Sustainability as strategy, education
For the many treasured older buildings on campus, Rensselaer employs the strategy of retro-commissioning. This regime of constant improvement entails making sure the individual environmental and operational systems of each building are performing as optimally as possible, given the restraints of the hardware. It is neither efficient nor cost-effective to simply gut a building’s existing system and replace it, Rounds said. Instead, everything is kept in tip-top shape and new updates are phased in over time.
“You really have to take each building on a case-by-case basis, and be as smart as you can based on the building’s needs and function,” Rounds said. Rensselaer purchases five million kilowatt-hours of wind-generated electricity every year to help power the campus, and over the past several years has received $1.6 million in state and federal energy grants.
Rounds said the thread tying together all of the Institute’s green efforts is the Student Sustainability Task Force. The student-led organization has successfully endeavored over the past few years to integrate sustainability into all aspects of campus life, including education, research, operations and culture. Many of these efforts include collaborations with Rounds’ group, and range from monitoring the real-time energy usage of different campus facilities, to efficiency programs, composting, and recycling.
“We now have a large, very active group of students who are doing a number of important sustainability projects,” Rounds said. “The task force has generated a valuable inventory of student-led sustainability pilot programs and other opportunities. These students have led the way to the most remarkable and substantial move forward in sustainability that this campus has ever witnessed.”
Campus facility and physical plant sustainability efforts also link Rounds and his team to another strategic priority of the Institute graduate and faculty research. Rounds said several researchers are using the Rensselaer campus as a test site to study everything from new efficient lighting solutions to solar energy harvesting and experimental energy usage monitoring.
“In addition to all of the good reasons for weaving sustainability into every nook and cranny of Rensselaer, there is a very real impact on the order of millions of dollars that we realize from these green efforts,” Rounds said. “And the more we save, the more we can reinvest in our students, operations, and educational mission.”
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
“Constructing a More Sustainable Campus”
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