Sustainability Conversations Emphasize Behavioral Changes

In calling for Pomona College to achieve carbon neutrality by 2022, the recommendation that the President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability (PACS) made to Pomona President David Oxtoby Oct. 24 has also drawn attention to the issue individual energy usage and behavior. Ten percent of the reduction in overall emissions should come from behavioral change, according to the recommendation, sparking
the question of how that goal could be accomplished.

“We realize that’s fairly aggressive, but we really wanted
to bear the responsibility for the emissions on campus,” said Ginny Routhe, director of sustainability and a PACS member. “We realize it takes the buy-in of the entire community to
get that 10 percent. It’s not just the solar panels on the buildings, and it’s not
just these great efficiency projects that we’re doing behind the scenes, but
you as an end user can help us save energy by your actions.”

Routhe emphasized the control that students have over their
energy consumption.

“Students have a big effect on their energy settings,” she
said. “They can
fill out a … request on the
maintenance website, and we’d be happy to change [the temperature] for them. If
we could adjust settings by just one degree across campus, we’d save $50,000 per
year for the school.”

That same process is also true for the whole campus, not
just the residence halls. The infamously frigid Hahn Building Room 101 was recently fixed because
of one such request.

“If you’re in a classroom when you’re uncomfortable and you
know we’re spending energy to make you uncomfortable, please let us know so we
can stop doing that,” Routhe said.

Temperature control is a problem, especially in the new residence
halls, Pomona and Sontag Halls.

“Pomona and Sontag Halls have the greatest per-student
energy use, which seems crazy,” said Chelsea Fried PO ’14, who works in the
Sustainability Initiatives Office (SIO). “I’m sure that’s in large part due to
the fact that there’s air conditioning, but that’s still a behavioral choice.”

guess the problem is that we can have all the efficient electronic stuff in the
world, but behavior is still important,” said Rose Egelhoff PO ’14, one of the leaders of Pomona for Environmental Activism and Responsibility. “There are some people at Pomona who
don’t care at all, and that’s something that would have to change.”

Routhe also emphasized the significance of selecting an energy-efficient fridge when furnishing student dorm rooms.

“They’re supposed to be Energy
Star [certified],” she said. “A mini-fridge tends to use 85 percent of the energy of a full-size fridge,
so almost as much energy as a full-size fridge. And an Energy Star one uses 20
percent less than that, so it’s closer to half of the energy of a full-size.
It’s a huge energy saver.”

Besides turning off lights, Routhe
also brought up the compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulb checkouts that the SIO has for students. CFL bulbs
use 25 percent of the energy that a standard incandescent bulb uses.

Pomona environmental analysis
professor Richard Hazlett said that he thinks that behavioral change needs to begin with first-year orientation.

“Maybe bring in Ginny
or someone from the SIO and give the lowdown on energy and why it’s important,”
Hazlett said. “It would emplace a value structure that isn’t really there right now.
If folks know plainly what the goal is and why, the appeal to conscience at
that level is going to have some cachet.”

Institutionally, Pomona has recently shown an interest in effecting
this behavioral change. Routhe has put in a request for another full-time
position at the SIO that is completely focused on the task. She said such a person would “work on applying the
psychology research and the behavior change management research of getting
people to jump on board with sustainability initiatives.” 

Meanwhile, Michelle McFadden, who was hired as Pomona’s first energy manager of facilities this year, has been working on the problem.

“I think everybody
has the best intentions, but a lot of people don’t have the connection between
the light switch and the kilowatt hours and carbon associated with it,” she
said. “With energy management, I try and take the human element out of it. What
I do is, like with a lighting retrofit, I’ll put occupancy sensors in rooms so
people don’t have to think about it.”

Pitzer College Sustainability Coordinator Jesse Meisler-Abramson
said that the problem needs to be addressed first with monitoring.

“Monitoring consumption is the number one way we are going to begin to curb our usage and hone in on the exact
behavioral change we need,” he said. “Education is key to behavioral change.”

McFadden has recently been working
on just that project.

“We have a lot of data from a
smart-metering project here so that we have energy use data for the buildings,”
she said. “We can generate reports on building energy usage. There hasn’t
really been anybody before me to leverage this information for any type of
behavioral change.”

McFadden said that she and Routhe have
been discussing the possibility of publishing
monthly building reports for energy usage that would include tips for reducing
personal energy consumption.

“We can show the people that
facilities is taking an active role in energy reduction, so do your part as
well,” McFadden said. “It’s not just us asking them to do all this stuff in the
dark. It’s a team effort.”

After a recent retro-commissioning
project for the Seaver science complex, which updated the building’s light switches and bulbs and added motion sensors, the expected reduction in annual greenhouse gas
emissions was three percent. Other campus buildings will soon undergo similar retro-commissioning procedures.

“When you take that
and you show that the facilities department and the sustainability department
are doing their part to do what they can behind the scenes, I think that’s
motivation for the people inside the building to change their behavior,” McFadden said. “It’s a
catalyst for change when you show those kind of numbers.”

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