Green is the new black - Winter 2010 Ivy Leaf Magazine

Ivy Leaf - Winter 2010

Green is the new black

By Marissa Carney

There was a time not that long ago, when green was the new black. Now, the green initiative is becoming increasingly second nature for many individuals, businesses, and organizations. In fact, it is often transformed into an entire sustainability effort, something Penn State has undertaken for the last several years.

The Penn State Campus Sustainability Office defines sustainability as "the practices and policies that protect and enhance the financial, human, and ecological resources of The Pennsylvania State University, and the planet on which it depends, for current and future generations." In other words: to endure. In order do that, the University is taking steps to make sure all of its campuses are on the right track toward sustainability.

Some of the more significant efforts at Penn State Altoona began back in 2007 when Pepco Energy Services of Washington, D.C., took a look at ways to develop energy savings programs on campus. The company addressed several categories and made recommendations which were acted upon and completed in 2008. Says Bruce Smith, energy program engineer at the University Park campus, "The college invested close to $3.5 million into changes around the campus, and the savings expectations are upward of $350,000 a year. It's at least a 25 percent reduction in energy cost. You couple that with new equipment that will last longer and work better, and I feel good about the magnitude of savings, both in energy and with money." Indeed, Penn State Altoona already is down about a quarter of a million dollars in utility charges alone with the energy savings program changes.


Lighting systems were upgraded in almost every building on campus. In most cases, existing fixtures were re-lamped with high-efficiency fluorescent lamps with electronic ballasts. Most of these upgrades also save on maintenance costs due to their longevity. Occupancy sensors were installed in rooms and offices that turn off automatically when there has been no activity for twenty minutes and back on when motion is detected. These changes will save thousands of hours of energy and about $88,000 each year.

Across campus, the plumbing was checked for leaks and proper operation. It was determined that there would be a good return on investment with some changes not only in usage reduction, but also as a result of associated heating costs of the water.

Existing toilets were replaced with low-flush devices that use only 1.6 gallons per flush (gpf) while urinal flush-valves were replaced with 1.0 gpf. Sink faucets became automatic, and high volume shower heads were replaced with low volume heads. Sub-metering efforts also took place so that evaporated water that doesn't enter the sewer system isn't charged by the water authority.

Since the end of construction, Penn State Altoona has seen its most significant reduction in water use, nearly a 39 percent decrease. The college will save about $58,000 per year in plumbing costs each year.

The most efficient air cooling or heating systems will be ineffective if it serves a building that has deficiencies in its envelope. Pepco Energy found areas in most of the campus buildings that needed to be sealed or weather-stripped to reduce the chimney effect or air infiltration especially around doors, windows, attic spaces, and roofs. This weatherization will save nearly $12,000 per year.

Direct digital controls were installed or upgraded in buildings across campus to coincide with occupancy schedules. Temperatures may be set for certain points throughout the day; for example, when the Smith Building closes overnight, the temperature automatically decreases and stays at a set point, then increases to another set point when it opens in the morning. Thousands of hours of energy and about $75,000 per year will be saved.


Another component of the college's sustainability plan lies in transportation management.

Last year, Amie Myers, an external consultant and owner of Your Green Life and an environmental studies graduate of Penn State Altoona, was hired to conduct a transportation demand management study to look at campus growth, mass transit, and pedestrian use. With the expansion of the downtown campus and the college's projected enrollment growth over the next five to fifteen years, it will become increasingly important to have a proactive transportation strategy. In addition to safely and efficiently transporting people to, from, and between the college's Ivyside Park campus and new downtown campus, a sustainable transportation strategy minimizes impacts to the environment, to local roadways, and to the quality of life for area residents, and is fiscally sustainable over time. "From a climate responsibility perspective, finding ways to more effectively move people is an opportunity for Penn State Altoona to decrease its contribution to transportation-based greenhouse gas emissions," states Myers.

The college already has begun increasing its support for other modes of transportation, including mass transit. Last spring, Penn State Altoona and local public transportation provider Amtran split the cost to build a campus bus shelter three times the size of its predecessor. "For the past several years, we have been encouraging students, faculty, and staff to use the Amtran bus system as much as possible," states Chancellor Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry. "Not only does it help the environment, it also reduces traffic flow in surrounding neighborhoods, eases parking demands on campus, and connects us to our downtown facility."

