Monday, March 31, 2008

Blue Man Group

Last night my wife and I went to see the Blue Man Group at the Charles River Playhouse. The tickets were a gift from my mother-in-law. I have to say the show was really exciting and better than I expected. I really appreciated their creativity. The social commentary made throughout the show was really funny. Lasell students should make it a point to go see the show. I think they would really enjoy it.

While they did not do this act last night, Blue Man Group has done a piece about global warming. If you have not seen it you should watch it here.

I am glad to see the Blue Man Group is promoting awareness of global issues. However, I have to comment on one act in the show. At one point, each Blue Man went into the audience and had people in attendance pulling rolls of crate paper. I mean hundreds of rolls of paper. It was crazy. I have to admit it was really run throwing the paper on the girls in the row in front of me. But at the same time, I felt a bit guilty because I new it was such a waste. Even if the crate paper was from recycled material and the show recycles it, it is still a waste. Energy goes into producing recycled crate paper and energy goes into recycling the used paper. While the audience loved it, I feel the act instills a sense that excessive use of a material is acceptable if it entertains us. I really enjoyed the show but hope Blue Man Group might consider removing this act.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

NSTA Conference

Just a quick entry today. I am heading downtown to the National Science Teachers Association Convention in a few minutes. I love this conference as it brings together people teaching science from kindergarten to college. I have required students in my Science for Educators class to attend. People travel from all over the country to attend this conference. I thought it was too good of an opportunity for my students to miss. Most of the students in my class are hoping to become elementary school teachers. I hope the conference helps to make them feel a part of the science community. Yes, elementary and primary school teachers are part of the science community. Science education starts very early and we must do more to help elementary teachers feel confident to engage students in learning science. I hope the conference opens my students eyes to how exciting science can be.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Used TV Salesman

The Environmental Studies Program at Lasell College has been conducting a search for new faculty member to join our team. It has been really exciting to learn about all the interesting work people are engaged in. We have candidates that travel from out of town stay at Hotel Indigo which is near campus. The hotel was recently renovated and is now very trendy. One of the changes they made, of course, was to replace the televisions with flat panel sets.

This transition is happening in hotels and homes across America. What is the environmental fallout of this? Just take a look at There are hundreds of used TVs available in the Boston area. I hate to say it, but it is unlikely these sellers will find a buyer. Most of these TVs are headed for our waste stream. But there is another consequence of the flat panel buying frenzy. Look at the number of armoires available. Interestingly, this number seems close to the number of TVs. People used to use the armoire to house their televisions but now they are no longer needed. Unfortunately, there is not much of a market for armoires either and they are probably destined for the waste stream.

Watch for the flood of used TVs and armoires once rebate checks are mailed by the federal government. Maybe we can think of creative uses for the old furniture besides trash?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Trayless Tuesday

The dining hall at Lasell College will have no trays today. Where are the trays? They have been removed in an effort to promote awareness of food waste. Food waste in the dining hall is an huge problem. Students in my Global Ecology class estimated that the average Lasell students wastes over 5 ounces of food at lunch.

Environmentally, there are several issues in regards to wasted food. First, the food has to be produced. Think CAFOs, pesticides, fertilizers, transportation, processing, and preparing. All of these represent large sinks of energy and pose other risks to our environment. Second, wasted food has to disposed of. At Lasell, we use a disposal system that uses both energy and large amounts of fresh water. In addition to the environmental impact, food waste also impacts the bottom line. If students wasted less food, more money would be available to offer new and improved foods.

By removing trays, dining services hopes students will think twice about loading up on food they don't plan on eating. If students want more, they simply can walk back into the service area and take a second plate. Other colleges have implemented trayless days and observed as much as a 66% reduction in food waste.

I want to commend Sodexo for taking on this initiative. They are going to receive negative feedback from students. There will be grumbling and complaining but in the end, it will get people talking about the issue. Changing student behavior is extremely challenging and sometimes a pulse, such as removing trays, is needed to spark change.

While many may not be happy by the removal of trays today, several things are certain. Lasell College will produce less waste, use less fresh water, all while saving money. This is one small step towards creating a sustainable community.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cessna Adventures

What an adventure we had on Friday! My family took a long weekend to travel to visit my parents. My parents live near Plattsburgh, NY which is upstate of upstate NY. Plattsburgh is fairly isolated as it is located across Lake Champlain from Burlington, VT and about an hour south of Montreal.

Normally, we drive through New Hampshire and Vermont to get home. Near Burlington, we take a ferry across the lake and then drive the 10 miles to get to my parents home in the town of Peru. However, this time we decided we wanted to try flying. Cape Air just recently started direct flights from Boston to Plattsburgh. The flight time was listed as one hour and 20 minutes. We found this appealing as my 9 month old does not enjoy long car rides.

