Skip to main content

VU Main Campus Energy Efficiency and Conservation Accomplishments

In 2008, the Division of Administration at Vanderbilt formed a three-pronged approach to reducing campus utility usage: improvements in existing buildings needing renovation; efficient systems in new buildings being constructed on campus, and; education of campus occupants in utility-conserving behaviors when using buildings. VU Plant Operations personnel are constantly looking at ways to reduce energy consumption by substituting and matching the most energy efficient products to specific applications.

Power Plant Conversion

Vanderbilt University converted its power plant from using coal as fuel to using only natural gas, saving 25% in greenhouse gas emissions, 2,300 trucks of coal delivered to campus, 105 million pounds of coal burned, and 15 million pounds of coal waste ash produced.

Existing Building Energy Performance Improvements

Plant Operations has improved existing building energy efficiency while also addressing operational deficiencies through updates to existing buildings. These projects include:

  • HVAC Renovations
  • Building automation system upgrades
  • Chiller replacements
  • Lighting retrofit and control
  • Solar photovoltaic system and hot water system installation
  • LED lighting installations
  • Steam and chilled water metering

Energy Efficiency in New Buildings/LEED Certification

Since 2008, Campus Planning and Construction has incorporated energy conserving features in many new buildings and large renovations on main campus that have subsequently been certified as energy efficient under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program of the U.S. Green Building Council. The following buildings are LEED-certified on VU main campus:

Gold: The Commons Center, Stambaugh House, Hank Ingram House, Murray House, Central Library ,The Commons Center 3rd Floor Build-Out, VANTAGE Lab, Warren and Moore Colleges, Alumni Hall, Engineering and Science Building

Silver: Crawford House, Sutherland House, Gillette House, Benson Hall, Library Archives, VRWC Field House

Certified: Chef James Bistro, Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks

Energy Use Behavioral Change Projects

The Sustainability and Environmental Management Office (SEMO) encourages improvement in energy usage behaviors amongst the VU campus community through the ThinkOne energy conservation program. Research indicates that universities can conserve up 10-15% of their utility demand through aggressive educational and behavioral change programs, at very little cost to the university. Thus, SEMO has partnered over the years with a wide variety of departments and groups to design and promote behavioral improvements in the energy use of faculty, staff and students.

A few examples include the following:

  • In 2008, SEMO partnered with the Psychology department and Peabody College in an IRB-approved study to test the effectiveness of energy conservation interventions (feedback, peer education) on staff and faculty in 24 academic buildings on main campus. This year-long project produced 3-9% annual electricity savings for the buildings in the study, and results were published in 2009 as a doctoral dissertation.
  • During the 2008 study, SEMO developed the ThinkOne energy conservation website, to educate VU faculty, staff and students on actions they can take to reduce energy consumption while on campus.
  • In 2009, SEMO worked closely with Dean of Students office and VSG to develop a peer education program for residential students, termed “Eco-Dores.” 34 undergraduate students volunteer each year to act as peer environmental educators for each residence hall on campus, and SEMO supports these volunteers by providing high quality energy conservation education and support in developing outreach activities.
  • In 2010, the Dean of the Commons office chose to include energy conservation as one of five criteria measured during the Commons Cup competition. This year-long project resulted in ~100,000 kwh and $10,000 savings in the 10 Commons Houses and was submitted by two School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt (SSMV) students in the Siemens Corp.’s national “We Can Change the World” competition. The SSMV students finished third out of 24 finalists nationally. They will each receive a $5,000 scholarship and SSMV will receive a $500 grant. Read more…
  • In Spring 2011, Plant Operations and Dean of Students Office agreed with VSG and SPEAR to set aside $75,000 in a “Green Fund” that will fund energy conservation project ideas submitted by VU students. This project has just launched, and the first crop of 24 projects was recently reviewed by the Green Fund Working Group. Three projects were chosen to receive funding: “VU Solar Initiative,” “Lights Out,” and “Green Showers.” Implementation of these projects will occur over Summer 2011, and a new application and funding cycle will commence in Fall 2011.
  • In academic year 2011/2012, plans include expansion of the ThinkOne behavioral change project into VU’s laboratory and research areas as well as partnership with the College of Arts and Sciences in the faculty-based “Year of Sustainability”.
  • In 2012, Vanderbilt Athletics, Waste Management and SEMO began hosting the Athletics Sustainability Competition – “Greenest Group on Campus.” Twice a year, the athletics sustainability competition invites all Vanderbilt groups, teams, departments and campus organizations to compete for the title of “greenest group on campus” by completing an application detailing what sustainable actions their group routinely implements to reduce, reuse or recycle; save energy or water; use mass transit and alternative transportation options; or any other innovative sustainability programs going on within their department or organization.
  • In 2015 The Ingram Commons, in partnership with the Sustainability and Environmental Management Office and the School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt hosted the first annual Commons Unplugged environmental awareness week. Commons Unplugged celebrates sustainability, natural resource conservation and energy conservation through various events focusing on Vanderbilt’s first-year student population.
  • Since 2017, a collaborative project with the Sustainability and Environmental Management Office (SEMO), Vanderbilt Law School, and Owen Graduate School of Management has been researching fume hood use in laboratories on campus to determine what behavioral interventions produce the most energy-saving behaviors in the lab. Each fume hood uses the same amount of energy as a hoe and VU has over 800 fume hoods. The study has shown that various behavioral interventions such as incentives and competition have a beneficial impact on how often fume hoods were closed.