From the Organic Farm to the residence halls, from the academic buildings to the dining halls, Pomona College is cutting its energy use and is now five million kilowatt-hours greener than it was last year.
On Oct. 28 the school released its 2010-2011 Sustainability Report, which highlights the college’s efforts last year to achieve its sustainability goals, the recent successes and shortcomings of the school in achieving those goals, and the areas in which Pomona can continue to improve.
The highlight of the report was the eight percent overall decrease (about five million kilowatt hours) in electricity use between the 2009-2010 and the 2010-2011 academic years, enough to power 250 million compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs for one hour.
According to the report, the significant drop in electricity use last year was the result of the Power Down dorm energy challenge that took place in November 2010 (saving $3,000), the installation of two new solar panels on one of the new North Campus residence halls and on the South Campus Parking Structure, solar heating for Pendleton and Haldeman Pools, an expansion of the drying rack checkout program, and new checking policies for heating and air conditioning that make sure buildings are not being heated or cooled unnecessarily.
“In the last year, we’ve finally reduced energy, which I think is the most important,” said Pomona President David Oxtoby.
Although the report indicated some increases in energy usage from the years preceding 2010, this was explained by the addition of Pomona’s new residence halls to the school’s energy grid.
“The data will be skewed because it doesn’t consider the new buildings,” said Charles Taylor, Pomona Chemistry Professor and Chair of the President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability. “We have to establish new plants, we have construction work expenses, and those buildings have new heating, ventilation, and [air conditioning].”
Another highlight of the report was a sharp drop in the amount of water used by the school. Since 2009, Pomona has cut its water usage by just over ten million gallons.
“In the last three or four years, we have made much progress with water,” Oxtoby said. “If you’re in Vermont, water is not as big an issue as it is in California. When we look at sustainability, we focus a lot on water.”
According to the report, solar water heating in particular has saved a lot of energy.
“We really need to take three- to five-year trends [to see the biggest changes],” Oxtoby added. “We had a mild year [temperature wise] last year, and maybe didn’t use as much air conditioning.”
Another mark of improved sustainability at Pomona is the recent Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification that the school earned for its new North Campus residence halls. LEED is a certification system managed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) that recognizes sustainable building and operating practices in building projects. LEED’s point-based recognition levels include Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.
“It’s helpful to get you thinking about ways to make your building more sustainable, but it’s also artificial. We’ve been critical of the process,” Oxtoby said. “For example, our new residence halls lost out on one LEED point because if they’d been built fifty feet, or maybe fifty yards, further to the south, they would have been closer to the train station. That’s really absurd; you can’t move your building for that reason.” Taylor agreed.
“LEED is a helpful part of the experience, but we have to be wary of them,” he said. Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) Environmental Affairs Commissioner Hsuanwei Fan PO ’12 took a similar stance.
“LEED is just not as good as people are giving it credit for,” he said. “What matters are their guidelines.”
Still, the LEED guidelines have helped Pomona set more tangible goals, which are listed and discussed extensively in the annual report. Among future goals for improvement are continued decreases in water and energy usage, as well as the adoption of new policies that will apply to every building on campus.
“[Better] HVAC policies are a big [sustainability goal],” Taylor said, referring to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. “Since Bowen Close will be leaving, we plan to hire two more people to work on sustainability at Pomona, including an ‘energy manager position,’ ” he added, referring to outgoing Coordinator of the Sustainability Integration Office Bowen Close.
The push for increased emphasis on sustainability at Pomona has been ongoing for at least twenty years, according to students and faculty involved. One goal of the movement has been to market sustainability to students who may not have been exposed to a “green” climate elsewhere.
“I’ve seen a wide range of attempts at framing the issues,” Fan said. “Things like stickers aren’t as effective at appealing to a sense of moral responsibility in students. What has proven to be effective is making students more aware, and making them be conscious of the impact [they] have at Pomona.”
“It’s been a mixture of student interests, campus interests, and faculty interests,” Taylor added. “Students, in particular, are getting involved, and that has been really well-received by faculty.”
The 2010-2011 Sustainability Report is available to the public on the Pomona website.