Energy efficiency and conservation are critical components of financially prudent and resource-responsible institutional operations. Minimizing our consumption of energy reduces how much renewable energy we need to generate or purchase, thereby reducing operating expenses that can be redirected to other preferred purposes. Energy conservation is the foundation of a strong carbon neutrality plan.
Through student research and our regular GHG reporting, we know buildings account for 87 percent of our scope 1 carbon emissions. Over the past 30 years we have implemented waves of building energy upgrades including LED lighting, double-pane windows, building sealing, insulation, equipment replacement, and more.
Existing Building Energy Upgrades
Smith’s building portfolio consists of roughly 120 buildings totalling approximately 3.2 million square feet. We are a college with a long history and our buildings are part of that story ranging from 200 years old to our brand new library that opened in Spring 2021. Some building efficiency activities can be applied to all building types, while many are nuanced to the particular building construction, equipment, and use. Maximizing building efficiency and temperature comfort can be achieved by implementing the easy and obvious upgrades, as well as the complicated and expensive equipment and building conversions.
Through integrative projects that apply academic research to institutional and real-world sustainability challenges, our students, faculty, and staff work to promote energy conservation and ensure that new buildings are highly energy efficient, old buildings are retrofitted to promote greater efficiency, and our energy supply continues to become cleaner.
In the mid-2000’s, we focused in earnest on electricity consumption by converting lights throughout campus.
In the early 2010’s, the college developed its first sustainability action plan. We knew efficiency should be a critical part of our climate action plan, but didn’t know how much greenhouse gas reduction could be attained through building efficiency. We therefore could not set specific and measurable building efficiency goals without understanding the unique opportunities of our complex building portfolio. The Office of Sustainability engaged Professor Denise McKahn and student Etta Grover-Silva ‘10 to predict the degree to which building energy upgrades could reduce carbon emissions and at what cost. Through their research, they developed a method to model building structural types and existing thermal performance in order to evaluate the degree of retrofit that maximizes capital investment across an entire campus when no metered data is available. In the first half of the 2010’s, the college used money from our gas supplier to install dense-pack insulation in walls and attics across the college.
In the second half of the decade, the capital and construction team began focusing on opportunistic and strategic upgrades to mechanical equipment, right-sizing hot water storage, and more intelligent building management systems.
Lighting Upgrades: Spotlight Projects
Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA)
Lighting in art display spaces is critically important. The right lighting enables the viewer to fully experience the art. The wrong lighting can degrade the art as well as diminish the piece’s impact. Starting in 2014, LED fixtures replaced incandescent bulbs throughout the SCMA’s galleries, classrooms, and other display areas. The museum found multiple benefits in the change as LEDs do not emit heat that degrades artwork, and they light pieces better than other bulbs since they have a less yellow hue. Energy efficiency is thus enhancing the experience of the museum’s collection.
Indoor Track and Tennis Complex (ITT)
In 2013, the lighting in the college’s main athletic complex was converted to LED. Almost immediately, the conversion halved the amount of energy required to light the ITT. The upgrade saves approximately $34,000 in annual savings. And another win: the LED lighting is so much brighter than the previous fluorescent lighting in the ITT that some tennis players have noticed their game has improved.
Green and Efficient Buildings
For most new construction since 2008, we’ve adhered to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, and in 2014, we certified the Bechtel Environmental Classroom at MacLeish Field Station as a Living Building.
Electricity Load Reduction Partnership with Electricity Provider
Smith participates in a program with our electricity provider that reduces the stress on the electricity grid during particularly hot days. When Smith receives an alert from our provider, the following day we will completely generate our own electricity through our on-site co-generation power plant for the requested period of time. This program saves Smith money and cools the campus.
Behavior Change Projects and Programs
Shut the Sash Initiative in Lab Spaces
In 2016, Angelica Radke ‘18 launched Smith’s “Shut the Sash” initiative, a campaign to encourage chemistry 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 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. Sash closing is now a common and expected practice in our labs serving both a safety and environmental benefit.
House Sustainability Challenge
In spring 2018, the House Sustainability Challenge (sponsored by a collective of college units) gave students a chance to pitch ideas for programs that would promote sustainable living and behavior in the houses. The winning team, Yolanda Chigiji '21, Emma Krasky '21 and Julianne Borger '21, proposed a new laundry drying-rack system to save energy. In 2020 the system was fully implemented and is monitored by the House Eco-Reps.