So on Friday, we made our way to Logan and eagerly checked in for our flight. The agent said it may be bumpy and we probably should not eat. We kind of chuckled at this and didn't really think much about it. As we were about to board (a process that takes about 3 minutes), the agent also suggested using the bathroom. Looking back, this was the best advice I have ever received.

We boarded the small aircraft. The plane seats 8 passengers and the pilot. On this particular flight we had five adults, our baby, and the pilot. We taxied behind an American Airlines 747 which was hilarious. You realize how huge those aircraft are as you stare up at the tail. Now, Friday had really high winds. In fact, winds were gusting 30-40 mph. We took off down the runway and things seemed smooth until we were about 100 feet in the air and the first gust hit the aircraft. I immediately clutched the seat in front of me. Oh my! Within minutes, I realized the value of the no eating advice. The plane pitched in every direction you can imagine. It pitched in directions I never realized aircraft can move. The plane got knocked around for about 20 minutes until we cleared the clouds and found some smooth air.

Things were peaceful for about an hour. My son was oblivious to the bumps we had just experienced and he dosed off to sleep. Then we hear a beep and my wife and I just look at each other. We knew that meant it was time to start to descend back into the wind. Again, this was a stretch of my life that tested my ability to keep the contents of my stomach in. The plane rocked, twisted, and dropped until finally we touched down. Everyone let out a big sigh of relief.

As soon as I made my way into the airport, I said hello to Dad and ran over to the Hertz counter. Do you have any cars available on Sunday?

Now that I am on firm ground, I can think about my carbon footprint over the weekend. I flew from Boston to Plattsburgh but took a ferry and car on the return trip. How does the carbon footprint of these two trips compare?

The Cessna uses about 240 lbs of AVGAS per hour of flight. This particular flight took an hour and 40 minutes because of the headwind. We can estimate about 400 lbs of fuel. We can also estimate about 20 lbs of CO2 emissions per gallon of AVGAS so we are talking about 1300 lbs of CO2 emissions. My family took 2 of the 8 available seats so we account for about 325 lbs of CO2 emissions. These are very rough estimates.

How does this compare to driving? Figure about 245 miles of driving and a fuel efficiency of 24 mpg means we spent about 10 gallons of gas. This equals about 200 lbs of CO2 emissions. Now, I have to factor in a ferry ride. How much fuel does a ferry use? What kind of fuel does a ferry use? I have no idea. I would guess a lot because of the engines really sounds like they are working hard. So I figure my footprint from the driving direction is between 200 and 300 lbs of CO2.

When you play with the numbers, the CESSNA option really doesn't sound that bad compared to driving in terms of CO2. It is a bit more of CO2 emissions but there is always the argument that the plane would be heading in that direction anyway and I might as well be on it. Plus, the CO2 emissions are shared by multiple parties.

So, what can I conclude. Next trip home, I will first check the weather. Any sign of wind and I am driving . But, given the carbon footprint of the two options, flying on the small aircraft can be justified particularly if Cape Air is able to fill the flights. I may need a few weeks to forget about the experience but I'm sure I will be back up in the CESSNA sometime in the near future.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Last of the MBTA Adventures

My adventures on the MBTA are winding down as spring break comes to an end. I have now explored four different combinations to get between Harvard Square and Lasell College. My latest route took under an hour. It included the walk to the green line at Riverside, and a transfer to the 86 bus at Reservoir. This was actually a fairly direct route and it only cost me $1.70. But two things turned me off to this option. First, there was an odor of gas on the bus which made me uncomfortable as I had my 9-month old son with me. In fact, I hopped off as soon as we crossed the Charles because of the fumes. The second thing that turned me off was how frequently the 86 bus stops. Does it really need to stop every 200 yards? It started to drive me crazy. They really need to pull some stops and have people walk a bit. They might complain at first but in the end I think everyone would appreciate a speedier route. The stop and go was exhausting.

So my exploration comes to an end. I now have an informed opinion of the different options and services offered by the MBTA. The MBTA has always provided an affordable means of transportation for residents of the greater Boston area. However, as energy costs continue to rise and global warming pressures increase, the MBTA needs to consider it's expanded role- providing a cleaner transportation option.

I believe people consider cost and time the most when making a decision on how to commute. For the most part, the T is very affordable with a few glitches as I discovered when trying to transfer from the commuter rail to the bus. Time is where the MBTA needs to focus efforts. How can they move people between points in a more timely manner? If this can be accomplished, I think more people will hop out of their cars and onto the buses and trains. The environment needs this transition to happen.

