by Stephen R. Levine ’87, M’08
Gas is over $3 a gallon. The Arctic ice caps are melting. Planet Earth is warming and some scientists say polar bears may disappear in our lifetime.
The good news is…Rowan’s going green!
Over the years Rowan University graduates have left the campus for greener pastures in life, some even taking jobs with a true green slant—working in various environmental areas.
But even if you don’t make environmentalism a career, one alum tells us, you can still make an impact and learn to appreciate the natural resources the earth provides.
In fact, the “green grads” featured here represent a broad sample of careers and educational backgrounds. They prove that it doesn’t matter if you majored in biology, communication, engineering or history, there’s still environmental work everyone can do.
Through a variety of initiatives, from infrastructure investments to efficient, on-campus power generation and a massive recycling effort, Rowan has embarked on an ambitious track to leave a smaller carbon footprint.
In the last year alone, Rowan hosted a clean energy wind symposium and installed cogeneration equipment to efficiently produce electricity and steam on campus. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency honored the University for its recycling efforts—placing it third among 87 colleges and universities—and for buying more “green energy” than any other school in the New Jersey Athletic Conference. And along with all that, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities named Rowan the Clean Energy School of the Year.
President Donald Farish believes colleges and universities must lead the charge in the “Go Green” movement. In March 2007 he was among 134 college and university presidents across the U.S.—and the first in New Jersey—to sign the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, a pledge to make Rowan climate neutral.
“We cannot depend on manufacturers alone to reduce global warming emissions,” Farish said.
It’s a green thing
While there are discussions throughout the University about going green, the effort to make Rowan more Earth-friendly is much more than academic.
Across campus, new multibin recycling receptacles discourage waste more than ever and Rowan students, faculty and staff are taking advantage of them. They’re competing—and winning—in national recycling competitions.
In 2006, out of some 100 colleges and universities, Rowan placed third for waste minimization in Recyclemania, a 10-week contest. The number of competing schools doubled in 2007 and Rowan still placed among the top 10 for minimizing waste. Even better, the University placed first out of 30 competing schools in the Northeast, besting such also-rans as Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Villanova and Brown.
Surprised? Don’t be. Rowan faculty, staff and students have made a commitment to recycle and it’s evident from the President’s office on down.
“Recycling is the law in New Jersey but it’s more than that,” said John Imperatore PE, director of facilities, resource management. “Simply put, it’s a waste to use something once and throw it in the trash.”
Throughout the academic year, Rowan hosts a number of activities designed with recycling in mind such as Move-In Cardboard Capture, held during the first few days of the fall semester, and even the Homecoming parade, a zero-waste event in which virtually every bit of paper, wood, wire and paint is stripped from floats and recycled.
“We captured three tons of cardboard during the two days of freshman move-in “ Imperatore said. “As for Homecoming, the lifespan of those floats is about 12 hours. We tell students not to build tanks because they must be disassembled. In 2006 and 2007 we filled four 40-foot dumpsters and all of it was recycled.”
Other on-going programs include efforts to collect and reprocess old cell phones and electronic equipment. In August, Rowan donated seven pallets of old computers and other electronics through a partnership with Apple Computer and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“Our total recyclables were about 125 tons last year,” Imperatore said. “About 13 percent of the trash stream was removed and recycled.”
Student recycling coordinator Adam Yarina ’08 said he and two other student recycling team members do all they can to spread the gospel of recycling but some of their peers still need convincing.
“It isn’t that they don’t want to recycle but some students wonder if it’s worth the effort if what they recycle doesn’t end up in a landfill anyway,” he said. “There’s nothing to wonder about. It absolutely comes out of the trash stream, gets broken down and reused.”
In January students from clubs and classes organized for the Recycling Can Blitz that kicked off Rowan’s Focus the Nation day of lectures and presentations on the environment. The blitz was the beginning of a campaign to distribute more blue recycling cans throughout campus, starting with more than 200 new cans in classrooms and offices.
Yarina and his recyling team peers help with recycling projects, promotions, writing grant proposals and research. He said the benefits of recycling are manifold and not just because less material ultimately goes to a landfill. “We have only a finite amount of landfill space,” said Yarina, a senior journalism/biology double major. “If you put a soda can into a recycling bin it can be reused for a fraction of what it takes to get the aluminum out of the ground and make a new can. It leaves a fraction of the environmental footprint and that’s what we’re concerned about.”
In an effort to boost an already strong recycling rate, the University in 2007 bought 17 new metal recycling units, each partitioned to separate recyclable cans, bottles and containers from trash.
“Ultimately, we’re building greater recycle awareness,” Imperatore said. “The more we recycle, the more we protect our environment for our and future generations.”
In addition to recycling, Rowan has grown much greener in the ways in which it powers the campus, from purchasing clean energy to producing it here at home.
Near the Chamberlain Student Center on the north side of Route 322, two turbine engines roar ominously, though inaudible from the street. The high-tech gas-fired turbines, built by a division of Caterpillar Corp., produce electricity and steam for heating, hot water and air conditioning and form the heart of Rowan University’s all-new cogeneration energy plant.
Housed in heavy, sound-dampening steel cabinets, the engines drive a $12 million facility that may be the crown jewel in a campuswide effort to be more green.
