In Edgar Allen Beem’s story “Zeroing In,” you’ll learn that Bates students are helping Bates conduct its inventory of greenhouse-gas emissions. While working on the story, Beem told me he liked how Bates leaders established a direction and then let students be “vitally involved in carrying out the work.”

Not much has changed over the years. When David Braslau ’84 came to Bates, his first campus job was to organize a disheveled mass of building plans and blueprints for plant engineer Phil Meldrum. But the grunt work didn’t last long.

At the time, Bates was reeling from a surge in energy costs. And while Braslau didn’t arrive with a passion for conservation, he and other students quickly got religion when the Bates fee zoomed from $7,500 in his first year to $9,000 the next. “There was a lot of pressure on the College to control costs,” he recalls. “And people recognized this was an issue you could do something about.”

In fact, a student-faculty group was already pushing energy conservation by the late ’70s; the initiative drew strong institutional support since, as we all know, Bates gets steamed by overpaying for anything. Various conservation efforts included a telephone “Cold Line” letting people report energy issues, from leaking sink stoppers in John Bertram to no hot water in Smith South (caused by too-long showers, the College found).

When the U.S. Department of Energy invited schools and hospitals to apply for conservation grants, Bates really got fired up. And if Bates had been a different kind of place, Meldrum might have assigned a staff assistant to do the grant groundwork. Instead, he created a squad of student “energy auditors.” Braslau and others examined buildings, evaluated energy use, and fed the results into a computer program (a student helped adapt the software to the College’s PRIME system). Their grant proposals won funds for a variety of projects, from storm windows and lighting retrofits to the updating of fume hoods in Dana Chemistry.

One of Braslau’s classmates, Sarah Hammond Creighton ’84, is an expert on colleges and sustainability. Director of the Tufts University Office of Sustainability and co-author of Degrees that Matter: Climate Change and the University, Creighton suggests that Bates’ heritage helps it make smart moves in this arena, whether around conservation in the ’80s or sustainability today. “Bates is not overbuilt,” she says. “Bates focuses on sufficiency — a key to true sustainability.”

David Braslau’s work didn’t end with graduation. He’s now director of engineering for a subsidiary of Constellation Energy. Doing much the same stuff he did for Meldrum, Braslau focuses on energy-saving projects for federal clients. And he still gets a charge from his work. “People here are driven by the feeling that what we do is rewarding,” he says.

Whether it’s Braslau a generation ago or students working on the greenhouse emissions inventory today, Bates is good at what might be called community sustainability, adds Creighton. “The walls at Bates between students and faculty and staff are just a lot lower than at many schools.”

H. Jay Burns, Editor