'Green' initiatives a go for facilities department

Measures range from soda machine sensors to state-of-the-art heating/cooling systems

Steven Schultz

Princeton NJ -- Walk up to a soda machine on campus these days and you might think it saw you coming.

In a sense, it has. The machine, at first dark and quiet, seems to wake up; the lights turn on; the refrigerator starts humming. It's nothing spooky -- just an energy-saving device installed by the facilities department.

Ted Borer, manager of mechanical systems in the facilities department, led an effort to install devices that reduce the power consumption of vending machines, one of a number of "green" initiatives on campus. Borer also worked with students, including Kelsey Jack (left), who conducted an environmental audit that tracks the University's performance on a range of environmental matters.


The device is one of many initiatives, ranging from simple adjustments to large-scale programs, aimed at easing the University's impact on the environment and, in most cases, saving it money.

"For as long as I've been here -- 25 years -- we've had a fairly aggressive conservation program," said Michael McKay, general manager of plant and services in the facilities department.

Some of the significant environmental measures are being undertaken as part of new building projects on campus. The new graduate student housing planned for construction next to the Lawrence Apartments, for example, will use geothermal heat pumps, said Tom Nyquist, director of engineering. More than 100 wells, each about 400 feet deep, will draw warmth from the ground in the winter and pull away heat in the summer, eliminating the need for a connection to the University's steam or chilled water systems.

"We are very excited about that project," said Nyquist. "It saves energy, and there is less maintenance." The availability of state grants to help support the installation made the project particularly attractive, he said.

Many "green" elements also are planned for a new dorm that is scheduled for construction between Elm Drive and Scully Hall. The building was designed to meet standards set by the U.S. Green Buildings Council, according to architect Erik Thorkildsen of the firm Michael Dennis Associates.

Some features of the dorm are relatively simple, such as using a white roof instead of the standard black materials to reduce the need for air conditioning in the summer. The building will have floors made of a bamboo material, which is an easily renewable resource as opposed to conventional hardwoods. It will have triple-glazed windows that are shaded from the sun.

The dorm also will have mechanical systems that are becoming more common on the campus, such as variable-speed motors on the heating and cooling fans, which save energy because they don't have to run full-blast all the time. Perhaps the biggest energy-saving feature is a heat exchanger that saps heat from air that is continuously exhausted from the building and transfers it to the incoming fresh air, without actually mixing stale and fresh air. Scully also has such a heat exchanger, as will the new genomics building, said Nyquist.

Across the campus, many buildings also are being retrofitted with energy-saving devices, said Nyquist. Acting on the recommendations of a lighting consultant, the University is slowly changing all of its fluorescent fixtures to more efficient units. The many hundreds of exit signs that used to burn 40-watt bulbs are being replaced with light-emitting diodes that use two to four watts and operate all day. "It saves in janitorial costs because we don't have to change light bulbs, and it saves in fines from fire inspectors who find blown bulbs," Nyquist said.

The University also has conservation-minded programs not related to energy use. For the past several years, the dining services office has contracted with a local pig farmer to collect waste from dining halls. Students are asked to separate their leftover food when busing their trays, which generates eight or nine barrels of food waste each day, said Stu Orefice, director of dining services. The farmer uses processing equipment to turn the scraps into pig feed.

"Interestingly, he sells some of his pigs to the company from which we buy hams, so I jokingly tell people it is a fully recycling program," said Orefice.

Room for improvement

In a more conventional vein, the University recycles more than 40 percent of its overall waste stream, said John Baer, director of building services. That keeps roughly 300 tons of waste out of landfills each year and saves the University about $30,000 in landfill fees.

"We do fairly well," said Baer. "But there's room to recycle more out there." A lot of the success of the program comes down to people taking responsibility for putting their refuse in the correct containers, he said, estimating that the University has the potential to achieve a 55 percent recycling rate. To that end, his office is starting a campaign to "market" recycling to students who are cleaning out their rooms at the end of school, when the recycling rate typically drops to around 38 percent.

The University's environmental successes, as well as areas open to further improvement, are documented in an "environmental audit" prepared by Princeton undergraduate students in conjunction with the New Jersey Higher Education Partnership for Sustainability. A student group first conducted the audit in 1995. Working with further research conducted by students in a class, "Fundamentals of Environmental Studies," senior Liz Bernier and junior Kelsey Jack then produced an updated version in 2000 with support from the Princeton Environmental Institute.

"We're hoping this can be a regular thing," said Jack. "I think it will have an effect if departments feel that every couple years someone will be coming in there and asking for their numbers, and it will promote the kind of bookkeeping we need to keep track of how the University is doing." Another group of students has started on a new update.

Jack praised the University for the food-recycling program and its cogeneration plant, which produces nearly all the steam and electricity for the campus (see story on this page). "On both of those counts Princeton is doing a wonderful job," she said. "There are other areas where Princeton is much more lacking." In particular, she said it has been hard to establish a consistent program of buying recycled paper, in part because of the decentralized nature of purchasing at the University.

One of the students' major recommendations is that the University establish a committee to coordinate and address environmental issues. That process already has begun; President Tilghman has asked a group of faculty, students and staff to review the possible benefits of such a committee.

The committee might find more opportunities such as the soda-machine device, an initiative led by Ted Borer, manager of mechanical systems in the facilities department. The device turns on the machine only when people have been near it. It is tuned so that, instead of wastefully keeping every single soda icy cold, the refrigerator runs just enough to cool the ones next in line for dispensing. The device cuts energy use among the campus' 100 or so drink machines by about 40 percent, saving about $10,000 a year.

The challenge, said Borer, is to find ways to be environmentally friendly while saving money and maintaining or improving the level of service on the campus. In the case of the sensors for soda machines, Borer tested one for a year to see if it would meet all those criteria.

In the end, he was convinced. He said, "If you see a machine that doesn't have one, let me know."


[an error occurred while processing this directive]