It’s Not Easy Being Green

It's not easy being green.

It’s not easy being green.

From the rolling hills of the front lawn to the forest behind, green has always been an important element of Randolph College. In addition to its prevalence on campus, green also describes a growing mindset focused on protecting the environment.

Whether it is cutting off unneeded lights, adding energy-efficient elements to renovations, or commuting to work by bike, the College and its community members are making choices that reduce pollution, preserve natural resources, and show students how to live sustainably.

“Environmental issues and sustainability are at the forefront of this generation’s challenges,” said Rick Barnes, a professor of psychology and environmental studies. “Our students will need to make lifestyle decisions regarding where they live, what they eat, what kind of energy to use, and how many children they are going to have. All of those decisions are influenced by the issue of sustainability.

“It’s also important for the College’s survival,” he continued. “As energy prices go up and resources become more expensive, Randolph needs to use its resources efficiently.”

The College has long held a commitment to sustainability, but that commitment has grown since the late 1990s, when John Herzog, a trustee, provided funding and challenged the institution to create an environmental studies program.

The resulting curriculum now gives students an interdisciplinary understanding of the environment that is firmly grounded in science. In addition to understanding existing scientific research, students conduct their own research by testing water for pollution and developing methods for saving energy.

This provides students with the skills they need to help other organizations become more efficient and sustainable, which can open career opportunities, said Karin Warren, the Herzog Family Chair of Environmental Studies. “Fifteen years ago, you wouldn’t see sustainability coordinators in corporations, but you see them now,” she said. “Companies are expected to report on their sustainability efforts and make those reports publicly available.”

In 2010, the Buildings and Grounds Committee of
the Board of Trustees endorsed a plan that outlined ways the College could improve sustainability. Ludovic Lemaitre ’11 was then hired as the College’s first sustainability coordinator.

Lemaitre constantly looks for ways the College can save energy and money, then works with others on campus to turn the ideas into reality. Earlier this year, he promoted a contest for reducing energy use in the residence halls, and West Hall students ended up cutting their electricity use by 8 percent.

Randolph also has sought outside guidance. This year, it invited N.C. State University’s Energy Solutions to perform an energy audit. Eric Soderberg, an energy engineer, is examining details of Randolph’s electricity, natural gas, and water usage. “Some of the recommendations that I’ll make are no-cost or low-cost,” Soderberg said. “You can start saving money virtually immediately.”

The College is taking on a more ambitious project in renovating Wright Hall. This renovation is part of a series of residence hall upgrades, but the College plans to seek LEED Certification, which provides third party verification that the project is environmentally friendly.

LEED Certification was a goal of the donors funding the project as well as Randolph President Bradley W. Bateman. Although the added expense often makes LEED Certification difficult, Bateman hopes his first capital project sets some precedents.

“We can’t do everything that would be environmentally desirable because sometimes we

don’t have enough money,” Bateman said. “But I think it’s important as a part of my presidency that I try to find ways to pursue as many sustainability initiatives as we can.”

Bateman has been impressed with the number of Randolph community members making significant efforts to embrace personal sustainable practices. For example, some staff and faculty members like John Abell, an economics professor, grow their own food. Others volunteer with local organizations such as Lynchburg Grows, an urban farm focused on sustainable food production. English professor Laura-Gray Street has combined community service with her passion as a writer; she is the president of a local group that focuses on environmental projects and has co-edited an anthology of poems that celebrate nature and decry environmental destruction.

Many faculty and staff members choose to walk or bike to work, and many students take advantage of a bike share program that provides them with transportation without the cost or waste of fuel.

Individually, these acts may have only a small environmental impact, but they influence others to take similar steps and to value the earth, Barnes said. “Hopefully we can be a model for other people on campus, and the campus itself can be a model for sustainability for
other organizations.”

Environmental studies and physics professor Sarah Lawson is convinced the College can make a difference in the environment by having a positive influence on students. “Eight hundred people can do a lot of work. It really can spread from there,” she said. “And we’re not the only place in the world that is doing this. If every college commits their students to this, and then their students go out, we have a really great opportunity to change the world.”