GRCC energy savings reaches 1 million mark

Grand Rapids Community College has amassed $1 million in savings from utilities conservation measures enacted since it began a contract with Energy Education Inc. in 2008.

‘It’s a continuing process,” said GRCC Energy Manager Dorothy Burns. “People always ask me, ‘Have you saved everything you can?’ and no, we can’t. There’s always more things you can do. You can’t do everything at once.”

Burns was in charge of GRCC’s computer help desk when she was tabbed to become energy manager as part of the college’s relationship with the Dallas-based Energy Education. The company specializes in helping school districts, colleges and large churches save money by finding more efficient procedures in use of heating, cooling, electricity, natural gas, oil and water.

But the major part of the program is changing people’s behavior when it comes to energy use, and Burns said that’s where her bachelor’s degree in psychology comes in handy.

“When you’re trying to convince people to change their behavior and how they look at things, sometimes a degree in psychology can be really useful,” she said.

Executive Director of Facilities Thomas Smith said the energy savings effort fits well with GRCC’s entire approach to sustainability. Energy Education has guaranteed to save GRCC $6 million in energy costs over eight years. “That certainly got my attention,” he said.

“It’s a culture change and a hardware change. You have to look at both,” Smith said.

He said that some measures require new equipment, such as lights and faucets that turn off automatically.

“We continually see increased savings,” Smith said. “Initially, it was more like a shotgun approach. Then we started to fine tune and narrow the scope. We see better and better use of facilities and great fiscal savings coming.”

Burns said Energy Education provided her with the technical training to learn, for example, the “ins and outs of the HVAC system.” Her first six months on the job entailed a great deal of technical training and learning about GRCC’s buildings.

She still spends a lot of time on technical tasks, she said, such as adjusting heating and cooling settings to seasonal schedules, academic calendars and special events.

“We concentrate on trying to consolidate building usage only to have things running when we need to,” she said.

“The other part is people-based, just changing the culture of the campus community to turn off the light when they leave the room, turn off computers. It seems so simple, but it’s always a challenge. So it was really changing the way people think about energy on campus. Part of my job is really educating the campus community.”

To do that, Burns attends departmental meetings, works with new staff members, has packets available for adjunct instructors, inserts information into GRCC publications and has a Web site for the campus community.

“There is always something else that can be done,” she added.

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