were usually uncoordinated and independent, which prevented formal analysis of consumption and waste across the University.

Yale Provost Andrew Hamilton said many new initiatives dealing with waste management, recycling, sustainable food and energy efficiency have been supported by ACEM and Green Fund grants, which ACEM awards to selected project proposals.

“ACEM represents a very important source of advice and new ideas to assist the University in managing its environmental challenges,” Hamilton said.

Taking the environment personally

Though institutional changes can decrease energy waste, the success of University sustainability plans and many of the challenges it has faced so far hinge on individual responsibility.

Yale’s solid waste generation increased 27 percent between 1998 and 2004, according to the ACEM report, and Yale has a consistently poor record of trash recycling — though it has improved its record on the procurement side. In fiscal year 2004, 33 percent of University-purchased paper was recycled, up from 3 percent in fiscal year 1998.

Yet last academic year, Yale’s recycling rate was less than half that of Harvard’s and has remained between 15 and 20 percent since 1998.

“People at Yale tend to only recycle when it’s convenient,” said Dawn Lippert ’06, an ACEM member and co-director for Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership. “We are working on figuring out why, and how to affect decisions on the individual level. While there are lots of institutional things the administration can do, it’s also really important for students, and particularly undergraduates, to realize how much of an impact they are having on the environment.”

Analyses conducted by Yale Recycling indicate that about 40 percent of garbage disposed of at Yale is actually recyclable. Making full use of the blue and green bins around campus could also save University money, as waste disposal costs have increased about 58 percent since 1998 to $1.25 million in fiscal year 2004.

In some cases, the most environmentally-friendly choice is to simply make a phone call.

When students feel their dorm rooms are too hot or cold, Downing said, they ought to notify their master or building manager rather than take matters into their own hands. He said a great deal of energy is wasted when students use electric space heaters or just leave their windows open.

Lippert said STEP, founded in 2003, is charged with educating students about how they can contribute to conservation efforts.

“We are always trying to get the word out to students about limiting their energy, water and heat use,” Lippert said. “Often, people hadn’t thought much about these issues before college, and increasing general environmental education out there is important.”

Student awareness contributed, in part, to a 22 percent decrease in water consumption between 2001 and 2004.

Green light for change

Yale’s environmentally-friendly changes come nearly a decade later than those of its peer institutions, but Sustainability Director Julie Newman said the time lag could mean avoiding mistakes made by others.

“Sure we are behind,” she said, “But this represents an opportunity for Yale to learn from the decade of experience some other institutions have had to deal with sustainability issues, and also to draw from the world-renowned scholarship already existing within the University. Right now we are looking to the future.”

One of the first schools in the country to create an institutionalized sustainability program, Tufts University, established recycling and energy efficiency projects in 1990 and founded the Tufts Climate Initiative in 1999.

TCI research associate Ramsay Humpley said the initiative was instituted to ensure that the school will meet or exceed the Kyoto Protocol target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions — a 7 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2012. This reduction would mean a 30 percent decrease in emissions given the university’s projected growth.

While some of Tufts’s efforts have been successful, Humpley said, larger challenges remain. Many simple changes, such as the replacement of energy-inefficient lighting and installation of motion sensors that turn off vending machines not in use, have kept electricity consumption on campus flat over the last four years, despite an increase in appliances.

But, as is the case at Yale, new construction projects have made Tufts’s overall energy usage and carbon dioxide emissions grow steadily, Humpley said.

“It is proving to be more difficult to cut carbon emissions than we ever thought,” he said, “mostly because of new buildings and especially those meant for science, since lab complexes are generally much more energy intensive.”

Humpley said he believes a lesson to be learned from Tufts’s 15-year history of sustainability efforts is the importance of engaging both campus building managers and students in cooperative institutional programs.

This past year, Newman has begun bringing Yale students, faculty and staff together into committees charged with determining the feasibility of plans to make energy use, transportation and waste management more environmentally sustainable. Next year, new committees will focus on sustainable building designs and construction, Newman said.

Her current responsibilities include establishing a standard for recycled paper and working with Yale Information and Technology Services to develop software that could make computers more energy efficient. Newman said spreading awareness of Yale’s standing in terms of waste and consumption through reports like that issued by ACEM will create a baseline for measuring improvement.

The ACEM plans to produce follow-up reports in coming years, and committee chair and industrial ecology professor Thomas Graedel said these analyses may encourage positive change.

“Once current performance is measured and that measurement is made broadly available, it will be easier to manage and measure future improvements,” he said. “The report is also a stimulus for improvement.”

School of Forestry and Environmental Studies Dean Gus Speth said the new data should be considered a call to action.

