Colleges Collaborate to Find Green Campus Solutions

Colleges Collaborate to Find Green Campus Solutions

On a winter afternoon, Dan Welch finds himself in the basement of Biddle Hall at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte.

With the constant churning of fuel pump gears, the room is a noisy place. But Welch, a process engineering consultant with Advanced Energy in Raleigh, patiently records building cooling temperatures and checks for furnace exhaust draft. By the end of the day, he'll have studied lighting systems and air-conditioning units, windows and doors, from the modern James B. Duke Memorial Library to a century-old administration building.

Auditing Energy Efficiency

His energy efficiency audit will take him to every building on campus looking for ways to help Johnson C. Smith become more "green."

"There's opportunity here for reducing energy use that will result in the reduction of greenhouse gas," Welch says. "They want to do all they can to make their contribution to a green and sustainable world."

And when recommendations from the study are fully implemented, it could reduce the school's energy costs by as much as $300,000 each year, Welch says.

Three of the four Endowment-supported schools — Johnson C. Smith, Davidson College and Furman University — have signed on for energy audits as part of a $500,000 grant from The Duke Endowment. Officials say this "fresh look" will help school leaders determine next steps.

"We have come to realize that energy conservation and other aspects of our commitment to sustainability are not so much expenses as they are investments," said David Shi, president of Furman University during the early years of the grant. "Because we are existing in perpetuity, we've come to rethink our notions of investing in energy-saving activities and systems ... and to look at payback periods with a longer horizon than just three or five or seven years."

Collaborative Opportunities for Staff

Meanwhile, staffers at the four schools seem energized by working together through the "Green Campuses" initiative that began in 2008. While Furman already is considered a national leader in campus sustainability, Johnson C. Smith faces the hurdles that come with updating historic buildings.

"We typically compete with one another for the finest students in the country and the best faculty and for other grants and foundation gifts," Shi said. "It has been especially fulfilling for us to find a project that all four of our institutions can work together on."

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