Editorial: Take a Second Look

Students notice how and where energy is wasted on this campus. Lights in the CAC and Hodson Hall are left on all night; sprinklers are running during rainstorms; leaf blowers are used on windy days; most dorm rooms can’t control their heating or cooling units; and computers in academic buildings are usually left on all night long. What is accepted as college policy is considered wasteful by most college students.

The Elm covered the George Goes Green movement that is far past its prime for a reason. Officials claim that “George Goes Green” is alive and well, but currently it’s simply smoke and mirrors. It seems to be a fact that no one wants to admit.

The core problem lies in the fact that there’s no incentive to care. There will be no short-term benefits to making changes to reduce energy usage, and it’s easy to lose steam for a community-wide and long-term movement. Should students be required to figure out kilowatt usage in between studying and writing term papers? And what reward does it give us to break a sweat over frustrating numbers?

The Center for Environment and Society, for example, is a strong presence under the college’s umbrella, but their role isn’t clear to the community, and they are estranged from faculty. CES can’t shoulder the entire George Goes Green movement themselves. WC needs at least a director of sustainability, and a community to back this leader up.

Yet about 4.5 percent of the college’s operating budget is spent on energy costs, which doesn’t seem like a large portion, but WC’s energy costs was close to $2.5 million dollars in 2009. Electricity accounts for 62 percent of the college’s greenhouse gas emissions; those lights in Hodson Hall are costing more than most would think.

Recognizing the waste is one step, thinking of and implementing solutions is another. It’s a big misconception that slapping on solar panels will solve the problem. In actuality, it’s a lot more affordable to reduce the electrical load instead of justifying an increased consumption via more solar panels. We as a community need to be aware of the amount of electricity each building uses per month, and take small, realistic steps to reduce that amount.

The geothermal heating in the Chester and Sassafras dorms is a good model for the rest of campus to follow, and we need that same kind of thinking applied towards further innovation. WC is well on its way with the future installation of Miller Library’s new HVAC system, and now we need to think of similar, concrete goals.

If we set a goal of reducing our energy costs by a third over the next ten years, we could use that money (potentially a million dollars per year) towards lowering tuition or increasing faculty salaries. These long-term goals also grow ever more significant as WC plans to increase in size over the next few years; with a larger student population, energy use teeters on an even more delicate balance. People are certainly aware of the energy waste on this campus, and we need to stop and think as we walk by those sprinklers: are we really going green?

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