Greening Roanoke College's campus

Roanoke College is working toward developing a more environmentally conscious and energy efficient campus.

Roanoke College Maroons are going green. No, that's not a change in school colors - it's a change in mindset. For the last year, student groups, administrators and even campus classes have been working toward developing a more environmentally conscious college.

Some say the greening of campus is largely a grassroots effort, with the recycling largely student-driven. But a closer look shows that the College as a whole is taking steps to strengthen its commitment to becoming more energy efficient. From the technology department to the student group Earthbound and many efforts in between, Roanoke is strengthening its sustainability efforts - and picking up more supporters along the way.

Here are just a few ways the College is tackling the issue:

Improving buildings and their operations

The campus incorporated energy-saving practices into the renovation of the First-Year Complex (Mount Tabor, Shenandoah and Blue Ridge residence halls) along with the recent renovation of Trout Hall. Mark Noftsinger, vice president of business affairs, says the College also is working toward LEED standards for the current renovation of the foreign language building, Lucas Hall. LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, provides national standards for the design, construction and operation of green buildings.

The College also is in the midst of a feasibility study looking at an Environmental Management System to determine how to gain energy efficiencies, particularly in heating and cooling. This spring the College launched a new Green Advisory Committee, which involves more than 20 faculty, staff and students in prioritizing environmental efforts, says Mac Johnson '70, coordinator and senior advisor to the president and cabinet.

Many small items throughout campus are being tackled as well. Light bulbs are being changed as resources allow, and the First-Year Complex will incorporate new water heaters, lighting and water-saving toilets. The campus now uses 100 percent recycled fiber toilet paper as well as recycled rolled paper towels, and housekeeping further reduces waste by installing double-roll toilet paper dispensers. Over the last couple of years, dining services has reduced the number of napkins used just by placing them on the tables instead of for pick up with silverware. It also switched a little over a year ago to more eco-friendly products, including cups made from corn byproducts instead of plastic in the Cavern. The College also uses an independent company to collect used motor oil for recycling; a "bulb eater" grinds up old fluorescent tubes, and batteries from cars and equipment are recycled.

Energy efficiency and sustainability is not solely staff driven

Dr. Daniel Sarabia, assistant professor of sociology, says that in December his students presented a proposal on "greening" Trout Hall to President Michael Maxey, who was very supportive. Laura Scuffins '09, editor of the student newspaper, The Brackety-Ack, was part of that environmental sociology class. "It has the potential to change the ways students live on campus. I had no idea I would be part of something so noteworthy," she says.

Recycling across campus

In late February, students helped sponsor the "Roanoke College Green Event 2008," which filled Olin Gallery with displays on everything from recycling and composting to making use of local resources and eco-friendly products. A few weeks later, the College dedicated its monthly All-Staff session on efforts to go green, covering topics from mountaintop removal issues to recycling and other eco-friendly efforts.

Several practical suggestions proposed by Sarabia's class are already being implemented at Trout Hall, such as purchasing recycled printer and copier paper and having a recycling effort for the building. "Perhaps others across campus will also be encouraged," Sarabia says.

"One of the most important aspects of going green is simply the amount of energy that will be saved," says Lord. "This is not only good for the environment, but it is also something that will be monetarily beneficial in the long run."

Recycling efforts also include recent grounds maintenance initiatives, such as taking material from pruned shrubs to a shredder to make mulch; making cardboard recycling dumpsters available for students on Move-In Weekend; using the wood from dead or damaged trees for wood stove fuel, and removing fall leaves with a shredder and taking them to a compost pile. Housekeeping has banned chlorine bleach in all its cleaning operations and is looking into "green cleaning" defined by LEED standards as well as conducting audits of chemical toxicity in its cleaners.

Elsewhere on campus, a small group of environmental science majors started several efforts. Under the guidance of Dr. Jon Cawley, associate professor of biology, they began a seed bank, over the years have done historic tree planting and more recently learned to graft apple trees. The seniors even took their apple trees with them upon graduation.

Tackling hi-tech and more

Network and system specialist Stephen McTigue explains that technology is one of the largest potential consumers of electrical power anywhere. "It's the increased demand for computer use that's driving the increase in electrical demands across the country," he says. "We have all these computer systems running 24 hours a day for the network, so what we're doing is improving our systems by utilizing virtual technology." The new software allows virtualization so that one physical server can now run multiple instances of operating systems. It has allowed the networks to decrease in space, run much cooler and draw less power.

"Our goal is to virtualize 75 percent of the network," explains McTigue. From a service standpoint, the servers are faster; from an environmental standpoint, they cost less in energy. By virtualizing only 25 computer servers, the College is producing less carbon dioxide - an estimated savings of what would be emitted by 62 cars a year or countered by planting 1,235 trees, he says.

Dr. Matthew Fleenor, of the math/computer science/physics department, warns that the issues will become more real "for future leaders who are at Roanoke College and going to come to Roanoke College. Going green is a way of conserving our resources so we have more to share with other countries and people. I think it's an act of compassion."

Students also will benefit from course expansion as Dr. Rachel Collins, a new assistant professor and ecologist, offers community ecology next spring. This course will study how species interact with each other and the environment. Collins says there was a need to offer upper-level courses in diverse areas within biology and that this class will be helpful to environmental science students as well as those who want to go on to graduate school in ecology and evolution.

As with any launch, there are many goals. On that wish list is assistant professor of biology Dr. DorothyBelle Poli's desire for an arboretum.

"This is something that not only a plant biology class would enjoy and use to learn from, but novice naturalists and general passersby take interest in," she says. "Having this resource would allow people to gain insight into the world around them while they take advantage of the stress reduction/relaxation that comes from this natural beauty - this is what a liberal arts education is all about."

Released: October 8, 2008