Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Winslow the Turtle

I would first like to thank Professor Daley for offering alumni the opportunity to participate in naming the turtles. After much deliberation I have decided our new creature in the Environmental Science class should be named Winslow. This name fits because of the connection to Lasell and the fact it is such an awesome name.

The Winslow name is connected to Lasell College because of Guy Winslow and his son Dr. Donald Winslow. Guy Winslow career at Lasell began in 1898 when he was first a science teacher and ended in 1947 when he retired as the President. Most notably, in 1908 Mr. Winslow purchased the school from Dr. Charles Bragdon in 1908, thus becoming the Principal and President of Lasell from 1908-1947. Dr. Donald Winslow has been a Trustee of Lasell since 1959 as well as the schools resident historian and Archivist and lives on Maple St., only a quick walk from campus. Lasell College will forever be indebted to the Winslow family for their dedication and service to furthering the education of students on Lasell's campus.

It is this reason I believe the unnamed turtle should be named Winslow. Students and visitors to the Environmental Science class will be reminded of the Winslow family's dedication to Lasell College. Congrats to Prof. Daley and the Environmental Science students and staff for moving Lasell towards going green.

Happy Holidays to all!

Kevin Lawson

Lasell College '08

Monday, December 8, 2008

Food Waste 2008

Compared to food waste in 2007 Lasell College students reduced food waste per person by 45% to reach an average of 0.18 lbs per person in 2008. This is great! A huge reduction in just one year. What has led to this change? Are students more cognizant of their foodprint? Are students making comments to their friends about food waste? Did last year's food waste audit leave a huge impression?

Most likely the reduction in food waste we have realized is due to the incorporation of trayless dining. Although a slight inconvenience, trayless dining is proving to have a tangible impact. Trayless dining helps reduce food waste as students can no longer pile on the food. In addition, trayless dining is leading to a reduction in energy usage as hot water is no longer needed to wash as many trays. Trayless dining also requires less soap and water to clean trays. Aramark has estimated that each tray takes 1/3 to 1/2 gallon to wash. We have not been able to completely eliminate trays at Lasell as they are still needed to carry dirty dishes on the conveyor but we have realized a significant reduction as students pile dishes on trays already on the conveyor belt.

How do we stack up compared to other colleges? Through our trayless dining program we are right up there with the best of them. Although I haven't had a chance to verify the data, eco-reps at University of Vermont report the following, with my addition of Lasell:

It is fantastic to see Lasell College ahead of some very environmentally aware campuses such as Oregon and UVM. Dropping from 0.33 lbs per person to 0.18 lbs per person is a great accomplishment. We should not get complacent and we should continue to set food waste reduction goals. But, for the moment, we should step back and celebrate the progress we have made.

Friday, December 5, 2008

How the Grinch Sustained Christmas

Now that the harvest celebration is over we move into the period of mass consumption collectively known as the holidays. College students love this period as it provides a socially acceptable mechanism to deck out their rooms with strings of 2.5 volt incandescent lights. I must say that I'm not completely innocent. I did the same thing as an undergraduate.

Take a look at Lasell College residence hall electricity use in the 2007 academic year.

December electricity consumption rivaled October in the residence halls despite the fact that the college was closed for a third of the month. Per day of open school, residence halls used about 5,900 kWh in October compared to 8,800 kWh in December. Can this be explained by holiday lighting?

Probably not. More likely this is due to the loss of daylight savings time and the return of darkness at 4:30 P.M. But still there must be some impact of holiday lighting on our carbon footprint. Let's play with some numbers.

A 50 bulb string of mini lights consumes about 25 watts. If we assume a college student turns the lights on at 6 P.M. and off at midnight the lights are run for 6 hours per day. Let's also assume the student installs the lights on December 1st and takes them down when they leave for break on December 21st. During this period of time a string of lights will consume 3 kWh. Not a huge number.

Now let's scale up a bit. If a student is going to put up lighting they probably have at least 2 strings of light so now we are at 6 kWh per room. Now let's say that 250 rooms put lighting up. Now we are at 1500 kWh of electricity which has a carbon footprint of 2700 lbs. I'm probably quite conservative in my estimate as I know some of the suites will run hundreds of bulbs.

As Lasell College strives to reduce carbon emissions should we ban holiday lighting? If I am in the right ballpark with my assumptions then holiday lighting accounts for only about 0.04% of our annual electricity consumption. This is probably a battle not worth fighting as the impact just isn't there. Students would line up and protest outside my office door if we banned holiday lights. Although I'd actually be kind of excited about seeing a spark of student activism.

A ban isn't necessary as there is a new option to reduce the environmental impact of holiday lighting that we need to promote. LED lights are now available that use only about 4 watts. If we allowed holiday lighting but convinced students to purchase LED lights rather than incandescents we would reduce our carbon footprint from 2700 lbs down to 432 lbs which is over an 80% savings. The unfortunate thing right now is the cost. College students have no money and a sting of LED lights costs much more than a string of overstocked incandescent lights. Hopefully by the next holiday season the price of LED lights will come down and all new purchases of holiday lighting will be of this energy saving variety.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Go Green RA RA RA!

Last week two residential assistants in McClelland Hall approached me and asked if I could help support an event in their dorm. They wanted to host an event in honor of America Recycles Day and asked if I could address student about recycling issues and the recycling program on campus. I was thrilled to see students taking initiative to help grow our green culture and agreed to support their efforts. On Wednesday night I will be addressing a group of students about the importance of recycling and the impact individual Lasell College students can have. Great job Rebecca and Rizwan! I hope other campus leaders follow your example and develop creative programming to continue to expand the green culture at Lasell.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Gobble Gobble Gobble

I've been trying to encourage students in my Environmental Science class at Lasell College to think more about their food. I not only want students to have a better understanding of the source of their food but also of the amount of energy that went into producing that food. Local food is an idea I have been working with students to consider as part of their foodprint and Thanksgiving provides an interesting opportunity to apply this concept particularly as the meal occured here in Massachusetts.

