With its classic brick buildings, green lawns, specimen trees, Botanic Garden and Paradise Pond, the Smith College campus has all the hallmarks of a quintessential New England college. The natural beauty of its setting is a powerful reminder of the importance of conservation. But equally striking are more recent architectural additions designed for optimal sustainability, including LEED-certified buildings and the Bechtel Environmental Classroom, one of the first five “Living Buildings” in the world. The new Neilson Library, now under construction, will be yet another major building with a focus on sustainability standards.Sustainable Smith Campus Tour →
Smith is committed to green practices for new construction and for renovations to existing buildings. In keeping with the college’s 2007 pledge to build to LEED Silver standards, new buildings are designed to be energy-efficient, without sacrificing functionality or aesthetics. During the building process, sustainability is the priority, extending to protecting surrounding trees from damage and keeping waste generated in the building process to a minimum and disposing of it responsibly. Once they go “online,” the buildings’ performance is tracked to ensure that they operate as efficiently as intended.
Updates and upgrades to older buildings are integral to the overall greening of the campus. Heating, cooling and electrical use accounts for 90 percent of Smith’s greenhouse-gas emissions, so the college’s ongoing improvements to those delivery systems are helping to reduce emissions, save money, and create more comfortable working and living spaces. Using space efficiently is another goal of renovations.
Bechtel Environmental Classroom
Built in 2012, the Bechtel Environmental Classroom was the fifth building in the world to be certified as a Living Building. Located at MacLeish Field Station, the learning center houses a seminar space, a multipurpose room and an instructional lab. Green features include composting toilets, solar panels and a system for collecting and reusing greywater. Bechtel was constructed of materials that were certified free of carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemical agents and can be maintained without the use of aggressive chemicals. Local sources, such as the nearby farm that supplied black locust fence posts for lighting bollards, supplied much of the building stock. In the year after Bechtel’s completion, students monitored a range of data points around its electricity and water usage that showed it was operating as a net-zero facility.
LEED Gold certified, Ford Hall is one of the most energy-efficient buildings of its type, with impressive energy-recovery and lighting systems, a layout that promotes optimal air circulation, and recycled materials representing a portion of the overall construction materials. During the science and engineering building’s construction, the waste recycling rate was 95 percent, significantly higher than the norm. Its green roof recaptures and filters rainwater and contributes to significant heat savings. Since its opening in 2010, a solar array has been added to its roof.
Cutter and Ziskind Houses
Built in 1955, the Cutter-Ziskind residence complex is 60-years-new. Its mid-century modern design was recently brought into the 21st century with such updates as high-performance glass, energy-efficient building systems, and water-saving plumbing fixtures. Creating a green roof and expanding the green space around the complex were other key renovations, and new skylights, as well as the bedrooms’ original big windows, make the most of natural light.
Friedman Apartment Complex
The Friedman Apartment Complex, opened in 2016, incorporates sustainable design standards certified LEED Gold. Thanks to thick insulation and double-glazed windows, it takes very little energy to heat and cool the the complex. The site has 50 percent less impervious space than existed before the apartments’ construction, which means less water runoff into the surrounding neighborhood and woods.
Built in 2006 for Ada Comstock scholars, Conway House boasts a 5+ EnergyStar rating from the EPA. Its ten apartments have EnergyStar appliances, but the key to this building’s low energy use is extensive insulation. Walls and ceilings hold more than a foot of expanded polystyrene foam, the least toxic type. Because of the materials used for the envelope, the building is virtually airtight.
With its emphasis on natural light, sustainable design principles, and flexible interiors that lend themselves to the most efficient use of space, the “New Neilson,” now under construction, will be a significant addition to the greening of campus. As much as possible, the building will be made from local, regional and recycled materials. An ocular sunscoop—a round skylight with a reflective curved wall—will bring the maximum amount of natural light into the heart of the main structure. The curved walls of the “jewel boxes” to either side will increase energy efficiency, as will horizontal window louvers.
From the beginning, Smith College has turned to local farms to nourish its students. During World War II, it converted some of its lawns to victory gardens to supply fresh produce to its dining halls. Today, students enjoy dishes made from fresh, local, and delicious products, including ice cream from Hadley and seafood purchased from a distributor that partners with fishing communities to support small-scale, wild fisheries.
On October 21, 2016, Smith signed onto the Real Food Challenge, a national initiative with goals that include promoting sustainable agriculture, fair labor practices and humane treatment of animals. Pledging that by 2020, 20 percent of the food provided on campus would meet the Real Food Challenge standards, Smith fulfilled its promise in less than a year. As of September 2017, three years ahead of the deadline, Smith was up to 20 percent, an achievement with multiple benefits, such as reducing the carbon footprint associated with delivery, for the college.
