Guilford College unveils sustainability programs

by Amy Kingsley

At Guilford College, the quest for sustainability starts in the bathroom.

Several old urinals have been replaced with waterless versions. Dispensers issue paper towels and toilet paper made out of 100 and 70 percent recycled material, respectively. Noxious cleaning supplies have been replaced with ecologically sensitive disinfectants.

And on April 25 the college’s Sustainability Council unveiled 12 solar panels recently installed on the roof of Shore Hall that will supply hot water to its 60 female residents. So far, Environmental Sustainability Coordinator Kim Yarbray said, there have been no complaints about the hot water supplied by the new system.

“That’s good for a building full of women,” Yarbray said.

The panels, pumps, pipes and labor cost the school about $30,000. Jon Varnell, the associate vice president of operations and facilities, estimated that the savings in electricity would total $86,000 over the life of the system.

“With solar hot water, there’s a lot of bang for the buck,” Varnell said. “It’s usually a very good payback.”

The panels are arrayed on the building’s narrow, gray-shingled roof in one of the few parts of campus not shaded by dense tree canopy. Shore Hall is oriented on an east-west axis, which allows for maximum exposure to the sun on clear days.

“Now the hot water is being produced by the sun instead,” Yarbray said.

The Sustainability Council isn’t just looking toward the heavens for renewable energy sources. Renovation plans for Archdale Hall, a faculty office building, include a geothermal energy system that will warm the structure with underground heat. The college aims to complete the renovations by next year and will apply for silver certification in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, also known as LEED, at the US Green Building Council.

This year Guilford College has ramped up its efforts at sustainability, Yarbray said, going as far as establishing a dedicated fund for environmental upgrades that donors can contribute to. A banner advertising the Green Fund flapped in the breeze behind an acoustic duo playing at the April 25 event.

Campuses across the country have jumped on the sustainability bandwagon. Almost 200 university presidents representing campuses small and large have signed the Presidents Climate Commitment, an agreement modeled on the US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. The mayors’ agreement calls on cities to reduce their output of greenhouse gases, but the version for colleges is even more ambitious, requiring signatories to implement plans to make their campuses carbon-neutral. In North Carolina both UNC-Chapel Hill and Warren Wilson College have signed the commitment, but so far no colleges in the Triad have followed suit.

Yarbray hinted that it might not be that way for long.

“You’re educating a population for entry to the world, educating students about how the world works,” she said. “Well, more and more, sustainability is becoming an important part of the way the world works.”

– Amy Kingsley