Almost all food consumed in early colonial times was local. With the exception of a few spices that may have been transported on ships most of the food was of local origin. So what was on the original menu? Not potatoes, not pumpkin pie, not cranberry sauce, and maybe not even turkey as Karla Reed points out. Sugar was not available for cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie and potatoes were unheard of. So what did these true locavores eat?
  • Wild fowl
  • Pumpkin
  • Squash
  • Fish
  • Lobsters
  • Eel
  • Mussels
  • Oysters
  • Corn
  • Parsnips
  • Collards
  • Turnips
  • Spinach
  • Onions
  • Dried Beans
  • Dried Blueberries
  • Grapes
  • Nuts
Thanksgiving was originally a harvest celebration. As you sit down for your meal this year consider what has been harvested locally. Hopefully at least the squash is coming from a local farm. Is it right that we celebrate food that was harvested 3000 miles away?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Dumpster Dive

I am proud to say that this morning I went dumpster diving. I did not physically dive into a giant 30 yarder but I did loot through a giant pile of trash. As I fumbled on my way to to the car this morning with the boy in one arm and his lunch in the other I noticed a huge mound of trash. In this mountain of trash on the side of this Cambridge street there was a suitcase. Someone was throwing out this perfectly beat up suitcase even though Professor Athey and the students heading to Mexico could use it? I quickly threw my son into his car seat and ran over to the trash pile to claim the suitcase before anyone could beat me to it. What joy when I discoved a second suitcase in the trash pile under my first dumpster dive prize. Quickly I realized how dumpster diving can get addicting. I felt great all morning. Not only was I able to bring in two more suitcases for the Mexico service-learning trip but I rescued two suitcases destined for the landfill.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tangible Actions

The Lasell College Environmental Sustainability Committee met again today. We had some very interesting discussion regarding campus recycling. We also made a decision on the tangible actions we want to implement as part of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment.

The discussion regarding single stream vs. dual stream recycling was very interesting. It was pointed out that a single stream system would probably increase recycling rates, decrease costs, and be easier to implement. This makes it seem straightforward. However if the entire life cycle analysis is considered, the dual stream system may be the better choice for the environment as the quality of the product from the plant may be higher. But then again the dual stream system may require more truck trips to campus. After debating the merits of both systems the committee acknowledged that whichever system we choose we need to launch a major education campaign. Our next meeting will focus on creating a campaign that we will launch at the start of the spring semester. It is going to be huge so watch out!

It was a very productive meeting as we were also able to come to a consensus on which two tangible actions steps we will implement as part of the ACUPCC. In signing the ACUPCC, President Alexander agreed Lasell would commit to at least two short term greenhouse reduction actions. We decided Lasell College will:
-Adopt an energy-efficient appliance purchasing policy requiring purchase of ENERGY STAR certified products in all areas for which such ratings exist.
-Participate in the Waste Minimization component of the national RecycleMania competition, and adopt 3 or more associated measures to reduce waste.

Again the discussion was very interesting. We seriously considered choosing an action to adopt a new construction policy requiring that new buildings meet at least LEED silver standards. Although we chose two other action items we may look closely at LEED standards during the spring semester. To make an informed decision we would need a representative from the green building industry to educate the committee on the standards and the associated costs and benefits.

I'm excited about the two action steps we have adopted. I really like the RecycleMania because it engages students. Professor Sarikas brought up a great point about the importance of waste minimization. Whether a material is in the garbage or in the recycling bin it is still waste. We can do a lot more to try and minimize our waste and participating in RecycleMania will provide a fun arena to make improvements.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Just Get the Job Done

Last Monday morning I had the unique opportunity to hear Van Jones deliver a speech to attendees at the AASHE2008 conference. Van Jones is probably the best speaker I have ever heard. Sorry, Al Gore. Gore's speech at Harvard last month was good, but Van Jones was incredible. He spoke for nearly an hour and his points are still clear in my mind. Take a look at part of his speech on YouTube. Jones is co-founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and the author of The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems. Many people think Van Jones should be in the Obama Whitehouse.

Van Jones provided great inspiration to me. He started by telling the audience that there is no time to worry and to just get the job done. This resonated with me and probably most of the other campus sustainability representatives at the conference.

On a national scale, Jones outlined three initiatives to move America towards a sustainable future. First he said we need to put a price on carbon and make the polluters pay. Second we need to retrofit America. Retrofitting America creates jobs and will pay for itself in energy savings. Third we need to repower America. To make this happen, Jones suggested we invoke that it is in the best interest of national security. The national highway system was a project that was overwhelming to imagine. People argued the cost would be so high there was no way it could be done. In the interest of national security the highway system was completed and you can say some other benefits were realized. Shifting our energy supply to renewables is on a scale similar to highways.

At the end of his speech Van Jones rallied the audience, "Barack Obama has done his job and taken America back." He followed, "Now let's do our job and take America forward." He is absolutely right. We have put the right man in place but he can't do it alone. We all need to get on board and just get the job done.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Live From AASHE

On Sunday evening I arrived in Raleigh, NC to attend the annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The conference is really impressive and sustainability has been thought through in every aspect of the planning. Let me share a few of the things happening here.

On the way to the airport I was telling my wife I felt a bit guilty flying 700 miles to attend a conference on sustainability. Flying is not really a sustainable action. However, when I arrived I discovered that conference planners used a company called Blue Horizons to offset all the travel of the attendees. Rather than asking conference attendees to consider paying to offset their travel, planners just did it and incorporated the costs into the conference fee. The fee now more accurately reflects the true cost of the conference by taking into account the environmental impact of flying.

When I entered the conference hall I was overly impressed with the recycling stations. They actually call them the Resource Recovery Stations and not recycling. At the stations there were five containers: paper recycling, plastic recycling, organics and compostables, liquids, and landfill waste. I loved the sign on the garbage stating landfill waste. Let's just make it flat out clear that what is put in this container is going to fill the landfill. The organizers are estimating they will generate 30% of the waste of a typical conference. The meals and snacks have all been served on washable plates and cups. If disposable products are used, they are starch based cups so they can be placed in the compostable bin. Again I'm sure the cost was more but this is what it is going to take to force people into making the right decision.

The meals did not have any red meat. In fact most of the meals were vegetarian based. I did see chicken served a few times but all the people I ate with were choosing meatless options. At one of the sessions I attended I learned that about 1/3 of global greenhouse gases are from agriculture and over half of that is due to livestock. Eating less meat is a great way to reduce your footprint. Some colleges are incorporating Meatless Mondays, which I think is a great idea to promote awareness of foodprints.

I have one more day of sessions and I will be back in Boston tonight. There is good stuff happening here, and I am excited to share with the Lasell community what I have learned. I have been impressed with the energy at the conference and I am hopeful that institutions of higher education will step up and meet the challenge to make our campuses sustainable places to live, work, and study.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Name Me!