According to Amtran, average ridership on the three Campus Loop buses for this academic year is 958 riders daily — an increase of 20 percent from last year. However, Your Green Life conducted a survey that recorded answers from approximately 25 percent of the Penn State Altoona population including faculty, staff, and students. Respondents indicated that they would be willing to utilize bus service even more if there was expanded night and weekend service, along with increased frequency and extended service to more commercial and recreational destinations.

The same survey found that 41 percent are discouraged from walking or biking to and from both campuses due to the lack of safe and/or maintained paths, roads, and intersections. As a step toward fixing that, the college has plans to construct a bike path between the campuses to help promote alternative transportation. Although a final route has not yet been established, it will include a dedicated, paved path along Juniata Gap Road. The path is scheduled to be complete in fall 2010.

The survey also revealed that, of those who drive to campus, 70 percent could be persuaded to give up their parking permit for the right incentive, such as a car-sharing service like Zipcars, carpooling incentives, an internet-based carpool and rideshare matching service, and monetary incentives such as a free bike or a tuition discount.

Waste Reduction

"Nature produces no wastes that are not assimilated into the ecosystem or used by another organism or process," states Myers. "A sustainable world needs to do the same." Your Green Life also took a look at how to reduce the college's waste stream. Knowing that one of the most expensive and wasteful activities on campus is printing, software has been installed across campus to track which printers are being over- and under-utilized. Based upon the results, Interim Business Operations Director Andrew Vavreck says he can make some decisions on copying, color-copying, and Xeroxing to save paper, ink, ink cartridges, and printing costs.

In addition, students now must pay for computer print-outs in labs to cut down on gratuitous paper and ink waste. College leaders also are exploring composting options for cafeteria food scraps, packaging, and containers.

Becoming Eco-Friendly

Penn State Altoona's eco-efforts are ongoing, as the college continues to explore more ways in which it can become environmentally friendly.

Purchase of supplies and products made from a percentage of recycled materials or wrapped in recycled paper or cardboard, as well as products that easily can be recycled after use, is being studied. Purchasing guidelines or policies for departments across the college may be implemented so that more of these products are used.

It is likely that water refilling stations will be constructed to help cut down on the purchase of plastic water bottles. This already is happening at University Park to much success. The formation of a Sustainability Council is under discussion at Penn State Altoona to facilitate research and outreach.

Green technology will be implemented as much as possible with any new construction projects. A prime example of this effort is the William J. Castle Executive Quarters and Sutter Suites, located on the fifth floor of the Aaron Building downtown, which opened fall 2009. Counter tops, window sills, ceiling and aluminum tiles, bar stools, and even wool carpet backing are all made from upward of 75 percent recycled material. There are automatic lighting controls and faucet sensors, and the guest-room furniture is made by a sustainable forestry initiative accredited company.

Keeping green is also a matter of finding a balance between cost-efficiency, the best return on investment, and simply doing the right thing for the planet. Insulating windows more effectively, using solar power to heat water, or buying energy from grids that have been produced by wind power, all on Vavreck's radar for the future, strike that balance. In contrast, reconstructing some of the parking lots to allow for more green areas around campus would end up being very expensive and, in the long run, have very little impact. "Doing some things that show cost-savings along with doing things that are a little more for the common good will put Penn State Altoona on the forefront of being socially responsible as an academic institution," says Vavreck.

Some other relatively inexpensive green projects involve planting flowers, shrubbery, and grass that require less watering and mowing, and revitalizing the reflecting pond (see sidebar from p. 29). And although more recycling bins and recycling education are always options, it's important to remember that those types of efforts are only as good as the people who decide to use them.

The scope of this effort is beyond any that the college has undertaken in the past. While it already has begun to significantly reduce the environmental impact, it is an ongoing campaign that will have to be factored into decisions and actions of everyone in the Penn State Altoona community. Says Vavreck, "It just takes people willing to make it happen."

Greening the pond

It's been the background for countless photos of graduations, weddings, and scenery shots. It looks so beautiful from afar. But if you look a little closer, you'll see that the reflecting pond is in need of some serious help.

As part of Penn State Altoona's greening and sustainability effort, two students are working on a plan to "green" the reflecting pond. Mark Millward and Grady Luzier are both environmental studies majors and biology minors. They began the project last summer after Associate Professor of Biology Carolyn Mahan approached them about doing an independent study. Having to complete the work by the end of the fall semester, the pair decided their goal would be to recommend a course of action. They began immediately, listing ideas and how to carry them out.

