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Library goes platinum for the environment

A platinum-level certificate for the F.W. Olin Library from the Green Dept. Program.
A platinum-level certificate for the F.W. Olin Library from the Green Dept. Program.

Students who have visited the library in the last year may have noticed the sign fixed above the light switch on the way out of the restroom: “Turn off lights! Help the library to achieve green certification!”

After a year of conservation efforts, the F.W. Olin library earned platinum-level certification, which entailed more than just asking students to flick off the lights when not in use. The requirements for Green Department Certification, a program created by the Mills Sustainability Committee, also include purchasing recycled paper — 90 percent of it must have a 30 percent post-consumer content — and establishing a “Green Team” to monitor the department’s progress.

The library is the latest department to get certified; the President’s Office was one of the first when the program began two years ago. The process of certification can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year, and is part of a larger effort to decrease Mills’ energy consumption. Certification for any given department is valid for two years, with each department’s internal Green Team performing checks to see that power strips are getting turned off and signage is properly displayed near waste bins.

“One of the most beautiful aspects of this process is it’s internally driven,” said Britta Bullard, the sustainability coordinator at Mills. “The initiative to move forward is coming from them.”

Departments seeking certification must meet minimum requirements, but certification is based largely on a scoring system of “additional measures” for which points are earned and levels achieved: silver, gold, or platinum. Categories of additional measures range from “waste” to “workplace culture” and include suggestions like setting word-processing margins and font adjustments to use less pages per print job, stocking environmentally-friendly soap and eschewing bottled water.

“You’re representing a set of values,” Bullard said, “[demonstrating] that you value how you are operating, and having your daily practices represent the hope that future generations can also thrive.”

For the library, many of the additional measures on the Green Department Certification checklist did not apply; bottled water and food are not supplied for library staff, for example.

“There was very little that we had to do,” said Elissa Papendick, the library’s circulation specialist, who pointed to the purchasing of 30 percent recycled paper, proper soap and the installation of power strips as the main changes that needed to be implemented.

The library has long had its printers set to print double-sided and provided trays for unclaimed print jobs that can be used as scratch paper; these practices earned them innovation points. Additionally, Papendick noted that since Mills began implementing its pay-to-print program at the beginning of this semester, paper waste seems to have shrunk.

A revamp of the audiovisual room into a student lounge also spurred energy savings, as audiovisual stations were cut down to three and relocated, Papendick said.

Power strips were employed in these stations and throughout the library, resulting in major energy savings; they can turn off multiple electricity-consumers at once, preventing “ghost” or “vampire” sucking of unused power.

“The checklist really helps,” Papendick said. “It’s important to make sure everybody (on staff) knows what’s on the list and to adheres to it.”

To be sure, there are still areas that need improvement. Papendick said that campus-wide, the availability of compost bins is inconsistent.

“Some buildings have it, some don’t,” she said. In the library, she takes care of her own and a coworker’s compost, she said, noting that storing it in the freezer eliminates odor.

Another area of improvement is transportation to and from campus.

“Accessibility getting to campus is a big issue. It’s hard to find staff to carpool,”  Papendick said, explaining that coworkers’ shifts often do not overlap in a way that facilitates sharing rides and the shuttle does not provide a broad enough range of hours to serve her.

Bullard agreed, saying that transportation, particularly the Mills Shuttle, is undergoing examination. Those who have recently gotten campus parking permits can attest to this, as completion of a survey on transportation practices is a prerequisite to receiving a permit.

As for compost, there are huge infrastructure and service challenges, Bullard said, but campus-wide composting is also a long-term goal of the Sustainability Center.

“All you can do is try your best,” Bullard said. “But what is interesting is that when you go through the effort of doing this type of process, and you take on these initiatives, it shifts the culture into, ‘This is just how we do things.’”

These green initiatives have earned Mills a spot on the Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges for the last three years. But while Mills has upwards of 25 departments — for Green Department Certification they are “self-defined,” ranging from Housing Management and Dining Services to Athletics — only five have gone through certification so far: the Office of the President, Public Safety, the F.W. Olin Library and the MBA Program and the Economics Department, which earned joint certification. Each department achieved platinum-level credentials.

Still, Bullard said efforts here continue, especially toward increasing student involvement.

Claire Matthews — third-year biology major, vice president of the student group Earth C.O.R.P.S, and a student representative on the Sustainability Committee — participated in inspecting the Lokey Graduate School of Business during the MBA and economics departments’ certification process.

“It’s an important step in meeting Mills’ overall commitment to increasing campus sustainability,” Matthews said. “It will take time but I think it’s an achievable goal.

What can students do to most effectively curb excess energy consumption?

  • Lights have a huge impact. Turn them off in empty rooms.
  • Space heaters are extremely inefficient. It doesn’t take a lot of students using space heaters to drastically increase energy output.
  • Plug electronics — phone charger, computer, printer — into a surge protector strip and flip it off when you leave the room or are not using the electricity. Even when your phone isn’t plugged in, the charger is sucking energy through, which is going unused.
  • Resist the urge to do laundry unless you have a full load. Even though laundry is now free on campus, each individual load uses 38 gallons of water. Wait to wash until you have a full load.

Tips are from Britta Bullard.