Turtle #294 desperately needs a name. Imagine an endangered northern red-bellied cooter named after you! I've decided to use the naming of the turtle as a chance to raise some money to help us grow the turtles and conduct outreach. We are currently asking for donations and we will award the naming right for Turtle #294 to the individual making the largest donation to our turtle program. Alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends are all welcome to participate. Let me look at the staff directory and find some good turtle names. How about Aieta? Ostrow? Malini? Rosenthal? Maybe a name after a recent graduate such as Kevin or Alisha? Alexander has a nice ring to it! Turtle #294 can't wait to finally have a name. More information and the link to donate can be found on the Lasell College Alumni page (

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Waste Audit

Students in my Environmental Science class participated in a waste audit today. It was on a small scale but still the data is quite revealing. The data gives us an indication as to how well our new recycling system is working. We collected all the waste from the classroom and hallway garbage cans in Wolfe Hall. We then sorted the waste into different categories. Here is what we found:
  • 31% cans and bottles
  • 53% waste (12% from paper coffee cups)
  • 10% paper
  • 7% other plastic
Recycling for cans and bottles as well as paper is available in the hallway of these buildings and yet 41% of our waste contains recyclables. Also striking is the amount of waste from paper coffee cups. Paper coffee cups represent 12% of our waste in this building. Clearly a Lug-a-Mug campaign is needed.

We then collected all the material in the recycling bins and found the following:
  • 58% cans and bottles
  • 17% paper
  • 11% other plastic
  • 11% paper coffee cups
The data highlights two problems. First students are not placing recyclables into the bins. Second students are placing items that cannot be recycled into the recycling bins. We recovered 4.5 lbs of cans and bottles from the garbage cans and only 2.5 lbs of cans and bottles from the recycling bins. The culture needs to change on our campus. We also found plastic and paper coffee cups in the recycling that we currently cannot recycle. This indicates to me that students want to recycle these items and think these items can be recycled in our system.

Where do we go from here? Next week I am going to run an experiment. I think to increase recycling in the academic buildings each classroom needs recycling stations or we need to remove all garbage cans in each classroom. Bins in each classroom is not an option right now because the recycling budget is dry. I will test the hypothesis that students will recycle more if there are no garbage cans in classrooms because it forces them into the hallway to throw items away where they will see the recycling bins. My colleague thinks my hypothesis will not be supported and students will just pile their waste in the classroom along the wall. I'm confident Lasell students are better than that.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Building Dashboard

I ran an electricity reduction contest in the Lasell College residential houses for the month of October. I had my Environmental Science students implement programs to help residents reduce their electricity consumption for the month. Students implemented programs such as passing out CFL bulbs and convincing roommates to share a refrigerator. Data was reported weekly on the Green Campus Initiative web page. At the end of the month, electricity consumption was down 3.7% compared to October of 2007.

I ran the contest as a pilot to determine if investing in Building Dashboard is a worthwhile pursuit. Oberlin College has implemented the system and experienced up to a 55% reduction in electricity consumption in high resolution feedback buildings. By combining a building performance monitoring system with a web based display, the data can be used to engage, educate, entertain, and empower as described by John Petersen in his Definitive Design paper. Students in environmental studies courses can use the data to calculate carbon footprints and discuss energy conservation. Residents on campus can be engaged by participating in electricity reduction contests. The display system is entertaining as visual graphics display comparisons of building energy consumption. Finally, the system is empowering residents are inspired to reduce energy consumption in the building.

I ran the contest in the houses at Lasell to feel out interest. I wasn't sure it was worthwhile as I had to walk around to the houses and manually record the data each week. But one comment has convinced me it was worthwhile and should be expanded. A student in my FYS class commented that she looks forward to seeing the data each week and she discusses with her roomate what they can do to help their building. With that I am sold. I'm convinced it is worthwhile to work to find money to implement this system.

My contest was low cost and simple to run. It did not provide real-time data and required me to walk around to meters and report the data on a web page. I could not include dormitories because the meters are in the basements and I don't have access. The Building Dashboard system could be grown to include all campus buildings and increase the transparency of energy use data. I think the place to start is in the dormitories as residential house data can easily be obtained manually.

The dorm energy contest idea is great and depends on residents buying into the contest. The support of an RA can make a big difference. For example, in our contest the RA in Mott House sent text messages with ideas and words of encouragement to all residents. This house realized a 20% reduction largely due to the RA's leadership.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Environmental Sustainability Committee

The Lasell College Environmental Sustainability met for the first time yesterday. This was the first meeting I have ever been to in which I was the chair. My father-in-law always grades himself when he gives a talk so I will borrow his model of self-assessment and give myself a C. We discussed the important issue of recycling at great length and set in motion a sub-committee to re-evaluate the option of a single stream recycling system on campus. I am very happy to see this happening but I failed to provide adequate time to get other actions rolling in terms of campus sustainability so I score myself a C.

Let me share what happened during our meeting. Committee members first introduced themselves to get an indication of the background, interest, and experience committee members bring. I then explained the background of the Green Campus Task Force and
I also explained how the Task Force recommended the creation of the Environmental Sustainability Committee. The Task Force charged the committee with setting and reviewing the following sustainability goals:
  • increasing environmental eduction and outreach
  • increasing the practice of the 4R's: recycling, reusing, reducing, and rebuying
  • reducing waste
  • conserving water
  • conserving energy
  • purchasing green products
  • protecting natural resources
  • improving environmental performance of new construction
  • reducing environmental impacts of transportation

The Green Campus Task Force also made 57 recommendations that could be considered objectives to help reach the goals. I shared a list of the objectives and watched the overwhelmed look on all of the committee members faces. I quickly jumped in that we can't do them all in one year and we will pick a few to execute well. I also introduced the President's Climate Committment which President Alexander signed this summer. I shared the committment and introduced our resonsibilities as a college.

President Alexander then made an appearance to provide a further charge to the committee. He expressed that the priority for the committee is to focus on setting a course of action to help us reach our sustainability goals. He emphasized the importance of executing actions in the first year that would increase visibility of sustainability on campus. This led to a discussion of recycling as this is a highly visible aspect of sustainability. President Alexander expressed his support of a single stream recycling system on campus. I have been advocating for a single stream system as it simplifies the decisions people need to make with their waste and campuses are finding it significantly increases recycling rates. The committee agreed to establish a sub-committee to work with Plant Operations to evaluate operating costs and determine how we can make a single stream system happen.