"We have a passion for what we're doing. We're not just going through the motions. We really like our major and we like making a difference, making a change," says Millward, a 36-year-old senior from Altoona. States 21-year-old senior Luzier, "This is the kind of work we want to do with our major. This is a great stepping stone for us professionally, while making Penn State Altoona look better."

Millward and Luzier began by collecting water samples from six sites and sending them out for testing. Results showed that the fecal coliform colony bacteria levels were tremendously high, the worst count being 4,000 fecal coliforms per 100 milligrams of water. To put this into context, safe swimming levels for humans are no greater than 200 fecal coliforms. The two also found that the nitrate levels in the water were high enough that aquatic life might be at risk of dying.

One of the main things Millward and Luzier want to see implemented in the pond is an aeration system. This would allow the water to flow in and out more efficiently and cleaner than it does now. The pair says the pond can be aerated with wind or solar power or a self-powered water wheel. "We don't want the pond just cleaned up; we want it to be self-sustaining and maintained on its own," Millward says. The two students also have been looking into organic chemicals that could be used to treat the water and help restore it to a healthy balance.

Although insurance policies and permits would likely get in the way, they'd ultimately like the pond to be deeper. That would result in a cooler water temperature so that sediments would collect on the bottom and the top of the water would be clear.

Water clarity also would be aided by thinning out of the number and species of fish that inhabit the pond. Currently, the pond contains koi -- bottom feeders that stir up mud looking for food, bluegill, large and small mouth bass, and Israeli carp, among others. Millward and Luzier support eliminating most of those and introducing more native species — like trout — to keep the pond cleaner and make it consistent with Pennsylvania fish. They also recommend relocating the ducks to farms or other pond sites to eliminate droppings and feathers in and around the water.

Both Millward and Luzier say the project is more fun than work for them, and they love what they're doing. If their proposal is accepted by the college, work on some of their recommendations could begin this summer. And even though the two men will have graduated by then, they say they definitely want to come back and watch their plans put into action.

"It's a great sense of personal pride, especially when I'm walking around campus and people are saying 'I hear what you're doing, good job,'" says Luzier. "It's also beneficial to us personally, because future employers can come here and take an actual look at a sample of our work."

Rolling out the red green carpet

William J. Castle Quarters and The Sutter Suites

Going Green

  • The project utilized a local design team and construction firm, while steel used in the project was required to be American made — helping the sustainability of local and national economies — and the majority of the suppliers for the project were located within state boundaries.
  • The guest room furniture was made in the United States using native hardwoods by an SFI- (Sustainable Forestry Initiative) Accredited company.
  • Fresh air comprises more than 30 percent of the ventilation air, and there are multi-zone controls on the heating/ventilating/air conditioning (HVAC) system.
  • The wool carpeting used in the guest rooms is natural, renewable, improves air quality, is non-allergenic, has natural flame retardant qualities, and is biodegradable.
  • Most of the paints used on this project are low VOC-emitting paints.
  • Wood panel and laminate products contain no added urea-formaldehyde.
  • The tile floors are radiant heat sources, which is the most comfortable form of heat. The tile acts as both radiator and heat storage device.


  • 75 percent of the rooms or spaces enjoy natural light, cutting down electricity usage and cost.
  • The plumbing fixtures are water-conservative in design. The lavatory faucets are sensor-operated to conserve water. This is estimated to save a minimum of 5 percent of water usage in the suite.
  • All lighting is energy-saving LED (light emitting diode) or fluorescent. There are automatic controls on all lighting systems. Lighting loads are 20 percent lower than the International Energy Conservation Code standard.


  • The Aaron building itself has been saved, renovated, and reused.
  • The concrete floors have been saved, dyed, and polished.


  • The countertops and windowsills are made from 75 percent recycled content.
  • The white ceiling tiles are made of 70 — 75 percent recycled content; the metal suspension system contains 25 percent recycled materials.
  • The aluminum tiles are made from 100 percent recycled aluminum.
  • The wool carpet backing in the guest rooms is made of recycled beverage containers and domestically grown soybeans.
  • The bar stools were manufactured in Pennsylvania out of 80 percent recycled aluminum, consisting of recycled soft drink cans and manufacturing scrap. The stools are 100 percent recyclable and have an estimated life span of 150 years.