Logan Widmor expected his college experience to involve a busy, lively campus. Attending a high school near a college, he remembers the “bustling” streets near the campus.

However, when Widmor came to campus during Phase Two of Ohio University’s reopening, he saw fewer students on campus than he was anticipating.

“When I am walking to get lunch and dinner every day, I don't really see that many people,” Widmor, a freshman studying media arts and studies, said.

OU invited about 7,200 students, representing approximately 31% of Athens campus undergraduate enrollment and 100% of Athens-based graduate enrollment, to campus for Phase Two. The effects of this reduced student presence on campus have been wide-ranging; one observable change has been in OU’s energy use.

From March to September 2020, 503,012 MMBtu were used to provide electricity, heating and cooling to campus. From March to September 2019, this number was 604,727 MMBtu. After adjusting for weather, this was a 14% decrease in energy usage during the pandemic, Elaine Goetz, director of energy management and sustainability at OU, said.

“(Along with energy) water usage and waste generation have also decreased, and, of course, carbon emissions have decreased,” Goetz said in an email. “I also hear that there is an increase in biodiversity on campus too, with animals that avoid humans repopulating campus.”

Widmor echoed this sentiment. He has heard a few stories about wildlife appearing near people on campus. Widmor experienced this phenomenon himself when he recently saw a deer around Alden Library, near College Green.

Despite these seemingly positive environmental changes, Goetz emphasized that they are short-term and in no way sustainable.

“Sustainability is the capacity to simultaneously benefit people, the planet and prosperity, now and in the future,” Goetz said in an email. “COVID-19 does not benefit the health or wellbeing of people or the economic prosperity of most, and the majority of environmental benefits associated with COVID-19 are short-term and of limited scope.”

One effect of COVID-19 on the university that does not benefit people or prosperity is layoffs. The impacts of the pandemic, including a lack of students on campus, coupled with a budget crisis, led to significant layoffs of OU faculty and staff. In May of 2020, OU issued lay-off notices to 140 employees, according to a previous Post report. Many of these employees worked as culinary staff, custodians and maintenance personnel.

People who are still employed at OU have had to adapt to procedural changes in their operations due to the pandemic. Dining halls have shifted to a to-go format. Seeking to reduce the potential waste of to-go containers, OU provides reusable containers for students to take their food in.

“Each student on a meal plan received a free reusable container which we fill with food and then they bring back,” Rich Neumann, director of Culinary Services at OU, said in an email.

The reusable takeout containers have proven to be a successful venture in sustainability at OU.

“The latest count is that 99.8% of all meals are served in a reusable container,” Neumann said in an email. “As a result, we have prevented over 44,000 single-use containers from going to a landfill.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to OU. With a reduced number of students on campus, the university has been using less energy and generating less waste. However, these changes are temporary.

“Once more students come back in Jan., energy usage will increase, although it is difficult to predict how much,” Goetz said in an email.