Since the meeting I have had time to process things a bit. I've really been considering the point President Alexander made about visibility. We need to create a culture of sustainability on campus and things need to be visible to achieve this goal. While energy conservation projects will do much more for meeting our greenhouse gas reduction goals, it may be more important that we start by working to create a green culture on campus. I started to brainstorm things we could do on campus to increase the visibility of sustainability and change the behavior of people. Here is my list of ideas:
  • create a Lasell College sustainability logo
  • create a lug-a-mug campaign. Sell travel mugs with our sustainability logo. Run a Spot-a-Mug campaign in which students spotted with travel mugs are rewarded with a coupon for a free cup of coffee.
  • conduct a waste audit and sort the trash in the middle of campus
  • conduct a food waste audit for one week
  • participate in Recyclemania and compete with other colleges to recycle the most waste
  • place stickers on all light switches reminding people to turn off the switch
  • partner with Dump&Run to collect items during move-out. Items can then be sold in a yard sale and profits donated to charity
  • gather green pledges from graduating seniors as part of the Graduation Pledge Alliance
  • Host a dorm electricity reduction contest. This is currently being done in the residential houses but it needs to be expanded to all dorms
  • place signs, posters, stickers, and balloons on recycling containers to highlight their presence and educate community members
  • place stickers and signs on all garbage cans reminding community members to recycle

There are so many more unique ideas we could do. Many of these are done on other campuses already. I am going to work to quickly execute these ideas. Unfortunately the Environmental Sustainability Committee has no budget so somehow we will have to find money to support these visibility programs.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

There Are Bins!

A big step forward was made today across the campus of Lasell College as recycling bins were stationed in key areas. Wass, Wolfe, the mail room, Winslow, and the Athletics Center all now have bins to recycle cans, bottles, and paper. This follows the placement of recycling bins for cans and bottles in the trash rooms of the dormitories last week. Recycling provides a visible signal that the college is concerned about sustainability issues and I am very happy to finally see a system in place.

While we had some bins scattered across campus already, the recycling was poorly managed and frequently the contents of bins ended up in the trash. Now we have launched a more comprehensive program with a staff member employed to actively manage the collection of recycling across the campus. Linda Williams should be thanked for the hard work she has put into getting a recycling program started. She has operated under a limited budget and under pressure from highly verbal professors such as myself advocating for recycling. Linda has been working hard to purchase recycling bins and to train our new staff member. It is a great start and we look forward to hearing her ideas on what we can do to continue to improve our recycling rate.

Now that there are options to recycle in the dorms and academic buildings it is important that students, faculty, and staff utilize the system. We need a to create a culture in which a community members feel shame when they throw a water bottle or paper in the garbage. Students, faculty, and staff need to make comments to others when they observe them throwing recyclables into the trash. Cans, bottles, and paper are the bulk of the trash in the academic areas. All of these items should now make it into the recycling bins.

At the Lasell College Strategic Planning Session I proposed setting a goal of reaching a 30% recycling rate within four years. This means that 30% of our waste (recycling is still waste) will end up in the recycling stream. While the recommendation was not adopted, I am going to recommend the Environmental Sustainability Committee formally embrace the goal. Our annual report will include data on the amount of waste and the amount of recycling generated on campus. It is important we develop a system so we can measure our progress. Cans, bottles, and paper are a start but to reach the 30% goal we will have to continue to find creative ways to recycle more waste material. Students in the dormitories should have the opportunity to recycle as many waste materials as possible. I will continue to advocate for single stream recycling in the dorms. For now we should celebrate the arrival of a recycling system on campus and start changing the waste culture on our campus.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Campus Carbon Cycle

I was wandering the campus of Lasell College today collecting building energy use data and I noticed the landscaping company we hire to maintain our property. These men were blasting away at leaves with loud leaf blowers in an effort to eliminate every fallen leaf from our campus. The energy and carbon cost of landscaping is frequently a number that escapes campus carbon footprint estimates but they are not insignificant.

Through the process of photosynthesis, trees sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere which accumulates in the biomass of the tree. When calculating carbon footprints, many institutions will quantify the number and size of trees on their campus and use a reasonable estimate for sequestration rates to determine how much carbon dioxide the vegetation offsets. This process seems straightforward but is filled with several flaws.

Trees on a campus are much different than trees in a forest. When forest trees suffer damage or die, the dead branches decay in place. On a college campus damaged trees are maintained and branches are removed. Maintaining and removing dead trees or damaged branches requires the use of fossil fuels. Arborists use trucks, chainsaws, and chippers to do this work. Further the process of decomposition may occur at a faster rate depending on how the waste is disposed of.

David Nowak and others found that trees that are not maintained and allowed to decompose in place are sinks for carbon dioxide. Although the decomposition and sequestration nearly balance out, trees will still act as a sink of carbon. As soon as trees have maintenance the carbon gains are lost to the atmosphere as the machines burn fossil fuels. This suggests campus trees plantings might not be the answer to reducing carbon footprints. However as Nowak et. al (2002) suggest, there are management strategies that can be put in place to maximize benefits of campus forestry. These suggestions include planting long-lived and low maintenance species, use maintenance strategies that maximize longevity, minimize fossil-fuel use related to maintenance, plant trees in energy conserving locations, and consider the use of dead wood material.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sustainable Dining

Dining Services at Lasell College continues to lead all other campus offices in implementing sustainable practices. While other offices are lagging in implementing sustainability in their daily operations, dining services continues to seek out and implement creative solutions. They made a bold move and removed trays from the dining hall which has proven to be highly successful. This week they are introducing a new organic bird friendly coffee from Africa at Jazzman's Cafe. The coffee comes from the Anfilo Specialty Coffee Enterprises in Ethiopia and is shade-grown, organic, and bird friendly. The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C awards the Bird Friendly Certification. Shade-grown coffee provides habitat for birds and helps sustain the environment by preventing the clearing of land. video Support these sustainability efforts by requesting their Bird Friendly coffee.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Long Way Home

Last year I calculated the carbon footprint of Lasell College for the Green Campus Task Force. A gaping hole in my analysis was the lack of data on the commute of college employees. A complete carbon footprint analysis must include not only electricity and energy consumption but also include the the impact of people traveling to and from our campus. I'm currently working to arrive at some estimate of this number but I am finding it very challenging.