Grab and Go 2.0 makes available reusable meal containers for take-out dining. To start, a student gives their free token to a dining hall staff member, then gets a container in return. Students can fill the sanitized containers with food directly from the buffet and, when done eating, deposit the used containers in vending machines in the Campus Center, Tyler House, and Scales House to receive a token for next time. This system will keep tons of paper goods out of the waste stream.
Energy efficiency, a cornerstone of sustainability, is not a new idea at Smith: The Central Power Plant built in 1946 replaced a system under which each building on campus was heated with coal or oil. Through various initiatives over the years, Smith College has continued to make significant progress in reducing consumption, increasing conservation, and expanding its quotient of sustainable energy resources. Smith invests in energy efficiencies every year, including increasing its supply of solar energy, energy cogeneration, installing more efficient lighting, and making campus labs more green.
Generating about 2 percent of the campus’s total electricity, solar panels are operating at Ford Hall, the Indoor Track and Tennis Facility, the Campus Center, McConnell Hall, 67 West Street (a Smith-owned apartment building), the Bechtel Environmental Classroom, and the Center for Early Childhood at Fort Hill. Together, the systems on Ford Hall and the ITT facility produce about 550,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, roughly enough to power 60 homes. The Campus Center has a dashboard display that indicates how much electricity the panels are producing in real time.
Cogeneration, also called Combined Heat and Power (CHP), is an efficient, clean and reliable approach to generating power and thermal energy from a single fuel source. As Smith’s cogeneration system produces electricity for the campus, the waste-heat byproduct is used to create steam that in turn heats campus buildings. In an average year, co-gen produces around 75 percent of the college’s electricity, thus reducing the college’s energy costs and emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Operating since 2008, the plant became capable in 2013 of running independently from the regional electrical grid.
Smith participates in a program that reduces air pollution and carbon emissions, prevents blackouts and brownouts, and saves the college money. Occasionally, the regional electrical grid is stressed as electricity demand peaks, such as during a heatwave. On those days, the college community will receive an email asking them to turn off all non-essential electrical appliances, including: lights (corridors, hallways, empty offices, classrooms and task lights), coffee machines, microwaves, and toasters.
Other measures that can help:
- Turn off or raise the temperature of window air conditioners
- Unplug charging devices (cell phones, tablets, laptops, etc.)
- Turn off spare monitors and/or your PC (work on an unplugged laptop)
- Close and lock windows where air conditioning is on
- Delay energy intensive processes or tasks until evening or early morning, e.g. dishwashers, autoclaves, etc.
- Get creative! Find other items to turn off or unplug--every device that uses electricity adds heat to your space
Starting in 2014, light-emitting diode (LED) light fixtures have been installed throughout the Smith College Museum of Art’s galleries, classrooms and other display areas in place of incandescent bulbs. Highly energy-efficient, LEDs emit far less heat than halogens, which not only cuts down on air-conditioning costs but also helps preserve the artworks. The bulbs also last much longer than incandescents, and in the first year, lighting costs were estimated to be reduced by about 84 percent. But what makes their use a real win-win for the museum is that the artwork looks better lit by LEDs than by other kinds of bulbs because LED light has less yellow to it. Energy efficiency is thus enhancing the experience of the museum’s collection.
More recently, the lighting in all college athletic facilities has been changed from fluorescent bulbs to more energy-efficient LEDs. Almost immediately the conversion halved the amount of energy required to light the ITT. The upgrade to LEDs in the buildings will generate at least $34,000 in annual savings for the college. And another win: the LED lighting is so much brighter than the previous fluorescents lighting in the ITT that some tennis players have noticed their game has improved.
The conversion to LEDs will continue throughout campus, focusing on the largest energy-using buildings, such as Ford Hall and the Campus Center, over the next few years.
Smith has initiated a building-metering program. Research shows that when people have real-time indicators of how much energy they use, they use less. Smith is working to meter as many buildings as possible. Advanced metering will allow consumption of water, electricity, steam (heat), gas (hot water and kitchens) and chilled water (cooling) to be instantly displayed on a building “dashboard.”
Seeing this information in real-time and observing past trends has a significant impact on managing resource use and will allow Smith to do things such as house-to-house competitions for those who have the lowest resource use. Dashboard information will also show Facilities Management which buildings have the best potential for energy efficiency upgrades and allow them to monitor and verify those upgrades.
