Wake Forest University

Energy Conservation and Climate Change - Sustainability at Wake Forest

Sustainability at Wake Forest

Energy Conservation and Climate Change

Energy Conservation and Climate Change

Measuring Climate Change

March 14th, 2013

On March 6th, assistant professor of mathematics, Dr. Rob Erhardt, addressed a full room of eager listeners on the topic of global climate disruption.  His talk, sponsored by the Math Club and titled Measuring Climate Change, drew a crowd from across campus, including Dr. Erhardt’s fellow Mathematics faculty, students, and staff members from the Office of Sustainability and the Wake Forest Humanities Institute.

Dr. Erhardt hoped to achieve two goals through his talk: “I wanted to show the Math Club students one way they could apply their mathematical education and I wanted to give a general talk about the science of climate change [for other members of the audience].”


The equation used by Dr. Erhardt in Measuring Climate Change.

The talk began with basic definitions of the words climate and climate change.  Dr. Erhardt, a statistician himself, proudly pointed out that the American Meteorological Association defines climate change as “any systematic change in the long term statistics of climate events (such as temperature, pressure, or winds) sustained over several decades or longer.”

After defining terms, Dr. Erhardt laid out the talk’s single equation: a calculation of Earth’s temperature based on the interaction of solar energy received by the Earth, reflectivity (the degree to which Earth reflects solar energy), and emissivity (the degree to which of Earth’s atmosphere allows radiated solar energy to escape into space).

Dr. Erhardt explained that, while solar input remains roughly constant, both the reflectivity of Earth’s surface and the emissivity of Earth’s atmosphere can change.  As Dr. Erhardt pointed out, these factors have changed since the mid-20th century, resulting in an overall increase in global surface temperatures.  Dr. Erhardt cited the conclusions of the most recent report by the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which stated “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and attributed most of the increase in global average temperature to human beings, who have increased the atmosphere’s concentration of greenhouse gasses, changing the atmosphere’s emissivity.

Dr. Erhardt went on to discuss how global climate models can predict how much temperatures will rise in the future based on different scenarios.  He also reviewed current research trends, which involve creating regional climate models and grappling with the difficulty of “single event attribution,” or attempts to take one particular extreme weather event (like a hurricane) and determine if the changed climate has increased the risk of such an event.

“Climate science can be intimidating.  I wanted to present the science in an accessible, friendly way”, says Dr. Erhardt.  He explains, “People have a general respect for scientists, but I want them to understand a little bit more about what climate scientists are actually doing, like where they are getting their data and how they are using it.”

On March 27th, Dr. Erhardt will deliver Measuring Climate Change at a brown bag lunch for the Biodiversity and Environmental Science group of the WFU Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability.

 By Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow for the Office of Sustainability

Competition Motivates Students to Conserve

March 13th, 2013

CCNGet ready, get set, reduce!  This spring, students can join their peers around the nation in cutting down their electricity and water consumption during the Campus Conservation Nationals. With about 200 participating campuses, students compete against one another on each campus, and between campuses nationally.

Starting on March 18, at the kick-off event, students can sign up to participate.  During the first week of the three-week competition, students can sign up for efficiency assessments of their rooms. A volunteer EcoRep will come to each student’s room during the second week to survey their daily conservation habits and to teach them how to become even more efficient.  Students who sign up for an assessment at the kick-off event will get a free t-shirt.

In a battle of the residence halls, students at Wake Forest University will compete to reduce rates of consumption. The winners will be treated to a frozen yogurt party catered by Brynn’s and will have the satisfaction of doing their part to cut down energy consumption.  To stay updated on each building’s progress, individuals can visit buildingdashboard.net/wakeforest. The site allows students to learn more about different conservation habits and to commit to new, more efficient changes. Throughout the competition, residents will also learn more about the sources of our campus electricity and the effects our choices have on climate change.

The Campus Conservation Nationals brings to light the importance of conservation, and incentivizes the development of good habits. The national competition started three years ago.  Ravish Paul, the Energy Manager in the Office of Energy Management in Facilities and Campus Services, facilitates Wake Forest’s participation in the competition in partnership with Residence Life and Housing.  Junior Claire Nagy-Kato, an intern for the office of Energy Management, will lead this year’s efforts.

Claire encourages everyone to attend the kick-off event, where everyone can look forward to engaging in fun activities and enjoying free food. Participants will be able to trade in their incandescent light bulbs for energy efficient replacements and learn more about conservation opportunities.  She looks forward to seeing the effects of the competition on our campus because she sees it as a “good way to get students interested in something that is an important and pertinent issue.”

If you are interested in taking the next step in reducing consumption, contact Claire Nagy-Kato at nagycb0@wfu.edu and sign up to be a hall captain for Campus Conservation Nationals. The competition will end on April 7, 2013.