I've started with data from human resources on where employees live. The data is quite interesting and I thought I would share some numbers. The average employee lives over 13 miles from campus making the average commute 25.7 miles. This is consistent with the average American commute of 32 miles but probably not the average time of 52 minutes. The longest commute is 130 miles but I don't know how frequently that individual commutes. About 120 employees live under 10 miles but 84 live over 20 miles from campus. The high cost of housing in Newton and neighboring towns most likely increases commuting distances for employees.

My Environmental Science class is working on a way to regularly survey employees to annually assess our footprint from commuting. With this data we can start to evaluate carpool programs, T passes, and parking structures on campus. Many employees take public transportation or carpool. Others do not commute every day of the week. Asking employees to self report their commuting information would probably yield a low response rate. Students in my Environmental Science class want to hold paychecks until employees report the data. I know that will never fly but I love their thinking. Sustainability on campus should be a priority.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tale of the Turtles

Lasell College has recently hired two new staff members to manage communications and web content. I think they are doing a great job and I appreciate their help in promoting the Environmental Studies Major and campus sustainability. I invited them both in to learn about the northern red-bellied cooters and to enlist their help in developing more outreach. Kristine just finished writing this story about the northern red-bellied cooters.

The energy behind the environment is growing on campus at Lasell. The turtles are doing well and growing a tremendous rate. A new environmental student group has been formed. I am about to name the Environmental Sustainability Committee this afternoon. A new recycling program will be in place by the end of next week. More students are expressing interest in the Environmental Studies Major. Students in the residential houses are working to reduce electricity consumption with the assistance from students in my Environmental Science course. We are actively promoting the Environmental Studies Minor to Business, Hospitality and Event Management, Communications, and Fashion students. Admissions is in the field speaking with prospective students and we look forward to having a large cohort of environmental students next fall. And on October 28th and 29th we are having a Green Cookies and Turtles gathering!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Blog Analytics

Lately I have had less time than I would like to make blog entries. I teach 12 credit hours a semester which means most of my time is devoted to preparing lessons, assessing student learning, and managing students in my courses. I'm full of ideas about campus sustainability but short on time to write.

This summer I read Getting Things Done by David Allen and I have been trying to implement his system. I'm caught between my old way of organization (a pile) and implementing the GTD system with an inbox, tickler file, and next actions list. I'm working on becoming proficient at this organization system but I'm not there yet. I hope to eventually feel organized enough to make a blog entry almost every day.

I've published material in various formats including books and peer-reviewed journals. These are often considered the currencies that measures your success as an academic. However I feel I am having a bigger impact by blogging than if I was devoting my time to research and publishing. My blog entries are generating conversations on our campus at Lasell College and on other college campuses. I rarely hear feedback about work I have published in a peer-reviewed journal. However I regularly engage with people on campus about things I have written in my blog. I am starting to realize there is a need for more college professors to engage in this type of grassroots activity to help organizations become greener places to live, work, and study.

Looking at the analytics for my blog helps reveal the impact a blogger can have. Since I started the blog I have had 1133 people visit my blog. I know this is small relative to many blogs but I find it encouraging. The blog is read by more than just students, faculty, and staff at Lasell College. I've had visitors from the U.S., Canada, U.K., India, and Australia. I've had a least one visitor from every state except Alaska, Montana, Arkansas, and West Virginia. I guess campus sustainability has not generated much steam in those states yet. Most of the visitors to the blog come from Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and California. I'm now getting over 125 visits per week. I am starting to consider my blog as my 5th class as I reach more people through the site than I do in my classes.

The blog entry about the Essex Farm CSA has had the most pageviews. The entry about dorm electricity use is the second most read page followed by the guest blog from my sister about nalgene bottles. My entry about my adventures on the Cessna has also had a lot of readers.

I'm looking forward to growing the blog. I haven't spent much time trying to promote hits to my blog outside of Lasell. From the beginning my goal has been to discuss campus sustainability with specific reference to Lasell College. Success to me would be to get every student at Lasell to spend time on the blog at least once. Information about the environment we live in prepares us to make sustainable choices.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bright Idea

My wife sent me to CVS in Harvard Square last night to buy a few things for home. As I was wandering the store I noticed a stack of compact fluorescent light bulbs on sale for 49 cents each. I immediately filled my basket with as many as I could handle. 10 CFL bulbs for under $5.00 is too good to pass by. Predictably I got the "What did you buy?" when I got home.

I explained I was going to give the bulbs to students in my Environmental Science class. Students are working on a project to reduce electricity consumption in the residential houses for the month of October. One group wanted to encourage the use of CFLs but found the cost of CFL bulbs to be prohibitive. They were working on finding a business willing to donate or sell at a reduced cost. With my purchases last night, this group can get CFLs in the residential houses and start educating students about electricity consumption.

I wish the Environmental Sustainability Committee had a budget. I would buy 500 bulbs and give one to every first year student. Let me play with the numbers a bit and show how justified this purchase would be for Lasell College. 500 bulbs would cost $245. Assume each student replaces a 75 watt bulb in their dorm room with the CFL. Also assume the light is on for 3 hours a day and the bulb lasts all four years of college. How does this add up?

Lasell College pays about 12 cents per kWh of electricity. Running a 75 watt bulb for 3 hours uses 0.225 kWh of electricity. Assume the student is on campus for 200 days a year, this one light uses 45 kWh of electricity. The cost to the college for the 1 light is $5.40 in electricity. Multiply this by 500 and the cost is $2700. Now, assume the 75 watt bulb is replaced by a 20 watt CFL that gives off the equivalent amount of light but uses less energy. This bulb will use 0.060 kWh per day which is almost 75% less. The cost of electricity to run this bulb for 3 hours a day is $1.44 per year. Multiply by the 500 I want to buy and this is equal to $720.

By investing $245, Lasell College could reduce electricity costs from $2700 down to $720. The college would save $1980 dollars per year for a $245 investment. The savings get better because we are assuming the bulb is in use at Lasell for four years. Now the $225 investment would save the college $7920. More importantly, the investment would reduce our electricity consumption annually from 22,500 kWh per year to 6000 kWh per year. A good step to reducing our carbon footprint.

I recognize I had to make many assumptions. To break even, only 144 of the 500 students have to utilize the bulbs. This seems like a reasonable risk to me. I don't really know if students each use a bulb for three hours a day though. Many students may only rely on the overhead lighting already installed.

