Maybe the increased carbon dioxide in the air is throwing off people’s minds or maybe high energy costs have finally convinced people that conservation is important, but big green ideas are taking the United States by storm. Everyone wants in on the green game. The University is no exception, and now with the scaled-up Planet Blue program, it has hit a home run. But like all successful ideas, the bar is now set high — the University must exceed its current commitment in the future.
Planet Blue is the successor to a pilot program that began in October last year. In five campus buildings, the pilot program combined an intensive education campaign with energy-saving technology to reduce costly energy consumption, giving faculty and staff the message and the means to make a change. For example, instead of just suggesting that people turn off their electronics when they leave their room, it also provided people motion-sensing power strips to help.
And the pilot program was wildly successful. The five buildings reduced consumption by 8 to 25 percent. The program is sure to save the University a nice chunk of change. Just consider that one of the five buildings, the Chemistry Building, uses more than $4 million worth of energy a year. Reduce that by 10 percent, and you just saved a quick $400,000.
Now, Planet Blue is scaling up. Over the next three years, it hopes to do for 30 buildings what it did for three last year. And it expects big results: an overall 10-percent reduction in energy consumption. Backing up that goal is roughly $15 million from the Plant Operations budget — money the University expects to get back in two years.
The University deserves a round of applause for this effort. Silently, the University has been making some great eco-friendly changes in the past few years. It has also done its fair share of greenwashing — selling itself as a leader on environmental issues when it really isn’t. But Planet Blue is something to be proud of. It capitalizes on the newfound enthusiasm for environmentalism that is sweeping our country by providing people with the tools and knowledge to make a difference. Hopefully it won’t just change the University’s energy bill, it will also change people’s attitudes.
The program has a few inconsistent quirks, though. Because the initiative is financed through general funds, it doesn’t extend to some very significant facilities, including athletic facilities, the hospital and residence halls. Further, instead of simply upgrading facilities and technology for every building, upgrades will be made upon request. This way, a building’s staff could decide that instead of installing a new dual-flush toilet, they could keep the old toilet around, for example. But why give them the option?
More importantly, the University’s energy-saving education overlooks a key group: students. Granted, this semester’s theme for the College of Literature, Science and the Arts is “Energy Futures,” which will hopefully educate students. But it would be nice to see a little more attention focused on some of campus’s biggest wasters. Start young.
It should go without saying that Planet Blue can’t be the end of the University’s foray into real environmental change. As long as there are still vacant computers turned on for hours in the Fishbowl, empty rooms with lights on all night and buses not using hybrid technology, there is a lot left to do. That doesn’t dismiss the initiative all of need to take. But the University is in a position to prod a lot of people on.