Green is the new orange: Princeton conserves
Students, faculty and staff who live, work and play on this 500-acre campus are not only enjoying its beauty by jogging next Lake Carnegie or walking through Prospect Garden — they are also tackling global environmental issues and studying the University's ecological impact.
The sheer number of campus environmental organizations and academic departments dedicated to environmental studies makes it difficult to get a comprehensive picture of the University's dedication to nature. This year, however, with the creation of a campus environmental network encouraging communication, students are increasingly being included in discussions about campus sustainability and environmental impacts.
Shana Weber was appointed to the newly created position of sustainability manager in the summer of 2006. Along with her appointment came the revitalization of the Princeton Sustainability Committee, formed in 2002 as the Princeton Environmental Oversight Committee. The committee, which meets once a month and is made up of students, faculty and staff, discusses sustainability issues and proposes recommendations to the University administration.
Within the group are subcommittees responsible for tackling specific areas of sustainability on campus: energy and carbon dioxide emissions, campus food and dining, purchasing, grounds and landscaping, solid waste and building services, transportation, construction and education. The goal is to create the first benchmark sustainability report for the University.
Overseeing the many environmental initiatives on campus, Weber has unified campus student groups dedicated to environmental stewardship by creating the Princeton Environmental Network (PEN) and Student Environmental Communication Network (SECN). At PEN meetings, representatives from the student groups can voice their environmental concerns and discuss plans for future events. The group has produced two five-minute clips that aired nationally on public radio.
While Greening Princeton works with the administration on changing environmental policy issues, Students United for a Responsible Global Environment (SURGE) focuses on influencing students to create a progressive climate change policy that will have a global impact. A more locally focused group, Princeton Water Watch works to inform the campus and community about New Jersey's poor water quality through coordinating stream monitoring, cleanups and community events as well as teaching interactive lessons at regional elementary schools. The author of this article is also the president of Princeton Water Watch. Some members of these organizations are also campus EcoReps, responsible for promoting recycling and energy conservation within University dorms and buildings.
Showing their commitment to learning about the issues they are advocating, students interested in environmentalism initiated the course ENV ST01: Toward an Ethical Greenhouse Gas Emissions Trajectory for Princeton University in fall 2006. Taught by Thomas Kreutz, an energy systems modeler for the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI), which offers a certificate in environmental studies as well as graduate and postdoctoral research programs, the class researched how the University could reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to help mitigate global warming. The 21 students' suggestions included everything from installing more energy-efficient windows and lights to using improved geothermal or solar heat around campus.
The class produced a set of recommendations, presented to the University's sustainability committee subgroup on energy and carbon dioxide, which may also be used by the Wilson School in creating a task force to encourage sustainable energy use on campus.
"Students got [a chance] to use the campus as a laboratory," Michael McKay, the vice president for facilities, said. McKay is one of many in the facilities department who is currently thinking about how to respond to the students' findings and suggestions.
Some of the work done by the students, such as analyzing windows to see how they could improve energy efficiency, was also conducted during the Pull-the-Plug campaign this winter. Trained members of SURGE and Greening Princeton entered dorm rooms during winter break to unplug electronics, close windows and turn down thermostats in an effort to see the impact students' actions have on energy consumption. Data taken from that campaign is still being analyzed, said Posie Harwood '09, a co-president of Greening Princeton.
Going Beyond Nassau Hall
The University's geosciences department and environmental program are not the only ones concerned with what is going on with the Earth. Looking beyond the gates of Nassau Hall, professors and students in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering (MAE) and Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) departments, as well as the Wilson School, are researching influential global environmental issues, especially the impact of global warming.
The MAE department has both graduate and undergraduate programs that specialize in environmental research. One of three undergraduate programs available is Energy and the Environment. Professor Robert Socolow, who leads this program, has taught courses that emphasize energy conservation technology and policy for a world plagued by the greenhouse effect.
