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Sustainability at Transylvania

 

Pioneers from all over campus work together to revolutionize sustainability at Transylvania

by Tyler Young

The second in a series of articles highlighting each of Transylvania’s primary values—diversity, sustainability, globalization, technology, and community involvement

Sustainability is one of Transylvania’s five primary values, but ask 10 random people mission statementwalking down the street in your town what sustainability means, and you’re likely to get 10 different answers, including “I have no idea.” Some people may define sustainability as energy efficiency, but it’s more than that. Some may say it involves saving money by reducing the use of resources, but it’s more than that. Some may say sustainability is “going green,” but it’s more than that, too.

Transylvania defines sustainability as the capacity of society to meet its needs without degrading the interrelated environmental, social, and economic systems on which future generations of all species will rely.

The key idea of that definition is that environmental, social, and economic systems are three distinct pillars that influence the world around us. A sustainable community takes responsibility for those pillars and does everything it can to ensure that future generations of all species—not just humans—have the same resources we do today.

For Transylvania, that means a new, thoughtful approach to how to manage the campus, from reducing waste and carbon emissions to promoting health and social justice. As such, it can’t be simply flipped on like a light switch, but rather it is a journey, a process of changing the campus culture so that decisions are made with future generations in mind.


Council develops master plan for sustainability

One of the most important decisions Transylvania made regarding sustainability was hiring Angela Dossett in January 2010 as sustainability coordinator. The position was funded through a grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. She  hit the ground running, examining every facet of Transylvania for areas of improvement while simultaneously educating members of the community.

In September 2010, President R. Owen Williams approved the creation of the President’s Council on Sustainability. The group, made up of students, faculty, and staff from different areas of campus, began developing a master plan for sustainability.

The council gathered ideas and opinions through campus surveys, workshops, retreats, and first-year student orientation—more than 500 people contributed their thoughts to the plan. The mountain of input was discussed, revised, and eventually pared down to big-idea visions in eight categories—curriculum, culture, buildings, land, food, dining waste, administration, and community engagement. Those visions became the backbone of the Framework for Sustainability, the master plan that launched in September 2011 and directs all sustainability efforts at Transylvania.

“The plan was created with as much campus input as we could possibly solicit,” Dossett said. “We gathered those ideas, and we distilled them, thinking, ‘what are the themes here, what is important to us, and what are we working toward?’”

Each of the eight visions is broken down into three levels—the overall vision, three to five strategies that will get Transylvania to that vision, and action plans, which are practical ways to accomplish the strategies and work toward the vision. Including measurable practices in the plan itself ensures work is being done to accomplish all these goals.

Each vision has a work group dedicated to coming up with action items and delegating those responsibilities to the appropriate avenues. At the end of each year, the action plans are revisited and rewritten based on what has been accomplished that year and what new opportunities will arise in the next year.

“Some of the visions are very bold, and they’re going to take us awhile,” Dossett said. “The strategies will be reviewed frequently—probably a full review every three to five years. And the action plans make sure this isn’t something that just sits on the shelf and looks pretty, but it’s what holds us accountable. It shows what we are doing, when we are doing it, and who’s responsible for getting it done.”

To read the sustainability framework, visit www.transy.edu/sustainability/framework.pdf.


Building projects, education result in reduced energy consumption

In the 2010-11 fiscal year, Transylvania spent $997 per student on energy purchases. That number will almost certainly be lower by the end of the 2011-12 fiscal year, in large part due to major improvements being made to campus buildings.

“I hope we have a significant change,” Angela Dossett, sustainability coordinator, said.

Many of the projects came about from an energy audit by Pepco Energy Services. The company combed through the campus, taking note of upgrades the university could make to improve its energy efficiency and, in turn, save money on energy costs. The result was a thorough report detailing 40 energy conservation measures (ECMs), what each would cost to implement, and the resulting estimated yearly savings.

The total estimated cost of the 40 ECMs was $2.8 million, with an annual savings of $200,000. Transylvania decided not to do everything as a single project, but each ECM was placed into the master capital project list, meaning each year they will be considered when budgeting permits.

