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Making the 'switch'

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Posted: Saturday, November 1, 2008 9:00 pm

About six weeks ago, Dr. Monica Bartlett approached Dr. Jonathon Isacoff of the environmental studies program to find out if Gonzaga had any type of organization dedicated to sustainability on campus.

She found out that it didn't.

Though attempts at one were organized two years ago, the committee died out after about six months after the AmeriCorps volunteer left midway through the assignment.

Bartlett said Isacoff then suggested that she head a new committee. Bartlett will readily admit she doesn't have much experience, with a psychology background, but that it is something she is passionate about.

"I'm willing to do this," she said. "But I have no idea what I'm doing."

Isacoff then gave her a list of names who could help with the project.

Brian Henning, a new faculty member of the philosophy department, then entered the equation. He headed a similar committee at his former school, Mt. St. Mary's in Emmitsburg, Md.

"With Brian's expertise and my 'let's go' energy, we felt we could really get things moving along," Bartlett said.

A month later, Bartlett and Henning are co-chairs of what could be the Advisory Council for Stewardship and Sustainability (ACSS), a group that has 15 faculty, staff and students members. The group is currently under consideration by Goznaga's administration, whom Henning met with last Friday to discuss the council's goals and duties.

"I am exceedingly pleased that Monica Bartlett and Brian Henning have established this dynamic new council," Isacoff said. "From what I've seen, this council has done more work in just a few months than most University committees do in one or two years. I have high hopes for the ACSS."

The ACSS, while in the early stages, believes its mission will be to promote the quality and sustainability of the environment in terms of the Jesuit mission. They believe that means not only living sustainably, but being good stewards of the environment as well.

Henning said that in order to insure that, the council hopes to do two things: Increase coordination and communication between different eco-friendly groups on campus.

Henning explained that with so many groups working separately, there could be a frustrations and repetition within projects.

For that reason, the first priority of the ACSS is taking an inventory and determining what people think is happening and needs to happen on campus.

"What we've found out is that there are a lot of really cool things happening on campus, but nobody knows about them," Bartlett said.

The ACSS has undertaken two endeavors as its initial priorities. Bartlett is developing a campus wide survey to determine the current culture of sustainability on campus. The survey will be oriented toward discovering which aspects of the University are ahead of the "green" curve and which are behind. Henning, meanwhile, is developing a Web page that will serve as a home for the council and a resource for students interested in sustainability. Both have completion goals of early spring semester.

The council has more distant goals, but much of their future depends on the results of the survey and future research which could determine the feasibility of something like calculating Gonzaga's carbon footprint.

"Only with a comprehensive 'big picture' can we begin to identify and prioritize needs for improvement," Isacoff said.

 

The "Green Switch"One area where improvement has already occurred, and has the potential for more growth, is energy conservation.

Phil Appel, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and a member of the ACSS, has been working with students for some time on a number of sustainability based projects. He and a group of students will soon be joining (this fall, as soon as paperwork is completed) the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

Appel's most notable project is known as the "Green Switch," which is based on technology already in use and required in Germany.

Currently, all computers across Gonzaga's campus remain on or accessible at all times, 365 days a year so that information technology can update them with software and anti-virus. Computers, however, use anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of their full operating power when they are off and remain plugged in. And, as Appel points out, school is in session fewer than 200 days out of the year.

"You have no idea how much energy that's wasting," Appel said. "Why not turn them off if we're not using them?"

Green Switch technology involves shutting computers down at their source, which eliminates any use of energy. The trick to the technology, however, is enabling IT staff to turn on and access the computers for updates.

Appel said that there are about four options for this kind of technology currently available, and what he and his students are currently doing is finding out which is the most cost-beneficial.

He said the technology could save the University $200,000 to $400,000.

This potential "next step", as Appel calls it, would be occuring in the midst of Gonzaga's already impressive energy savings.

Plant services has also been working to lower the amount of energy consumption on campus. Appel gives credit to Ken Sammons of Plant Services, who he says has maintained the same cost per square foot for energy that the University had in 2001.

"And all that has happened while they're offering more facilities, more tools, and the costs of energy are going up," said Phil Appel. "That's pretty incredible."

In the midst of that conservation, Gonzaga's push toward more sustainable energy use could be poised for a major development.

"Everyone we've talked to is on board with the project," he said. "But we want to take it slow."

Appel said it will first be installed in a single room, then a floor and then a full building.

"I don't want to jump feet first into this and then realize it's shutting the University down," he said. "I'd have people calling for me to be dragged out back and beaten with a stick."

There is, however, immense support for his project from the school, and Appel is motivated to see it in action. He said he'd like to have his office on a green switch by Christmas.

Appel, who has been leading students in sustainable work long before the ACSS formed, believes such a group could assuage the administrative burden for people like him.

Another thing the council can help with is awareness of the work people like him are already doing.

"It's a young initiative," Appel said, "but they're motivated and that's what's necessary."

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