January 12, 2010

Student Center becoming increasingly ‘green’

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Thanks to vermiculture technology, aka worms turning waste into compost, more than a ton of used coffee grounds from Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Student Center is being recycled each month, benefitting the environment and reducing refuse hauling costs.

“We get charged per tonnage collected so literally that is a ton of waste that gets recycled rather than us paying to haul it off,” said Tena Bennett, associate director of operations and maintenance, scheduling and audiovisual.

That’s just one of the “green” initiatives at the Student Center.

In October, visitors saw installation of recycling bins throughout the facility, accepting not just aluminum cans but cardboard, plastic, glass and all sorts of paper, said Bennett. The proof of the recycling campaign’s success is in the numbers. Waste tonnage dropped from 1.92 tons in October 2009 to 1.61 tons in October 2010.

Bennett is quick to note that since the bins only went in mid-way through October, it’s still too soon to fully assess the usage.

“It’s been a little hit or miss so far but we’re trying to get the word out that we have the recycling bins and educate everyone and encourage them to use the bins and make it a habit. It has to be a conscious effort but it can have a big impact. It’s a win-win for us because it decreases the trash we pay to have taken away and it benefits the environment. We also hope people carry it over and recycle at home too,” Bennett said.

The Student Center is being proactive in other ways too. Its Web site, www.studentcenter.siu.edu offers all sorts of helpful tips for having “green” meetings if you click on the “meetings” heading. For instance, save paper by sending them information and notes to participants electronically.

Staff at the Student Center monitors utility consumption of all kinds and implemented electronic distribution of internal paperwork, decreasing paper consumption by 40 percent. Paper that is used comes from manufacturers who use biofuels in processing the paper with wood coming from reforested areas. Staff also reuses paper, printing on the back of used sheets when possible.

Employees at the Student Center recycle light bulbs and use rechargeable batteries. They’ve also been working with Plant and Service Operations to seek Act on Energy Incentives funding to cover the cost of retrofitting air handlers. This would allow operators to use centrally located computer controls for valves and motors to assure optimal energy efficiency. Similar work is ongoing regarding lighting with a lighting audit conducted and lighting changes being phased in, beginning with the loading dock area, to improve efficiency and in some areas, safety as well.

New coolers for kitchen areas are energy efficient and in making purchases, staff members always look for the energy star rating. Self-regulating heating and cooling systems installed in the last year along with water pump sensors also contribute to energy efficiency.

The Student Center is 20 percent below its overall utility budget projections for the current fiscal year, according to Director Lori Lynn Stettler.

Becoming increasingly “green” isn’t a new concept for the Student Center. In fact, in recent years changes include replacing conventional fluorescent ballasts with electronic ballasts, cutting power usage 30-40 percent; replacing old exit signs with light emitting diodes; installing new soft-start technology on motors to reduce start-up power usage; replacing 150 watt light bulbs with 52 watt compact fluorescent lights; and upgrading fire extinguishers, air handlers and air handling/chilled water units.

With restroom updates comes installation of motion sensors to turn lights off when the rooms aren’t in use. Hand driers are going from 20 watts to eight watts and replacing hand towels entirely. Automated flushing for toilets and sinks with sensor faucets reduce water usage. Wherever possible, staff use green cleaning products. Anything and everything recyclable is being recycled -- including scrap metal, cardboard, cans, paper and even pallets.

The Student Center initiated the annual campus sustainability day in the fall and springtime Earth Day programming as well as a lighting efficiency seminar. A Student Center Sustainability Committee formed too, seeing that wherever possible, the center is a green facility. The Turn It Off Campaign is another of the center’s initiatives, encouraging staff and tenants to turn off computer monitors, lights and other energy consumers when not in use. Little green stickers on light switches are among the reminders the campaign utilizes.

Plans for additional steps are in the works too. In conjunction with Dining Services, Student Center staff members are working to develop a “waste wise” program to host events where there is absolutely zero waste left. They plan to work with SIUC Recycling-Plant and Service Operations’ Vermiculture Program and the Eco-Dawgs registered student organization on this event, recycling not only coffee grounds but other waste products while reducing the amount of waste whenever possible. Other initiatives planned include composting bins, and even the creation of “scratch paper” notebooks cut and assembled from used paper in the building.

“We want to educate others in being more sustainable and friendly to our environment while doing our part,” Bennett said.