Forever Green

by Joely Johnson Mork [M.S., School of Health Sciences, 2008]

There is no denying that college campuses are huge energy consumers. Just consider what is required to power rooms full of computers; industrial cafeteria equipment; and the heating, lighting, and cooling needs for hundreds of people; not to mention the electronics that students bring with them (one report says the average college student owns seven tech devices).

Upon reaching its Centennial year, Sage is turning greener than ever and is doing so with direction and intention. The Sage Road to the Future Strategic Plan 2012-2017 includes a commitment to “review sustainability efforts and seek additional opportunities to create a more ‘green’ campus environment.” The Facilities Master Plan includes directives to “look for energy efficiencies and seek sustainable solutions” and advises “implementing ‘green’ solutions whenever possible.” 

LISTENING TO STUDENTS 

Every generation is more environmentally aware than the previous one, and colleges are paying attention to this fact. The current trend of campuses “going green” is more than a fad, according to Nick Plato, research editor of Best College Reviews

“This movement is happening for good reason,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to take the opportunity to save money, generate less pollution, and, at the same time, educate and engage young people about protecting their natural surroundings and their communities?” 

Reducing energy use delivers at least three major benefits: cutting costs, conserving precious natural resources, and supporting students’ instincts about doing the right thing for their community and the planet. 

Steven Leibo

Steven Leibo

In 2007, Steven Leibo, Ph.D., Sherman David Spector Professor of Modern International  History & Politics, was among those trained by Al Gore and The Climate Reality Project to spread the word about climate change. He is a climate mentor for the organization and has delivered more than 160 talks on global warming. “Sage is largely a health professions school,” Leibo said, “and one of the most obvious manifestations of climate change is in human health.” It makes sense, then, that Sage sees sustainability as a priority at every level. 

Interestingly, prospective students are not necessarily choosing schools based on how many green initiatives a college touts. It is more likely that students will notice gaps that may exist in a school’s stewardship behavior. “We know it is important to our students that we are sensitive to the environment and that we are doing everything we can to reduce excesses,” said Deirdre Zarillo, vice president for Administration & Planning. “At the same time [as responding to students’ attitudes],” Zarillo said, “steps toward sustainability do provide opportunities to save resources.” According to energy experts, conservation measures on college campuses represent smart investments. Most changes save money and also enhance the learning environment as well as the comfort of campus buildings. 

ENERGY USE 

Sage is establishing a remote net metering program with Monolith Solar, which will allow the school to meet 80 percent of its power needs with solar-sourced energy. Using the “community solar” approach, Monolith will connect the school with a solar farm that will be labeled with signage indicating the “Sage Solar Field.” Utilizing a remote location means there is no need for solar panels to actually be installed on the campus, and the power is effectively delivered where it is needed. 

Plans are in the works for an awareness-building component as well. “We are picturing screens on campus showing how much solar we are using at any given time,” said John Zajaceskowski,  director of Facilities, Maintenance & Planning. 

Sage has already implemented Carrier brand building controls, which run heating and lighting systems based on when rooms are actually occupied. Resulting savings allow further improvements to infrastructure, leading to even more efficiency. 

“When we need to replace older hot water boilers that were providing 60 or 70 percent efficiency, we are now installing new 95 percent-efficient equipment,” said Zajaceskowski. Combined with a water treatment system that will prolong the lives of the new condensing boilers, such steps are conserving energy now and establishing continued efficiency into the future.

“Changes like this do take a little longer in Troy,” said Zajaceskowski. “We have to present to the preservation board and explain our plans.” And some changes have to be finessed. “Despite the fact that we have retained the old iron radiators,” he said, “high efficiency boilers have allowed us to successfully combine the old and the new.” 

Other forms of energy conservation at Sage include gradually replacing lighting with LEDs, which saves in two ways, according to Zajaceskowski. “These bulbs require less energy, and lead to reduced maintenance. We don’t need to change burned-out light bulbs every two years.”

The army of computers on campus is also having its electricity guzzling reined in. Desktop computers are set to enter the more-efficient sleep mode when not in use. Behind the scenes, Sage is turning to “virtual machines” to reduce the number of physical computer servers needed to provide IT services. “What that means,” explains Zarillo, “is that you can have one box server that will run multiple applications, versus requiring a single server for each application, therefore using less electricity.”

LANDSCAPING + GREEN SPACES 

While Russell Sage College’s hidden courtyards and Sage College of Albany’s sprawling green lawn have always been attractive, new landscaping on both campuses feature plants native to the region, supported by sustainable landscape design.

Avery’s Garden

In 2012, Sage implemented an organic perennial planting strategy to keep campuses colorful throughout the year. Attention was brought to the more concealed “outdoor rooms,” like a water garden area restored in Albany, as well as the most visible spots, including Avery’s Garden at Russell Sage.

The garden was commissioned by Virginia Kurtz Stowe RSC ’65 and designed by award-winning New York City-based landscape artist Todd Haiman. Named for Stowe’s granddaughter, Avery’s Garden is on the Ferry Street tunnel flyover – a very public and also problematic spot. 

