Three out of five U.S. colleges have embarked on at least one green building project, according to the latest College Sustainability Report Card report from the Sustainable Endowments Institute.
As accountability and resource sustainability have moved from high-sounding ideals to initiatives de rigueur at institutions of higher learning, college dining and facilities management departments often find themselves on the front lines, charged with helping ti implement and promote these programs.
Energy sourcing and usage is increasingly a major part of such initiatives. Because of the clear connection between how power is generated and the size of an institution's “carbon footprint,” the energy aspect of such programs is often highlighted, but more mundane aspects of sustainability are just as critical: composting, recycling, reduced water consumption and reduced waste volumes.
In fact, though, many universities have long employed “alternate energy” strategies even if many students and employees don't realize it.
Central campus cogeneration plants — which concurrently produce both electricity and steam — are highly efficient and have long been a fixture of campuses ranging from the College of Wooster to Williams, Wellesley and Middlebury colleges. And many schools continue to experiment with solar energy installations. One of the largest examples is a 1.06 MW system that operates at Butte-Glenn Community College in Oroville, CA, where over 5,000 solar panels cover a four-acre field.
Because foodservices are a highly visible component of most campus communities, they often have opportunities to affiliate with such efforts.
Consider Colorado State University's new additions to its green academic village. The $42 million construction project includes a dining facility that will operate using 100 percent certified “green power” purchased from Fort Collins Utilities. While the total includes electricity generated by wind, solar, hydro and biomass most will be provided from a wind farm in Wyoming.
CSU plans to build its own wind farm on campus in 2012, according to Tonie Miyamoto, director of communications for CSU Housing and Dining Services. “There's a big movement in Colorado to get more wind farms built,” Miyamoto said.
Deon Lategan, director of dining services at Colorado State, said the real driver for the new, hyper-green approach was the student body. “I feed 5,000 activists every day,” he said. “19-year-olds want to change the world.”
A look behind the scenes reveals a number of less-glamorous contributors to the facility's “green” label. For example, the garbage disposal system employs a pulper that carries away food and paper waste in a slurry, which is then centrifuged. The waste is then hauled to a compost farm while the water is re-circulated to wash pots and pans.
Similarly, the dining hall's to-go “clamshell” containers have been switched from foam to a cornstarch-based material that is recyclable. Foam hot coffee cups have been replaced with ones made from sugar cane waste-product, lined with the cornstarch material. About a third of the 10,000 meals served each day are to-go and foam containers have long been a sore subject with students.
Back in the kitchen, a $200,000 modification to the bank of 20 exhaust hoods will use optical sensors measure the grease and smoke in exhaust air and vary exhaust fan speed to match, reducing energy use by 40 percent.
“The university also believes it's important that companies producing these products exercise sustainable practices,” says Lategan. For example, the makers of the sugar cane containers use natural gas to power transportation vehicles.
“I feed 5,000 activists every day. Nineteen-year-olds want to change the world.”
Deon Lategan, director of dining services at Colorado State University, on why green power is a priority on campus.