Newhouse lights

Spotlight on sustainability: A bright hope for the Syracuse University campus or a fading dream?

All the buzzing widgets, blinking bulbs and electric air coolers in Newhouse I, II and III zapped through 150,200 kilowatt-hours of electricity last July. This is 7.5 times the energy consumed by the average automobile in the year 2000. It's 64 times the total magnetic field energy in all the magnets of the Large Hadron Collider, and 12 times the average yearly single-family home electricity usage.

In the men's bathrooms of Newhouse III, Sloan Royal II urinals flushed .13 gallons for every body that tripped its black and silver infrared Flushometer switches. The toilets in their stalls swirled away 1.28 gallons with every flush. The World Dryer hand dryers blasted four seconds of warm air at all the wet, passing hands in 71 decibel hums. Next to them, Georgia-Pacific paper towel machines rolled out 12-by-8-inch sheets to waiting students.

The lights in the Newhouse III men's rooms turned on at the swinging doors and remained on for 40 minutes, sure the room was empty, to fade to black. Outside the men's room, 309 simple, round lights rested in the ceilings of the long, labyrinthine halls of Newhouse, glowing into the night. In the lobby, 79 ever-scrolling LED panels displayed messages of journalistic integrity. Thirty iMac computers whizzed under the sunlight of the 900 square feet of window in the Collaborative Media Room during hectic, hot homework days, and slept at night in the dark silence.

Slowly, but steadily it all added up.

Seeking sustainability

The lights in the small, Newhouse meeting room glared off Steve Lloyd's smooth, clean-shaven head. He is aware of this fact. "I'll have the glossiest head in the room," he wrote in an e-mail arranging the interview. Lloyd is associate director of Syracuse University's Sustainability Division. The division works to better the university's environmental impact through education, awareness and advice. Lloyd, who has worked at SU since 1972, helped form the group in 2007.

Lloyd said he knew the university would sign the president's climate control initiative, and he saw the group as a way of being proactive with the university's sustainability stance.

"I put together a plan, gave it to my boss. He gave it to his boss, they all approved it, thought it was a great idea and consequently, we were born," Lloyd said. "And what we do is primarily focus on education and awareness and spreading the word about sustainability across campus. But we also coordinate and get the right parties together for sustainability initiatives."

The electricity usage for the Newhouse buildings in July 2009 was down 20,000 kwh compared to the previous July, but Lloyd said this is most likely the result of Mother Nature.

"We had a cooler summer and I think we were cloudier," Lloyd said. "So this building, in particular due to the glass, especially from 1 o'clock to the afternoon on, it's just an oven in there on the west side of the building. So yeah, things bake and there's a lot of cooling."

Lloyd said simple things like pulling the blinds during the hottest part of the day and making sure they are open in the mornings can regulate classroom temperatures and save electricity. But new innovations are pushing the savings further. In May, IBM announced it would build a Green Data Center on the SU campus.

"One of the innovative things they are doing with the Green Data Center is that a lot of the heat that is expelled by the computing equipment, the servers and what, is going to be pumped over to the building next to it," Lloyd said. "That saves some heating costs."

Lloyd said his division is attempting to engage students without overworking their already busy lives. He said education is a major priority of the group, but he doesn't blame students who are unaware of the benefits of sustainability.

"They are not being taught it in the classroom," Lloyd said. "If they were taught it in the classroom, like say, instead of Dick and Jane met at the bank, it's Dick and Jane met at the recycling bottle center, some dopey thing like that, that would be good. They'd be aware of it. They're not cognizant of the fact that these lights are on 24 hours a day."

Lloyd is not alone in his push for a more sustainable university. Donna Till, coordinator of Central Services at Newhouse, said in an e-mail that she has amped up her recycling efforts and begun purchasing only energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs to disperse to staff and faculty. The bulbs use less electricity, Till said. And since they last longer, they have to be replaced less often, saving money.

The university is also taking a more sustainable stance on new projects. The university is seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for Ernie Davis Hall and the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center. LEED is a rating system that measures the environmental impact of a building. Planning material selections, building design and other components help determine a building's LEED certification, and this additional planning will also lead to energy savings in the future. All new buildings and total renovations that exceed $10 million will follow the LEED process, according to SU's Office of Campus Planning, Design and Construction.

For Lloyd, money is often the key issue holding back the university's sustainability practices.

"Nobody wants to raise tuition, of course, and nobody wants to go through another year with no salary raises," Lloyd said.  Lloyd believes economics will eventually make sustainable resources a more viable option as the costs for fossil fuels increase and sustainable options decrease.

"There is a finite amount of resources and all petroleum-based utility costs are going to go sky-high when it gets scarcer and scarcer," Lloyd said. "And one day they're going to cross."

After the interview ended, Lloyd stood and slipped his phone into his pocket.  He was going to meet a student group interested in sustainability. He pointed at the wall, near the door. "You notice that? The lights were on when we came in here."

Six lights went dark as Lloyd stepped into the ambient glow of the bright Newhouse hallways.

Illustration texture by Michelle Bretland

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