Conserving Energy and Saving Money

College and university representatives convene in 2010 to assess energy conservation progress.

College and university representatives convene in 2010 to assess energy conservation progress.

In less than five years, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund’s Energy Conservation Initiative has progressed from a modest effort to help small colleges improve their bottom lines to a major effort of the Fund.

The initiative has its roots in a 2008 listening tour, when senior staff heard small college presidents express concern about managing overall costs to keep tuition affordable. In those same conversations, they noted the particular pressures of rising energy costs, as well as students’ interest in environmental issues and sustainability. What if we combined the two, staff thought: using energy conservation as a way to reduce costs and demonstrate environmental responsibility.

Working with consultants, staff learned about the relatively simple, yet strategic, steps colleges and universities can take to manage energy consumption efficiently. The Fund introduced these concepts to eligible college presidents, chief financial officers, facility managers, faculty and students through a series of conferences in spring 2009.

To encourage action, the Fund offered each eligible college a grant of up to $150,000 to collect and analyze energy-use data, adopt campus-wide energy conservation plans and implement campus-wide energy-use policies.

Within four years, using Jessie Ball duPont Fund grant dollars, two dozen small private colleges began campus-wide energy conservation work.

In 2012, the Fund expanded its energy conservation work on a pilot basis to small churches located in the Northern Neck of Virginia. Using the services of a consultant, the Fund conducted energy audits for a dozen churches, after which it made its first grant to retrofit a church.

Based on what it has learned from both efforts, the Fund will explore the feasibility of introducing a similar energy conservation program to community-based nonprofit organizations that own buildings.

Jessie Ball duPont Fund President Sherry Magill calls the work a no-brainer. “These are smart things that any organization can do, with a little education, guidance and start-up capital. And these activities change the way institutions think about managing their resources, and the way staff interacts with one another. And it’s good for the environment. Money well spent.”