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Furman energy efficiency grant fuels savings for local nonprofits

Miracle Hill’s Director of Facilities Tony McJunkin and Professor Wes Dripps

Donating money wisely is easier said than done. That was the basic tenet behind an $80,000 gift given to Furman University in spring 2015 by an anonymous donor. The donation was earmarked to help make several nonprofit organizations in Greenville more energy efficient. A staunch advocate of energy conservation, the donor chose Furman owing to the University’s reputation for environmental and community involvement.

Having observed that many nonprofits waste a considerable fraction of their revenue in energy consumption, the donor reasoned that reducing these costs would not only reduce overall pollution, but the energy savings realized would free up more funds to devote to the organizations’ core missions. It was a win-win marriage of good environmental stewardship and sound financial practices.

The Chair and Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Weston Dripps, Ph.D., who recently assumed the duties of executive director of the Shi Center for Sustainability, thought the project was a perfect fit for the students in his Engaged Living Environmental Community of Students (ECOS) program. “The focus on energy efficiency was an awesome opportunity for the students to have real-world experience,” Dr. Dripps explains. “My goal was to guide the students through the entire process, from identifying the different possible energy-saving opportunities to assessing, selecting, and funding the actual implementation of the chosen energy-efficiency projects.”

When the 14 ECOS students began their freshman year in September 2015, three NGOs has already been chosen to receive the funds: Project Host, Miracle Hill Ministries, and the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. The students were divided into three groups, each assigned to one of the nonprofits.

Dr. Dripps hired a professional energy auditor to gather data about the energy needs of each organization. The students then reviewed the data and decided which specific energy projects the grant money would fund. Ultimately, they settled on a new solar array for the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, a new HVAC system and programmable thermostats for Project Host, and new energy-efficient lighting for Miracle Hill Ministries.

“What sparked our desire to participate in the Furman grant program was that it’s right in line with our seventh principle,” says Cathy Jaggars, President of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship’s Board of Trustees. That principle acknowledges that humans are part of the interdependent web of all living things and, as such, must be good stewards of the earth’s resources.

Former Furman professor Frank Powell, a longtime member of the congregation, shepherded the church through the application process. With an $18,000 grant from Furman and a $16,000 rebate from Duke Energy, the project will not cost the Fellowship any money, but the array—put in by Greer-based Sunstore Solar Energy Solutions—will generate savings of $1,800 a year. “That is money we can use to expand our social-justice programs,” Jaggars states.

A soup kitchen that provides meals for more than 100,000 adults and children annually in downtown Greenville, Project Host was limping along with a decrepit 20-year-old HVAC system. “We were looking for funds to replace our old system, and this grant came out of the blue,” reports Sally Green, the executive director for Project Host. “The grant frees up funds that can go directly into providing food [Project Host’s biggest budget line item] for hungry people in our community,” Green continues. “The new HVAC system will keep a lot of volunteers cool this summer!”

Miracle Hill Ministries was looking to lower their energy costs by upgrading the original lighting in their Greenville Rescue Mission. They expect to save $24,000 a year with the new energy-efficient LED lights recently installed by Net Zero Lighting. “We have a very large ministry,” says Miracle Hill’s Director of Facilities Tony McJunkin. “So every dollar we can save can be put into the community to help people get their lives back on track.”

With the funds now awarded, work on all three projects is slated to be completed by the end of the summer. This fall, Dr. Dripps will reconvene the students to see the results of their efforts. At the end of the 2017 academic year, the students will review the data provided to the university by each NGO, in order to assess how much money each organization is saving and how that money is being spent.

“Non-profits typically run on very tight budgets,” notes Dr. Dripps. “Finding ways to help them save money in the long run by cutting energy costs while also helping reduce their environmental footprints, and then having funds to help these savings be realized, was extremely rewarding. We are extremely appreciative of the anonymous donor who provided the funding to make these projects a reality and a true learning experience for the students.”

Learn more about Furman’s Environmental Community of Students.

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