Sustainable Greenhouses & Growth Chambers

The 146 greenhouses and 125 plant growth chambers managed by Cornell AES are vital for research and teaching. Yet they often use large amounts of energy. Cornell AES has taken on the challenge, to boost energy efficiency and sustainability while cutting costs and maintaining or improving the growing environment - not only for today, but with the flexibility to incorporate yet better ways to be more sustainable in the future.

Reuse & Recycle: Greenhouse Plastics

In support of the 300-400 research projects housed in our plant growth facilities, staff and researchers use tens of thousands of polypropylene pots and trays every year. Whenever possible, they are sterilized and reused. Those past their prime are recycled, finding new life as ice scrapers, rakes, brooms and the like. Special polypropylene collection bins are located at six greenhouses around campus. Even pesticide containers don't have to be tossed anymore, as they have their separate cleaning and collection system.

Program partners: R5 Operations, and the SHEM Committee.

Efficient Lighting and Control Systems

Three quarter of the greenhouses we manage now have fully automated control systems. These state-of-the-art controls are finely tuned by our operations staff to precisely control lights, vents, fans, heaters and shade curtains. Plant productivity is maximized while energy consumption is minimized.

For example, if ample sunlight is streaming into a greenhouse, growth lights will now shut off automatically. Heating and cooling are properly coordinated to save energy. The system is accessible through centralized computers and smartphones, providing the ability to remotely adjust set points, document greenhouse environmental conditions, and enable remote alarm capabilities.

Lighting technology continues to evolve rapidly. As new technologies becomes available, we strive to systematically upgrade lighting across plant growth facilities — further maximizing energy savings and assuring superior growing conditions.

The combined savings from recent greenhouse upgrades, coupled with conscientious staff oversight, are huge: greenhouse energy consumption has been reduced by about 35%.

Project partners include CALS Facilities and Facilities and Campus Services (FCS).