Oct. 5, 2007
By Laura Yates | Photos by Kim Walker
Ohio University led the way for a more energy efficient future among Ohio colleges and universities Thursday when it hosted the first Ohio Climate and Energy Workshop. The event provided an opportunity for representatives from 22 higher education institutions to determine just how to make that future a reality.
The workshop came about as a follow-up to three recent energy initiatives: the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which participants have voluntary embraced; Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland's executive order that laid out the Higher Education Energy Challenge; and Ohio House Bill 251, mandating energy reduction in campus buildings. All call for aggressive energy standards in higher education, but participating institutions now grapple with finding funding and developing strategies to meet the goals.
The answer that emerged -- and the theme of the day -- was collaboration. Speakers and participants put forth ideas for sharing, resources, research and innovations.
Ohio University President Roderick J. McDavis welcomed guests to what he called a "historic occasion." McDavis, who also is chair of the Inter-University Council, stepped up to the global warming challenge last March when he was the first four-year university president in Ohio to sign the Presidents Climate Commitment, which now includes 409 colleges and universities nationwide.
McDavis stressed that it takes a total commitment of the university to make a significant change and that the time has come to go beyond merely understanding problems.
"More important than awareness is the action you can take," he said.
Speaker Michelle McKay, a senior fellow for Second Nature, one of the three non-profits that initiated the Presidents Climate Commitment, noted the importance of collaboration.
"Continued individual efforts will not be sufficient," she said, explaining the purpose behind the Climate Commitment. She also spoke of urgency. "Thinking about tomorrow means taking actions today," she said.
Michael Jung, assistant to the governor's energy adviser, explained environmental efforts at the state level. He reviewed Strickland's executive order 2007-02S, signed in January, that created the energy adviser position, laid out measurable goals for reducing and improving energy consumption, and created the Higher Education Energy Challenge, a competition for efficient energy innovations.
"Even if we put all our efforts forward, we will only have a foot in the door. Energy efficiency is only the first step," Jung said, encouraging universities to play a role in shaping state energy policy through sharing ideas and investment in sustainable energy research and development.
Michael Mayher, vice president for administrative services and treasurer at Lakeland Community College, spoke about his work with the Inter-University Council of Ohio to create guidelines to help schools meet Ohio House Bill 251's call for a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption by 2014.
"We really hope that this serves as a catalyst to get building plans up to the standards of other states (like California)," he said.
Institutions will be required to put forth a 15-year plan for their governing boards to approve by the end of 2008. The plans will apply to newly constructed and existing buildings, including ones that are leased. There also will be reporting requirements.
When questions about funding for various initiatives were raised, McKay revealed that the Presidents Commitment Counsel is in negotiations with large funding organizations, and Jung suggested utilizing national and state resources.
Several Ohio University representatives spoke about how their departments are working to reduce the university's carbon footprint.
Director of Energy Management Ron Chapman explained how he works to keep utility costs down as rates increase and infrastructures age. The director for energy and environmental programs at the Voinovich School, Scott Miller, discussed CE3, the Consortium for Energy, Economics and the Environment, which unites several schools and departments for innovative research. Sophomore Amanda Annis, president of the Sustainable Living Organization, emphasized the energy, innovation and willingness of the student body to create positive change.
"We need to mobilize their energy. Students have our attention because they are our entire focus; they are why we're here," said Sustainability Coordinator Sonia Marcus. Marcus, the event's organizer, often works with student environmental groups and serves as a hub for coordinating and overseeing environmental efforts on campus.
Assistant Professor of Environmental and Plant Biology Kim Brown discussed how Ohio University is complying with the program's first-year Presidents Climate Commitment goal of creating an action plan to reduce climate impact. Ten students, faculty and staff members have begun calculating Ohio University's greenhouse gas emissions using a "carbon calculator" from the non-profit organization Clean Air Cool Planet.
McKay emphasized the importance of colleges and universities leading the way, despite the challenge. "No other institution has this type of influence," she said.
The workshop was collaborative effort of the Ohio University Office of Sustainability and the Inter-University Council.