The following is a story I wrote for the Arkansas Traveler and for my news reporting class. It exposes the myth that the green, or sustainable, buildings on campus actually produce the most greenhouse gas emissions per student. The piece was planned to run Feb. 13, 2012.
Students living in the most energy efficient buildings produce the most greenhouse gas emissions, the interim director of the Office for Campus Sustainability said Wednesday.
Residents in all four Northwest Quad buildings registered the highest carbon dioxide footprints in 2010. Students in Humphreys and Buchanan-Droke halls produced the lowest levels of carbon dioxide, according to data.
Students living in Northwest Quad building B, for instance, produced an average of 9.82 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2010. In contrast, students in Humphreys Hall produced 1.45 metric tons, according to the Office for Campus Sustainability.
“All new dorms on campus built in the last five to seven years that are built to LEED standards are incredibly energy efficient,” said Carlos Ochoa, interim director at the Office for Campus Sustainability. The Northwest Quad and Maple Hill opened in 2004 and 2007, respectively.
LEED standards are a framework for green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions, according to the U.S. Green Building Council website.
Students living in Maple Hill South produced an average of 6.01 metric tons of carbon dioxide. Students living in the east and west buildings produced about 4.5 metric tons in 2010.
“A metric ton is about the weight of a small car,” said Bill Durham, a UA professor of inorganic chemistry. At 2,200 pounds a metric ton is about a hundred pounds less than the weight of Toyota’s Yaris hatchback.
The carbon footprint is calculated using the consumption amounts of water, electricity and steam by each residence hall. Ochoa said his office collected these figures and then divided the carbon footprint per building by the capacity listings with University Housing.
Sustainability is “conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources,” according to the New Oxford American Dictionary. This is simply just consuming a safe amount of a resource so that it doesn’t run out.
Six-hundred and two residents can live in the Northwest Quad building complex, which has four buildings, according to the University Housing website.
Northwest Quad suites include a small refrigerator, microwave, cable television connections and are “independently climate controlled,” according to the University Housing website. The majority of suites are have four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Twenty electrical outlets are in at least one two-bedroom suite. The suite has energy-saving compact fluorescent lights in the ceiling.
“I prefer the overhead light when people are hanging out in the dorm, but it’s not good for reading at my desk,” said Aaron Pierce, a resident assistant in Northwest Quad building B. Pierce has a desk lamp with a 40-watt incandescent bulb, which uses more energy than a 40-watt-equivalent compact fluorescent bulb.
“Energy efficiency does not equate with sustainability,” Ochoa said. “Even though a building is more energy efficient, a resident has more access to energy.”
“You’re using more energy even though you’re using it efficiently,” he said. Ochoa said the problem is more cultural than technological.
“When I was a kid I lived in a house where I was told to turn off the lights when they’re not in use,” he said. “Here we’ve installed technology to turn off the lights for us when we’re not using them.”
“We can’t rely on technology to save us from ourselves,” he said.
Energy Saving Tips
Turn off lights when they’re not in use.
Unplug electronic equipment when it’s not in use.
Turn off computers rather than putting them to sleep or in hibernation mode.
Spend more time outdoors.
Watch television in groups rather than alone.
Don’t abuse heating and cooling. It doesn’t have to be 65 degrees in a suite when it’s 100 degrees outside.
Swap out incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent or LED bulbs.