Allegheny College Recognized by U.S. Department of Energy

Shannon L. Zaret 2010
Pictured (left to right): Kelly Boulton ’02 & Shannon Zaret ’10

It’s not every day that Allegheny College director of sustainability, Kelly Boulton ’02, receives an invitation to meet a cabinet member of the President of the United States. When the request came for her to attend a summit hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy, she was thrilled.  

Boulton attended the event in Washington, D.C., where The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recognized Allegheny College for achieving its energy savings goal as a partner in the Better Buildings Challenge. Allegheny College was one of only four higher education institutions recognized as Better Buildings Challenge 2023 Goal Achievers and among only 21 higher education institutions that have committed to the challenge. 

Held in the famed Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Boulton felt warmly welcomed by some of our nation’s top officials in environmental work. Jennifer Granholm, secretary of energy, and Ali Zaidi, White House national climate advisor (who grew up in Edinboro, PA) talked about setting goals, meeting or exceeding goals, and setting a new goal without pausing for a parade.

Boulton said, “This mimics our approach – we met carbon neutrality in 2020, we’ve met the Better Buildings Challenge efficiency goal, but we’re simply looking forward to how to continue to decarbonize campus, improve efficiency, generate our own electricity, and collaborate locally to increase climate resilience.”

Better Buildings is a DOE initiative designed to drive leadership in energy innovation. Goal achievers are leaders in energy efficiency and stand as examples for their peers. Allegheny College was recognized for achieving energy savings of 22 percent in 10 years by making greater efficiency accomplishments across its building portfolio. 

At the event, Boulton participated in a roundtable which included higher education and governments – municipal, county, state. The discussion centered around the power of partnerships to advance progress and the mutual benefits this work can offer when an approach engages the community and centers equity and justice. Within that roundtable of 20+ people, Allegheny was highlighted because of the attainment of carbon neutrality. 

“That is a huge achievement to those who are also doing this work and to our conveners at the Department of Energy. They wanted to know what we had learned through the achievement of that goal and could share with others to empower their work,” said Boulton. 

After the roundtable, attendees who were “Goal Achievers” were announced, recognized, and pointed to as experts for others in the room still working on their goal – reinforcing the theme that setting, achieving, and doubling down on new goals is the only way institutions will chip away at the massive needs for climate awareness and action.

DOE principal deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, Jeff Marootian said, “Congratulations to the 2023 achievers, who are accelerating innovative solutions to use less energy, reduce emissions, and save money for American families and businesses. We appreciate their dedication and hope more partners can join us as we build our clean energy future. Our Better Buildings Goal Achievers are leaders in their industries—demonstrating that we can reach the nation’s ambitious climate goals if we work together and commit to excellence.” 

Allegheny College embraced the Better Buildings challenge as an opportunity to save energy and improve efficiency across its 1.3 million-square-foot building portfolio. A number of initiatives contributed to reaching the goal, including strategies that involved students, faculty, and staff. Additionally, community and institutional decision-making impacted efforts. 

  • Energy efficiency retrofits including boilers, chillers, lighting, and water fixtures 
  • Behavior changes like Building Automation System scheduling and management, an annual student Energy Challenge, strategically optimizing density of usage in buildings
  • Construction and renovation standards for efficiency, geo-exchange heating and cooling,and controls
  • Integration of sustainability processes and standards into everything from campus policies to job descriptions
  • Completion of an annual greenhouse gas inventory 
  • Adoption of a Climate Action Plan (2009) with the ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2020 which was achieved

“Achieving carbon neutrality in 2020 and exceeding our goal to improve our energy efficiency by 20 percent are simply benchmarks in our longstanding and continuing commitment to modeling sustainable operations,” said President Ron Cole, Ph.D. “We are also celebrating the 50th anniversary of our environmental and sustainability science major this year. Allegheny College will continue to serve as a model for other institutions committing to a sustainable future.” 

The College was the only liberal arts college invited to participate in the kickoff of the Better Buildings Challenge by the Obama Administration in 2011. A nationally recognized leader in sustainability, and carbon neutral since 2020, Allegheny was selected in 2021 to host the “5th World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities”. The College’s top ranked environmental science and sustainability major engages students in interdisciplinary research and ignites their passions for making the world more equitable, just and sustainable. 

For over 20 years, Allegheny College has held sustainability as a core value. In 2002, Allegheny adopted its Environmental Guiding Principles and was a charter signatory with the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. And, in 2020, Second Nature recognized the College as a Carbon Neutral Institution, the eighth higher education institution in the United States to do so. 

Boulton summarized her takeaways of the special day. “Each of us brought successes, challenges, and insights to the table and shared that freely in a ‘culture of good competition.’ I have a lot of following up to do with new contacts at Agnes Scott, Morehouse, City of Providence, Cook County Illinois, Los Angeles Unified School District, and more.

The goal of the Better Buildings Challenge is to model and share our expertise and we’ll all be doing that for each other and drawing on each other in the coming days to supercharge the work that needs to be done. As Ali Zaidi stated, gone are the days where we can spend any time `admiring the problem’ – we need goals, followed by achieving them on time or ahead of time, followed by setting more goals. The federal government is doing this with a goal to use 100% clean energy by 2035 and to be net zero by 2050. They’re looking to us, in all different sectors (manufacturing, housing, education, government, etc) to help them find and model solutions.”

About the Better Building Challenge

The Better Buildings Challenge is one component of the Better Buildings Initiative, through which DOE partners with more than 900 public and private sector organizations to make commercial, public, industrial, and residential buildings more efficient, thereby saving energy and money while creating jobs. Discover more than 3,000 proven efficiency solutions from these partners in the Better Buildings Solution Center.