Four years ago, a professor at Tufts University
inspired me with an account of how his university had formally committed
to massive energy reduction, a response to new evidence of global
climate change. A year later, a diverse group at an Emory environmental
workshop expressed a similar goal, but after a number of meetings
the group was unable to find a clear direction for action.
Then last summer, as I walked through Tarbutton Hall at midday,
I passed two large classrooms—both empty but with lights blazing.
Outside, it was a high alert day for air pollution in Atlanta. I
thought, “Surely we can do better!” At the initiative
of Dean Bobby Paul and an advisory committee, the Emory College
Energy Conservation Project was born.
We began with a focus just on college faculty and staff, to explore
what approaches work to increase awareness and change behavior.
Erin Hotchkiss, an environmental studies major, worked part time
answering questions from departments and collecting data from Facilities
We built on a decade of work by FM to raise energy efficiency and
by the Office of Alternative Transportation to reduce vehicle use.
The Information Technology Division (ITD) donated staff time and
guidance as part of its own commitment to environmental responsibility.
The philosophy of the Energy Conservation Project was to foster
new expertise among many individuals, enhance awareness of the impacts
of our daily operations and habits, save money, and support a culture
of environmental stewardship.
Polluted air is a major environmental concern in Atlanta, and roughly
half comes from power plants (the other half comes from vehicle
exhaust). Atlanta’s air quality is among the worst in the
nation, in part because local power plants use older, coal-based
In addition to producing particulates that are harmful to health,
by-products of electricity generation help create the lung-scarring
ground-level ozone that contributes to asthma and respiratory disease.
Power plants also are one of the major producers of greenhouse gases,
which contribute to global climate change. Many other universities
now have joined Tufts in reducing energy use; last year, the 36
colleges and universities of the New Jersey State system committed
themselves to meet the Kyoto Accords guidelines, a 7 percent reduction
of greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by the year 2007.
What’s more, saving electricity is financially smart. Harvard’s
new Arts and Sciences Energy Reduc-tion Project estimates an annual
savings of $300,000, primarily from changes in computer use. Tulane
expects to save some $200,000 per year from similar changes. The
winning residence hall in a recent Tufts energy-conservation competition
reduced electricity use by half.
Emory is gaining a reputation as a leader in environmental sustainability,
but we also are huge users of electricity. Our university and health
care activities consume more than 212,000,000 kilowatt hours a year,
according to FM. Producing that much electricity generates 151,667
tons of carbon dioxide (the largest constituent of greenhouse gases),
according to a study by environmental studies student Tera Compton.
(The commuting habits of faculty, staff and students are estimated
to generate another 30,500 tons of carbon dioxide per year).
We in the Energy Conservation Project based our focus of behavior
change on research by other universities, research centers, the
Department of Energy and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
We avoided cookie-cutter rules, realizing that individual units
and people can best decide what steps are appropriate and feasible.
1. Turn off computers
at night and on weekends. Many people have been
told not to turn off their computers, but studies conducted at the
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have found that hard disks
are not affected by frequent shutdowns. In fact, hardware may actually
last longer due to reduced heat stress and mechanical wear.
2. Reduce computer
monitor energy use. Many computers now feature a
“power management” option that puts the monitor into
sleep mode after 10–30 minutes. Or, monitors simply can be
turned off when not in use. Disabling screen savers is an important
way to reduce power use and allow the computer to go to sleep (the
computer can still be accessed from other locations).
3. Turn off lights.
Much energy is wasted in lighting empty classrooms, offices, lounges
and labs. Some rooms are adequately lit by daylight alone, as in
the new Math & Science Center. Though fluorescent lights generally
use less energy, we’ve learned how to be smarter in their
use. A typical office in my building has a dozen 4-foot-long fluorescent
bulbs that use approximately 34 watts an hour apiece. So, flipping
the wall switch uses 400 watts, but a single desk lamp with a 100-watt
bulb cuts that by three quarters.
4. Consider other
electricity uses. Copiers on sleep mode? Coffee
makers turned off at night? Do all new computers and appliances
carry the Energy Star rating? Can lab equipment be turned off safely
for periods of time? Can elevator use be reduced? My pet peeve is
the use of automatic door openers by the able-bodied.
5. Work with heating
and air conditioning experts to reduce waste. Air
conditioning has been moderated in several buildings this summer,
and FM is looking at ways of standardizing and improving comfort
and efficiency. Closing window blinds in summer is a good way to
reduce solar heat gain.
This year, we have made a good start. We collected data for 10 buildings
(Atwood, Bowden, Callaway, Emerson, Geosciences, Psychology, Rich,
Studio Arts, Tarbutton and White) from September 2002 to June 2003.
During that time, energy use went down an average of 4.5 percent.
In reality, the decrease was probably greater. If measurements exclude
two buildings whose data shifted sharply with the installation of
new meters, energy use declined 8 percent.
Further, interest in the energy project also brought about new momentum
for recycling, reduced departmental purchases of disposable products,
and decreases in paper use. Many of Emory’s free-standing
kiosk computers now rest in sleep mode, thanks to efforts by ITD.
Some departmental computer labs do the same. Senior Vice President
John Ford and his staff in Campus Life worked last year with the
student Environmental Action Coalition (Ecoseac) to bring the energy
project into student dorms, and Oxford College has launched its
own energy conservation initiative.
The urgency of energy conservation will only grow, both for the
city and for Emory. Atlanta now is categorized as “severe”
in its nonattainment of the Clean Air Act standards, which means
more stringent guidelines for our emissions and possible fines for
Georgia Power and the University in 2005.
John Wegner, Emory’s new campus environmental officer, is
assembling a task force on energy policy, together with the University
Senate Committee on the Environment. The task force will seek opportunities
across the University for savings and conservation in our daily
operations, building design standards and renewable energy resources.
It will also explore how Emory can best participate in “green
One of the deep satisfactions for me of working on environmental
issues at Emory is to see the “Aha!” moment light up
people’s faces, when new information joins with their personal
values to clarify a line of action they can take, thereby adding
new meaning to daily routines. Many faculty and staff proudly report
changes they have made in their offices and homes to save energy.
We have a long way to go, but the combined effort of the thousands
in the Emory community can make a significant impact on curbing
air pollution and reducing our contributions to global climate change.
Energy conservation is a good step forward, as we learn how to achieve
the University’s many goals with a lighter footprint on the