 By Kiana Courtney,   Office of Sustainability Communications and Outreach Intern

Faces of Sustainability: Sarah Mason

March 1st, 2013

Sarah MasonDr. Sarah Mason wanted answers to her questions about sustainability.  A mathematician by profession, it felt obvious to think about her questions mathematically.

As she began to examine questions about life-cycle analysis and resource efficiency, she says “I realized…to get a sense of what’s going on, you can use fairly simple math.  I decided that would be a great place to bring in students, to give them the confidence to apply straightforward mathematics to analyze complex situations.”

This urge to combine a personal passion for sustainability with her career resulted in Dr. Mason’s first-year seminar, Counting on Sustainable Energy: Does it Add Up?, which she is currently teaching for a second time this spring.  The simple addition, multiplication, and conversion involved in the course are far from her traditional research field of combinatorics, but Dr. Mason’s course demonstrates how “pretty basic mathematics can be used to do some powerful things.”

Counting on Sustainable Energy fosters a greater understanding of alternative energy and arms students with the ability to critically evaluate assertions about the relative environmental impacts of various fuel sources.  “One of the biggest things that I want my students to get out of this class is getting comfortable taking claims and evaluating them for themselves. If someone says something is better for the environment, I want my students to be able to go home and verify that claim.”

Over the course of a semester, Dr. Mason’s students will investigate a wide array of alternative energy sources, including solar, hydro, wind, and geothermal.  They will examine how much energy these sources could produce on Wake Forest’s campus and how much energy a Wake Forest student consumes each day.  By the end of the semester, students will find an answer to the course’s central question: Could we, with our current consumption patterns, rely on sustainable energy at Wake Forest University?  If the answer is yes, students will explain exactly how a switch to sustainable energy might be feasible in their final paper.  If the answer is no, students will lay out a plan to reduce energy consumption.

Much of Dr. Mason’s FYS is hands-on.  Her students began the course by measuring their own electricity consumption with a Kill-a-watt, an exercise designed to give them an idea of scale when they use the watt or kilowatt hour (kWh) as a unit of measure.  Recently, her students completed the construction of miniature wind turbines, an exercise designed to familiarize them with the mechanics of wind energy.  As part of their final project, students will develop and staff interactive educational booths at Food for Thought,  this spring’s Earth Day celebration for the Wake Forest community.

In addition to readings and class projects, Counting on Sustainable Energy includes a line-up of guest speakers, including a representative from Volt energy (the company responsible for the solar panels on The Barn) and an environmental engineer working in wind turbine installation. Students will visit a land fill and a geothermal installation.  So far, Dr. Mason’s students have matched an impressive syllabus with impressive work product.  Dr. Mason reports her students are highly motivated by the subject matter, explaining “because they are passionate about [sustainability], they are willing to do the leg work.”

The latest version of Counting on Sustainability is a result of Dr. Mason’s participation in the Magnolias Project, a WFU faculty workshop on integrating sustainability across the curriculum.  An assigned reading on the moral ecology of everyday life (from Higher Education for Sustainability) inspired Dr. Mason to take the focus of Counting on Sustainability from a national level down to a campus level; her students have benefited from an opportunity to relate to their course material directly.

Not only did the Magnolias Project allow Dr. Mason to refine her syllabus, she also made valuable connections to faculty from different disciplines.  This network continues to be source of ideas and feedback, which Dr. Mason finds particularly valuable as a mathematician teaching a writing-intensive course.  This spring, she will co-lead the second iteration of the Magnolias Project with Dr. Lucas Johnston, a faculty member in the Religion department and another member of the Magnolias Project’s first cohort.

Unsurprisingly, Dr. Mason also integrates sustainability into her life beyond the classroom. When moving to Winston-Salem, she intentionally purchased a home within walking distance from campus and often uses a bicycle for transportation.  An avid hiker, she partially attributes her interest in sustainability to a love of the outdoors, saying “I love hiking and I really value being able to explore untouched places.  I worry our society is moving towards less and less of these beautiful, spectacular places.”

A passion for sustainability runs in Dr. Mason’s family.  The environmental engineer who spoke to her class about wind turbines was her father and her brother is an urban planner, currently tackling solutions for mass transit in developing countries.  Her brother also helped her tackle a compost bin project in her backyard and Dr. Mason plans to put her compost to good use this year.  She muses “I love being able to go out and make a salad with ingredients straight from my backyard, there is something really satisfying about that.”