The MAE graduate department offers the chance for further study and exploration of renewable energy and alternative fuels with the program on Environmental Energy Technology Assessment.
As senior thesis topics in the CEE department show, students work daily on issues of environmental importance. This year, they range from a look at the environmental impact of affordable housing in New Jersey to a comparative analysis of green building design in Manhattan and Shanghai. Larger projects include the Carbon Mitigation Initiative, studying water quality and distribution in Africa and technology in developing regions.
"In all of the projects, we have a lot of collaboration with PEI, the Wilson School, EEB, MAE, Electrical Engineering departments and University facilities," CEE department chair Michael Celia said. "I'm really excited about the environmental cooperation and energy on campus this year."
Even the Wilson School includes environmental work in the studying of public and international affairs. Michael Oppenheimer is the director for its Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (STEP). In addition to providing students the chance to study the scientific, technological and political implications of environmental policy, the Wilson School hosted a Sustainable Development and Climate Change conference in October 2006 and released a report coauthored by Oppenheimer in November 2005 titled "Future Sea Level Rise and the New Jersey Coast."
The administration has engaged in a series of changes to campus building practices in an effort to curb the University's environmental footprint, its impact on the local and global ecology.
In 1996, the completion of the cogeneration plant allowed the University to become more self-sustaining with the production of its own steam, chilled water and electricity, which reduced the amount of greenhouse gas and other emissions it produces.
In March 2006, University Facilities compiled "Sustainable Building Guidelines" with the goal of creating a more campus-applicable version of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a standard for environmentally-friendly building established by the U.S. Green Building Council. With help from the architectural firm Kiernan Timberlake Associates, the facilities department reevaluated criteria for purchasing materials and constructing buildings that would be cost-effective and environmentally sound.
"Our buildings perform 30 percent better than ASHRAE standards," McKay said. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is an international organization that advocates sustainable use of heating ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration through policies and education.
Included in the University's campus plan for the next 10 years of development are environmental guidelines and initiatives that continue to be updated and investigated by the facilities and sustainability departments.
"We have for a long time had a very aggressive energy conservation and use program here that has contributed to lowering operating cost and environmental impact," McKay said. "Is there still room to do more? Obviously very much so."
Part of the plan for the reconstruction of the Butler dormitories, which will begin this summer, is a "green roof" which will be used to investigate the effectiveness of certain plants on filtering rainwater.
The new chemistry building, which will be located at the Armory site, will meet green building guidelines with storm water treatment amenities, landscaping that reduces runoff and improved water quality procedures.
Not only does the administration's campus plan envision sustainable buildings, it also proposes restorations of degraded or neglected open space regions, including stream bed enhancement and reforestation along a stream running parallel between the proposed new chemistry building and Washington Road. Also under study by the Campus Plan Steering Committee, led by President Tilghman, Princeton University staff and the consultants Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners LLP, is the restoration of a natural forest edge along Alexander Street, replanting and soil restoration along McCosh, Gohee and Blair walkways and restoration of the historic pedestrian path from Bloomberg Hall to Lake Carnegie.
Lastly, the plan outlines the conversion of the East Basin area near the Class of 1952 Stadium to an enhanced wetland and pond ecosystem.
Other conservation strategies that are being considered for universal campus implementation and can already be found in some campus restrooms include ultra low-flow fixtures, dual flow toilets that would reduce water flushed from 1.6 gallons to 0.8 gallons for each use, low-flow shower heads, waterless urinals and low-flow hands-free faucets.
In an effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the University has replaced some, but not all, diesel vehicles for ones that run with cleaner natural gas or electric power.
Besides reducing the University's ecological footprint, the administration is also considering the potential impact on the campus' parklike atmosphere, understanding that the current landscape at Princeton serves an aesthetic purpose as well as an environmental one.
"Preserving this parklike quality of the campus," according to the University's campus plan's website, "is a core principle in planning for the future."