While the importance of recycling cannot be overstated, clean, on-site power production makes a huge impact in helping Rowan reach President Farish’s goal of making the campus climate neutral.
The plant produces 4.7 megawatts of electricity, enough to power some 1,300 homes. Exhaust from the engines—pure, raw heat—makes up to 25,000 pounds of steam per hour for heating, hot water and air conditioning across campus.
“Historically, the model was to produce power at giant plants and distribute it over long distances,” Imperatore explained. “The problem is, there are costly losses along those distances. By generating it locally and more efficiently, we’re eliminating those losses.”
The single act of building a high-efficiency cogen plant brings the University 30 percent closer to reaching its overall goal of restricting greenhouse gas emissions—in fact, cutting emissions by approximately 8,000 tons per year. “It’s the equivalent of planting 1.1 million trees,” Imperatore said, “or taking 1,139 cars off the road, which is staggering.”
The color of money
Construction of the new plant (which replaced a smaller, less efficient model) qualified Rowan for a $1 million rebate from the state Board of Public Utilities and should facilitate energy savings of up to $1 million per year. And, because it can run on either natural gas or #2 heating oil, Rowan can choose the least costly fuel available.
“That’s an economic benefit primarily but also a reliability benefit,” said Peter Jansson, electrical and computer engineering professor. “If they cut off the supply of natural gas we can switch over to fuel oil.”
Jansson said the beauty of the plant is its efficiency. “You typically don’t think of burning fuel as contributing to emissions reduction but when we burn fuel to create electricity and steam there’s a higher efficiency. You still burn a certain amount (of fossil fuel) but you create electricity in an environmentally friendly way. Then you use the heat that comes from it to make steam and run a steam-powered chiller.”
The plant’s chiller cools water to 45 degrees and that water passes through insulated pipes for air conditioning at roughly two thirds of the buildings on campus.
The upshot? Heat that could have been wasted from the jet engines gets harnessed to warm buildings in the winter and cool them in the summer with no additional strain on the environment.
“This is just one of the steps we’re taking toward becoming carbon neutral,” Jansson said.
Rowan is taking advantage of another clean electricity source by purchasing power from the Jersey-Atlantic Wind Farm near Atlantic City and other wind farms in the Midwest. About 25 percent of Rowan’s renewable energy comes from wind, reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by about 26 percent.
In addition, part of a wide-ranging sustainability plan will include a series of upgrades for new and existing buildings to make them even more efficient. Newly installed solar panels on the Team House roof capture solar energy, as do the panels atop Rowan’s soon-to-open South Jersey Tech Park on the West Campus.
All new buildings are equipped with occupancy sensors for lighting control and sensor-activated water faucets and fixtures. New buildings also use computer-controlled HVAC systems to increase efficiency, and during winter break, when no students or faculty are on campus, indoor temperatures campuswide are automatically adjusted to use less energy. During that week alone, the University saves on average 18,000 kilowatt hours, the equivalent of powering 20 typical residences for a week.
The campus landscape is getting greener all the time, too, and not just because it’s springtime. In fact, healthier lawns, trees and perennials are part of the comprehensive master plan to improve aesthetics as well as a way to care for the campus environment.
Ed Thompson, director of landscape management, and his crew have planted hundreds—perhaps thousands—of perennial flower bulbs, drought- and weed-resistant perennial grasses, trees and shrubs.
“As we use more native plants on campus, our landscaping is more likely to be healthy and long-lived,” Thompson said, “and more successful in our climate without the need for excessive watering or disease and pest control that puts chemicals into our water, soil and air.”
Thompson said summer 2007 was especially harsh on some of the grand old oaks on the south side of campus. While many of the big oaks still remain, the damaged and dying ones were cut down and removed. “Once they’re dead we have to take them down for safety but for every tree we lose we plant three,” he said. “A thriving landscape will look better and will also help improve air quality and provide native habitat for insects, small animals and birds.”
Thoughtful care of the environment allows for diverse flora in diverse conditions and microclimates on campus, including near Rowan’s stream and ponds. Outside Savitz Hall, landscapers dug a trench and installed a patch of suburban wetlands between a concrete sidewalk and Meditation Walk. The area, once a cut-through for pedestrian traffic (when it wasn’t flooded), is now planted with indigenous cattails and swamp grasses that thrive in persistent moisture.
Thompson’s staff also landscapes to control soil erosion and water flow on campus. The sloped terrain between Oak and Laurel Halls now ends in a rock garden dotted with perennial flowers and shrubs thriving beneath the mature larches. Rocks and stones border roads and walkways, too, slowing and directing storm water runoff.
Using landscape water resources more efficiently is a major concern for a campus this large. Rowan has begun to install intelligent irrigation systems on campus which use computers to monitor soil conditions, learn weather patterns and adjust water flow to enable precise control and conservation of water.
All of this, evidently, is just a start, albeit a good one.
“By the autumn of 2009 a plan will be created to place the campus on the path to full climate neutrality,” Jansson said. “We’ll use energy but, in the future, have no impact on the environment. It’s a visionary goal but President Farish believes if we don’t do that, we’re not doing our part in society.
“And,” Jansson said, “the students, staff and faculty of Rowan University share the vision too.”
Stephen R. Levine ’87, M’08, is the writer/content manager for Rowan University Web Services. He previously spent more than 12 years as a full-time news reporter in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.