A Sustainable Future

Posted by: Chad Cianfrani, Head of School on Thursday, August 22, 2019 at 12:00:00 am
Photo: Chad Cianfrani at the dedication of the campus solar array

As a young child, I distinctly remember my father following me around the house turning lights off. By the age of seven, I could rattle off utility cost per kWh and the estimated lifecycle of the various incandescent bulbs illuminating our home. Whether it was getting produce from a modest home garden, heating our living room with a wood-burning stove, or having the entire house dark except the room currently occupied; there seemed to be an intersection between what is sustainable, what is good for the environment, and what yields measurable cost savings.

Over the past five years Oakwood has undertaken several initiatives focused on environmental stewardship. Some of the projects were small in nature, while others were large in scope and vision. In weighing environmental impact and return-on-investment, we have deployed our finite resources, both human and financial, with an eye towards a more sustainable future.

Entering its fourth year of production, the Oakwood solar array has generated over 2.25 GWh of energy to date; an equivalent offset to the greenhouse gas emissions from over 340 cars or CO2 emissions from 90 homes annually. Entering into a multi-year purchase agreement, and with no initial cash outlay, Oakwood produces and offsets our annual electrical consumption and has secured known electricity costs for the next two decades. Sized to produce over 100% of our annual consumption, Oakwood receives cash rebates for excess production. The production also provides future capacity for new initiatives such as an electric vehicle program.

Faculty Vehicle Charging in front of Main Building
Faculty Vehicle Charging in front of Main Building

Related to electric vehicle usage, Oakwood received grants this spring through the ‘Charge Ready NY’ program. At no cost, we were able to receive and install two dual-port stations, one located in front of Main building and one behind Turner Math and Science Building. Oakwood now has fast, reliable charging for several community vehicles and capacity for the addition of an Oakwood electric vehicles fleet. With running costs less than half of traditional gas-powered vehicles, installations of this nature help green the campus while reducing annual fuel expense.

In support of our sustainable gardening initiatives, Oakwood was honored to receive a $50,000 grant this spring from The Meeting School in New Hampshire. Founded in 1957 and closed in 2011, The Meeting School was a community-based Quaker school located on a working organic farm. Funds spent over the next several years will help honor the Meeting School’s multi-decade commitment to sustainable practices. In phase one, this grant will help expand our greenhouse production, increase the number of garden plots and variety of plants, support faculty professional development, expand our composting program and enrich our curriculum.

Multiple small projects and initiatives over the last several years have also supported Oakwood’s commitment to sustainable practices. Beginning in 2014, oil-burning heating systems were converted to higher-efficiency and cleaner natural gas systems. An energy audit coupled with several NY State incentives allowed for cost-effective replacement of campus lighting and the installation of new HVAC control and circulation systems. Window replacements and several insulation upgrades provided further efficiency gains and helped keep the dorms toasty warm. 

The aggregate of these projects, large and small, have impacted both our carbon footprint and our annual expense line, yielding over $130,000 in annual utility savings.   We may not be following students around turning lights off behind them, but we are taking positive steps towards a cleaner, more sustainable Oakwood.