Earth, Wind, and Fire

Kermit the Frog might’ve crooned, “It’s not easy being green,” but colleges and universities across the country and around the globe are finding that it is easy being green when they integrate ecologically sensitive practices into daily campus life. Protecting and conserving natural resources — and learning from those efforts and assimilating the teaching of them into the curriculum — is a movement that has deep and sustainable roots in higher education.

Blowin’ in the Wind: College of the Atlantic
The wind blows freely over coastal Maine, home to College of the Atlantic (COA). The ocean breezes keep COA’s Mount Desert Island campus a bit warmer in winter and nicely cool in summer — and now, these same breezes are helping to power the college’s — and the island’s — first freestanding residential wind turbine.

College of the Atlantic is a small, alternative college with an interdisciplinary, independent approach towards higher education. The college offers two degrees, a bachelor of arts and masters of philosophy, both in human ecology. This degree requires students to design an individualized course of study that examines the relationship among humans and their natural, built, and social environments. Ultimately, it is the hope that graduates will also work to improve these relationships.

Taking this goal seriously, in 2007 the college decided to practice what it teaches and became the first American institution of higher learning to be entirely carbon neutral. While COA relies on offsets to cover those emissions it can’t yet reduce or avoid, each year it seeks to reduce as much of its emissions as it can. At the same time, the college also prepares students to be leaders in energy independence.

This spring, to reduce COA’s environmental impact while educating students in energy alternatives, COA offered a new course, “A Practicum in Residential Wind Power.” Taught by COA lecturer Anna Demeo, the class introduced students to the basics of siting and installing a wind turbine, beginning with the politics of the process. In the end, the spot chosen for the turbine was not actually nestled on the ocean side campus because the town of Bar Harbor has a height ordinance preventing the installation of an efficient turbine. Instead, it went up at Beech Hill Farm, the college’s inland organic farm, located in a town that permits towers up to 40 ft. high. As part of the practicum, students followed the political process and advocated for a new Bar Harbor ordinance more favorable to turbines by presenting their project to the town planning board.

The students also used engineering and mathematical skills to understand how the Skystream 3.7 turbine works, how to size a turbine to a site’s particular energy needs, and how to site it for maximum efficiency. Students also learned about costs, permits, tax incentives, rebates, and off-grid and grid-tie systems. They studied environmental concerns such as birds, noise, and ice throw. Additionally, they are compiling what they learned into a Website for community members interested in wind power.

The turbine is expected to power the Beech Hill farmhouse. Both the turbine and the farmhouse are now being monitored for energy production and consumption, continuing the learning process.

The cost of the project was $15,000. Two anonymous donors gave a total of $10,000, and a $5,000 grant from the Maine Community Foundation aided in the turbine’s purchase. A grant from The Maine Space Grant Consortium provided another $5,000 to support the development and implementation of the new class.

Said Maine Congressman Mike Michaud about the effort, “COA is on the forefront of a nationwide movement of colleges and universities that are making commitments to energy efficiency and to reducing emissions. It’s important to implement creative and innovative solutions on campus, and to educate students and future generations about how we can work together to solve the growing climate change crisis.”

COA will continue these hands-on courses. It may place one or more turbines on the farm to power other farm operations; or perhaps — should the discussions with the Bar Harbor planning board be fruitful — a turbine will be installed on the main campus. The college is also looking into providing classes in other alternative energy sources, including an interdisciplinary course in electric vehicles.

Down to Earth: Iowa State University
Iowa State University (ISU) has opened a composting facility that can handle more than 10,000 tons of organic wastes annually — wastes that come from various campus sources.

Located next to the ISU dairy farm, the facility is designed to handle solid organic waste in an environmentally responsible manner. Seven 80-ft. by 120-ft. hoop barns contain the compost, which is composed of yard waste, manure, and bedding from ISU farms; organic greenhouse waste; biomass research waste; and — beginning this fall — food waste from campus dining facilities.

ISU Dining is conducting tests to determine how much waste is produced each day. Officials then hope to figure out the most efficient way to dispose of the waste at the compost facility.

“This compost facility allows ISU Dining to be a part of an all-University project that brings waste full-circle,” said ISU Dining Director Nancy Levandowski.

