Letters From The Earth

Learning from students

July 22, 2008

Several weeks ago, I was so frustrated with the "I'm gonna do it" group. These are the people and companies that are forever proud of their future changes and achievements. The problem is that they never do it, they never make the changes. I was so frustrated that I vowed I would dedicate my next column to their inability, really their incapacity, to ever complete tasks. Whether it is waste reduction, energy efficiency, or better safety practices, this group always focuses on solutions and changes tomorrow, never today, never right now.

This group never admits guilt about their commitment to a better environment. They claim they're not proud of the problem. In fact, 22 percent of us feel guilty about our green habits. Interestingly, women feel more guilty than men: 26 percent of women feel guilty versus 17 percent of men about their attitude toward the environment. Alan Gerlat of Waste News suggests, "This may have more to do with the differences between men and women than anything to do with the environment. But maybe it means that Venus ecologically will be in better shape than Mars." From my view, here on Earth, Alan may be on to something.

I was all aflutter with these thoughts and frustrations when my wife and I arrived in Gambier. No, Gambier is not a city in Kenya. It is the home of Kenyon College, a small liberal arts school in a tiny rural community in Ohio. During our weekend in Gambier we had a chance to visit the Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC). This visit and my subsequent review of the center's work caused me to forget about frustration and guilt. Thanks to David Heithaus, Kenyon graduate and the current BFEC executive director, I'd like to share some of the work that students at Kenyon, both past and present, have been doing.

Kenyon is a small school by today's standards. The student body is about 1,600. The physical grounds – dorms, classrooms and support facilities – occupy 1,000 acres. The students who prepared the papers that are listed below wanted to look at Kenyon and Gambier as microcosms of larger communities, even businesses. How did the community and campus development occur? Was there a master plan that would reduce the carbon footprint? Did the community embrace recycling, energy efficiency, and other good practices? Did new facilities incorporate green architecture? Did the student body and administration and the Gambier community follow the changes that are important to reduce greenhouse gas? And so on.

The Brown Family Environmental Center was the nucleus for all the studies and analyses. Studies included:

- Recycling at Kenyon – Freshman vs. Senior Comparison
- Paper Consumption at Kenyon – How Can We Do Better?
- Lighting at Kenyon
- Electricity and Water Use in Kenyon College Dormitories
- Sustainability and Campus Development
- Making the Kenyon Athletic Center a Green Building
- Energy Efficiency of the Kenyon Athletic Center
- How Could Composting Increase Sustainability?
- How Efficient Is Energy Use in the Dorms?
- How Effective Is Community Recycling?

I learned later that there was a study on the "Benefits of a Reusable Cup." This was a neat analysis on ceramic cups versus disposable cups (Styrofoam). There was another study on the least invasive way to get to Mount Vernon, the closest city where students could buy items not available in Gambier. To be sure, there was a student quality about all of these studies. At my age I've become too cynical and soiled by abuse and experience. These studies were clean and pure. They were well organized and started with introduction and background, definitions, analysis, and conclusions. Isn't that what we were all taught? I was incredibly impressed with the thoroughness and conclusions. In many cases, the analysis concluded that changes, while preferred, were just not functional or economical. The enthusiasm and embracing of green was contagious.

The most impressive report was the review of Kenyon's newest structure, the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC). This building is massive. It is a 263,000 square foot facility using glass in huge quantities. As the students learned, Graham Gund, the architect, used glass with reflective coatings which helps regulate the amount of heat that enters the building. He also uses heat wheels that reduce the amount of heating done by the boilers, and other forms of technology that increase efficiency. The glass exterior does give a "space age" impression as one of the students observed. However, this glass is less about looks than performance. Air separates two panes of glass in all the panels. Air is probably one of the most efficient insulators we have, and combined with those new coatings, the efficiencies are impressive.

Gund and Kenyon retained a company called TAC Vista, which installs and integrates software and energy saving mechanisms. The costs for the TAC Vista Systems were substantial, but the cost was well worth it, cutting energy use by 40 percent.

The Kenyon Athletic Center at Kenyon College,
Gambier, OH, USA
The students wondered why Gund's KAC didn't incorporate more eco-friendly sources of energy. At other schools – Oberlin College, the University of Illinois, the University of Idaho – solar and wind power have been incorporated, increasing energy efficiency while promoting environmental practices. In the case of the KAC, sources like these were considered; solar, wind, and geothermal among them. At four acres, the roof of the KAC is considered large enough to hold solar panels. However, the cloudy winter months made that option impractical. Additionally, wind energy was discarded because of the hilly terrain. Geothermal energy was not viable because of possible problems with aquifers below the building that provide water to the entire Gambier community. Obviously, if there were leaks, toxins could contaminate the water. The students concluded that the Gund concept of energy and glass was probably the best solution for efficiency. (Coal fired energy costs about 4 cents per kilowatt hour in Gambier compared with upwards of 15 cents per kilowatt hour in cities like New York. Maybe we should all move to Gambier.)

The students wanted a "green roof," whereas architect Gund designed the KAC with a much more traditional approach. The green roof concept incorporates dirt and vegetation (grass) that serve as insulation. Green roofs theoretically reduce heat loss in the winter and provide cooler temperatures in the summer. However, we're talking $8 per square foot for green versus $1.50 per square foot for traditional. This was an easy decision for Graham Gund.

All in all, the effort the students put into their environmental studies and projects, in my opinion, will make Kenyon and the entire Gambier community a better place. They are to be congratulated, along with David Heithaus, who perpetuates the ongoing activity. The approach to this activity was uplifting and I left Gambier a better man than when I arrived.

This activity reminded me of the new initiative sponsored by TLMI that will be introduced at Labelexpo in September in Chicago. It's called "Best Practices." The focus is on following standards that will make our industry more sustainable. Let's make the same commitment to improve every aspect of our business, just like the students at Kenyon, by committing to meet these Best Practices standards.

Another letter from the Earth. 
Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group, headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His email address is cfrost@channeledresources.com.