Blue has long been the color most associated with Mount Holyoke College, but there's strong competition these days from green: The College recently earned a grade of A- from the Sustainable Endowments Institute in its annual College Sustainability Report Card and was included on its list of "overall college sustainability leaders."
Perhaps more significantly, Mount Holyoke has met and exceeded its 2010 greenhouse gas reduction goal to shrink emissions and bring them back down to 1990 levels.
"This is a cause for celebration," said Nancy E. Apple, the director of environmental health and safety for MHC and Hampshire College. Indeed, according to Five College energy manager Todd Holland, the College emitted 15,405 tons of carbon dioxide in 1990; that figure now stands at 13,867 tons. Emission levels for 2010 were nearly 10 percent lower than in 1990--and 33 percent lower than MHC's peak in 2003.
"Not only have we reduced our emissions below the rate for 1990, we've accomplished this despite a 9.5 percent increase in our building footage and a substantial increase in equipment such as computers," he noted. "Think about how much more demand that can create. We've been bucking that increase by being more efficient."
That efficiency promotes more than a healthier environment.
"Reducing the College's carbon footprint benefits the operating budget, as well as the environment," said Mary Jo Maydew, MHC's vice president for finance and administration. "Over the past six years, 23 energy conservation projects have saved us $420,000."
The College's energy use peaked in 2003, the year Kendade Hall opened and Blanchard Campus Center was renovated. Since then, the effort to minimize Mount Holyoke's environmental footprint has been multifaceted. Old lightbulbs and fixtures were replaced with new, energy-efficient models, and lighting sensors were installed in many buildings. Temperature controls have been computerized, water heaters replaced, and thermal insulation installed in various locations, while fuel management efforts have been expanded to favor fuel switching from oil to natural gas.
Students played their part, too, mounting campaigns to reduce shower times and conserve electricity use in the residence halls. Departments and administrative offices were asked to step up their efforts to reduce consumption, buy recycled paper, recycle paper and other office products, and turn off lights, computers, and other equipment whenever possible. LITS has made changes in "what they buy and how they use it," said Holland, and two-year-old Creighton Hall--which has a solar-powered hot water system and numerous other green features--earned LEED Gold certification.
Just this past summer, 9,500 pounds of old and ineffective insulation in Wilder Hall (photo at right) was removed and replaced with soy-based, water-borne foam, along with 18 inches of cellulose that was made from recycled newspapers--some of which came from Mount Holyoke.
"We used this because it's safe and effective," said Holland. "I don't know if we got rid of the Wilder ghost or not, but we expect a 28 percent decrease in air leakage from the building."
Holland gives special credit to Facilities Management staff for the College's progress.
"They were vigilant about these issues long before I got here in 2004, running a tight ship and maximizing efficiency despite the expansion of building space and air conditioning," he said.
Holland also noted Mount Holyoke is among a handful of schools that set near-term goals for reduced energy consumption.
"Most schools set their goals for 2020 or 2030, or even 2050. This allows us to see our progress faster," he said.
Having reached its 2010 goal, the College has no plans to rest on its laurels. Apple and Holland said the College will now focus on achieving and sustaining an additional 10 percent reduction in its 1990 level of carbon emissions by 2020.
Noted Apple, "It takes both projects and behavioral change programs to make this happen. I give credit to the entire MHC campus."