“Shut the Sash,” a campaign to make Smith chemistry labs more sustainable, encourages lab users to close fume hoods to save energy, reduce carbon emissions and improve safety. Open fume hoods cost about four times as much to operate and release four times as much carbon emission as closed hoods. It’s been estimated that closing fume hoods could save as much as $1,100 per hood annually, and with approximately 150 fume hoods on campus, that represents significant savings and a significant benefit to the environment. Smith students are also researching other ways to make laboratories on campus more sustainable.
L. Clarke Seelye, Smith’s first president, enlisted the landscape architecture firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, of Central Park fame, to create a campus plan that would include a botanic garden and an arboretum. The layout created open spaces, curving walkways and drives, vistas and groves, and plantings of many of the trees and shrubs still flourishing today. A new landscape master plan, which will seek ideas from students, faculty, and staff, is planned and will make the campus an even more sustainable learning space.
Founded more than 100 years ago, the Smith College Botanic Garden serves as a living museum of plants, including those native to New England and ecosystems around the globe. Its collection includes thousands of plants, growing in the Lyman Conservatory and outdoors in the campus arboretum. The beds of the Systematic Garden by the conservatory reveal the connections between seemingly different plants within a family and demonstrate the diversity of the botanical world. The botanic garden offers students educational opportunities and a natural haven to the community and celebrates the beauty, complexity, and utility of plants, through its displays, exhibitions, and special events. Its presence on campus is a vital reminder of the necessity of preserving, restoring, and sustaining healthy ecosystems.
In 2015, Smith was awarded Tree Campus USA status. The program, sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation, recognizes colleges that meet tree conservation standards, have a campus tree advisory committee, sponsor a service learning project each year, and hold Arbor Day events. The college’s participation in the program is a natural outgrowth of its longstanding commitment to trees and shrubs as an integral part of the campus. The campus arboretum has more than 1,000 trees, including such champion trees as a London plane tree, ginkgo, and a rare American Elm.
I have worked on a number of projects to preserve and protect the campus trees and educate the Smith community about their importance. I’ve helped plan Arbor Day celebrations, worked as a summer intern at the Botanic Garden and served on the campus tree advisory committee. My role on the tree committee directly led to an independent study in which I gathered all the available information about specific significant trees on campus and assembled it into a digital portal.
Class of 2018
Biological sciences major, landscape studies minor
Smith supports sustainable transportation options for getting around campus and the Five College area. There are resources to support faculty, students and staff who bike, carpool, or take public transportation to campus. Smith has worked to make its fleet of vehicles more energy-efficient, replacing larger vans with smaller ones that have better fuel economy and adding a hybrid car. Since 2006, it has also contracted with the national car-sharing service Zipcar to make seven rental cars available to Smith and local community members, reducing the need for privately owned vehicles.
Smith initiated a program in 2008 that pays faculty and staff not to drive to campus. In 2009, the program created a tiered system where participants who live within a mile of the center of campus receive $150 per year and those who live farther than one mile receive $400 by applying for the opt-out program.
Smith students, faculty and staff may ride all Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) buses free of charge during the academic year. As a member of the Five Colleges, Smith financially contributes to subsidizing the PVTA, which operates routes that serve those campuses and bordering communities.
As a Zero Waste Event crew member, I help event participants find the right can for disposables. It's a pretty straightforward job—with great outcomes. I have fun conversations with people I don't know about compostable cups and issues related to my country, Afghanistan.
Class of 2018
Smith reduces its waste through recycling, composting, reusing and donating. It recycles traditional materials such as paper, cardboard, bottles, and cans, as well as electronics, mattresses, and construction and demolition debris. Dining Services focuses on waste reduction through reusable containers, the Food Recovery Network, composting and other efforts. Whenever possible, before a building is taken down, crews remove salvageable equipment intact to be used elsewhere on campus. Surplus furniture and usable computers, stripped of all data, are donated to local nonprofits; computers that cannot be donated are shipped to a computer-recycling vendor. At designated zero-waste events, the college provides guests with compostable and recyclable items only. For more information about zero-waste events, contact Emma Kerr, sustainability coordinator.
Student efforts started the composting movement on campus in 2005 and it has grown steadily since. Dining areas compost both pre-consumer and post-consumer waste, from kitchen scraps, to diners’ plate scrapings. The use of compostable products, such as plates, cups, and utensils, also reduces the amount of material fed into the waste stream. Instead, Smith’s compost goes to a local farm. And, rather than composting usable food, students in the Food Recovery Network, in collaboration with chefs in Dining Services, collect leftover food from dining halls and large catered events. The students pack it up and bring it to local community kitchens.