From a campus that had no recycling program four years ago to the announcement during this year’s Green PoWER Week that the university would reduce campus-wide energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020, Wittenberg’s student-initiated march toward sustainability has been rapid and results-driven.
Megan Hentges ’10 recalls her amazement as a freshman when she realized there were no recycling bins on campus. It spurred her to action so much so that she, Ted Trautman ’07 and several other students started a petition to start a recycling program. The blue bins now found all over campus serve as proof of their success. She didn’t quit there, however. Instead, she went on to serve as president of the Conservation Club and STAND, as well as on the Sustainability Task Force, which generated many of the ideas and momentum for Wittenberg’s new energy policy initiatives announced this spring.
“I am so excited to see how far Wittenberg can take this,” she says. “We started far behind, but now there is a real possibility that we can be seen as a leader and show others what small schools are capable of in terms of sustainability.” Two years ago, Hentges asked President Mark Erickson to sign the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), but he first wanted to be sure that there was widespread student and campus support for such an effort. Hentges quickly mobilized with fellow students Elise Willer ’09, David Donofrio ’09, Kelsey Swindler ’12 and other members of the student-led club PoWER to gauge students’ interest, meet with administrators and get the necessary support.
In February 2009, the Sustainability Task Force, comprised of students, faculty and staff, was
formed to explore energy policy and improvements to the recycling program, along with ways to make campus food service more environmentally sound. After a year of meetings and research, the task force presented a proposal to President Erickson. Those efforts paid off when he announced on April 21, 2010 that he would join nearly 700 college and university presidents in signing the Climate Commitment.
It was one of four announcements that unveiled Wittenberg’s long-range commitmentto address global climate change.
“What changed my thinking about signing the Climate Commitment was seeing a unified community that had done the research and made a commitment,” said Erickson at the announcement. “What makes me most excited and proud today is that I think we have come a very long way in four years. I am absolutely convinced that this campus is up to the task.”
Wittenberg is not alone in ramping up its commitment to environmental sustainability; colleges and universities across the country are implementing innovative programs to reduce consumption and increase energy efficiency. Like Wittenberg, they recognize that colleges must play a leadership role in confronting this global issue. The practical benefits, such as reducing long-term energy costs, and attracting the best students and faculty, help Wittenberg make the most of its financial resources. And there is a rising interest among students in attending colleges that practice, teach and support environmentally responsible choices. When the Princeton Review surveyed college applicants and parents for its 2009 College Hopes & Worries Survey, 66 percent said they would value having information about a college’s commitment to the environment, and 24 percent of that group said such information would “very much” impact their decision to apply to or attend the school.
Investing in Energy Efficiency
Significant changes during the next year and in the years to come will be realized through a new investment fund that creates a revolving loan fund, an idea spearheaded by Ruth Hoff, associate professor of languages and a member of the Sustainability Task Force. The revolving loan fund will support energy-saving projects that are integrated with course content. For example, students might analyze the effectiveness of a completed project or they might design innovative real-world projects. In short, the fund will help make sustainability an essential part of how Wittenberg teaches and works. And the savings generated by projects will pay back the loan, generating future funds for more projects. The first project, switching out the lights to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) in four campus buildings (Firestine, Bayley Alumni House, the old gym and the physical plant) this summer, is expected to save the school $31,000 in one year.
The investment fund will also pay for the installation of electric meters on 13 buildings this summer. The meters will be placed in seven residence halls as well as academic and administrative buildings. By recording how much energy specific buildings use, the meters will go a long way in helping the school reach its goal of reducing energy consumption by 20 percent.
What’s more, the meters will break down electric usage, allowing students to see how much they
use daily, monthly or hourly, and adjust their habits accordingly.
“The meters will accurately monitor our energy usage, but an even bigger impact will be changing behavior across the campus,” says Andy Scholl, director of environmental studies and a member of the Sustainability Task Force. So expect to see some competition this fall as students turn off lights and computers or don sweaters while turning down thermostats. In
addition to competitions between residence halls to see who can save the most energy,
Wittenberg has signed on to compete in the Campus Conservation Nationals, a three-week competition in November that pits schools across the country against each other. The one-time investment for both the metering and the loan fund is $125,000, and if Wittenberg is successful in reducing energy demands by 20 percent, it may save about $300,000 each year. To further demonstrate its commitment to sustainability, Wittenberg decided to pursue LEED certification for the restoration of Blair Hall (LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council). If successful, Blair Hall will likely be the first LEED-certified building in Clark County.
Grassroots Efforts Pay Off
Kelsey Swindler ’12, co-chair of the Sustainability Task Force, sees changes both subtle and significant within the broader campus community. Student organized events such as the Battle of the Bins (PoWER members weigh recycling from every dorm), PoWER hour (turning lights off for an hour campus-wide) and the Clean Plate Award to discourage food waste have done much to increase student awareness of the impact of individual actions. Other “green” efforts on campus include the Wittenberg Co-Op, which is committed to supplying the campus community with local, organic and sustainable food, the Springfield Farmer’s Market successful stint on campus, and the creation of “EcoHouse,” a campus residence that boasts CFLs, low-flow shower heads, Energy Star appliances and a compost bin.
“I think the involvement of students has been crucial to creating the changes we are seeing now,” Swindler says. “Serving on the task force, I was particularly inspired to see the ideas of students, faculty and staff come together and into reality. And to have it happen in a relatively short time
was really exciting for all of us.”
While a host of faculty and staff, such as reference librarian Ken Irwin and director of physical plant John Paulsen, have played vital roles in working with students to push for change, talk about the green movement on campus would not be complete without mentioning Rick Incorvati, associate professor of English. From the first “brainstorming” pancake breakfasts he helped organized years ago to serving on the Sustainability Task Force to being a faculty adviser to PoWER and the campus Sustainability Assistants to helping organize the Co-Op, Incorvati has helped to guide students and channel their enthusiasm into productive efforts.
“I know that Dr. Incorvati worked tirelessly behind the scenes,” Swindler says. “And in meetings, he was always a steadfast and firm moderator who could balance out the different voices.”
Incorvati would be the last person to take credit for the success of the green movement, and says only that it was a community effort. He believes that becoming a more environmentally sustainable campus is directly connected to Wittenberg’s mission to create responsible global
“Thinking about our personal habits and how they affect the rest of the world – that is what global citizenship is,” he says. “Teaching and modeling that is the responsibility of an educational institution like Wittenberg. If we are not doing it, who will?”