“It is distressing that Yale’s greenhouse gas emissions are rising substantially — or at all,” Speth wrote in an e-mail. “We need to build our environmental and energy consciousness at Yale. We pride ourselves in our teaching; we also teach by behaving well.”

Graedel said while it will be challenging to keep energy use in check during a period of wide-spread renovation and construction, there are ways to maximize sustainability in new buildings. He pointed to the new environment school building — which will produce as much energy as it consumes — as an example that will “set the standard for sustainability.”

A recent Green Fund study at the School of Medicine found that recycling 90 percent of the debris from a laboratory renovation project saved close to $10,000, according to the ACEM report. As construction managers become familiar with the recycling process, there will be less of a need for waste management consultants, so demolition and construction debris recycling can be implemented on many projects at the University.

Before many institutional changes went into place, the University converted the Central Power Plant, located next to Swing Space, into a co-generation facility producing both steam and electricity to increase energy production efficiency in 1998.

Yale’s previous brickset boilers, built circa 1920, had a 35 percent fuel efficiency rate, compared to the 60 percent to 65 percent fuel efficiency of the new gas turbines and heat recovery boilers. The current plant’s combined cycle turbines reduce net production of carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, which are poisonous to humans at high levels.

In 2003, the University announced it would change from use of No. 6 fuel oil at the Sterling Power Plant to the cleaner No. 2 oil, a move expected to decrease the plant’s sulfur dioxide emissions by about 95 percent and also cut down carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter emissions.

Small steps towards sustainability

The establishment of ACEM, STEP and the Green Fund, along with other institutional policies and student efforts, have spawned environment-friendly projects around campus over the last half decade.

This year, environmental engineering major Giovanni Zinn ’05 spearheaded a project that will convert the dining halls’ 4,000 to 5,500 gallons of yearly waste vegetable oil into biodiesel to fuel campus vehicles and the Bethany Observing Station.

Zinn said his project, funded by a $25,000 Green Fund grant, includes developing a chemical processor that filters and converts the oil into fuel and measuring biodiesel emissions compared to those of regular fuel. Biodiesel emits 70 percent fewer hydrocarbons and 40 percent less particulate matter than regular fossil fuels, Zinn said.

The project also will eliminate the need for a outside contractor to remove the waste oil, he said.

“Our project not only helps to make Yale more environmentally friendly, but will also cut costs,” Zinn said.

He said student jobs could be created to help run the oil processor, and he hopes his project can serve as an example for future student initiatives.

“Changes toward a greener campus don’t necessarily need to involve anything fancy,” Zinn said. “They can be done on a relatively small scale. When you have student experts in specific fields relating to the environment, they can be a great resource for the administration in setting up projects.”

Another student leader interested in long-term sustainability goals, next year’s STEP co-coordinator Dominique Gomez ’07, said the group will focus increased attention on educating incoming freshmen.

“We want to make sure freshmen have recycling bins and know all about recycling, energy conservation and food waste right away,” she said.

Gomez said STEP will work to educate freshman counselors about encouraging environmentally sustainable habits, and STEP plans to include a skit during freshman orientation activities also encouraging such habits.

At the environment school, Speth said, there is an ongoing effort to make buildings and utilities more sustainable. The school switched to fluorescent and compact florescent lighting and is installing waterless urinals, estimated to save 40,000 gallons of water a year, he said.

Speth said the University as a whole ought to set higher sustainability goals to match those at the state level.

“Connecticut has adopted a statewide program aimed at reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions … to a level 10 percent below the state’s 1990 emissions by 2020,” Speth said. “Shouldn’t Yale have a stated policy of doing at least as well? Connecticut has also adopted a statewide requirement that 10 percent of its power be produced by renewable energy by 2010. Shouldn’t Yale have a policy of meeting or exceeding this target?”

The University has taken a steps toward sustainability by purchasing automobiles that reduce fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Though hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles typically have upfront investment costs $5,000 to $10,000 higher than conventional vehicles, the Green Fund provided subsidies totaling $40,000 for the University to purchase hybrids.

Two hybrid vehicles have been purchased for the Parking and Transit Department so far, and the Yale Police are considering purchasing a hybrid SUV, according to the report. Once the automobiles have been in use for some time, it will be possible to calculate their fuel, greenhouse gas and cost savings.

The power plant on Grove Street serves as a visual reminder of Yale’s growing energy use, despite efforts to decrease waste.
Zoe Pershing-Foley
The power plant on Grove Street serves as a visual reminder of Yale’s growing energy use, despite efforts to decrease waste.

Comments