Five Colleges review 18 proposals for more energy-efficient campuses
AMHERST — Imagine college students riding hybrid buses, living in dormitories that use little energy and picking grapes or apples as they walk along campus paths.
Or imagine colleges giving their staff bonuses for not driving cars to work. Picture a recycling center where anyone could donate or take materials for offices or dorms, or a plant to turn campus food waste into electricity to light classrooms.
These are not musings of a Green Party activist but real proposals that emerged from a Five Colleges Inc. campaign called the Blue Sky Initiative. Several brainstorming sessions last winter resulted in 500 ideas to make Valley campuses more energy-efficient and sustainable. Last month, that list was whittled down to 18 proposals.
The culled ideas are undergoing a more extensive cost-benefit analysis, often by students doing independent study projects, and by the end of the semester up to six will be chosen to present to the four college presidents and the University of Massachusetts chancellor.
“Our main goal with the Blue Sky Initiative is to use the best thinking of our faculty members, staff members and students to identify the best opportunities to reduce the impact of our campuses on the environment, while through opportunities that engage our students develop sustainable practices that could also save our campuses money,” said Neal Abraham, executive director of Five Colleges Inc.
A group of students, faculty and staff examined the 500 ideas and selected ones that would reduce campus energy use, save money relative to implementation costs and provide learning opportunities for students, said Kevin Kennedy, communications director for the Five Colleges. Other criteria were prospects for external funding and opportunities for involvement by alumni and the community, he said.
Five of the proposals deal with energy and green buildings. One would set up a Five College design process for dormitories to promote sustainability in construction and student lifestyles. These designs might incorporate passive solar, thermal or photovoltaic solar energy. The proposal includes partial funding for grants to test the designs.
Another proposal would create a fund dedicated to energy conservation in buildings, and a third would establish cooperative generation or purchasing of alternative forms of energy. Also under review are greater cooperation among Five College energy managers and the development of common standards on energy policy.
Three proposals relate to food, land use and conservation. One is the Edible Campuses Project, which would encourage plantings to integrate food into landscape design, along the lines of the UMass permaculture garden. Also on the list is a project called Real Food for the Five, which would commit the Five Colleges to buy a significant portion of their food from regional, organic farms.
The Sustainable Landscape Project would encourage conversion of lawns to more ecologically friendly areas such as edible plantings, wildlife areas, hay production, livestock grazing and crop production.
Two of the proposals deal with transportation. One would improve the PVTA Five College Bus System by increasing reliability and frequency of service, buying hybrid buses, expanding routes to the Hadley malls and starting more summer bus runs. A second proposal would seek to reduce vehicle use by providing financial incentives for faculty and staff not to drive, and explore telecommuting options.
Three waste reduction proposals made the cut. One would seek to make all annual Five College events, such as commencements and sporting events, produce zero waste. Another would establish a central place where students, faculty and staff could drop off or pick up used items. A third would create an “anaerobic digestion facility” that would process food waste and capture methane gas to create electricity.
Four proposals deal with water issues. They would reduce landscape irrigation and limit impervious surfaces that drain directly into storm sewers. Other proposals would promote use of municipal water instead of the bottled variety and establish a fund for student sustainability projects.
The final proposal would support the Five College Sustainability Certificate Program by encouraging Smith College and UMass to join it, creating a web presence, and developing a program in alternative economics. The initiatives the campus presidents decide to pursue could become integrated with the certificate program.
Abraham praised the brainstorming process that produced 500 ideas for energy savings and sustainability.
“This tells us that developing sustainable practices is important to our campus communities, and therefore worthy of projects for joint action by the five institutions through the consortium,” he said.