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New York Universities Receive “Gold Star”: Government Nods to Universities’ Support of Sustainability

Two universities in New York, Ithaca College and Hamilton College, have received the federal government’s version of a “gold star.”  Ithaca College has been awarded two Energy Star certifications for residence halls Clarke and Hood and a platinum LEED award (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) established by the U.S. Green Building Council, for a business building on campus.  Hamilton College has been awarded two Energy Star certifications for residence halls Skenandoa and Spencer, in addition to the LEED Gold certification for the renovation of the 40-year-old Kirner-Johnson (KJ) Building.  While the Energy Star rating seems to be on every new washer and dryer heading to market, a building to receive the Energy Star rating is far more difficult.  To qualify, the building must perform more efficiently than at least 75% of comparable buildings nationwide, based on the past year’s utility bills and energy consumption volume and costs.  For a building to receive a LEED award, it must score appropriately in 5 categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

Both of these notable universities have claimed to embrace sustainability in many different ways; each has multiple student organizations devoted to reducing their school’s carbon footprint.  The faculty of both schools supports green renovation and lobby for the most sustainable and environmentally-friendly construction projects attainable.

Ithaca’s “eco-reps” devote much of their time to raising environmental awareness and conscientiousness among the rest of the student body (Clarke Hall hosts environmental debate forums) and encouraging them to take advantage of and work in the campus organic gardens.  The campus has also implemented an active composting system.  Curriculum administrators are also beginning to support the students’ efforts to be environmentally-aware by considering a major in Sustainability.

Hamilton College seems to have a more all-encompassing energy conservation mindset, merging sustainability, aesthetics, and function in their renovation and new construction projects.  Paul Hagstrom, economics professor and long-term faculty liaison for the Kirner-Johnson project, commented:

As the users of Kirner-Johnson, we appreciate that, along with the function and aesthetics of the space, the College was dedicated to incorporating sustainable (or environmentally-responsible) design.”

Hamilton College has also purchased renewable energy certificates from Renewable Choice Energy for the KJ and Emerson Buildings, plus an extra 4,000,000 kilowatts for other campus energy needs.

Hamilton College also has a very active student conservation effort, headed by the Hamilton Environmental Group.  Recent achievements include a campus-wide reusable mug program, unique co-op living opportunities, and a program called “RecycleMania 2010.”  Students in many conventional residence halls also competed in “Do It in the Dark,” a battle between dorms to see which could most significantly lower their energy consumption.

It inspires great hope that so many students are actively engaged in creating a sustainable and eco-friendly environment for their academic pursuits, and for raising awareness among those who may not realize why maintaining a healthy environmental attitude is important.  It also inspires hope that the governing bodies of these universities are realizing that being eco-friendly is not only an altruistic effort to save the environment, but can also save the schools significant amounts of money over time.  Maura Beard, a spokesperson for the Energy Star program, says:

Colleges and universities spend almost $2 billion a year on energy.  A lot of people think the solution lies in the latest gizmo or newest technology. But there are things as simple as ‘who’s paying attention to the lights being on all night?’  The idea is extricating this waste.”

Hamilton’s friendly battle-of-the-dorms competition has proved what simple concepts can cause a student body to come together and conserve energy.  The residents of Saunders, Wertimer, and 3994 Campus Road dormitories reduced their energy usage by an incredibly significant amount, lowering expected kilowatt-hour use by 29.91%, 28.42% and 23.22%, respectively, translating into major decreases in finances dumped into excessive energy use by the school.

These universities should stand as an example to other schools across the country.  They have shown that sustainability is attainable, financially intelligent, and supported by their student bodies.  Universities should take note that many of the efforts these specific schools took toward sustainability are not huge financial undertakings or reconstruction projects; they are simply turning the lights off more, or using a ceramic mug instead of a plastic cup.  The have gardens.  They recycle and compost.  They also took advantage of an opportunity to turn old, outdated buildings into modern, money-saving symbol of efficiency.  All of these simple ideas can help the environment and put money back into the school system’s pocketbook.

Sources and further reading:
New York Times
Ithaca College
Hamilton College News – Dorm Energy Battle Results Are In
Hamilton College News – KJ Achieves LEED Gold Certification
Hamilton College News – Sustainability Headlines

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