By Sarah Stubbs
For as long as University of Findlay officials can remember, efforts to take environmental sustainability seriously on campus have been met with opposition.
An instance of this is the $10,000 gift of a digital dashboard from Marathon Petroleum Corp. – a gift that is capable of providing a digital readout of energy data at the University – that has yet to be used.
But now, sustainability is on the Faculty Senate’s radar as one of their six priority goals for the University. Officials have named the goal Faculty Senate Goal ‘D.’
Since the 1980s, environmental efforts put forth by the Wilderness Club have been somewhat sporadic, according to UF officials. In 2007 when Findlay Green Campus Initiative (FGCI) formed, environmental efforts became more concerted but were often met with opposition by the physical plant, a lack of funding, or both, because the group is so small in the general power structure of the University.
“We’re behind. Twenty years behind,” said Tim Murphy, chair of the Environmental Science and Occupational Health (ESOH) department at UF.
Dwight Moody, retired biology professor at UF, former adviser to the Wilderness Club, co-founder and current FGCI member, and current manager of UF’s Rieck Center for Habitat Studies, believes the University is even further behind.
“It’s 2015 and we have this archaic thinking. Even though it’s 2015, the University isn’t 2015. I don’t know where we are, maybe we are in the ‘80s now,” Moody said.
Faculty Senate Goal ‘D,’ initiated by Gordon Gillespie and Michael Reed, both professors at the University, calls for a strategic approach to making UF’s campus environmentally sustainable.
Reed, co-founder of FGCI and professor in the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) graduate program, says there must be an effort to look internally to see how much is being spent on energy in order for the Faculty Senate Goal ‘D’ to move forward.
“We have to sophisticate the way we are gathering the data,” Reed said.
It is the problem of data that frustrates both the individuals who have been pushing the initiation of sustainability efforts and the physical plant.
In gaining momentum with Faculty Senate Goal ‘D,’ Murphy also said “internal assessment is imperative.”
But both sides of the coin are asking who is going to pay the professionals to come in and collect, or provide the means to collect, the data necessary to prove or disprove the cost-benefit analysis of sustainable efforts: institutionalized recycling and clean energy.
The gift from Marathon, a corporation with strong ties and influence at the University, might be a way to remedy the problem of data collection.
According to Reed, the University received the $10,000 digital board from Marathon a few years ago. The gadget is an interactive, lucid dashboard that collects and displays energy data.
The $10,000 dashboard currently sits in its box in the main floor of 1120 Cory St, the house for the TESOL program, where Reed’s office is located.
“Our goal was to mount it in the student union and connect data loggers to show how much energy is being used, how much water is being used, how much water was being used this time last year, anything,” Reed said. “We wanted to have some solar panels to offset that to show people how much power just a couple solar panels can generate.”
Reed says that the board has not been put to use yet because it’s not a priority to the physical plant and finding the right funding has been challenging.
FGCI has tried to apply for grants in the past to get the board up and running, but have had difficulty.
Myreon Cobb, director of UF’s physical plant for the past 25 years, says that putting the dashboard to use would not be a smart financial move.
“I’m not against it. But it always boils down to cost,” Cobb said.
Cobb explained that the data collection process to get the information from the meters of every building on campus to the AMU is an expensive, intricate process.
“There are little donuts you put on the outside of the wire at each meter and those pick up the energy being used in that specific building, collect all the data, and send it to the collection point. We found out that it would cost so many thousand per building. It was quite a bit of money,” Cobb said.
Cobb also said that Reed’s proposal to power the board via solar panels on top of the union was irresponsible.
According to Reed, this was a misunderstanding. Reed said that he never expected the dashboard to be powered by solar panels.
“I wanted the solar cells connected to it so that students and faculty could see energy being generated on top of a building as opposed to a building just using energy,” Reed said.
Cobb suggested Reed use IT cables and tap into the energy produced by the solar panels and wind turbine near the Hoop House, where Findlay Greens grows their produce, since those were free gifts, too.
However, Cobb says that Reed has yet to show the physical plant how much energy is being generated by the solar panels and wind turbine and how much money is being saved.
“They won’t tell me how much they’re saving,” Cobb said. “I can’t just go out and put $100,000 or $200,000 worth of solar panels on the roof of the union to say, ‘Here’s how much we are saving.’”
Cobb said that these decisions are all about how long they will take to pay for themselves. The payoff for solar energy usually takes 15-20 years because the investment is so expensive.
Reed says that the installation of the digital dashboard might become a possibility again through the Faculty Senate Goal ‘D’ and thinks it’s the perfect way to create sustainability awareness within the student population.
“We always thought this would be a great thing for students and recruiting. In developing our objectives for the Faculty Senate Goal we asked, ‘How do we make energy consumption visible? How do we make it interactive, fun, and understandable?’ Well. This does,” said Reed.
Gillespie, ESOH professor and FGCI member since its inception, says that this is the first time in UF’s history that there is a substantial amount of faculty support to move environmental efforts forward.
On Oct. 28, 2015, UF’s Faculty Senate supported Goal ‘D’ when Gillespie and Reed presented its goals and objectives. University President Katherine Fell immediately showed support and suggested, alongside faculty, that Gillespie and Reed write up a formal proposal for the formation of an administrative committee composed of a cross-section of campus constituencies.
