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From New Boilers to Lightbulbs, Smith Lessens Its Environmental Impact

By Carole Fuller

Smith College continues to shape its sustainability efforts, developing data and cost analyses for numerous projects that will promote conservation—and further the 30 percent reduction in energy use already achieved. Those efforts range from the simple to the complex.

Consider the hundreds of unobtrusive red exit lights in public buildings throughout the Smith campus. In their 25-year lifetime, the old-style fixtures each burn up 432 lightbulbs and cost $1,100 to operate. Smith is now converting all exit lights to LED (light emitting diode) signs, which use no bulbs and cost about $8 each to run over the same lifetime.

Increased recycling of materials in renovation or new construction projects is another important change. Installing the new cogeneration turbine power facility required deconstruction (instead of demolition) and renovation of an old heating plant to house the new system. Smith recycled 99.64 percent of disassembled materials, including more than 400 tons of steel, iron and crushed concrete. Similar efforts are part of the site preparation for Ford Hall, the new science and engineering building. Old materials and scraps from new construction will be sorted and recycled to a projected level of 90 percent, easing the burden on landfills in the Pioneer Valley and beyond. The recycling also involves intact removal of items such as windows and doors, which are donated to area nonprofits including ReStore, a company that sells quality home improvement materials at very low prices.

The recently completed Conway House is so energy-efficient that its boilers—originally designed to heat the building’s hot water in the summer when the campus’s central heating plant is down—are now used year-round for hot water as well as heat. On cold days, while the boiler is “busy” heating water during peak demand periods, the well-insulated building holds heat until the hot water needs are met; then the system switches back to heating the building. Consequently Conway House was not connected to the central heating plant, saving the project significant infrastructure costs.

Physical Plant is retrofitting or installing 718 incandescent light fixtures in athletic facilities, 460 of which will be new. This project will pay for itself in just under five years, saving $16,000 annually in energy costs and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 39 tons a year—the equivalent of taking seven cars off the road or planting 11 acres of trees. The college responsibly recycles compact fluorescent lightbulbs by sending old or damaged lamps to recycling centers that separate and reclaim the mercury, phosphor, steel, iron and copper parts.

Smith’s contract with Zipcar, the nation’s largest car-sharing service, has put Smith community members in the driver’s seat of a Toyota Matrix or a Honda Civic. The cars may be reserved for use by the hour or day. “Giving students another reason to avoid bringing a car to campus is a win for the college and Northampton, and a natural next step in our sustainability efforts,” says Smith President Carol Christ. The company estimates that each Zipcar eliminates the need for more than 20 privately owned vehicles. On a broader scale, those at Zipcar endeavor to contribute to a healthier environment by reducing traffic congestion.

Emerging perspectives on sustainability have also entered the arena of contemporary art, as surveyed in the Smith College Museum of Art’s recent exhibit—“Beyond Green: Toward a Sustainable Art.” Co-organized by the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago and Independent Curators International, the exhibition explored the work of artists who are challenging the ways in which we make, use and consume a variety of objects, such as food, cars, clothes and shelter. More information on the traveling exhibition, which ended its run at Smith on April 15, can be found at

For more information about previous and current sustainability efforts at Smith, as well as useful links to the many aspects of sustainability, visit

Top: Smith’s new cogeneration power plant, which will increase operational efficiency and decrease energy costs, required renovation of an old heating plant to house the new system. Above: Deconstruction of the college’s former bookstore included the intact removal of equipment, such as heating and air-conditioning control and feed hardware, that will be used elsewhere on campus.

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