Benefits of going green

Student Green Initiatives Fund is vital to campus sustainability

By Bob Cunningham

When it comes to campus sustainability, the Student Green Initiatives Fund is BGSU’s best friend.

The Student Green Initiatives Fund is a pool of money that is available to fund projects that further environmental sustainability on campus. It is funded by an opt-out $5 per semester fee and is only accessible to current undergraduate and graduate students.

“The student green fund isn’t part of campus sustainability,” said Dr. Nicholas Hennessy, campus sustainability coordinator. “Campus Sustainability is involved in it from an advisory standpoint. I sit on a student committee that makes the decisions of how to spend a pool of money.”

“We’ve got two things going on at the same time: reducing our use of electricity, but at the same time we want to look at options for renewable energy ... For the time being, we’re purchasing electricity the same old way, from the city and its sources. But we want to look at the potential for renewable energy: solar, wind, geothermal — things like that.”In the course of the fund, more than $500,000 has been spent on various sustainability initiatives and projects, including green roof bike racks with matching grants, vehicle charging stations and LED lighting, Hennessy said.

“Our student participation rate runs between 80 and 84 percent on average over the life of the fund — so that’s pretty good,” he said. “It’s never run below that, so it’s a good source of income coming in and it allows for the rolling funding of projects.” 

The fund also is helping the University’s Climate Action Plan achieve its goal of being carbon neutral by 2040. Reducing emissions is a big part of becoming carbon neutral, which largely is achieved by being less reliant on electricity and depending more on renewable energy sources.   

“We’ve figured out that at least the first two years of the climate action plan, if not more, are going to probably be focused on a lot of lighting projects to convert to LED because they’ll pay for themselves in a short amount of time,” Hennessy said. “The reduction in kilowatt usage is huge. We get a rebate from our electrical provider for doing it, which helps defray the cost of it. You’ve cut costs and you’re reducing your electricity use, so you’re reducing your emissions — it’s like a triple win.”

Last year, for example, Cree, a leader in LED light technology, performed a case study on the new lights at Perry Field House. The old lighting system was replaced by energy-efficient LED lights from Cree.  

“That was something where we decreased our energy by half but yet we doubled the foot-candles (which measure light intensity) in the space,” said Matt Rubel, coordinator of energy management in facilities services. “If you can imagine what it used to look like before” — the difference is like night and day.

According to the Cree case study, by switching to LED lights the University will save $204,581 over the lifetime of the lighting system. The lights also will be virtually maintenance free for 10 years. 

Rubel said a similar project is underway at the Samuel Cooper Natatorium at the Student Recreation Center. Sixty light fixtures on the catwalks are being replaced by 12 LED fixtures. The project wouldn’t be possible without the help of the student green fund, Rubel said.

The student green fund also helps with the sustainability master plan, also referred to as the renewable energy feasibility study.

“We’ve got two things going on at the same time: reducing our use of electricity, but at the same time we want to look at options for renewable energy,” Hennessy said. “For the time being, we’re purchasing electricity the same old way, from the city and its sources. But we want to look at the potential for renewable energy: solar, wind, geothermal — things like that.”

In order to do that comprehensively, Hennessy said, the University has enlisted help from a Cincinnati engineering and architecture firm to look at all of its options and then make recommendations. 

“They’ll provide us with a report and say here are a lot of cool things that you can do to reduce your energy usage, and here are some things you can do to start incorporating renewables into your campus operation also,” he said. “We’ll probably get the green fund involved again on some things. It’s good to get experts in there to help us with direction, particularly with renewables because there are so many options out there now that could be helpful for us.” 

Another effective tool to aid in waste reduction, which is funded by the student green fund, is composting. The University has partnered with Hirzel Farms in Pemberville to compost preconsumer kitchen waste from the dining centers. 

“Food waste is huge,” Hennessy said. “The more that we can reduce that, the more that we’re reducing what we send to the landfill. We’re not only reducing our carbon footprint, but also the cost of sending waste to the landfill as well.”  

Sports events are another source of waste, but Hennessy said it doesn’t have to be like that.

“We’ve partnered with athletics for a long time for Green Game Day, which is for home football games to recycle and reduce waste,” he said. “The latest venture with athletics is called Zero Waste at Doyt Perry Stadium. That would be an effort where everything in the stadium would either be recyclable, reusable or compostable.”

Centralized chiller plants are another way BGSU is hoping to conserve energy and save money. 

“It basically eliminates all the individual cooling systems that you have on all the individual buildings with just has one location,” said Dr. Bruce Meyer, vice president of campus operations. 

The University is getting ready to turn on its second chiller plant with plans for a third plant in the near future.

The green fund also recently purchased a hybrid box truck. It will be the first hybrid vehicle on campus in the fleet, Hennessy said. It will be used on the recycling pickups.