New campus energy reduction grants power big savings

Campus Sustainability Office, Student Intern September 21, 2022
Students pass Goldwin-Smith Hall on the Arts Quad
Spring 2022 grants will allow several buildings on campus to replace their lighting with more sustainable alternatives.

This fall, three teams across Cornell are implementing new energy efficiency upgrades in classrooms, residential spaces, and shared office locations with the help of campus energy reduction mini-grants from the Campus Sustainability Office and Energy & Sustainability Department.  

The grants program allows staff to apply for up to $1,000 in funding for an upgrade or project with demonstrable campus energy savings. The first round of applications received 15 proposals from 14 departments and residential communities. 

“These projects could realize an energy saving upwards of 60% a year,” said Mark Howe, Director of Utilities Distribution and Energy Management. 

Mark leads the campus-wide Energy Conservation Initiative which has been in operation for 22 years and will continue to tackle larger-scale projects for campus energy savings.

The ECI program has achieved $61 million in savings to date and reduced 270,044 MTCO2e, about 1.8X the annual emissions for the entire Cornell campus annually. 

The projects will allow three teams on campus to improve lighting and building controls. Lighting improvements include switching from traditional bulbs to efficient LEDs. 

Not only are LEDs at least 20% percent more efficient than fluorescent bulbs and last an average of two to four times longer, but they’re also cost-effective. Kimberly Anderson, the sustainability engagement coordinator in the Campus Sustainability Office, noted the projects could also lead to hundreds of dollars in cost savings annually. 

“The grants program is a way to empower staff, faculty, and student teams across campus to identify opportunities for energy savings on the ground and quickly deploy solutions,” she said. 

“Making a change that seems small like updating lighting will have a positive impact on so many aspects of our work and our wellbeing. Without the mini-grant opportunity, this would not have occurred,” said the CU Wellness Center Assistant Director Ruth Merle-Doyle, whose team is replacing light fixtures in Helen Newman Hall. 

“Allowing our community to advance energy efficiency projects is critical as we enter the next phase of work to reach campus carbon neutrality goal by 2035. Every small energy improvement matters,” said Sarah Carson, director of the Campus Sustainability Office. 

The grants were originally for up to $1000, but each of the projects will exceed that amount. One of the highest costs for energy reduction projects is labor: Cornell is required to work with union labor for electrical and other operational change work.  

Although only three projects received the grants, the program led to other energy conservation possibilities. Sage House, for example, will have a comprehensive energy study completed in FY 2024 to assess options based on ideas submitted by the team. The three recipients and their funded projects for Spring 2022 are listed below.

2022 Campus Energy Mini-Grant Winners

Classroom Occupancy Sensors, Hollister Hall 

Engineers for a Sustainable World, College of Engineering Facilities Manager 

The team plans to install occupancy sensors in Hollister Hall’s B14 lecture hall, reducing the amount of time that the lights remain on while the room is unoccupied. 

$1000 / 20-30% lighting energy savings 


LED Lighting Replacements, Helen Newman Hall 

Cornell Wellness, Recreational Services Department 

46 fluorescent light bulbs will be replaced with LED lighting for 23 fixtures on Helen Newman’s third floor. The replacement bulbs will extend the material lifespan by seven to eight years. 

$2000 / $200 savings per year  


LED Lighting Replacements, Ecology House 

EcoHouse residents and staff 

Fluorescent lighting will be replaced with LEDs in the hallways and common areas over winter break. While the team's initial project proposal was limited to a single area, the program enabled exploration to expand the lighting upgrades to other areas of the building. 

$2000 /  $400 savings per year

This story was written by Katrien de Waard '24, Sustainability Communications Specialist in the Campus Sustainability Office.