1780 – The Official Blog of Transylvania University

1780 | The Official Blog of Transylvania University

Transylvania’s Thomson Hall is first residence hall in Kentucky to receive ENERGY STAR certification for energy efficiency: Part of the university’s ‘Crimson Goes Green’ initiative

Thomson HallLEXINGTON, Ky.—Transylvania University’s Thomson Hall is the first residence hall in Kentucky to earn the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) prestigious ENERGY STAR certification for superior energy efficiency and environmental protection. This signifies that the building’s energy performance rates in the top 25 percent of facilities nationwide.

“Transylvania is very pleased to receive this recognition of our energy efficiency efforts,” said President Charles L. Shearer. “This achievement demonstrates our commitment to environmental stewardship while also lowering our energy costs. It is an important component of the university’s Crimson Goes Green sustainability effort.”

Thomson Hall opened in the fall of 2008 and is named in honor of Joe Thomson and his wife JoAnn. Mr. Thomson is a 1966 graduate of Transylvania and a member of the Board of Trustees. The three-story, 28,000-square-foot dorm provides housing for 61 students in 31 suite-style units. Among its sustainable features is geothermal heating and air conditioning with a heat recovery wheel that captures energy from outgoing exhaust and transfers it to incoming outside air. Thomson Hall’s lighting system performs 20 percent better than the energy code requirement and includes motion sensors in the hallways and laundry room. The building’s insulating values exceed state code requirements by 28 percent, its carpet has 15 percent recycled fiber, showers are equipped with low-flow heads and blacktop in the parking area is made of 50 percent recycled material.

“Improving the energy efficiency of our nation’s buildings is critical to preserving our environment and our natural resources, “ said Kathleen Hogan, director of EPA’s Climate Protection Partnerships Division. “The ENERGY STAR distinguishes Transylvania for taking environmental responsibility into its own hands.”

Crimson Goes Green

Transylvania ramped up its campaign for environmental responsibility last fall, when Shearer kicked off the school’s Crimson Goes Green campaign. Since then, signs of progress have become evident across the 1,100-student campus in downtown Lexington.

Each of Transy’s 508 residence hall rooms, for example, has been supplied with a recycling container. The campus dining facilities use mostly reusable dishware, and almost all to-go containers and utensils are made from recycled, biodegradable or eco-friendly materials. A small fleet of bicycles, purchased by the university, is available to the campus community for use around Lexington. An organic Transylvania community garden, started in May, provides a source of fresh food for student, faculty and staff participants.  

“At Transylvania, sustainability is more than an intellectual concept,” said Shearer. “Here everyone can have a hand at confronting important environmental issues and solving real-world problems through personal involvement.”

Although Shearer said the university has long been concerned about sustainability, it had not funneled that concern into a specific plan until last year. He got the ball rolling by signing the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, pledging that Transy will take significant steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from campus operations and move toward climate neutrality.

At the same time, Shearer appointed a sustainability advisory committee, with subcommittees to zero in on waste management, climate neutrality and campus communication issues. Those committees, made up of students, faculty and staff, quickly began gathering information, conducting research, setting goals and taking action.

Energy conservation

On a campus where some heating and cooling systems are at least 45 years old, making great strides in energy efficiency is not always easy. But that didn’t stop the committee.

“We’re making progress in this area,” said Darrell Banks, a committee member and director of the physical plant. “We’re shutting down buildings when they’re not being used this summer.”

By shutting down the seven-year-old Clive M. Beck Athletic and Recreation Center on weekends when there are no summer camps, for example, Banks anticipates a savings of between $5,000 and $7,000.

Transylvania also has begun using spec T-5 lighting, the most energy efficient lighting available for commercial use, in all new construction and remodeling work. Likewise, when broken shower heads are replaced in existing bathrooms, low-flow shower heads are installed. Some buildings already have motion sensor lighting and energy-saving water faucets.

As part of its energy conservation focus, the university also adopted an ENERGY STAR purchasing policy for such products as air conditioners, computers, office equipment and appliances.

Most of the current and future energy conservation projects at Transylvania were identified after the sustainability committee commissioned an energy audit. The audit now serves as a baseline from which the group works, Banks said.

“The next step is to develop a master energy plan using the information we’ve already gathered. We will build a road map of where we want to go next,” he said.

Waste management

Along with the recycling bins placed in each residence hall room, recycling containers have been placed in faculty and staff offices, and soon the containers will be placed in each classroom and each indoor and outdoor public area. Robert Brown, director of residence life and chair of the subcommittee on waste management, said the recycling efforts are a prime example of a cultural shift at Transy.

In developing a waste management campaign on campus, Brown’s committee established three ways to measure the amount Transy recycles. One was to track the number of recycling containers and the weight of material collected weekly by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. During fall term 2008, 277 containers of recycled waste were collected, representing 15,235 pounds.

To put that in perspective, Brown points to the national Recyclemania competition, in which Transy participated for the first time last school year. Recyclemania is a component of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. The university participated in a noncompetitive division but was able to use the results as a “measuring stick,” Brown said.

“Of the 36 colleges in our peer group, Transylvania reported the ninth highest pounds of cumulative recyclables per person. We recycled 12.82 pounds per person,” Brown said.

