Going “green” isn’t always as easy as putting your can in the recycle bin or flipping off a light switch. Often it is hard. Planning for a sustainable future, for example, can be hard.
Last year, Colgate used 31,000,000 kWh of electricity and over 450,000 gallons of expensive and polluting fuel oil to heat our buildings. That’s unsustainable. We all want to use clean, renewable energy, but what energy choices are most viable? Natural gas? Geothermal? Wind? Solar? Expansion of our wood-chip plant? Investigating the economic, environmental, and social feasibility of these (and other) choices is hard work. Luckily, Environmental Studies students have been up to the task.
For many years now, ENST students have completed research projects looking at sustainability on campus and in our local community. In 2008, for example, ENST 480 students investigated alternative energy solutions for Colgate as their capstone projects. Students researched wind energy, biofuels, energy conservation, and willow biomass. While each of these studies contributed valuable knowledge to sustainability at Colgate, one in particular has become reality: willow biomass!
The students who conducted this research detailed the process and overall cost of how to grow and harvest willow on Colgate land to be used as a source of heat energy on campus. Their research not only showed that growing willow is possible but it makes good sense. They recommended an eight-acre experimental plot on Hamilton Street only one-mile from the main campus.
2008 was also the year that students created the sustainability fund with their senior class gift. Part of that class gift was used to finance the willow plot. By every measure, Colgate’s willow plot is a student-led project – being both researched and financed by student determination.
On May 13 of this year, 60,000 willow cuttings were planted for the first time on Colgate property. If successful, this plot will provide Colgate with over 900 tons of renewable biomass energy over a 20-year period. Most importantly, our success on this small plot can help support our local economy. We are trying to show struggling central New York farmers that planting fast growing willow is a viable option. Locally-grown, renewable energy can be a truly sustainable initiative. See video from the Syracuse Post-Standard.
This year’s ENST 480 students are also focusing on sustainability at Colgate. They are researching geothermal energy, green buildings, electronic recycling, vegetable gardens, and developing a campus-wide climate action plan.
And once again, the class gift of 2010 will be going to fund sustainability. Which of these projects will become reality? Stay tuned…