How much of an impact will implementing CFLs have for students doing the project in my Environmental Science Class? A house with 18 students may use about 1500 kWh per month. Assume all 18 switch 1 bulb. The potential monthly savings in electricity is about 100 kWh. A 6.5% reduction is not bad at all!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Strategically Planned

I participated in the Second Annual Lasell College Strategic Planning Meeting over the weekend. I knew I was invited to participate because of my involvement in environmental efforts on campus. I arrived at the meeting ready to advocate that sustainability goals should be added to the Vision 2012. While there is general consensus across campus that we need to make Lasell College a greener place to live, work, and study, I knew sustainability goals would have to be specific and measurable to make the Vision 2012.

I suggested in my breakout group that Lasell College should set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 10% by 2012. I also advocated that we should reach at least a 30% recycling rate in that time. I chose 10% as it slightly more aggressive than the 2% per year we are going to need to reach our goal of an 80% reduction by 2050. A 30% recycling rate is moderate. Highly successful college campuses are now recycling at rates of about 50% waste and 50% recycling.

The sustainability goals I suggested did make the short list and were seriously considered by all the participants in the meeting. However in the end the goals did not make the Vision 2012. Failing to make the Vision 2012 list does not mean that we will not reach these goals but it does mean that we won't have the support of the entire institution visibly behind us. Setting and meeting sustainability goals is going to rely on the work of the Environmental Sustainability Committee as well as other motivated faculty, staff, and students across campus.

I understand the factors meeting participants had to consider in voting for items to be added to the Vision 2012. While it is disappointing, it is not devastating to not make the list. Sustainability at Lasell College will still happen. Early steps towards reaching our greenhouse gas reduction goal can be made through changes to the culture and behavior on campus. To make those changes, we do not need sustainability to be positioned on the strategic plan. However we will reach a point where investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency will have to occur if we want to continue to make progress towards our reduction goals. At that point it will be essential to make sustainability goals part of strategic plan.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Turtle Parenthood

Being a turtle parent is stressful. I couldn't fall asleep the first night because I was so worried about the turtles. What if the lab gets really cold overnight? What if they get caught in the filter? Now that the turtles have been at Lasell for three days I am feeling better about their health. They are swimming around more vigorously and seem to be doing all right. They still are not eating much but I was told to expect that. Still I check water temperature multiple times a day.

I'm in the process of trying to find some money to hire a student to help manage the turtles. I really need a student living on campus so I don't have to come in over the weekends. It also makes more sense to pay a student to clean the tank regularly rather than using my limited time. It would be a little income for the student and a great learning opportunity.

I now have a student doing an honors component around the turtles. She will be leading outreach activities with the Barn and adult visitors to the lab. She will also be working with Peru Middle School as we are working to develop a relationship with their Animals and Pets Club. While we are raising the turtles for the success of the species, it provides a tremendous outreach opportunity to educate people about endangered species.

Sodexho has agreed to donate leftover lettuce to the turtles. I'm happy about this arrangement because we will now have a regular source of lettuce on campus. I will probably still need to supplement this in the spring but it will work great for now.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Turtle Take-Out

Today I went to the Museum of Science to pick up three northern red-bellied cooter hatchlings. I asked before I drove down what to bring to transport them and I was told by the live animal curator that they were already in a container. I was quite surprised when the curator came out with a small take-out container. She handed me three small turtles playing in a salad container with plenty of room to spare. These turtles are cute!

The turtles are part of the Turtle Head Start Program run by Massachusetts state biologists. The northern red-bellied cooter is an endangered species that is limited to a few ponds in Plymouth County. The goal of the program is to get schools, museums, and science centers to raise the hatchlings over the winter so they can be released and stand a better chance of survival in the wild.

I now have in the environmental science lab turtle numbers 294, 295, and 296 each weighing about 7.5 grams. Dave Taylor is the coordinator of the program and before he sent the turtles out to centers he placed notches on the marginal area of the shell. Each turtle is tagged so it can be tracked in the future. I need to figure out how to keep these turtles fed and healthy so we can release them in the spring.

Students in my Diversity of Living Organisms class will be involved in raising and caring for the turtles. The turtles will also be used as a teaching tool in my Environmental Science class as we talk about endangered species. Development is one of the major threats to this species of turtle.

I am a bit nervous about being a turtle parent. The stakes are higher than if I had sliders in the tank. Students are excited to name the turtles, but I am going to use the naming as a chance to raise some money to feed them. I think I am going to auction off the naming rights for one of the turtles. To name the second turtle I am going to sell raffle tickets for $1. The winner gets to name the turtle. I still need to think of a creative way to name the third turtle. Maybe the development office can find an alumna who would like an endangered turtle named after her. Maybe if I name one Sodexo they will donate the lettuce?

I also need to recruit volunteers. The turtles need to eat on the weekends, and the water will have to be changed regularly. At Siena College we had a Frog Club that was highly successful. Would a Turtle Club work at Lasell? Lasell Villagers may also be interested in volunteering with the turtles and willing to feed them on weekends.

I am planning many outreach activities. I'm going to start by inviting the children at the Barn into the lab to see the turtles. I'll invite other groups in, and we are working on developing outreach materials to help educate people about endangered species in Massachusetts. There are many classes in the lab throughout the day, so you may have to wait until we have an event to meet the turtles.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Too Many Refrigerators

I have spent the week researching the use of refrigerators in dorm rooms by Lasell College students and I have to say I have been blown away by the numbers. I've discovered that nearly all students bring their own refrigerator to campus. This is in stark contrast to my undergraduate experience when roommates all shared a refrigerator. Many Lasell students bring 1.7 cubic ft refrigerators while others bring larger models. Even students living in suites in which a refrigerator is provided still all bring their own. This means seven refrigerators for six people in one living space. Clearly we have identified an area to focus our attention to improve campus sustainability.

We do provide students with meal plans so my next question for students is what do they have in there? The only compelling answer I heard was milk to have cereal in the morning. Do they really all need a refrigerator? There was a lot of discussion about roommates leaving moldy milk or stealing food. Separate refrigerators is a way to avoid roommate conflicts.

