Sept. 27, 2010

CALS helps Big Red go green with a building competition

When it comes to walking the walk, staff, faculty and students at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are ready to be the first to put one green foot firmly in front of the other to conserve energy.

Administrators have been talking the talk since the release of Cornell's comprehensive Climate Action Plan last year, and professors have been chalking the chalk in ecology, natural resources and atmospheric science lectures for much longer.

On Campus Sustainability Day, Oct. 20, CALS will launch CALS Green, an energy conservation and sustainability initiative to promote environmentally conscientious behavior among students, faculty and staff.

"Our goal is not only to help Cornell achieve climate neutrality by 2050, but to also help all of us adopt a culture of sustainability at work and in how we live day to day," said Kathryn Boor, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences. "We hope that this will be a model for the rest of Cornell and well beyond."

With 370 faculty, many of whom conduct research in growth chambers, greenhouses and laboratories, and more than 4,000 students, it is perhaps no surprise that CALS has the highest energy consumption of any college at Cornell.

Take the 161,330-square-foot Bradfield Hall, headquarters for the Departments of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and of Plant Breeding and Genetics. It has about 100 fume hoods and growth chambers, 350 computers and nearly 5,000 lights. The cost to power them plus heat and cooling expenses was $761,973 last fiscal year (July 2009 to June 2010); and that energy usage generated the equivalent of 3,511 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).

The college hopes to reduce its energy consumption by 2-5 percent, through lots of little changes and a bit of friendly competition. The one-year pilot program includes six buildings: Comstock, Bradfield, Morrison and Wing halls, as well as the Plant Science Building and Geneva's Barton Lab. The pilot project includes several faculty-led research elements testing behavioral change strategies.

The occupants of each building will be challenged to compete for maximum participation and minimum energy consumption. They will be asked to register at the CALS Green website to commit to such actions as turning off lights and closing unused fume hood sashes, which could save a whopping $3,000 a year and reduce CO2 emissions by 34,000 pounds -- the equivalent of 10 cross-country road trips, as the average car in the United States emits 1 pound of CO2 for every mile it travels.

Simply setting computers to switch to sleep or standby after 20 minutes of inactivity can save 613 pounds of CO2 per year, and $44, and CALS Information Technology has developed a new system to back up computers at the end of the day rather than during the night to save energy.

The effort will draw upon the expertise of many across CALS, including Utilities and Energy Management and the Department of Communication, who are investigating how social networks and Internet resources can be used to promote sustainability as part of a grant from Google, Intel and the National Science Foundation.

As part of that project, CALS Green participants will get weekly e-mail reminders of their commitments, as well as have their progress announced on social networking sites like Facebook. The winning team will be rewarded with a party.

Stacey Shackford is a staff writer at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The energy costs (chilled water, steam and electric) of the five buildings involved in the pilot on the Ithaca campus totaled $3.7 million last year and produced the equivalent of 12,847 metric tons of CO2:

Day Hall, by comparison, cost $185,816 and emitted the equivalent of 775 tons of CO2.