A Day in the Life: Seeley G. Mudd Library

Jessica Vogt

12:20 p.m. Welcome to the Seeley G. Mudd Library. Home of all the books, musical scores, periodicals, movies and music you can check out and check in and use over and over and over again. What can be wrong with this, you think?
You are right in thinking that a building with loads of books that everyone shares makes a lot of sense from a sustainability standpoint; sharing and reusing resources is one of the fundamental tenets of a “green” society.
However, let us instead take a look at the library building itself, as an example of buildings all over campus and beyond. There are several things we can examine: lighting, energy use and heating and cooling efficiency.
The light use in the building, like many public buildings, is disproportionate to the number of people in the building at any given time. A walking survey of the library around 9 p.m. during midterms — one of its busiest times — yielded only 146 non-employees in the library, and almost every single light on, including all lights in the (women’s) restrooms, even when no one was in them.
Furthermore, many of the lights in the library are routinely left on all night, a practice that is extremely wasteful considering no one is in the library from 1 a.m. to 8 a.m. every morning.
But leaving lights on all night is nearly standard in most commercial buildings. Lighting is responsible for about 13 percent of the energy used in commercial buildings. During the day, most of these lights are needed, especially for interior, windowless offices. But at night, none of these lights is needed, but remain on.
Why? Common reasons include security and cleaning crews. But does having all the lights on all night really improve security? And do these offices have cleaning crews working on all floors all night long? No.
And there are alarms, sensors and many other methods of security that are more effective than leaving all the lights on. For most of us, it has become common sense to turn off the lights when we are leaving a room, to save on energy costs. But apparently this sense has not pervaded corporate America.
About a month ago, the city of San Francisco began to consider a ban on after-hours lighting use in large corporate buildings. Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin proposed a system of per-floor fines for lights left on: $50 for a first offense, $100 for a second and $250 per floor after that.
Initiatives like this could drastically change our cities’ skylines at night, but would make huge differences in energy conservation.
Energy is used in more than simply the lighting of buildings, however. Computers also use a large amount of energy inside buildings that are, like lights, often left on all night. Turning off computers and unplugging power strips at night can save an estimated $100 per computer per year, a substantial savings when you count the number of computers in campus buildings — not to mention student laptops on all night in the dorms. To my knowledge and observation, computers in the library are not turned off at night.
Heating and cooling efficiency is the final aspect of building “greenness” I will discuss this week. Fifty percent of the energy used in commercial buildings is for cooling and heating the building. These systems are often not the most efficient possible because they are old and poorly maintained, and if the building has not been constructed well, huge energy loss is incurred.
What’s more, buildings are often over-cooled in the summer. Air conditioning is rarely critical in Wisconsin, and as it releases refrigerants into the atmosphere, over-cooling of buildings contributes unnecessarily to global warming. Furthermore, in non-residential buildings, it is not necessary to run heating or cooling systems 24 hours a day. Cutting back during the six or seven hours a day no one is in the library would cut energy cost by 15 % or more.
So, as a student, what can you do? Well, turn off that light when you leave the Library bathroom, for starters. Turn off the computer in the Library if you leave late at night. And during daylight, go do homework in places with sufficient natural light to prevent the need of artificial light. The Underground Coffeehouse and Riverview Lounge both have lovely windows with natural light and views of the river.
Plus, the Grill’s always right there for when you get hungry. But, uh-oh, what should you eat to be “green”?
Sources: EnergyStar.gov, BalancedScorecard.org, San Francisco Chronicle