During the 2011-12 academic year, Transylvania completed approximately $475,000 worth of the projects that would result in immediate savings, including installing low-flow showerheads in all showers, replacing the boiler in Poole Residence Hall, replacing the heating and air conditioning system in the William T. Young Campus Center, and doing 50 percent of the recommended lighting replacements, which included both energy-efficient bulbs and some light fixture replacements. The audit also recommended almost 100 building envelope suggestions, such as caulking windows and adding insulation. In all, the estimated annual savings of the projects is $73,000.

“We’ve been very busy,” said Norman Mudd, operations manager of the physical plant. “As we’ve gotten into these sustainability efforts, we’ve been teaching our workers what to look for, and they’re very good at it. Every time you turn around, there’s something new happening.”

The same mindset will go into future buildings, as well, which is particularly important during this time of projected campus expansion. Vice President for Finance Marc Mathews said that new buildings will be built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver Certification Standards.

“We followed this standard with Thomson Hall, and going forward we’re going to build to that silver standard,” Mathews said. “We’re also going to have them ENERGY STAR certified like Thomson.”

Thomson Hall was built in 2008 as the first residence hall in Kentucky to earn the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR certification for energy efficiency and environmental protection. While in 2008 Thomson was the exception, it now becomes the example of how future building at Transylvania will look.

Mathews also said it’s possible that new buildings will be designed with geo-thermal heating systems like Thomson Hall uses. The initial cost is high, but there is virtually no maintenance, and the annual cost to heat the buildings is extremely low.

energy recovery unit

The air-to-air rotary wheel heat exchanger used in several buildings on campus captures energy that would typically be wasted by the building’s exhaust air system and transfers that energy to the incoming outside air during the heating and cooling seasons. The outside air stream is also filtered, allowing for a cleaner indoor environment.

In November, President R. Owen Williams announced that the entire campus would shut down for two-and-a-half weeks over winter break as both a reward to faculty and staff and a way to save money and reduce energy consumption.

As a result of the shutdown, compared with the average of 2008–10, Transylvania used 57 percent less natural gas and 20.5 percent less electricity in
December, saving the college approximately $44,000.

“It was great on a social level with people taking a break and relaxing, but it was also about saving money and reducing our carbon footprint,” Dossett said. “That was a great example of the three pillars of sustainability—environmental, economic, and social—in action. Since it was a new idea, it was a hard push to shut down as much as possible. There were some concerns, but I think it went really well.”

Mudd, who serves on the sustainability council, said he’s seeing marked improvement in the mindset at Transylvania.

“We’ve seen a shift in the university’s outlook on sustainability and its commitment to sustainability,” Mudd said. “From an energy management standpoint, people are really starting to get on board, which is great. We knew that it was going to be a challenge—change can come with a little pain and suffering—but it’s improving tenfold.”


Students are integral to sustainability's success

Students may play the most important role in promoting sustainability on Transylvania’s campus. As the largest represented group on the President’s Council for Sustainability and the most prominent voices of the university, students have led initiatives that have gotten a lot of sustainability programs and improvements off the ground.

“Transylvania has a lot going on all the time, and I rely on students to figure out how we get other students engaged and what they care about and what they want to see happen,” Angela Dossett, sustainability coordinator, said. “When we’re in (the sustainability council) setting, there’s not a tier of faculty, staff, and students—we are colleagues and peers, and we all have a different exper-tise based on who we are and what we do in this system.”

Student involvement manifests in several ways—the sustainability council, student sustainability organizations, work-study in the sustainability office, and awareness and volunteering. Students learn about sustainability issues from the moment they step on campus—most recently in first-year student orientation and now in the new three-week August term. They get involved in their first years at Transylvania, and that translates into more students that come up with big ideas and implement them.

