Are we Green Enough?

“Being green is not easy,” Kermit the Frog once said. John Hegman would agree with him. “Sustainability may be a hard sell to anybody up front,” says Hegman, Agnes Scott’s vice president for business and finance. “It takes a lot of love and effort for sustainability to work. You have to develop the mental frame of mind and the attitude
that this is the right thing to do. It’s good for the college.”

Hegman might have turned a little green when he saw the estimated cost to renovate Campbell Hall, the former science building that sat vacant for more than 10 years and reopened in late August. But by then, he and the college, with support from the Board of Trustees, were committed to going “green” on any new construction or major renovation project.

Water BottleThe cost to renovate Campbell Hall was approximately $16 million. The price tag included the additional cost of geothermal heating/cooling versus that of a traditional heating and cooling system, $650,000, though geothermal is a more energy-efficient system. (The geothermal system uses no water to heat and cool, making it more energy efficient than conventional systems.) One-third of the $650,000 came from donors, another third from the sale of vacant lots owned by the college, and the final third from a “green revolving fund” that Hegman and Susan Kidd ’78 M.A.T. ’07, director of sustainability at Agnes Scott, established.

The fund, which both Hegman and Kidd call “cutting edge for a college our size,” began in 2011 with a $400,000 investment from donors. As of late 2014, the fund had $550,000 in cash, pledges and accumulated savings, including funds invested in six projects.

“We weren’t satisfied with the solution of having an outside company come in and tell us how we should be sustainable,” Hegman says. “Someone else would profit from our savings. If we borrowed from the endowment, the funds would have to be repaid, so we created a donor-based fund that generates returns from projected utility savings. The savings go back into the fund to pay for future projects.”

If new high-efficiency toilets are installed in a building, for example, and are estimated to save $10,000 yearly in water and sewage costs, then $10,000 is paid from the utilities budget into the fund.

Not all projects give immediate returns, and that’s okay, says Hegman. “We can’t focus solely on easy or quick return projects, then the fund would not keep revolving,” he says. “We have to blend the length of projects. We won’t see returns on our Campbell geothermal project for six to seven years, and some projects may have even longer payback periods. But I don’t think we’ll run out of sustainability projects for a long time.”
    
The To-Do List
Agnes Scott pledged to develop sustainability efforts in 2007 when college President Elizabeth Kiss signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. The commitment called for Agnes Scott to regularly inventory its greenhouse gas emissions, draft a college-wide “Climate Action Plan” and ramp up its efforts in recycling, green building and energy efficiency. The college also hired Kidd as its first director of sustainability. Since then, Kidd says, Agnes Scott has made significant progress on its sustainability efforts by doing the following, among other projects:

• Established a minor in environmental and sustainability studies in 2009
• Instituted a green purchasing policy that mandates use of certified green cleaning products
• Replaced toilets in Winship and Campbell halls with ultra-low-flush toilets
• In 2014 became the state’s only not-for-profit partner with Georgia Power’s Advanced Solar Initiative with the installation of a solar array on the roof of the Bullock Science Center, and plans to install four more solar arrays in 2015: on the parking deck, the facilities building, the soccer field and the Bradley Observatory
• Retrofitted buildings across campus with LED and other high-efficiency lights
• Doubled the number of bike rack spots across campus
• Renovated the Anna I. Young Alumnae House to LEED Silver designation and Campbell Hall to an expected LEED Gold
• Installed an electric car charging station and designated parking spaces for highly fuel-efficient cars in the parking deck
• Designated an eco-themed house for students to live in and practice sustainable efforts
• Instituted single-stream recycling and composting, increasing the waste diverted from landfills from 24 percent in 2008 to 75 percent in 2012 and 2013.

While the college has started the climb up what one expert calls “Mount Sustainability,” Agnes Scott has some important items on its sustainability to-do list that Kidd would like to check off. “As buildings are renovated and retrofitted with more efficient lighting and water fixtures in the years to come, I think our greenhouse gas emission goals will be easier to achieve,” she says. “We also need to install water and electricity meters on every building. We have to be better at metering and tracking. A lot of sustainability experts say, ‘You can’t reduce what you can’t measure.’ Our overall campus-wide numbers are going down, but we need to get better measurements on each building.”

Recycling efforts need constant emphasis. In 2014, the college’s waste diversion fell from 75 percent to 55 percent. Recycling bins with improved signage have been installed for the first time in every dorm room (thanks to funding from the Alumnae Association Board) and should revitalize efforts, Kidd says. “It’s important for students to see the college’s efforts,” Kidd says. “They should see us improving energy and water efficiency and diverting waste from landfills. Our behavior influences student behavior. They learn that a day-to-day routine can be a sustainable routine.”

Susan KiddShe is also working with a team this winter to develop guidelines for tree maintenance and protection. Agnes Scott is among the most tree-covered campuses in the country, and Kidd would like to keep it that way.

And while the college reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent between 2007 and 2012, Kidd would like to hit the goal of 59 percent by 2019.
 
“We have made remarkable progress in sustainability because so many people across campus have committed their time and energy,” she says. “One could say that sustainability is a way of life here at Agnes Scott. I’m thrilled every time people call our office to ask about a sustainable solution for a problem they’re facing. Or when a faculty member transitions a course to include sustainability topics. Or when someone inquires about single-stream recycling. That’s progress. But there’s still a long way to go. In fact, the hardest work—retrofitting energy and water systems, renovating historic buildings to be high performing, reaching an increasing number of students—is still in front of us.”

Map