Dr. Mason’s academic innovation is possible through the generous support of the university, for which she is continually grateful.  Her students are equivalently grateful for Dr. Mason, especially those like sophomore Caroline Waco, whose experience in Dr. Mason’s FYS last year inspired her to do independent research on the factors impacting the payback period for solar photovoltaic panels.  Dr. Mason explains that her promotion of sustainability at Wake Forest naturally flows from her interest in the topic.  She says “I’ve always believed in following my passions, and hopefully that leads to a strong contribution to my community.”

By Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow for the Office of Sustainability

EcoReps lead change at Wake Forest

January 30th, 2013

ecorepsFNLSOLIDPeer education, long a well-loved tool in the field of public health, has inspired curiosity from sustainability advocates in recent years.  As research in psychology and marketing continues to affirm that environmental awareness alone does not result in environmentally preferable behavior changes, those seeking to foster sustainable behaviors hope to tap into the power of peer influence to affect necessary change.

On campuses across the United States, groups of peer educators, many of whom operate under the title EcoReps, are pioneering peer education programs in collegiate settings.  Wake Forest University’s own re-imagined EcoReps program, launched in the fall of 2012, is off to a promising start.

Last fall the EcoReps kicked off the semester by giving a presentation at the Monday Talks series hosted by the Health and Exercise Science Department.  Their presentation, titled “A Day in the Life of a Sustainable Student” highlighted the surprising impacts and perks of adopting simple behaviors, like using a reusable water bottle or shopping at thrift stores.

The EcoReps also played an integral role in Energy Bowl 2012, where they performed personalized room assessments and staffed kiosks promoting the competition.  In addition, the EcoReps performed educational outreach at events hosted by the Office of Sustainability, Outdoor Pursuits, Residence Life and Housing, and Campus Dining.

Through their participation in the program, EcoReps earn points towards a Peer Educator for Sustainability certification.  The Office of Sustainability designed this 100-point certification to ensure that EcoReps develop both sustainability literacy and outreach skills, which are crucial for their success as peer-to-peer educators and future sustainability professionals.   Lauren Formica, a first year student, became the first EcoRep to complete the Peer Educator for Sustainability certification at the end of last semester.

This spring the EcoReps gave an expanded version of their Day in the Life presentation as part of the Monday Talks series on January 28th. They will also present at the Sustainability Theme House’s weekly spaghetti supper on February 21st.

Delegates from the Wake Forest EcoReps program will head to a regional conference for EcoReps in the Southeast in February.  In March, the EcoReps will support the Campus Conservation Nationals competition sponsored by the Office of Energy Management.

For more information on how to become an EcoRep, email langah@wfu.edu.   Enrollment in the program closes on February 14th.

 By Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow for the Office of Sustainability

Recap: Energy Bowl 2012

November 27th, 2012

This month Wake Forest competed with Notre Dame in Energy Bowl 2012 – Lights Off, Lights Out, an energy-reduction competition between the residence halls at the two universities. The competition ran November 1st to 14th —the two weeks leading up to the football game on the 17th.

At the end of the competition, the results were close. Wake Forest attained an 8.1% energy reduction, falling just short of Notre Dame at 9.6%.

However, since both schools set their goal at a 6% reduction, the result was a win for both teams.

The reduction in electrical energy usage from both schools combined to save some 77,040 kWh or the equivalent of 103,515 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

The residence hall at Wake Forest that contributed most significantly to this reduction was Polo Residence Hall with a whopping 16.5% reduction.

For their efforts, the residents of Polo will receive a football signed by the Wake Forest football team to display in the building along with a celebration, compliments of the Office of Energy Management.

For more about the nature of this year’s competition click here.

By Joey DeRosa, Communications and Outreach Intern

Halfway to victory? It’s up to You.

November 9th, 2012

On November 1st we kicked off a residence hall energy conservation competition against Notre Dame — Energy Bowl 2012: Lights Off, Lights Out.  We’re now at the halfway point of the competition, which wraps up on November 14th.

The first half of the competition has been a successful exercise in cross-campus collaboration.  Facilities and Campus Services is the sponsor of Energy Bowl 2012 and Office of Energy Management interns, Allie Gruber and Joey Matt, are planning and managing the competition.  Hall Captains recruited by Residence Life and Housing are serving as Energy Bowl ambassadors in their residence halls, reaching out to their fellow students through posters, e-mails, and word of mouth.  Hall Captains are also assisting the EcoReps, our campus peer-to-peer educators for sustainability, in conducting personalized energy conservation room assessments.

