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MU sustainability: 50 shades of green

By LibMueller
On October 15, 2013

Miami University's colors may be red and white, but recently the focus has been the green.

In 2011, President David Hodge released the Sustainability Commitments and Goals, a distinct effort to create a greener, more environmentally-conscious campus. Since then, the university has been working to meet goals to reduce its carbon footprint, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Director of Sustainability and Energy Conservation Yvette Kline said one of the most pressing goals is reducing electricity and gas consumption by 20 percent per square foot by 2014.

This target is derived from House Bill 251, which focuses on energy consumption in state-funded facilities and stipulates the 20 percent reduction in energy consumption.

"A lot of work has gone to help make that happen with regard to energy efficiency," Kline said. "Some of the changes are LED lights, adjustments to fan speeds or even ... retro-commissioning buildings, that's when we have a group of people go through and make sure the controls are operating properly with heating and cooling."

Kline said it is hard to gauge energy efficiency with regard to the newer additions on campus.

"There's somewhat of an unknown," Kline said. "Maplestreet Station is a good example. It's a kitchen facility and by nature, even though it was built to LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] standards, it is by nature a more highly energy consuming building. We have models of how we expect that to operate but we won't really know until we have all of our numbers in. We have quarterly targets."

Kline said the university is currently on-track to meet its goal but the determining factor might be the behavior of students on campus.

"We are watching this carefully," Kline said. "We're currently on track to meet this goal, there's not a huge question in our mind. We're really encouraging people to be mindful of their energy use. It's not a guarantee."

The other major goal is to reduce Miami's carbon footprint. Through sustainability efforts, Miami seeks to decrease its overall carbon footprint by 12 percent by 2020.

Director of the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability (IES) Tom Crist said the biggest concern with energy use is buying and producing energy.

"The electricity is purchased from Duke Energy and the heating is from the steam plant, which is coal-fired right now," Crist said. "The geothermal wells will reduce our consumption of coal and electricity because it reduces the consumption of energy for both heating and cooling and there are plans to shift the coal, the steam plant, over to natural gas."

Miami increased the use of geothermal heating and cooling with the renovations of Elliot and Stoddard halls. Stoddard and Elliot showed a 61 percent decrease in energy consumption compared to the 2010 fiscal year. The groundwork was also laid for a geothermal well-field on western campus that will begin operating January 2014, according to the sustainability report for fiscal year 2012.

The university plans to fully shift from coal to an alternative energy source by 2025, according to the Sustainability Commitments and Goals.

One major obstacle to the reduction of the carbon footprint is transportation. Kline said this includes campus vehicles, buses that transport students and vehicles that commute.

"It shows up in the carbon footprint," Kline said. "The big push is being made with the new bus system to encourage people to use it. We're making a push within Physical Facilities and HDRBS [Housing, Dining, Recreation and Business Services] to see if we can't help our employees park and ride or park and walk but essentially remove personal vehicles from parking and driving on campus by encouraging people to park in a remote lot."

Kline said the Physical Facilities Department is making changes around campus to promote environmentally friendly modes of transportation

"The campus is becoming more bicycle friendly," Kline said. "You might have noticed that there are wider sidewalks on Patterson ... the first portion of widening that sidewalk to accommodate both bicycles and pedestrians. Sometime within the next year or so ... the idea is that wide sidewalk will be extended all the way down to Oak Street. Spring Street is targeted to provide a bike lane."

Kline said these changes will redirect student mindset about driving on campus.

"If you look at this comprehensively, it's all about trying to learn you don't have to bring your car on campus," Kline said.

Crist said, for students who live on or near campus, driving to class is one of the main student behavioral problems with regard to sustainability.

"I see a lot of students driving to class when a lot of them could be biking or walking," Crist said.

Miami is not the only university increasing focus on sustainability. Across the nation, 600 institutions of higher education have signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment. It recognizes the negative impacts of global warming and includes concrete actions the signatories will take to seek renewable energy sources and reduce waste, among other commitments.

Hodge has not signed the commitment. He said some aspects of the document did not make sense at Miami, such as the use of student fees to purchase carbon offsets. Sustainability is nonetheless an important and urgent issue, according to Hodge. In fact, by not focusing on carbon neutrality, investments can be made in geothermal energy and other sustainability efforts, according to him.

"I've got an open mind to [signing the Presidents' Climate Commitment]. I consider it an ongoing question as to what the right thing to do is," Hodge said. "There's a political dimension and there were some expectations to meeting goals and ... some activities as to subsidizing things that I didn't feel were right with Miami. But we do really need to focus on sustainability. It's really that simple."

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