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Environmental Stewardship

A Greener Grinnell

For the past decade, Grinnell College has prioritized environmental sustainability, which is itself a social justice issue, in both constructing new buildings and maintaining century-old ones.

Building a Sustainable Campus

The Conard Environmental Research Area’s Environmental Education Center was the College’s first major sustainability effort. “It was a smaller building and gave us a chance to do everything right,” says Chris Bair 96, environmental and safety manager. “Plus, if you can’t build an environmental education building sustainably, what can you do?”

The Environmental Education Center was the first LEED gold-certified building in Iowa and was the College’s first building with a wind turbine, water reclamation, and geothermal heating and cooling. Now the College’s preschool and pool buildings also use geothermal heating and cooling. The Noyce Science Center and the Bear Recreation and Athletic Center have cisterns that collect rainwater. Noyce’s provides water to the greenhouse and the Bear’s is used to water the football fields.

Facilities management is also working on a number of solar projects, including the recent installation of a 20-kilowatt solar unit on the facilities management building in addition to the solar hot water unit of Eco House. “And we’re exploring the possibility of putting 200 kilowatts worth of solar power on campus,” says Bair.

Global Research and Collaboration

Six students conducted research on sustainability in several German cities during spring break. They were accompanied by Bair and facilities manager Rick Whitney, as well as Lee Sharpe, associate professor of chemistry, and Liz Queathem, a biology lecturer. In this group Mentored Advanced Project, each student focused on a different aspect of sustainability with the intent to make recommendations to the College:

  • Sophie Neems ’16 examined how change happens and what societal factors in Germany have caused increased sustainability efforts that just aren’t happening in the United States.
  • Emma Leverich 16 looked at the efficacy of a waste-to-energy process that uses biodigesters; the methane gas that the biodigesters produce would be siphoned off and burned for fuel.
  • Zhi Chen ’17 investigated the potential implementation of solar energy on campus by surveying the available space and calculating the cost of installation.
  • Ben Mothershead ’16 and Liza Morse ’15 compared the building certification programs and building codes of the United States and Germany. They spoke with several architects in both countries about their experience with sustainable design.
  • Samantha Snodgrass ’16 researched storm water reclamation and infiltration.

When the students returned, they each wrote a paper on their research and presented the papers to the local city government, the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

Importance of Visibility

One of the major lessons learned on the trip was the importance of making sustainable efforts more visible. If students are more aware of the resources they are consuming, they are likely to do more to curb their consumption.

Many of the College’s ongoing sustainability efforts are significant but may go unnoticed by students. Each summer facilities management updates a residence hall with LED lights, low-flow toilets, and efficient showerheads. They also connect each hall to the College’s central building automation and add set points to thermostats and window sensors that shut off the heat or air conditioners when windows are open.

In Germany, virtually every hotel in which the students, faculty, and staff stayed had a display in the lobby indicating how much energy had been produced by the building’s rooftop solar panels.

Starting this summer, facilities management will install submeters in residence halls to monitor water and electricity use. The hope is that once that information is on display, students will be more aware of their consumption. There has even been talk of starting conservation competitions between halls. “Renewable energy is out there and everyone is bragging about it,” says Bair. The group also took tours of green roofs and rainwater collection features.

“On Grinnell’s campus, you’re always aware of the social justice implications of pretty much everything,” says Bair. “I’d like sustainability to rise to that level.”

Sophie Neems ’16 is an anthropology and Spanish double major from Iowa City, Iowa.
Emma Leverich ’16 is a chemistry and anthropology double major from Clive, Iowa.
Zhi Chen ’17 is a computer science and history double major from Oakland, Calif.
Ben Mothershead ’16 is an economics major from Falls Church, Va.
Samantha Snodgrass ’16 is a biology major from Des Moines, Iowa.

 

What Can You Do to Save Energy and Natural Resources on Campus?

Lights

  • Always turn off your lights whenever you leave your room.
  • Utilize natural light whenever possible. Open your blinds.
  • Use only Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs in all your lights. They use 75% less energy than incandescent (normal bulbs) and last 10 times longer.
  • Turn off lights in bathrooms, lounges, and other common areas. Tell others to do the same.

Computers

  • Turn your computer off when you aren't using it.

Energy and Emissions

Energy Consumption on Campus

Most campus buildings are served by central heating and cooling plants. The boiler plant generates steam from the combustion of natural gas and delivers it throughout campus for heating, domestic hot water, and dehumidification purposes. The chiller plant delivers chilled water throughout campus for air conditioning purposes. In FY2011, the campus consumed 1.6 million therms of natural gas and 22.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity. 

Recycling

Single Stream Recycling

Through the City of Grinnell, the college can now collect most standard recyclables as a single stream. The following can now be disposed of collectively in the same recycling bin.

  • Hard Plastic Containers labeled #1 through #7
  • Aluminum and tin cans
  • Glass bottles and containers
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Cardboard
  • Mixed Paper

The following should not be included and if deposited in the bin will cause the entire bin to be treated as trash:

Policies and Principles

Grinnell College Statement on Environmental Responsibility

Grinnell College believes that as a liberal arts institution with a strong social commitment, we have a duty to the environment, society, and future generations to be leaders in environmental stewardship, education, and policy. Grinnell College is therefore committed to incorporating environmental responsibility into policies, decisions, and daily life on campus.

Environmentalism at Grinnell

There are a number of campus environmental organizations, each with a slightly different approach in how they go about addressing issues of environmental responsibility. In addition, numerous campus departments focus on issues of environmental stewardship and serve to provide further opportunities to understand and appreciate our natural world.