Mason Hits Gold with Greening Efforts

Posted: April 16, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Susan Corry at cooling plant
Upgrading its heating and cooling systems has helped Mason reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by more than 32 million pounds. “Not only does this project save money for the taxpayers of Virginia, it also is beneficial from the standpoint of respecting the environment,” says Susan Corry, energy management specialist at Mason.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

By Tara Laskowski

It seems that just about every week a new report is issued detailing the damage being wrought upon the Earth as a result of profligate energy consumption. There is also strong evidence that across the country, people are taking notice — and action.

Susie Crate with Al Gore
Environmental science and policy professor Susie Crate participated in Al Gore’s training sessions on global warming issues.
Photo courtesy Susie Crate

For example, Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which urges action to prevent climate change and global warming, was named Best Documentary by the Academy Awards this year and is one of the highest grossing documentaries ever shown in the United States. As a result, thousands of people, including Mason professor Susie Crate, were trained by Gore to talk about global warming issues.

“Green” buildings, hybrid cars and energy-efficient commuting are also starting to become more the norm rather than the exception.

At Mason, where green is already a popular color, several initiatives are under way on different fronts.

Retooling the Physical Plant for Energy Conservation

Perhaps the biggest step to date for Mason is signing an energy-saving performance contract with Siemens Building Technologies Inc.

Since signing the contract in April 2005, Mason has reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by more than 32 million pounds this year and will do so annually for the next 15 years — the equivalent of taking 2,800 cars off the road. The university will also continue to save a guaranteed minimum of more than $1 million per year in avoided energy costs.

The performance contract allowed the university to upgrade or replace outdated, inefficient mechanical equipment and systems with no upfront costs.

Last year, the university retrofitted or replaced all the lighting fixtures — approximately 19,000 — on the Fairfax Campus in an effort to reduce energy consumption by as much as 75 percent. It also replaced incandescent lighting with compact fluorescent lamps and is gradually installing occupancy sensors to automatically turn on the lights when a person enters a room and turn them off during periods of inactivity.

“Not only does this project save money for the taxpayers of Virginia, it also is beneficial from the standpoint of respecting the environment. By saving energy, we are also reducing our carbon emissions,” says Susan Corry, energy management specialist at Mason.

But the effort doesn’t stop there.

  • A university-wide environmental task force has been formed to look at making the campus more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
  • Faculty members are attempting to put more community service and conservation skills into their curriculum.
  • The university’s Facilities Management Department has hired an energy management specialist and is looking to hire a sustainability coordinator to help manage the ‘green’ aspect of buildings and maintenance.
    green coffee mug
    Photo by Evan Cantwell
  • Since last September, Mason’s Dining Services has provided reusable Greening Mason travel mugs for $2.99 at Jazzman’s or JC Express on the Fairfax Campus and is selling refills of premium coffee at a lower cost — saving customers cash and preventing disposable cups from hitting the trash. Michael Galvin, marketing and community affairs manager for Dining Services, says approximately 1,100 mugs are already in circulation.

Harold Linton, chair of Art and Visual Technology at Mason and a color expert in architecture and design, also sees the green movement influencing colors, such as earth tones, chosen for clothing and used in the arts and architecture.

“People are interested in political, global, cultural and geographical concerns today over and above most other issues,” he says. “Public concerns of the environment are affecting our consumption and behavior pattern regarding natural resources, and that is currently being demonstrated in the work of artistic expression and culture at large.”

Celebrating Earth’s Great Gifts

April 22 is the 37th National Earth Day celebration, and activities and events at the Fairfax Campus all this week will honor the planet and make time to improve our natural surroundings.

  • On Monday, April 16, “An Inconvenient Truth” will be shown for free at 9:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. in the Johnson Center Cinema. After the screenings, environmental science and policy professor Crate will give a presentation on solutions to the global warming issue.
  • From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 16, a Green Transportation Fair on the Johnson Center North Plaza will feature exhibitors on hybrid cars, ZipCars and bicycles. A lightbulb exchange will be held during the fair: Bring an incandescent bulb and trade it in for an energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulb.
  • On April 17, guest speaker Janisse Ray will talk at 10:30 a.m. on “Nature, Community and the Politics of Wholeness” in the Johnson Center Cinema. An environmental activist, poet and award-winning author of “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood,” Ray will also give the keynote address, “Remaking a World that Lasts,” at 7:30 p.m. in the Cinema.
  • Heather Hare, associate director of Mason’s Center for Service Leadership, and students in New Century College will participate in a native plants garden project at the Corner of Rivanna River Lane and Patriot Circle on April 18. Buddhist environmental nonprofit organization Earth Sangha will advise the students on the planting and donate plants from their native plant nursery. Some of the native plants include dogwood, elderberry, paw-paw and winterberry.

“To me, not acting to fight global climate change at this critical time is the biggest crime we could commit,” says Crate. “By doing so we are threatening the ability for us and all the other plant and animal inhabitants of Earth to survive.”

See the Earth Week web site for the complete schedule of activities.

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