Students are coordinating the second annual Anti-Apathy Film Series, which shows and discusses films tackling environmental, economic, and social issues. Initiatives like candlelight dinners in Forrer Dining Hall, where students eat by candlelight and are treated to acoustic music, and the new water bottle filling station in the William T. Young Campus Center, which allows people to fill up reusable bottles instead of buying plastic water bottles, were conceived by students.

energy vampire

Senior Danny Woolums dresses as an energy vampire to show junior Chauncey Morton, center, and senior Tiffany Buchanan the kinds of electronic devices that suck energy even when not in use.

“I’ve been involved with a bottle-less initiative to get rid of water bottles on campus,” senior philosophy major Danny Woolums, who serves on the sustainability council, said. “I was talking with (Director of Student Activities and Campus Center) Diane Fout about alternatives to water bottles, and one was a water filling station you could attach to a water fountain. She ordered it as part of her building budget for a test run, and it’s been very well received. The goal is to have at least one in every building on campus.”

Woolums is also involved with RecycleMania, a program that audits campus waste and teaches the community about what can be recycled. He also installed a butterfly garden at the corner of Broadway and Fourth Street that transformed the area from a concrete slab into a garden that has been used as part of Transylvania’s pre-orientation service projects.
Senior political science major and environmental studies minor Austyn Gaffney was always interested in social justice. When she got to Transylvania, she learned how social issues are interrelated with environmental issues, and she became involved with TERRA, the student environmental awareness organization. She went with TERRA to a national Power Shift conference, which focused on climate issues, and used that experience to help organize a Power Shift conference for the Appalachian region.

“One of the coolest things we did was a month-long series of events called Appalachian Awareness Month,” she said. “We talked about issues of mountaintop removal and coal mining, and we brought in great people like Larry Gibson from the Keepers of the Mountains Foundation and musician Ben Sollee. We held a panel and showed films, and eventually a couple of the organizers and I got to talk to the Transylvania Board of Trustees about what our environmental group had been doing.”

Gaffney also serves on the sustainability council, and she studied abroad in Thailand in a development and globalization program, where she studied environmentalism and human rights. She said she can see student initiative spreading sustainability around campus, and that it will take the students to make a difference.

“I think in five years environmental groups on campus will be much stronger, and student action will motivate changes in university curriculum and decisions made in the administration,” she said. “I hope to see sustainability in the curriculum and in orientation pushing students to make a difference on the campus, kind of an anti-apathy movement.”

Transy loves mountains sign

Transylvania students attend I Love Mountains Day in Frankfort, Ky., to speak out against mountaintop removal. Pictured clockwise from far left, senior Molly Crain, sophomore Victoria Sullivan, senior Kayla Kidwell-Snider, senior JP Peckinpaugh, first-year student Elizabeth Hardt, senior Austyn Gaffney, sophomore Krisandra Thomas, first-year student Courtney Marshall, and junior Annie Wright.

“I think students are driving this,” Vice President for Information Technology Jason Whitaker ’97 said. “ I felt like students kicked off some of the initial sustainability efforts three or four years ago. It was really driven by students questioning, ‘Why are we doing X—why can’t we do Y?’”


Local food, waste reduction are priorities for Transylvania dining

Depending on how conscious you are, food can be a major obstacle to operating sustainably. Fortunately, Transylvania and its dining service, Sodexo, are working hard to improve all facets of sustainable dining, from seemingly insignificant changes to large-scale shifts in operation.

The 2011-12 school year, in particular, has seen several big changes, starting with the beginning of the year no-waste picnic featuring local meat, fruits, and vegetables. All food scraps were composted by Seedleaf, an organization that provides local food distribution and composting, and there were no disposable plates, glasses, or utensils.

The picnic was an opportunity for incoming students to see Transylvania’s commitment to sustainability firsthand, and it introduced the relationship between the three pillars of sustainability. Local food supports the local economy, ridding waste affects the environment, and using compost for community gardens helps provide healthy food to those who need it. Seedleaf, which has been working with Sodexo since October, is a valuable partner with Transylvania in those efforts.