Although we have reason to celebrate this early success in getting everyone involved, one hard cold fact still remains: Wake Forest University is currently losing to Notre Dame.  Luckily, we are not far behind, and our residential students still have plenty of time to reach the energy conservation goal of 6%.  Here are 4 quick tips for students living on-campus to reduce their energy consumption in the residence halls:

  1. If you’re able, take the stairs. Give the elevator a rest until November 14th – and beyond.  You’ll save energy and even get a little work out.
  2. Turn it off (all of it).  When you leave the room, turn off your lights, turn off your power strip (or unplug your electronics), and turn off your heat if you have in-room controls.
  3. Put on a sweater.  If your room feels chilly, try to add more layers before cranking up the temperature, especially in Palmer and Piccolo, where the heating source is electric.
  4. Tell your friends. Update your friends on the status of the competition, and ask them to consciously conserve over the next week.  You can refer them to the Building Dashboard, where they can keep up with the results of the competition in real time.

Look out for a traveling kiosk promoting the competition in residence halls around campus this weekend and early next week.

Lights Off, Lights Out. Let’s Beat the Irish.


Energy Bowl: Lights Off, Lights Out

October 24th, 2012

This November, Wake Forest and Notre Dame will be competing not only on the gridiron but on the grid in an energy-reduction competition. The Energy Bowl competition between Notre Dame and Wake Forest will be held in conjunction with the football game on November 17. The competition is sponsored by the  Office of Energy Management.

Each campus will monitor the electrical energy usage of their residence halls for the two weeks preceding the game from November 1 to November 14. The goal of both universities is to achieve at least a 6% reduction in electrical energy usage over the two week span.

So, while the energy bowl is a competition, both teams can win.

On November 1, there will be a kickoff event with games and drinks from 5:00-6:30 on Reynolda Patio (on the Magnolia Quad). While there, students can sign up to have an Energy Intern from the Office of Sustainability or an EcoRep visit their residence hall rooms to give a free assessment and tips about energy efficiency.

Throughout the two weeks there will be kiosks located around campus where iPads will display the most current results of our energy reduction and measure how well we’re stacking up against Notre Dame. Students, faculty, and staff can also check out a range of statistics in energy usage for all buildings on campus with Building Dashboard® energy monitoring and display software.

At the end of the competition, the residence hall with the greatest reduction in energy usage will receive a football signed by the Wake Forest football team to commemorate their achievement.

By Joey DeRosa, Communications and Outreach Intern

The Barn earns LEED Silver certification

May 3rd, 2012

The Barn was also the first building on campus to feature solar electric PV cells.  The 3.7 kW solar PV system, installed by Volt Energy, consists of 16 panels that produce 4825 kW-h of clean solar energy per year. Though the panels alone cannot power the building, they offset the fossil fuel-generated energy consumed by lights and fans in the venue, particularly during the sunny North Carolina summer months.

“The (LEED) certification is important, but what’s more important are the ideas behind the certification – to make the building as efficient as possible,” Callahan said.

Want to know more?

  • Read background on The Barn here.
  • Reserve The Barn for your event.
  • View a brochure on solar energy and The Barn here.
  • Learn about our other green buildings here.

 By Caitlin Edwards, Wake Forest  Fellow

10 Days Celebration: Thursday, April 26

April 26th, 2012

The national competition, organized by the US Green Building Council, Lucid Design Group, the Alliance to Save Energy, and the National Wildlife Federation, encouraged campuses to give students real-time feedback on how their actions reduced the overall energy and water footprints of their residence halls. Wake Forest’s new campus-wide dashboard system  provided that feedback.

Bostwick and Johnson Hall residents won the energy reduction division of the university’s competition.  They collectively reduced their energy consumption by 12.2 percent over the three-week period.

Collins Hall residents dominated in the water division by reducing their water consumption by 16.2 percent. This placed the university nationally in the top five schools with the greatest percent reduction in water.

In total, the university’s first-year residents saved 8,445 kWh of energy and 104,706 gallons of water. Nationwide, participants in the competition saved enough energy to take 151 average-sized homes off the electrical grid for one year.

The campus competition was sponsored by Facilities and Campus Services and Residence Life and Housing.

10 Days Celebration: Wednesday, April 25

April 24th, 2012

  • Nathan Atkinson– Mr. Atkinson is a defense attorney with Spilman Thomas and Battle. He will draw on his experience litigating complex multi-party lawsuits involving drilling, hydraulic fracturing, water contamination and toxic torts arising from exposure to various chemicals and naturally occurring elements.
  • Dick Schneider, J.D. – Mr. Schneider is a professor of environmental and international business law at the WFU School of Law. He serves on the Environmental Committee of the North Carolina State Bar Association.
  • Dr. Lucas Johnston – WFU Departments of Religion and Environmental Studies – Dr. Johnston is trained in sustainability studies and environmental and religious ethics. He teaches a course in the Environmental Studies program on energy policy and sustainability.
  • Moderator: Dedee DeLongpré Johnston, Sustainability Director, WFU

This panel discussion is free and open to the public.