According to Reed, the formal proposal has been written and submitted to Fell. Gillespie and Reed are waiting for her approval.
Once approved, the Environmental Sustainability committee will consist of three students, one faculty member from each college, two FGCI members, as well as a designee from housekeeping, physical plant, business affairs, and student services.
The initiative’s long-term goal is for the University to be nationally recognized as a sustainable campus on lists such as the Sierra Club’s “Coolest Schools” or the Princeton Review’s “Guide to Green Colleges.”
“The goal is to get the reputation as a green campus. Top ten percent would be quite a feat and we have a lot of work to do – but getting on that list adds value to the University,” Murphy said.
Once the committee is formed, the next steps, according to Gillespie and Reed, are to increase awareness of sustainability practices, perform a self-assessment, explore sustainability practices at other institutions, and then finally to create a prioritized list and reasonable outline to be pursued at UF.
Meanwhile, Murphy and Gillespie are working to create awareness academically.
“We have now taken on the responsibility in our curriculum, the ESOH curriculum, to create five courses at the undergraduate level and five courses at the graduate level where students would be able to concentrate in sustainability,” Gillespie said. “That’s brand new. We are still writing the courses.”
According to Murphy, in the near future, undergraduate ESOH students will be able to pick up a sustainability minor and graduate ESOH students will be able to obtain a certificate in sustainability.
Gillespie said that it has taken a long time to get sustainability recognized as a serious issue on campus simply because there has never been an organizational entity that is responsible for sustainability.
“I don’t want to say this as a criticism, but I don’t think the University has recycling and other environmental issues as functional elements on their agenda. They’re not being graded on whether or not it’s done,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie hopes that eventually UF will have a position for an administrator – perhaps at the VP level – who would be the sustainability officer on campus, managing and coordinating sustainability efforts.
Murphy said that the biggest challenge in accomplishing Faculty Senate Goal ‘D’ will be proving the cost-benefit analysis.
Most environmental efforts that are suggested are usually followed up with questions of how much those efforts will cost and who is going to pay for them.
For Cobb, money has been the ongoing deterrent in adapting green practices such as an institutionalized recycling program and clean energy.
The current recycling options on campus are the large, blue H&O Hauling receptacles at the recycling garage located behind 1102 Cory Street and the receptacles behind the Davis Street Building. Cobb said that these are relatively new and were introduced to campus within the last four or five years.
There are also small, gray receptacles for aluminum, plastic, and office paper located on the east end of the Village, out in front of the student union, and on the west end of the Davis Street Building. Grounds people who work for the physical plant are responsible for dumping those small receptacles into the large ones.
Trash removal is serviced by Waste Management and recycling is serviced by H&O Hauling.
According to Cobb, the University spends roughly $82,000 a year on trash removal. The current recycling program costs $10,000 a year – starting this past September.
Waste Management and H&O Hauling are competitors. Cobb said that H&O wants to service UF’s trash removal, too, but they could not outbid Waste Management’s prices.
“It’s the right thing to do, but look at what it costs us to do that. You can’t run your business that way. So it’s tough. And I report to a business manager who is a bean counter,” Cobb said.
The most recent cost-effective, environmental upgrade the physical plant has accomplished was the $85,000 endeavor to replace all of the parking lot lights, transitioning from mercury vapors to LEDs.
“That will pay for itself in less than two years. LEDs are good for ten years. The mercury vapors only last about two or two and a half years. That’s green – but it’s also saving money,” Cobb said. “That’s what my boss wants. If it won’t pay for itself in about five to ten years, he’s not feeling it.”
Cobb said that this payback is what makes or breaks whether or not the University decides to transition to cleaner energy sources.
The new-end of the Davis Street Building is powered with geothermal energy.
“That saves us money,” Cobb said.
According to Cobb, UF recently received a check for $23,000 from AEP for using geothermal energy.
“That was incentive. But it cost us about $300,000 more to put in than a traditional system. So it’s supposed to pay for itself in about three-and-a-half to four years,” Cobb said. “When we
build the new College of Business building, we are looking at doing geothermal there too, but for the whole building. Those are things that still cost more to put in.”
Cobb also said that the University has been considering solar energy, but he believes the investment doesn’t offer a quick enough payback.
“We were looking at getting enough panels to power Lovett and Deming (resident halls). We would put carports in so you would drive under them and park. They don’t keep all the snow away, but you would park under them and when you drive down the road it doesn’t look awful. Some of those solar panels take a lot of space and they don’t look very good. So these would look really nice,” Cobb said.
But according to Cobb, in order to install enough solar panels to operate Lovett and Deming, it would cost about $2,000,000 and would take at least 20 years for it to pay for itself.
“There is some money we could get from the government. We are running numbers now, and if we could get that payback down to five or six years – maybe. But if it’s going to take that long it just doesn’t make sense for us. I could take $1,000,000 of that and fix a couple buildings up,” Cobb said.
Cobb said that once the new College of Business is built, it’s the physical plant’s plan to renovate the AMU.
“It’s tough to do. When you talk to a financial person or a person who says they want to save the earth. It’s tough,” Cobb said.