“Seedleaf does community gardens to address food justice issues, making sure that fresh, healthy vegetables and food are available to low-income, low-economic areas in downtown Lexington,” Angela Dossett, sustainability coordinator, said. “They have several community gardens, and we are going to let them use some of the vacant lots we’re not doing anything with on campus. Seedleaf gets a great place to grow vegetables in an area it wants to serve, and we get a good service learning opportunity for our students.”

Sustainability efforts are active throughout the school year, as well, and some are learning experiences. In 2010 continuous dining was introduced in Forrer Dining Hall, which was a service to students that meant there would always be a food option available from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Although it was a great benefit, continuous dining meant the equipment in Forrer ran non-stop for 12 hours a day, using great amounts of energy and water to keep food hot or cold, wash dishes, keep lights on, etc. It was decided to not continue that service, rather relying on the other food options on campus—Jazzman’s, the Rafskeller, and the 1780 Café—to provide options throughout the day. Now the equipment is shut off outside the hours of breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

A campaign last academic year introduced the idea of tray-less dining. Students were not using trays in the dining hall on Tray-less Tuesdays, saving water from washing trays and reducing waste from diners overfilling the large trays  and not finishing their food. After a successful first term, Tray-less Tuesdays expanded to Tray-less Tuesdays and Thursdays, and this year the dining hall eliminated trays altogether, moving them to where they can be used in special circumstances but out of the typical dining area.

Amanda Langlitz
 “In general, you’re talking about better food, healthier food. You’re promoting local farmers and the local economy. You’re teaching students what a carrot should taste like versus the already peeled nubs in a plastic bag. I know there’s a good percentage of people here that want to see things move in that direction.”

“We wanted to encourage people to eat just what’s on their plates, so we decided to not use the trays anymore,” Amanda Langlitz, Sodexo general manager, said. “So it’s made a big impact for the long term. We’ve seen a reduction in waste, and we use less water.”

The dining hall has also eliminated disposable cups, coffee cups, utensils, and cups for ketchup and mustard. It offers reusable mugs for coffee at Jazzman’s that cost only 50 cents to fill up, and it occasionally offers temporary discounts on coffee for any type of reusable mug. Transylvania installed a water filtration system in the dining hall in December and purchased large containers to hold the filtered water instead of using plastic bottles. Those little decisions add up to significant improvements when stretched over a whole year.

“We’re trying to promote little things that aren’t drastic, but make an impact without disturbing people,” Langlitz said. “We’re really putting our heads together to look at how we do things in the dining hall.”

Sodexo is trying to incorporate as much local food as possible into its offerings. Its primary food vendor is Sysco, but it also buys produce and ingredients from Lexington-based companies Papania’s and Creation Gardens. Much of the flour, cheese, grits, fruits and vegetables, and more come from local sources.

“We must have bought a thousand pounds of local apples and pears from farms,” Langlitz said. “When it’s available, our produce companies automatically send local produce, so if we ask for cabbage and it’s available, they will send us local cabbage.”

Sodexo also partners with Marksbury Farms in Lancaster, Ky., to buy some local meat.

“The first time we got local chicken, we got some pushback because it didn’t taste the same,” Langlitz said. “So we’re trying to use it as an education piece, slowly saying that this is going to taste different and why it does.


Transylvania uses technology to slash paper and energy consumption

As the world becomes more technologically advanced and institutions work hard to stay on top of it, it becomes increasingly important to step up not only in terms of what they offer, but also in how to use equipment responsibly and—as in Transylvania’s case—sustainably. The good news is technology, while sometimes tricky to navigate from an energy standpoint, is an invaluable tool for Transylvania’s sustainability efforts.

A major push over the last year has been a paperless initiative—taking big steps in reducing paper use in order to eventually become a campus that does not rely on paper in its day-to-day operation. For any organization, particularly an educational one, that is a significant goal and one that requires everyone and every office to look at how it uses resources.

One of the biggest steps taken has also been one of the simplest. The department of information technology installed a print control feature in computer labs and gave students quotas on how much paper they could use over a term.

Jason Whitaker
 " …the spirit of the initiative is, let’s look at what we’re doing, and let’s find a better way to do it. It’s all about forcing us to examine what we do and whittling it down. And we’re seeing it happen.”