“It’s essentially a roof garden, and we had a number of challenges dealing with the surface,” said Haiman. “We installed permeable pavers one half-inch above the existing grade to redirect water flow. Using native plantings also helps because they require less irrigation. In these ways, we were able to avoid any potential runoff problems.”

Plant choices have more to offer than just reduced water needs, however. According to Haiman’s website, the garden is an opportunity to educate, by “providing an example of biodiversity through the creation of an ecosystem-sustaining matrix of plant material and the associated insects and birds.” 

Haiman elaborated on this, saying, “So much of the plantings are to bring in different types of birds and other pollinators, bees and butterflies. Plants that provide visual interest through the seasons can also provide food sources for birds and insects.” 

Stowe is supporting another garden at Russell Sage College designed by Haiman and installed by Sage’s facilities and landscape team. The project is reclaiming an underused greenspace alongside Admission House at the corner of Congress and 1st Streets. The garden, named Brinton and Avery’s Place to honor both of Stowe’s grandchildren, will be dedicated in spring 2017. Haiman envisions Brinton and Avery’s Place as people’s first impression of the RSC campus and a spot that will encourage socializing as well as easy interaction with nature. “In nice weather, people will be able to entertain there and certainly hold alumni gatherings and parties.” The furniture he has chosen for the site reflects the campus Victorian aesthetic.

“We build gardens to bring nature closer to us, to experience the entertainment value of nature and bring out the child in each of us,” Haiman said, then added, “There is no better place than a garden to create an interactive learning environment.”

WATER USE

In 2013, SCA student government made a major gift to the Centennial Campaign for Sage. The funds established a network of modern water-bottle filling stations on campus.

New water bottle filling stations on both Sage campuses help eliminate waste from single-use water bottles.

New water bottle filling stations on both Sage campuses help eliminate waste from single-use water bottles.

“As a Biology Club officer and student, I think the new water fountains are very appreciated,” said Tess Krowicki SCA ’17, an Applied Biology and pre-med student from Little Falls, New York. “Not only is it a greener way, but also the stations make it easier for everyone. Plus, it’s pretty interesting to see the count of how many [single-use] water bottles we are saving by offering the stations.”

Additional improvements to water use at Sage include rain gauges that monitor irrigation needs on the grounds. The gauges activate sprinkler systems only when water is actually needed, preventing the puzzling sight of sprinklers watering lawns in the rain!

 

RECYCLING

In a time when climate changes are accelerating and our efforts to stem greenhouse gases seem futile, don’t lose sight of the simple steps we all can take. “Recycling remains terribly important,” said Professor Leibo. “If one person makes a change and that inspires others, then it has an enormous effect.”

Working with trash and recycling company Waste Management, Sage has instituted “single-stream” recycling on both campuses, allowing all recyclable materials to be collected without separating by type. This makes it easier to keep useful resources out of the trash.

“You don’t have to put a lot of thought into single-stream, and it’s being used heavily,” said Zajaceskowski. “Our recycling bins are set out for collection a couple of times a week and they are close to full. We’ve also seen a difference in our garbage truck runs – there is definitely less stuff going to the landfill.”

There are still some limitations – Styrofoam and plastic bags are not accepted by single-stream recycling. And more collecting can always be done in a college environment, where paper use remains ubiquitous. “We have a good start,” said SCA student Krowicki, “and I would personally like to see even more initiative for recycling, especially in terms of paper products and recycling bins in the classrooms.” 

OTHER IMPACTS 

Composting & Food Recovery. In addition to recycling, Sage now conducts pre- and post-consumer composting, according to Paula Presley, director of Sage Dining Services. Through Sodexo Campus Dining Services, Sage partners with Empire Zero, which collects and transports compostable material to local facilities including Almstead Nursery & Mulch in Ghent and the Schenectady County Compost Facility in Glenville. Sage composting diverts approximately 13.5 tons of compostable material from the traditional campus waste stream each year. 

RSC is also home to a chapter of the Food Recovery Network, the largest student movement addressing food waste and hunger in America. The national group has recovered and donated more than 1.4 million pounds of food that otherwise would have gone to waste.  

Printing and Paper. Sarah Statham [M.A.T., Esteves School of Education, 2008], assistant director of marketing & art director, makes environmentally responsible decisions on the paper and printing she sources for Sage promotional materials. For example, Sage uses Forest Stewardship Council-certified paper for alumni publications. “When space allows, we display the FSC logo on print pieces,” said Statham. “The logo is a way to communicate that Sage is making conscious and relevant decisions about the environment.” 

Statham is interested in ways to implement even more environmentally friendly practices. “I am researching and developing sustainability guidelines that the office of Communications & PR will follow when producing marketing materials for the college,” she said. 

Regarding the quality of environmentally friendly materials, Statham said, “Some people argue that soy-based [as opposed to more-common petroleum-based] inks make for more vibrant colors, and there are many choices in paper that do not use virgin fiber and do use amounts of post-consumer waste in their manufacturing.” 

Repurposed Projects. New construction projects in the Armory at Sage College of Albany have utilized reclaimed wood from Sage’s old gym bleachers. The repurposed wood has been reused to frame skylights in SCA’s Renaissance Room (a flexible space for students to use as a lounge or for events) and for locker room benches.