Now more than ever, individuals and organizations are considering how to incorporate sustainable practices to reduce their ecological footprint and save money. A student project that looked at University of Findlay’s Old Main did just that. To accurately analyze energy efficiencies, seniors Andrew Mitroka, Ian Douglas, and Savanna Keetle of the Environment, Health, Safety, and Sustainability (EHS&S) Program performed a semester-long sustainability audit of Findlay’s first campus building, Old Main. Their goal was to calculate the carbon footprint Old Main produces annually, suggest efficient ways to fix sustainability issues, save money, and provide a blueprint on how to apply their methods to study other campus buildings. With resounding success, the solutions they found at minimum would result in annual savings of $35,000 and the prevention of 45,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Additionally, this review sparked a student-driven sustainability movement on campus with more students signing up for sustainability courses and clubs, and qualified students conducting audits on other campus buildings.
Standing at 52,000 square feet and serving 15,000 students a week, Old Main is comprised of six main office spaces with 27 smaller offices sectioned off within, two computer labs, four restrooms, and an auditorium. Working with Findlay’s Business Office and Facilities staff in addition to manually recording data by walking through the building, the students gathered information on light fixtures, windows, electric usage, and temperature to calculate the footprint cost. The largest savings were found through adjustments in the computer labs, heating systems, hallway lights, and windows.
Computer Lab Recommendations
Of the 127 computers in Old Main, 57 are personal computers and 70 are located in the computer labs. Looking at the 70 in the computer labs, the student researchers found that 50 are left on all the time. Classes use the computer labs occasionally, but computers are still left on when no one is in there, which was calculated to be a waste of 4,821 kilowatts each year. To put it in perspective, with that amount of energy you could leave your television on for nearly two years straight. The recommendation is to set the computers in the lab to sleep mode when not in use, which would result in a savings of $2,200 and which would prevent an output of 2,700 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2).
Heating System Adjustments
The temperature in Old Main varies due to two different heating systems in the building. After a fire in 1938, the repairs resulted in a separate heating and cooling system between the bottom two floors and the top two floors. The second and third floor have a Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system while the first floor and basement are heated using radiators. This allows people in the building to set thermostats to different temperatures, which causes the individual heating systems to constantly readjust to find an equilibrium that won’t happen. To produce cost and energy savings, students recommend finding a balance between the temperatures. If all the thermostats were set to 73 degrees in the summer, it would save $1,000 and 12,000 pounds of CO2. In the winter, if it’s set to 69 degrees, it would save $500 and 5,000 pounds of CO2.
Motion Sensor Lights
Most of the lights in Old Main are located in the hallways, and 95% of the time they’re on, no one is actually in the hallway. While that makes sense on the first floor and basement, which have offices and people coming and going regularly, the second and third floors are used only intermittently. “This is an area where we have a great opportunity to implement easy fixes, like motion sensor lights,” said Mitroka. Alternative solutions include a student position in Old Main going around and turning off the lights, or placing small classes in smaller classrooms so all the lights of a large classroom don’t need to be on.
Installed in 1977, the windows in Old Main are single paneled with aluminum frames. On the market today, there are modern windows that are paneled and have better seals, which could ultimately save the University money. While this is an investment rather than an immediate saving, the students still recommend the update be made. “Old Main is going to be here awhile, as long as the University is here,” said Mitroka. “It’s an investment you need to look at over a long period of time.” Because this is an area where energy is lost rather than actively consumed, it is hard to quantify the exact savings involved.
This research was completed during a 400-level EHS&S class, Sustainability: The Human Footprint – Global Environmental Change in the Anthropocene. This course is a study of human impact on our larger biophysical environment. The impact has grown to the point where we are now living in the ‘Anthropocene’, an era in which humans have become a key driver in the Earth’s system. Led by Yanting Guo, Ph.D., half the class period consisted of a lecture while the other half was spent conducting hands-on research. Due to the success of this project, future sessions of Guo’s class will be conducting similar audits in other campus buildings using the techniques formed by this group. “Being able to see how our work spurred on other sustainability projects and the impact I get to leave on the University is awesome,” said Mitroka. “That’s the whole reason I’m in this major and why I enjoy the class so much is just seeing actual change happening.”
The research was presented to the chair of the ESH&S Program, Timothy Murphy, Ph.D., and various University vice presidents, as well as at Findlay’s 13th annual Symposium for Scholarship and Creativity on April 5, 2019. Plans are in the works to implement the student recommendations, and university officials are awaiting the results of the future audits.