Start Small But Think Big

The world’s appetite for energy is undeniable. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, “[T]otal world consumption of marketed energy is projected to increase by 44 percent from 2006 to 2030.”

Since there is no clear blueprint available for parks and recreation professionals, I asked more than 100 specialists (including parks and recreation professionals, energy-conservation boards, scientists, private- and public-energy groups, environmental committees and university academics) for the top-ten ways a recreation center/community center can conserve energy. The responses were surprising and varied; although each participant did not give ten ideas, most at least offered some insight. After reviewing all the responses, I had over ten viable solutions. Nearly a year and several revisions later, the list now is in its current form. Not wanting to leave anyone out, I included some of the solutions that didn’t quite make the top ten, a “best of the rest.”

Identify Hot Spots

The list contains many recognized and accepted solutions for reducing energy use. For example, remote-control lighting systems are a fast-growing industry within parks and recreation. Greg Watkins, with Skylogix, suggests:

“Like many industries, the parks and recreation industry has its share of lighting requirements, but it also has a type of lighting that few others have … and that is sports lighting. Sports lighting is the most expensive lighting to operate in terms of energy use.” This is due to two unique characteristics:

1) The high wattage and large number of light fixtures required to make the sport surfaces bright enough for play.

2) The lighting, which is not turned on and off on a regular, recurring basis.

Professionals now have the ability to control lighting more precisely and efficiently. This includes for ball fields, restrooms, facilities, walkways and almost any other application imaginable. Instead of leaving to chance that the last player on the field will turn the lights out, let a software program do it for you. Not only will you be able to keep up-to-the-minute data on light usage, but billing for lights will be easier; best of all, light usage in general will be reduced. “Today, having a sophisticated control system for sports lighting is not a luxury item; [it] is becoming a standard practice rather than a special consideration or an exception to the rule,” Watkins adds.

Another possibility to reduce energy consumption includes scheduling programs more efficiently. This requires a consistent shift in thinking and working habits, and is actually more of a lifestyle change. At my house, if there is a remote chance something can be recycled, either it makes its way into the recycle bin, is given another use, is turned over to an unsuspecting friend or is sent to a charity. Five years ago this was not the case, but after seeing the difference I was making, it quickly became a lifestyle change--or as my wife would put it, an obsession. Scheduling programs closer together requires the same mindset. You will have to be conscious of this when making reservations, organizing activities, scheduling staff, and booking events. At first it does require some extra planning, but once you see the reductions, it quickly becomes second-nature and part of everyday thinking.

While it may have been preferable to include all the specialized activities/businesses within a department (pools, water parks, golf courses, gun ranges, skate parks, tennis facilities, stadiums, etc.), covering them adequately would have been nearly impossible. In many respects, this list may not encompass all that you do, but it can be the springboard for dialogue with staff, and to encourage an overall shift in how you do business.

Take The Next Step

Before moving forward with any of these energy-reduction solutions, create a plan or course of action. Follow these steps:

· Take inventory to find out how many of these ideas you currently employ.

· Create a priority list of needed projects.

· Account for available and alternative funding opportunities.

· Develop measurable goals and outcomes.

· Analyze and record data, pre- and post-reductions.

· Determine the major players and stakeholders, and how improvements may affect them.

Before implementing a plan, it is also recommended you consult maintenance personnel. It is likely they will be able to find, and in many cases install, the correct materials for the project. Additionally, maintenance staff may be a good sounding board to determine whether a project is feasible. Lastly, since maintenance personnel usually open and close buildings, keeping them in the loop will only add to the likelihood of a successful energy-reduction plan.

Will these solutions make a difference in operations? By just picking some of the low-hanging fruit (keeping timers current, updating thermostats, and getting staff involved), you should see a difference. If you like what you see, invest in other energy-reduction technologies (room/snack machine occupancy sensors, thermostat lock boxes, remote-control lighting systems). There are numerous “green” grants available to offset the cost of these improvements. Local libraries and a brief internet search will pull up more grants than you can possibly fill out.

Ultimately, it is how the list is used that will determine the benefits. Only by changing the mindset within your workgroup, implementing an energy reduction plan, and staying the course, will you see a marked and consistent improvement in energy consumption. Being somewhat obsessed about it won’t hurt either.

Special thanks to all the individuals, groups and organizations who helped develop this list, particularly: Alice Eastman and the IPRA Environmental Committee; Alan Nogee, Director of the Clean Energy program, UCS; Anne McKibbin, Policy Manager, Midwest Energy Efficiency Alliance: and Jennifer Schafer, President of Cascade Associates.