Every night, the abandoned rooms in Rockefeller Hall remain brightly lit. This simple fact has sparked the curiosity of Jolyon Bloomfield grad and his fellow members of the Student Assembly Environmental Committee, who have provided research that sheds light on both the financial and environmental ramifications for such an action.
Bloomfield, a graduate Physics student, has surveyed the energy usage of Rockefeller Hall over the course of a week, gathering data that describe the possible cost and energy savings, as well as CO2 emission savings, if the University turned off Rockefeller’s lights each night.
On average, 10 rooms in Rockefeller Hall have lights remaining on each night. By calculating the estimated energy savings and converting them into cost savings, Bloomfield estimated that turning off the lights could save approximately $62 each week and roughly $3,200 over the course of the entire year.
In terms of effects on the environment, 246 kg of excess CO2 are produced each week the lights are kept on in Rockefeller Hall. Although scientists have not agreed on what is an “acceptable” amount of CO2 in the environment, many have agreed that an excess amount — currently around 200 gigatons, and still increasing — can drastically change the Earth’s climate.
To further prove his study, Bloomfield carried out a “lights off” campaign over fall break. He and a group of students from the Environmental Committee set out to “attack” the Arts Quad and Rockefeller Hall at night, shutting off as many lights as they could in an hour. In all, over 600 lights were shut off. Around $3 was saved each hour the lights were off, totaling close to $100 over the nights of fall break.
The study done by Bloomfield is not only applicable to Rockefeller Hall, but also to all other buildings on campus that leave lights on unnecessarily — most buildings on central campus would fall under this category. There are 260 “major” buildings on campus. If only 5 to 10 percent of these buildings — about 20 buildings — waste energy like Rockefeller Hall, then turning off their lights could translate into about $1,215 in savings in one week, $63,180 in a year; and 275 metric tons of CO2 could be saved in a year.
“So, just by turning off the lights in about 20 buildings,” Bloomfield stated in his study, “Cornell could save more than $60,000, and reduce its carbon footprint by almost one percent. Shouldn’t Cornell just be employing undergrads to turn off the lights?”
Bloomfield has proposed that Cornell hire a group of students to spend an hour each night turning off light switches in each building. “Given the number of undergraduate students still on campus in libraries past 10 p.m., I am sure that there will be people willing to do the job,” he stated in an e-mail.
The S.A. Environmental Committee has notified Cornell’s department of Energy Management Program about this issue and has received a positive response. Members of the program would also like to see something done about this issue. However, the department lacks formal funding from the University’s central administration, due to the severe budget issues present, so not much can be done at the moment.
“We think it’s important that we have people in every building connected to energy use, turning lights off, but we don’t have a formal program in use,” said William Joyce, manager of engineering, planning, and energy management. “Years ago, Cornell had watch people who would lock up buildings and turn off the lights.” But for now, it is the sole responsibility of individuals to shut off lights in areas in their direct control.
So, from saving money and creating student employment to reducing carbon footprints and raising environmental awareness, proponents of this study argue that the report's recommended actions could have a great effect on the Cornell community. The S.A. Environmental Committee proposes that this study must be brought to the attention of President David Skorton if there is to be any hope for the project. Bloomfield says that he is hopeful his work will soon get noticed and that University administrators will take action to appropriately address this issue.