Colleges, universities could lead communities in energy-efficient sustainability projects

Feb 27, 2015

North Central College President Dr. Troy D. Hammond delivered a TEDx talk about how colleges and universities could lead communities in adopting cost-saving, energy-efficiency projects.

Hammond was the final presenter Feb. 13 at the inaugural TEDxNorthCentralCollege event. Topics were inspired by the theme “Changing the World for Good.” The message of his talk, “Sustainability: Why Universities Can Lead by Example,” was that colleges, universities and nonprofits across the country are uniquely positioned to become leaders in sustainability initiatives by self-financing projects using money borrowed from their endowments.

Prior to becoming president of North Central College in early 2013 Hammond was president of the Chicago-based energy services business  BlueStar Energy, where he led projects to provide commercial, industrial and institutional customers with energy-efficiency services. He struggled to understand why customers rejected proposals that would pay for themselves over time and help the environment by reducing energy consumption.

“Often these projects wouldn’t happen for one or more of three reasons: time, expertise and dollars,” Hammond said.

Business owners lacked confidence that they would be around to experience the full upside of energy-efficiency projects, even those that would pay for themselves in as little as five years, Hammond said. Lack of expertise meant owners doubted cost savings would ever be truly realized. Financing was another obstacle, as available funds were often earmarked for other more-pressing needs.

But colleges like North Central are positioned to overcome those three challenges, Hammond said.

“A college like North Central has the time horizon to experience the full upside and benefit of energy efficiency projects. On a campus like North Central we have the expertise to evaluate these projects, to assess the science behind the technology, to model the energy, to evaluate the financials, to verify the math,” Hammond said.

He explained in his TEDx talk how over the past year North Central College has invested $250,000 of its endowment to replace old metal-halide and fluorescent lighting with highly energy-efficient LED technology in its basketball arena, indoor track and field facility, pool area, a residence hall and student activities center.

“Over the next five years we will pay back the endowment and from then on the savings will go straight to helping our operating budget,” Hammond said.

The College expects the lighting projects will reduce electricity consumption by 1 million total kilowatt hours annually, the equivalent of almost 100 households or taking 150 vehicles off the road, Hammond said.

“Our endowment wins, our operating budget wins, the environment wins and our students win,” he said.

If all the country’s more than 4,000 colleges and universities followed in North Central’s carbon footsteps and invested in sustainability projects, the impact could be the equivalent of offsetting the energy consumption of a large U.S. city.

“The good news is there are a few institutions that are already starting to utilize endowment-based green funds,” Hammond said. “It’s my hope that rationale will resonate broadly and spark action, changing the world for good.”

Hammond holds a Ph.D. in experimental atomic physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He holds 47 worldwide patents and patent applications representing 11 unique inventions and has published extensively about physics, nanotechnology, polymer electronics, solar power and other energy technologies. He earned a B.S. in mathematics from Milligan College and a B.S. in physics from Georgia Tech.

TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers topics ranging from science to business to global issues. Independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.