“Iowa State wants to be a leader in sustainability, and this compost facility contributes to that goal,” said Mark Honeyman, professor of animal science and coordinator of ISU research farms. “Composting is a great way to demonstrate an alternative use for manure and waste biomass with the end result as an organic, usable product on campus.”

At the dairy farm, after the liquid waste is separated from the dairy manure, the nitrogen-rich manure solids are mixed with carbon-rich campus yard waste, cornstalks, and livestock bedding into rows of compost called windrows. The windrows are turned and aerated periodically to promote composting. The recipe of products creates a slow burn and aerobic oxidation process, resulting in a 50-percent reduction in the volume of materials. This process takes eight weeks. The result is odorless compost that makes a high-quality soil amendment when mixed with sand and soil for campus landscaping.

“A well-run composting facility should not generate odor,” said Tim Goode, ISU Compost Facility superintendent. “This is superior to field application of manure and superior to stockpiling manure and other waste materials during times when field application isn't possible because of weather conditions.”

The facility generates about 100 tons of compost each week. The compost is being used around construction sites to replenish uprooted soil, campus livestock bedding, flowerbeds, and horticultural and agronomic plots.

“This is an influential project as it couples sustainability with the power of the University,” said Honeyman. “It's intuitively the right thing to do as it takes waste and turns it into something valuable — directly and positively impacting the University's goals of sustainability.”

The compost facility is an entirely self-supporting service unit, as it will charge a fee for each ton brought to the facility. All compost leaving the site will also be weighed and charged to the department using the material.

“We are working hard to make the project not only resource sustainable but also budget sustainable,” said Goode. “We have structured the fees to be advantageous for the departments who will be supplying material as well as those using the finished product.”

“I think it is appropriate for a land-grant University to have such a project,” said Honeyman. “It will serve as a learning center for students, Extension staff, agriculture and engineering research projects — and it's all right here on campus.”

Catch the Sun: Ohlone College
The Ohlone College Newark Center for Health Sciences and Technology, an 81-acre campus with a 128,000-sq.-ft. facility in Newark, CA, has set new benchmarks in energy efficiency, conservation, and savings. 

Designed by Perkins+Will, a global integrated design firm, in close concert with Alfa Tech Engineers, a provider of alternative energy engineering services, the Newark Center was completed in early 2008 and LEED-Platinum certified in August 2008: the only community college campus to achieve the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest recognition. Ohlone’s Newark campus is located adjacent to federally protected wetlands near the Southeast shore of San Francisco Bay. 

The Newark Center features sophisticated solar, geothermal, and enthalpy heat recovery wheel systems to maximize the facility’s energy efficiency. In its first year of operation, the energy systems, along with the Newark Center’s other sustainable features, realized:
  • solar power generation that prevented 421 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere in 2008;
  • purchased electricity reduction of 69 percent, and 72 percent reduction in natural gas consumption compared to the same facility designed to meet California’s Title 24 energy code — the nation’s toughest;
  • combined electricity and gas cost of just $63,052, or only $0.48 per sq. ft. per year for the entire facility in 2008, translating into a savings of more than $130,000 compared to the same facility designed to meet Title 24; and
  • net-zero energy consumption from April through August 2008, removing the campus from the electrical grid entirely and allowing the College to sell its unused power.

Water conservation is also key to the eco-friendly campus design. To this end, drought-tolerant landscaping, comprised entirely of native grasses and other indigenous flora, has reduced water usage for irrigation by 20 to 30 percent and has made the Newark Center campus the largest “Bay-friendly” landscaping installation in the entire San Francisco Bay region. An unusual feature of the irrigation system is a real-time, 24/7 weather monitoring system that calculates the rate of evaporation based on such dynamic variables as temperature and wind. Other water conservation features include waterless urinals, high efficiency plumbing, and motion sensor faucets.

A well-known educational visionary and environmental advocate, former Ohlone College president and superintendent of the Ohlone College District, Dr. Douglas Treadway’s vision for the Newark campus included use of the wetlands and estuary as environmental teaching tools — an opportunity enhanced by the college assuming shared responsibility for their stewardship. He also envisioned the utilization of these environmental resources and the Center’s alternative energy systems as integral parts of the college’s environmental and technology curricula while also making them highly visible to promote environmental awareness and energy conservation among the entire campus population.

Donna Gold, director of Public Relations for the College of the Atlantic and Mike Ferlazzo, News Service communications specialist for Iowa State University contributed to this article.