Americans seemingly love their air-conditioning. While countries like Japan have set standards for indoor air temperature at comparatively balmy levels (82 degrees F or 28 degrees C), many in the United States scoff at not being able to crank up the AC. However, all of the electricity required to cool massive amounts of hot air comes at a price, both economic and environmental.
More often than not, air conditioning usage is highest during the middle of the day, the peak hours of consumption. These times require more energy and many utilities charge more for this electricity as compared to off-peak, such as late night. In addition, in order to generate this electricity, coal and nuclear are two of the most reliable sources of energy, but both fraught with environmental concerns.
With all of this in mind, Emory University’s (in Atlanta, GA) new policy for heating and cooling offices, classrooms, and common spaces – which was implemented on July 1st of this year – sets a new precedent. While it is not necessarily the first organization in the US to mandate specific temperature ranges, it has led in overall sustainability efforts.
According an article in the Emory Report, July 1st marked the implementation of “a significant new means for the University to achieve its energy reduction goals and support its sustainability initiatives by managing the temperature settings in office spaces and public and common areas in many campus buildings. Emory clinics, research, special use and lab buildings will be exempted.” The moves are anticipated “to contribute toward Emory’s goal of reducing overall energy consumption by 25 percent per square foot by 2015.” Ciannat Howett, director of the Office of Sustainability Initiatives, was quoted as saying that the University has already achieved a reduction of more than 15% in its energy consumption.
An earlier article in the Emory Report included some of the policy’s specifics:
- During the cooling season, temperatures will be set at 76° (+/- 2°); and relative humidity no more than 60 percent.
- During the heating season, temperatures will be set at 68° (+/- 2°).
Over the holidays last year, Emory made a show of the impact reducing the thermostat could have. The University saved nearly $30,000 and “as much energy as used by 24 typical American houses for one year (12,733kWh/house/year).” In addition, it “reduced emissions of CO2 equivalent to taking 57 vehicles off the road for a year (11,260lb CO2/vehicle/year).”
As an example of the intersection of economic, environmental, and social components of sustainability, Emory University saved “almost $33,000 by reducing its energy consumption during the Haiti Relief Energy Conservation Challenge, a partnership between the Emory Global Health Institute and the Emory Sustainability Initiatives. Faculty, students, and staff across campus reduced their energy consumption this March by 4 percent from the previous March, with the goal of using the energy funds saved to sponsor Emory students working on global health and earthquake relief efforts in Haiti this summer.” The combination of energy savings, economics savings, and charitable giving demonstrates how sustainable ventures can bring together all three aspects of sustainability.