I've been so engrossed in the 1 refrigerator/student phenomenon that I decided to run some back-of-the-envelope calculations. Let's assume 1000 of our students living in residence halls bring 1.7 cubic foot Kenmore refrigerator cubes to campus. During the academic year, those refrigerators will use 198,666 kWh of electricity. Now, let's implement a new policy. Only 1 refrigerator per two students will be allowed, but the refrigerator can be up to a 4.3 cubic foot Kenmore. This policy will reduce refrigerator electricity use by over 40%. Dorm refrigerators will now only use 114,000 kWh: a savings of 84,666 kWh per academic year, saving the college $10,160 and reducing our carbon footprint by over 125,000 lbs of CO2.

Larger refrigerators do not use much more electricity than cubes. For example, the 1.7 cubic foot Kenmore is rated at 298 kWh per year while the 4.3 cubic foot Kenmore is rated at 343 kWh per year. This means over double the space but not double the energy usage. The numbers certainly justify a stricter refrigerator policy. Residential life may have to handle a few more arguments over roommates stealing milk but learning how to resolve conflicts is part of the college experience.

What should we do with the extra $10,000 we have saved? One option is to give it to the creative professor who thought of the policy. Since that is unlikely, a second option is to create a pool of money to begin purchasing electricity that is generated by wind. NSTAR offers wind-generated electricity for an additional 1.396 cents per kWh. Whenever programs, policies, or behavioral changes result in reductions in energy costs, the money saved should make its way to this pool. Funneling the $10,000 towards the wind energy offered by NSTAR would mean 716,000 kWh of our electricity is coming from clean wind. The refrigerator policy reduced energy consumption by over 85,000 kWh and we can add to that the 716,000 kWh that we now get clean. Together, these two actions will reduce the carbon footprint of dorm room electricity use by over 35% and save over 1.2 million lbs of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. These two steps would reduce our total campus carbon footprint including Lasell Village by about 7%. That is a big step towards our goal of an 80% reduction by 2050.

I recognize that I have made several assumptions in these back-of-the-envelope calculations. I actually think I am a bit conservative in my estimates of electricity used by refrigerators on campus. I also recognize that upperclassmen will be up in arms if they are told they can't bring their refrigerator that they bought freshman year. Craigslist is a great resource, and there are plenty of college students in the Boston area looking for a refrigerator each fall. In fact, there will be over 500 new Lasell College students in the fall, HALF of whom will be looking for a refrigerator.

The Turtles Are Coming

Three northern red-bellied cooters will be here next week! Look for naming opportunities and other events in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On or Off

I was part of a discussion over email this week about whether we should recommend faculty turn off lights when they leave a classroom. A professor suggested all faculty members at Lasell College get in the habit of always turning off lights. A second professor responded that it was his understanding that it takes more energy to turn lights on and off than if they were left on all day. Naturally they turn to the young environmental science professor to settle this debate.

I'm not an engineer so I really don't have much experience with ballasts and inrush current. It was an interesting question so I took some time to do a little research. I too have heard the claim that turning lights on and off uses more energy. It turns out that turning lights on does require a surge of energy but the quantity is about the same as the amount of electricity used to run the lights 2 to 5 seconds. In other words, if the lights will be off for more than five seconds there will be an electricity saving.

If electricity is your only concern turning lights on and off is the way to go. Unfortunately bulbs take on more wear when they are turned on and off and will require more frequent replacement. I ran into a range of recommendations but many suggested the best approach is to turn the lights off if it will be longer than five minutes.

I'm not going to promote that here at Lasell College though. I think our best approach will be to create a culture of everyone turning off the lights when they can. It may mean replacing a few more bulbs but I think if there is any fuzziness people will not do it. The message needs to be clear, "Turn off the lights when leaving the room." A message saying, "Turn off the lights if you think they will be off for more than five minutes" is destined to fail.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Sustainable Dorm Room

The University of New Hampshire Office of Sustainability has created a great virtual energy efficient dorm room. They have some great tips and suggestions on how to make a college dorm room energy efficient.

Refrigerators is an appliance we are going to have to address here at Lasell College. Students in my classes have shared that it is very common for a dorm room to have two refrigerators. Refrigerators are a huge sink of electricity. Priya Gandbhir, Catlin Powers, and Annie Zhou at Wellesley conducted a dorm room audit for an economics class and reported that refrigerators use 55% of the dorm room energy. Ouch! While this not peer-reviewed data it still makes it clear that refrigerators in dorm rooms needs our attention.

Some colleges have moved to allow only Energy Star refrigerators. That is a step we could follow. But if we hope to reach an 80% reduction in carbon emissions we are going to have to do more. Any ideas?

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Burn Out

One of the easiest energy saving steps we can take at Lasell College is to make sure that students are only using compact fluorescent light bulbs in their dorm rooms. How much of a difference can this really make? Let's play with a few numbers.

Assume we have 1080 students living in residence halls. Each student has 1 desk lamp that is run for about 4 hours each night. We can say about 350 hours per semester. If all students had 75 watt incandescent light bulbs we would use about 56,700 kWh of electricity. Replace those with 75 watt equivalent 20 watt compact fluorescent bulbs and we would use about 15,120 kWh. The savings to the college would be around $5000 per year and it would reduce our carbon footprint from 130,410 lbs down to 34,776 lbs. I've given a simple scenario and likely students use more lighting than I have included.

Compact fluorescents are a great tool to save electricity. They have received some negative press in the past year though because they contain mercury. Maybe they aren't so great after all because the mercury will end up in the environment when the bulb burns out and is sent to a landfill. While mercury in CFLs is still a concern, the reality is that using a CFL prevents mercury from entering the environment. How is this possible? The biggest source of mercury in our environment is from coal fired power plants. By using a CFL, you are reducing the amount of coal that needs to be burned to generate electricity and thus helping to cut mercury emissions. Further there are now options to properly dispose of your burnt out CFL bulb to keep the mercury out of the landfills. Home Depot now offers CFL recycling at all of its stores. As we develop our recycling system at Lasell, we will need to make sure we include opportunities to recycle CFLs.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Green Campus Initiative

I spent much of my day working to launch the new Lasell College Green Campus Initiative web page. The Green Campus Initiative web page used to be housed on the internal web space and only open to faculty, staff, and students of the college. We have decided to move this web page so the information contained in it is open to the world.

I think this is a great decision. Lasell College has a responsibility to model sustainability. While we are just starting down our path towards an 80% reduction in our carbon footprint by 2050, I think it is important that our ideas, programs, goals, and progress be transparent to people inside and outside of Lasell. We will try things that will fail and it is important to communicate results with others to help build the knowledge base of sustainability. We benefit from reading reports from other colleges and businesses and it important we also share what we are learning.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Last spring I commented on the amount of waste generated when students move out for the year. Over the weekend our students moved back to the campus of Lasell College and settled into their residence halls. I was shocked to observe the amount of waste generated during this process.

