Students, RCF propose sustainability initiatives

The Resource Conservation Fund’s recent Idea Expo featured dozens of project nominations, including a project claiming that the College could save up to $7,000 per year by switching to efficient light bulbs. Photo: Katie de Heras/The Miscellany News
The Resource Conservation Fund’s recent Idea Expo featured dozens of project nominations, including a project claiming that the College could save up to $7,000 per year by switching to efficient light bulbs.Photo: Katie de Heras/The Miscellany News
The Resource Conservation Fund’s recent Idea Expo featured dozens of project nominations, including a project claiming that the College could save up to $7,000 per year by switching to efficient light bulbs.
Photo: Katie de Heras/The Miscellany News

When thinking about advocating for environmental consciousness, terms like “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” are far more common than “Lambscaping” or “The Plight of Wasted Light at Night.” Nonetheless, students, staff and administrators submitted propositions with both of these titles, along with many others, in hopes that the College Committee on Sustainability (CCS) will implement them using the finances of the Resource Conservation Fund (RCF), with the aim of moving towards a greener campus.

CCS revamped its strategy for promoting submissions for the Resource Conservation Fund (RCF) and displayed ten of fifteen applications, the largest amount received in the fund’s three-year history, at the Idea Expo this past Wednesday, Dec. 5.

The committee wanted a way to publicize the RFC to the campus while also implementing an educational component about environmental issues at home.

The Fund is open to the new cost and energy-saving projects proposed by a wide range of members of the Vassar community to be taken on by the committee in collaboration with Buildings and Grounds.

“The ideas are all creative, innovative, and exciting. My personal favorite application was the ‘lambscaping’ idea,” said Ethan Buckner ’13, a CCS Community Relations intern. The title of this submission is not meant to deceive—the proposal endorses the use of sheep and goats for lawn maintenance on Sunset Hill. Doing so, it says, would be financially advantageous and help to reduce emissions, decrease sound pollution and allow for natural fertilization. Other ideas included encouraging students to hang-dry their laundry, making efforts to cut back on electricity costs, and recycling electronics, all outlined on posters displayed in the College Center. Each poster stated the environmental issue, introduced and followed through with a solution, including detailed calculations of initial costs and annual savings.

One proposal suggested Vassar eliminate all paper towel dispensers and replace them with electric hand dryers. Its poster displayed graphs and charts claiming Vassar’s annual paper towel costs exceed $70,000, and in undertaking this project, the College would save $50,000 a year.

Another proposal, “The Plight of Wasted Light at Night”, claims that the College could save up to $27,280 a year if they were to simply turn all of the lights on campus off at night. This amount equals the total that Vassar spends per year, which averages about to $89 a night. The proposal further emphasizes that if the College were to make use of more efficient light bulbs, they could save over $7,000 a year.

Other ideas, such as a plan urging for a service that provides the rental of personal hang dryers for clothing, were more simple in their approach to saving money for the College. According to this proposal, the College spends over a $1000 of electricity via 1,200 loads of laundry a semester.

All of these proposals were subject to further suggestions offered by those in attendance of the Idea Expo.

Visitors were encouraged to leave constructive and substantive thoughts about the projects on questionnaire cards during the event for the CCS to generate feedback from the Vassar community.

The Fund’s goals, however, extend beyond the execution of the proposals. RCF operates as a jump-start for creative thinking, discourse and awareness of how Vassar can decrease its detriments to the environment with large cost-saving projects.

Alumna and Assistant for Sustainable Activities, Alistair Hall ’11 explained, “The overall goal is not just to save resources and money, but [also to] spark dialogue and conversations.”

Associate Professor of Geography Mary Ann Cunningham’s, whose environmental studies class made up half of the 10 applications that made it to the Idea Expo, said engaging her students in material issues was invaluable. She said, “I was glad to have an opportunity to do projects that could make real contributions to sustainable practices here at Vassar.” She went on to applaud the efforts of the committee’s members, stating, “CCS has been working on building the RCF for at least a couple of years, but [Hall, Buckner, Michelle Dingsun ’13 (CCS Communications intern)] and others really built it into something bigger this year.”

With respect to financially supporting these initiatives, Dingsun explained, “Dramatic fund increase is a goal; the difficulty is counterbalancing the projects with large costs saving with those that are highly impactful and have an educational component.” This principle is a major factor in deciding which five projects are chosen to be implemented. Dingsun went on to say that Buildings and Grounds has the final say on which projects will be actualized.

Even so, the CCS is considering other avenues for the projects that will not receive support from the RCF this year and is hopeful they have the ability to bring them to completion, given the fund’s potential to grow each year. The money the RCF saves the college through their projects then goes back into the fund to pay for future projects.

Hall stated that he is very optimistic about the future of the fund. “The fund could grow and open the door for more…renewable energy and larger projects that are on the table for discussion,” Hall said.

According to Hall, forty percent of people who answered the questionnaires said they would apply for the Resource Conservation Fund in the future.

Hall said, “The committee at large hopes that with the RCF we can continue to foster that love of place.” Dingsun explained that the next steps for the committee are to choose five projects to implement with the use of the Resource Conservation Fund and Buildings and Grounds. Even though the committee is applying the fund to only half of the proposals, she stated, “We are dedicated to seeing all ten projects through, one way or another.”

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