GRCC tops 15 million in energy savings

Grand Rapids Community College has saved more than $1.5 million dollars in utilities in the first 27 months of the Energy Conservation Program and ongoing partnership with Energy Education Inc.

The savings, announced last week, has resulted in an environmental impact equivalent to 1,415 cars removed from the road, 201,633 tree seedlings grown for 10 years, or 7,884 tons of carbon dioxide emitted.

“It’s crucial that we keep utilities in check and utilize our learning spaces in the most efficient ways possible,” said Dorothy Sadony, energy manager. “We can’t afford to see our costs continue to climb year after year. We are also diligently working to decrease our carbon emissions and become a more carbon neutral campus.”

“Steps like turning off lights in a room when not in use or unplugging unused electronic devices does save energy, which saves our college money. It’s that simple,” said Grand Rapids Community College President Dr. Steven C. Ender. “This is a clear example of how GRCC is working hard on the value of sustainability, using our resources in responsible ways to achieve balance among our social, economic and environmental practices and policies.”

“We are not trying to make anyone feel uncomfortable; we’re just asking everyone to be better stewards of our environment,” continued Sadony. “In a world of constrained natural resources, the case for environmental stewardship grows stronger every day. The program is a money-saving, earth-friendly choice. Reducing pollution and greenhouse gases is simply the right thing to do.”

“‘It’s a continuing process,” Sadony told the Business Journal earlier this year. “People always ask me, ‘Have you saved anything you can?’ and no, 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, which 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 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 from Energy Education staff 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 to have things running only when we need to,” she said.

“The other part is people-based, just changing the culture of the campus community to turn off the lights when you 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 the large force of adjunct instructors, inserts information into GRCC publications and has a website available for the campus community.

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

For more information on GRCC’s Energy Program, go to

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