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By Matt Hughes
LEWISBURG, Pa. — Near the end of the summer, Josh Berliner was working alone in the basement computer lab of Rooke Chemistry Building. He hadn't moved much for a few minutes, and suddenly the lights, triggered by an occupancy sensor, went dark. For some, it might be a minor annoyance, easily rectified with the wave of an arm, but Josh felt a sense of triumph.
"I did that," he thought.
Josh and his twin brother, Zach, both junior environmental studies and economics majors, spearheaded a proposal to install automated motion sensor lighting in more than 25 rooms around campus, including the Rooke computer lab, an effort they estimate will save the University close to $3,500 per year.
The Berliner brothers proposed the project to the Green Fund, a University initiative providing start-up funding for sustainability projects suggested by students, faculty and staff. Starting from an anonymous donor's initial $10,000 gift, the program funds projects that will pay back their startup costs within seven years, with additional savings returned to the fund within that seven-year span. Savings could come in the form of lower water bills, waste removal charges or, as in this case, energy costs. The Berliners estimate their project will pay back its $8,800 price tag in approximately two and a half years, generating a net savings of more than $15,000 over seven years. || Read more: Bucknell hosts Sustainability Symposium.
The lighting sensor project began during the 2012 Summer Session, when an intern placed lighting and occupancy sensors in roughly 150 classrooms and other spaces around campus. Josh and Zach, both members of the Bucknell Environmental Club, got word of the project and volunteered to gather the sensors and interpret the data the devices had collected. That analysis took several months — "It was hundreds and hundreds of pages," Zach said — but in the end they learned where the sensors would be most effective: rooms consistently left unoccupied with the lights on.
"All the initiative was squarely on their shoulders," said John Luthi, director of investments and a member of the Green Fund Committee." Josh and Zach came here with an environmental interest, so for them to actually have an impact is great."
The Berliners estimate they invested more than 100 hours of volunteer work in the project, but emphasized that all energy saving projects need not be so technical or difficult to execute. In the same year, the brothers proposed an additional project: replacing the incandescent lamps illuminating the Bucknell Academic All-Americans Wall outside Kinney Natatorium with LED lights. The brothers said that project took less than two hours to plan, but Campus Energy Manager Stephen Durfee said it will nonetheless save nearly $1,000 per year in energy costs. Over the life of the LED lamps, Bucknell will use 1,135 fewer light bulbs and reduce emissions by 80 metric tons of carbon, he added.
"When that got done, people didn't even notice a difference," Durfee said. "The only people who did know were the custodians, who used to have to climb a 12-foot stepladder almost weekly to replace lamps. They're the ones who are saying, hey, we haven't replaced those lamps yet."
The Berliner brothers said they see more opportunities for greening Bucknell's campus and are currently devising a plan to reduce campus water consumption by replacing fixtures. They also hope to involve additional students in the project through the Environmental Club. The brothers said aiding the Green Fund not only allows them to work towards environmental sustainability, a personal passion for each, but also provides real-world experience with the sorts of projects they hope to oversee after graduation.
"We're not really the types who will go out and protest for environmental causes, but we really like doing projects like these," Zach said. "It's something that people can wrap their heads around."
Luthi said that's exactly what the program hopes to facilitate.
"The Green Fund is there to have them do experiential learning," Luthi said. "To take things outside the classroom and actually see something on campus where they can make a difference."