Another measure of Transy’s recycling efforts came from the Information Technology division and pertains to electronic waste, or e-waste. Prior to implementing the Crimson Goes Green campaign, Transy’s e-waste was deposited into landfills. Over the past year, however, 51 pieces were recycled with a depreciated value of $47,773. Every portion of equipment, from the plastic casing of printers to computer hard drives, is recycled.

A third measure—the amount of paper used in computer labs and across campus—was also established.  According to Shearer, in a message to all faculty, staff and students, Transylvania consumed three million sheets of paper last year.

“We all need to think before we print, and don’t print if it isn’t absolutely necessary,” he wrote.

To help reduce the paper waste, Transy, in cooperation with the Student Government Association, bought three adapters that enable front/back printing on printers in the school’s computer labs. Through such actions, the committee expects to see improvement in this area, Brown said.

Green dining

It doesn’t take long to see that sustainability is a top concern in the dining facilities across Transy’s campus—from the use of those eco-friendly to-go containers to the inclusion of locally produced foods.

“We are constantly looking for areas to improve,” said Kevin Rogers, general manager of Sodexo Campus Services at Transy.

Sodexo, a national dining service provider, has been increasing its sustainability efforts for about 10 years. At partnering schools like Transy, where sustainability is likewise important, it’s much easier, Rogers said.

Already, Transy’s 1780 Café offers only organic and sustainably produced coffee. Jazzman’s Café offers the option of organic, fair trade coffee. Bulk and bottled water are purchased from a local spring water company, and flour and cornmeal used in baked goods are purchased from a local mill.

In the school’s four dining facilities, most all dishware is reusable, and Styrofoam products have been eliminated. Sodexo has replaced dishwashing products and systems with the new Ecolab Apex dishwashing system, which reduces water usage, power consumption and packaging waste. The Apex management approach uses wireless technology to communicate with the system’s controller to download, process and analyze data to establish “rack-to-guest ratio.” By monitoring and improving this ratio, this system saves 15 gallons of water per eight-hour service period.

Waste reduction is likewise important to Transy and Sodexo. Recycling bins are placed in all dining locations, and

Transylvania's community garden
Corn grows in Transylvania’s community garden.

Sodexo recycles cans, cardboard and other items daily. Napkins are made from recycled, biodegradable or eco-friendly materials. And discussion is underway to implement a composting program to manage dining hall food waste, which could include using the compost in the university’s organic community garden.

Living and learning

While creating a more sustainable campus is the ultimate goal of the Crimson Goes Green campaign, creating a “laboratory for learning” about sustainability is equally important, according to Michael Vetter, dean of students.

“As students live in the residence halls, they learn what it means to use energy wisely and to recycle and to reuse. So those habits and practices can be carried with them as they leave Transylvania,” said Vetter, who chairs the sustainability advisory committee.

In addition, Transy is committed to helping students explore environmental issues within the liberal arts context. Faculty from various divisions teach courses that allow students to complete a multidisciplinary Environmental Studies minor, which supplements work in all majors and prepares students for lifelong reflection on environmental concerns.

Other initiatives

  • Haupt Plaza's rain garden
    Haupt Plaza’s rain garden.

    Transylvania installed one of the first rain gardens in Lexington. Located near Haupt Plaza, the rain garden is a 50- by-20-foot planted basin that reduces flooding in the area by sending water back underground rather than onto the street. It also provides habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife.

  • Once a week during the summer, Transy’s fitness and wellness program offers a group walk to Lexington’s downtown farmers market, four blocks from campus.
  • Transy’s Office of Information Technology works toward a more sustainable environment in a variety of ways, including encouraging simple changes such as turning off computers and printers when not in use. Additionally, the IT office is moving forward with plans to use two larger servers to accomplish the same tasks that previously required 10 or 12 individual servers. The larger servers use less total power than the machines they replace and require less cooling and maintenance.
  • The university takes bulk waste, such as leaves from fall cleanup, to a local company to be ground into mulch and sold.
  • New letterhead that is 100-percent recycled, chlorine free, carbon neutral and certified Green-e is being phased in as the supply of the current letterhead is depleted.
  • Transylvania students have taken leadership roles in sustainability on campus and beyond. Transylvania Environmental Rights and Responsibilities Alliance (TERRA), a student-run organization dedicated to improving sustainability efforts and educating campus constituencies, has led numerous awareness and action campaigns on climate change, coal consumption, and environmental justice. Forty-eight Transy students joined more than 12,000 other student leaders from around the country in Washington, D.C., in February for Power Shift 2009, a national youth initiative to tackle the problem of climate change. Among the Transy delegation was senior Marcie Smith, who testified before the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming and was interviewed by several media outlets including CNN and Time magazine.
  • President Shearer personally models green and sustainable practices for the campus community. When he launched the Crimson Goes Green initiative he gave every faculty and staff member a canvas market bag imprinted with the campaign’s logo, designed by Kathleen Burke, an art major at the university. Throughout the year, he gave sustainability updates to students, trustees, Board of Visitors, the Alumni Executive Board and the Parents Council. He ensured that sustainability was a part of the recently completed three-year Strategic Plan, and he consistently turns lights off and thermostats down in the winter and up in the summer.

Learn more about Transylvania’s sustainability efforts at www.transy.edu/sustainability/.