Crystal Ball: How green?

Fall 2008

We asked Professor Ben Hobbs, chair of Hopkins’ President’s Task Force on Climate Change and the recently appointed Theodore M. & Kay W. Schad Professor in Environmental Management in the Whiting School’s Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, to imagine visiting the Homewood campus in the year 2018. What “green” changes—both visible and behind-the scenes—will be in place?


Many more people will be riding bikes in Baltimore. The city has already established bike lanes on streets near campus and I like to think there’s finally going to be a safe and pleasant way to bike down Charles Street and University Parkway with barriers between car and bicycle traffic. You’ll see bike racks everywhere on campus. I think commuting by bike is an idea people will adapt to fairly quickly—the more cyclists people see, the more it occurs to them that they can do it, too.

The number of hybrid cars available for short-term rental will have grown from the few we have today. They’ll be located across the campus and their ready availability and popularity will make it much less necessary for students to have their own cars. Our parking lots will be half empty and most of the cars you do see will be conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrids, or fueled by natural gas or biofuel.

When you walk around campus, disposable water bottles will be a rarity. People will still carry water bottles, but the refillable kind. That change should happen at Hopkins if for no other reason than out of respect for the legacy of Abel

Wolman—our department’s founder who championed the provision of clean, safe water supplies for everyone.

New ecological landscaping means areas will be planted with low-maintenance grass, leafy plants, and shrubs that require less fertilizing and watering—resulting in decreased water runoff and pollutants entering the Bay.

Enter the buildings—even the older ones and you’ll notice changes. Window replacement and rooms equipped with sensors that automatically douse lights when the spaces are unoccupied will reduce our energy load. Paperless offices will be common, so file cabinets will be a rarity. That will reduce the need to store files and books, resulting in more available space and less construction.

Labs will be equipped with “intelligent” fume hoods that effectively protect users, don’t interfere with laboratory work, and minimize the loss of heated or cooled air. We already have hoods that can be closed, but students and faculty just don’t close them. By 2018, people’s behavior and sensitivity to the environment will have changed enough that they won’t see switching a hood off as an inconvenience.

Some of these changes are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement, but many that will have the greatest impact won’t necessarily be visible and will require large, long-term investments in infrastructure. New HvAC systems will include smarter building and individual room controls, allowing us to keep from overheating and overcooling some rooms while inadequately servicing others. Plans are already under way for a combined heat and power plant that will wring more energy out of the natural gas we burn at Homewood, generate electricity by burning natural gas, and use waste heat to provide space heating and cooling and hot water.

Perhaps most significant, though, is the research we’re generating at Johns Hopkins that will not only lead to changes on the Homewood campus but provide global solutions to climate change. We’re finding ways to derive more energy services from the fossil fuels we have and expand renewable energy production while reducing costs and pollution.