It was overwhelming. Our buildings and grounds crew had their hands full. They even had to rent extra dumpsters to handle the massive pulse in waste. While I didn't dive into the dumpster to catalog what was being thrown away, I did observe a large amount of cardboard making its way into the dumpster.

I can understand why there was so much cardboard. Students need a way to transport their books and belongings back to campus and cardboard is a good option. What was disappointing was observing most of this cardboard making its way into the dumpster. While recycling is still lacking on campus, we do have cardboard recycling. Despite this, most of the cardboard made its way to the trash. It was clear that we have not yet created a culture where recycling is the first thought that comes to mind.

If I am in a situation where recycling is not available I will keep the material until I can recycle it. I have a stack of paper in my office waiting to be carried home so I can recycle it. When I am walking around Boston and purchase a soft drink I will carry the bottle home with me if I can't find a recycling bin. This is the type of thinking we need all of our community members to have. On move-in day recycling was not immediately visible so students threw the cardboard in the trash. The college will be doing more in the coming weeks to make recycling more visible and convenient yet students, faculty, and staff must also do their part to make sure we recycle every piece of material we can.

Our recycling rate is low right now. Once the new recycling system is in place, we have the potential to reach recycling rates as high as 40% as done at Harvard and other institutions. But to do this is not only going to take more receptacles across campus but also a willingness from every student, faculty, and staff member to seek out these receptacles and keep every recyclable item out of the trash.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Trayless Dining

I ate lunch in the Lasell College faculty dining room today. While students were engaged in heated discussions about Obama's energy plan and the conflict in Georgia, the removal of trays from the dining hall dominated the conversation at the faculty tables. Many faculty members were quite disturbed by the move by Sodexo to take away trays to reduce food waste. I heard comments such as "How will I carry hot soup?" and "I don't want to have to make two trips." I overheard a wide variety of concerns.

I left the dining hall and decided to poll students in class. I asked them how students have reacted to the removal of trays. One student replied, "I didn't even notice." Another student commented that she never used a tray anyway because she only eats one plate of food. In my unscientific polling I didn't find a single student that was upset or bothered by the lack of trays.

There is limited data on the impact of removing trays and food waste. I spoke with Todd Wixson at Pittsburgh State University today and he has measured the impact and found a 60% reduction in food waste without trays. 60% is a huge reduction. Aramark has done a survey of the practice at 25 institutions and found trayless dining reduced food waste by 25-30% per person.

At Lasell, it is clear that the lack of trays is not troubling to the student body. Upperclassmen have adjusted to the system and first year students know no other system. I completely support Sodexo and the decision to remove the trays. It is clear that it has the potential to significantly reduce food waste which will allow Sodexo to provide higher quality food. It is also one of the first tangible steps that has been taken on our campus to make this a more sustainable place to live, work, and study.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Campus Events

This is a very exciting time to be on a college campus. There is so much energy and colleges host fun events to bring members of their communities together. While I am a professor at Lasell College, I live at Harvard University as my wife works for the Freshman Dean's Office there. It provides me the opportunity to compare campus operations at our small school with a large school with a giant endowment. Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend two events. One event was at Lasell College and the other at Harvard.

Organizers of the events at both colleges took steps to sponsor green events. It was interesting to compare the two approaches. At Lasell, we had a faculty and staff appreciation breakfast. To eliminate waste, the organizers of the breakfast rented plates, cups, mugs that could be washed and used again. It was very nice and there was very little waste generated at the event. At Harvard, I attend a welcome back barbecue for the families of proctors and house tutors. I was surprised to see plastic plates and silverware as I knew Harvard has been pushing greener events. But upon leaving I realized organizers did think about it. As I left, I was able to recycle almost everything I used into one container. Harvard has shifted to a single-stream recycling system which allows community members to deposit any material that can be recycled into a single container. This includes virtually all types of plastic, paper, cardboard, cans, and bottles. It was painless and again very little waste was generated at the event.

Single-stream recycling is the direction we need to go at Lasell College. Our recycling rate is embarrassingly low. Harvard has a recycling rate near 50%. That means that half of the tonnage that leaves their campus is destined for recycling facilities. It is my goal to make single-stream recycling happen and happen soon at Lasell. It is extremely convenient and easy to manage and I believe it will quickly push us to a recycling rate close to the 50% reported at Harvard.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Battle of the Bulbs

Starting in the fall of 2008, the Lasell College community will be increasing efforts on campus to encourage students to reduce energy use in their residential settings. There are many different routes we could take to encourage a reduction in energy use. It is fun to examine what is happening on other college campuses.

A common approach is to host contests in which residence halls compete to reduce energy use or increase recycling. University of Chicago hosts the Battle of the Bulbs. Tufts University runs a Do It in the Dark program which includes distribution of glow-in-the-dark condoms. Harvard hosts the Green Cup Challenge which measures six judging areas in the houses including energy, recycling, innovative eco-projects, environmental impact of events, participation in the campus sustainability pledge, and performance in food wastes audits. Oberlin College has emerged as a leader by implementing a building dashboard monitoring system.

Currently Lasell College does not have a program or contest in place to encourage students to reduce energy use. A competition between residence halls is not simple to conduct given our infrastructure. We have a unique campus in that we have a mixture of styles of residential housing. We have traditional dormitories, suite-style residence halls, and residence houses. Some residence hall buildings share electricity meters with dining services, faculty offices, and classrooms. The meter integrates electricity usage and does not reflect just student living. This is a challenge but something we can address through planning.

So what can we do right now? Clearly more immediate action needs to take place. To get the ball rolling, we are going to examine electricity use in the 15 residential houses on campus. Students in my Environmental Science class are going to grouped and will be assigned three houses. Their goal will be to compete with other groups in the class to take steps to induce the greatest reduction in electricity use for the month of October compared to baseline data from previous years. It is a start and hopefully we can develop a more exciting and formal program in the near future.

Yesterday I walked around campus to all the electricity meters. Campus police gave me a funny look but I think they let me slide by because I had a clipboard. With this data we can track the impact of student living and take measures to reduce electricity consumption. It is my goal to increase transparency in energy and water use to help students connect their living built environment to the natural world.