RPI construction improves grade

It’s that time of year again … the green report cards have been released and are available at http://www.greenreportcard.org/. Don’t worry; the world is not looking at your individual grades, but instead at the progress of our entire institution “as we move toward even greater sustainability.” Joining us across the United States and Canada, a total of 332 colleges participated in the profiles. Schools were graded by researching publicly available information and by surveying school officials to assess performance on the following nine categories: Administration, Climate Change & Energy, Food & Recycling, Green Buildings, Transportation, Student Involvement, Endowment Transparency, Shareholder Engagement, and Investment Priorities. I encourage you to check out information on RPI and other schools after this brief review.

So, how did RPI rate? I’m happy to say that we are all B students now, up from C last year and C- the two preceding years. Hopefully, as student involvement continues to increase, so too will our ranking.

A big change was in the area of Green Buildings. Likely, the improvement came from the pre-completion re-assessment of the East Campus Athletic Village, which is now slated for the gold certification instead of the silver rating on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard, and the installation of motion and day-light sensors and efficient washing machines. A full breakdown of ECAV and the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center and LEED points can be found at http://blogger.rpi.edu/sustainability/. Also, according to the survey, we have a formal green building policy which states that “the design and construction of all new buildings on campus are based on the LEED standard” and “all renovation projects incorporate energy efficiency measures.” That’s good to know.

The transportation grade rose significantly this year as well. My guess is that, based on student recommendations, the RPI/CDTA partnership was included for the first time. Also, Rensselaer introduced its plan to make the campus more biker-friendly, noting the collaborations with the Student Sustainability Task Force and the Student Senate’s Finance, Facilities, and Advancement Committee, which helped to increase the grade significantly. With that said, look for new bike racks popping up on campus next spring and perhaps even a safety policy to address bikers and walkers alike.

It’s surprising to hear that “a biodiesel processing facility that will convert waste cooking oil from the dining halls into a useable fuel for campus vehicles is currently being designed and installed.” Perhaps this means that RPI, at long last, is planning to install said facility. This remains to be seen, however. Last year, a group of students from the SSTF tried to revive this project, which has been tabled by the Institute for nearly five years because of the space retrofit costs. If this is not being implemented by next year, we expect it to be removed from the report card and all other future publications.

The report contains other very interesting information that students here may not be aware of. The total carbon footprint was 52,565 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2008; this is equal to filling 190 EMPACs solely with carbon dioxide at standard temperature and pressure. Dividing by the number of full-time students (6,488) means that each of us is “responsible” for about 8 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (approximately 17,600 pounds) per year. It’s important to note that half of our carbon emissions are due to purchased electricity, so perhaps turning out the lights has a bigger impact than we thought.

We all have an important role in improving our grade for next year and being aware of our impact on the environment. The Green Report Card serves as a needed internal and external benchmark as institutes of higher education lean green.