“As we talked to students, what we learned is when they were looking for an article for a paper and found it, they would print it,” Vice President for Information Technology Jason Whitaker ’97 said. “Then they found a better one, and they’d print it. Then they’d find the one they’re actually going to use, and they print it, and the other two go by the wayside.”

The result was a print release system where after a user pushes “print” on a page, that page goes into a queue. When the user is ready to go, he or she logs into the queue and verifies the printing. So if the user realizes that he or she doesn’t need the page after all, it doesn’t print.

“We see 3,500-4,000 pages a month expire in that queue,” Whitaker said. “That has made a huge difference in terms of wasted paper and toner right out of the gate. That alone is a big savings.”

The lab printers also have duplexers installed to allow for two-sided printing, and that option is the default on all lab computers. Faculty and staff have received instructions and tips on how to reduce paper use, and some offices have taken that charge to heart and made huge strides. The accounting office has gone almost completely paperless, scanning bills and storing them on network storage, and it has moved to paperless billing and payment. Depending on their functions, some offices have more work to do.

“Paperless is a journey,” Whitaker said. “There are always going to be some people who want to receive a piece of paper for a bill or a thank-you note. But the spirit of the initiative is, let’s look at what we’re doing, and let’s find a better way to do it. It’s all about forcing us to examine what we do and whittling it down. And we’re seeing it happen.”

Announcements for special events and programs on campus can now be made and displayed completely digitally. Transylvania has been publishing Columns, its daily newsletter, online exclusively for several years. Over the last year, 12 digital signage monitors have been installed around campus that display not only Columns, but digital fliers that students and organizations can submit through e-mail. The result is much fewer paper fliers scattered around on walls and on the ground. Between the signs, computers, and the Columns mobile phone app that launched in December 2010, the campus community is rarely more than a few steps away from being able to get information about all the events happening at Transylvania.

“We’ve gotten a lot of positive comments, particularly on the digital signs,” Whitaker said. “All kinds of groups are submitting to them. I was in Jazzman’s one morning and a student came in to hang fliers. She left before I could say something, but I sent an e-mail to the address on the flier and said, ‘Do you know you can put this on the digital sign?’ She said she hadn’t thought of that, and an hour later, there it was. A lot of students are really tuned into sustainability.”

new computer lab

Six computer labs on Transylvania’s campus use thin client devices instead of desktop computers in order to save energy costs.

One of the more innovative changes Transylvania has made is installing thin client devices in six of the computer labs. Instead of a lab with 25 complete computers, the lab has 25 small, quiet devices that connect to a server elsewhere for computing power on “virtual desktops.” The result is a huge energy savings—the units use less power, and it takes much less energy to air condition a room when you remove 25 desktop computers producing heat at the same time. Plus it frees up workspace on the desks, and when software updates need to be made, IT can do the update once to the server instead of doing an installation on every computer.

Virtualization has also allowed IT to get rid of some of the machines in its server room. A cluster of four servers can now
handle network storage, e-mail, the Moodle course management system, print control, and more as opposed to five years ago when a stand-alone server was needed for each.

“Virtualization software gets us the most bang for our buck from our hardware by sharing these resources,” Jason Whitaker ’97, vice president for information technology, said. “We’ve got less hardware, we’re using less power, and it’s easier for us to manage from a personnel standpoint.”

As a testament to the work going on at Transylvania, Dell, which sells a lot of computer equipment to the school including the servers and thin clients, invited some of its other clients in the state to a workshop in January that it asked Transylvania to host. Visitors included representatives from other universities, Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, and Louisville Metro Government. Whitaker and the IT department showed off its systems and helped the institutions figure out ways they could incorporate some of the ideas into their operations.

“Dell said we’re kind of leading the pack in virtualization and virtual desktops,” Whitaker said. “What was nice about the workshop is that it showed that we’re all willing to share. We feel like we’re getting involved in the community, not just locally but with our peer schools. At the end of the day, we’re all in the same business, and we’re all trying to do the best we can with the resources we have.”

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