The express bus from Boston to Newton was my favorite mode. Once I was on the bus, I was to Lasell in under 10 minutes. No stops every 200 yards. It was great. I think too much focus is on our train system but the reality is that an efficient bus system is the way to go. It reduces costs and can move people in a very efficient manner. Some of the Columbian cities such as Bogota are great examples of this. However, a bus system with stops every 200 yards will not succeed in getting people to switch from cars to bus. Also, the system needs to take people to near where they work. True, lots of people work in downtown Boston, but what about all the people working in Cambridge or at our universities such as Harvard, MIT, and BU. There needs to be options for these individuals that is fast and does not require a trip downtown and a trip back out.

I had the fortune of going outbound in the morning on the express bus. I think if I was on the express going inbound, my opinion might not be the same. Traffic on the inbound side was essentially gridlocked in the morning, including the buses packed with commuters. Again, time is a factor. What can be done to keep the buses moving and prevent them from being locked in traffic? I have to believe that if people sitting on the MassPike every morning saw bus after bus go zooming past as they sat in traffic, they would hop on board.

Next week, I am returning to driving to campus. I value my time too much to spend it stopping every 200 yards. It is also very challenging to have to transfer several times with a baby. For me, the MBTA is an option if I need to get to work and my wife needs the car. I tried every possibility and I just can't justify the sacrifice of time.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Dorm Room Electricity Use

If I were to ask every Lasell College student living on campus how much electricity they use in their dorm room each day, every one of them would reply that they don't know. They live in a space that is probably under 150 square feet and yet they are unaware of how much electricity they use. I am not going to blame the students but I am going to advocate for change.

College students have never really had to think much about their electricity use. They probably had parents nagging them to turn things off at home. Most likely the motivation for this nagging was to save money and not because the family was concerned about the health of our planet. Students leave home for college and now they have a sense of freedom. They can use as much electricity as they want and there is no one to nag them. They can leave the computer, lights, and television on and not have to worry about a nagging parent. Even though they are living on their own, they still do not see an electricity bill so energy conservation is hardly on their radar.

The fact that students living in dorm rooms do not know their electricity usage is not really their fault. Rather, the problem is at the institutional level and how our buildings are metered. While electricity of entire buildings is metered, individual rooms are not. The best we can do is estimate the electricity use per student. As electricity costs continue to rise, there is little the college can do to make individual students accountable. Increasingly, colleges are hosting contests to get building usage down, but still, the individual is not accountable.

I feel we are doing our students, and our environment, an injustice if we allow them to use electricity at will for four years. The role of colleges extends far beyond just teaching students compartmentalized facts in the classroom. We are committed to promoting social responsibility. I believe college is the time when students need to learn about their energy usage. While students are living on campus, we have the opportunity to help students develop an energy conservation ethic that they will carry with them when they leave our community for another.

What can we do? Metering every dorm room would be great, but that is not going to happen. I plan to start promoting electricity use awareness by purchasing a large set of P4400 KillAWatt meters. As part of our connected learning, students in the Lasell Environmental Studies program will employ these meters in dorm rooms across campus. While we can't monitor every room, a large random sample will certainly start conversation. We will help students measure their dorm room electricity use and calculate the amount of carbon dioxide emitted to generate that quantity of energy. By engaging a handful of students, they will become the best marketing tool possible. They will start to make comments to the students living next to them about their electricity use and, hopefully, awareness will spread.

I recognize this is just one small step but we need to start somewhere. The most important thing we can do is not let students leave Lasell without an understanding of the environmental consequences of their energy use.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The MBTA Took My Lunch Money

My son and I successfully made our way from Cambridge to Lasell College in 50 minutes this morning using public transportation. It was a well rounded commute. We took the subway to Porter Square, the commuter rail to Waltham, and the 505 bus to campus. It was very comfortable and efficient and something I could do on a regular basis to help reduce my carbon footprint. However, the trip cost me $9.75! That certainly is not sustainable so I called the MBTA to ask if I did something wrong.

The answer was simple. No. There are no transfers from the commuter rail to subway or bus. She said maybe once the commuter rail has the Charlie Card system but for now this trip will cost me nearly $10 each direction. I am willing to make many sacrifices for the health of the environment but to pay $19.50 a day to get to and from Lasell cannot be justified. If the trip was fast, maybe I would consider it but it still takes nearly an hour each direction. Remember, I am comparing this to driving which takes about 15 minutes.

I understand the sticky situation the MBTA is in. They now have a budget imposed on them and have had to increase costs for riding. The state imposed the budget to curtail excessive spending. However, the MBTA plays a major role in our region by moving massive numbers of people at a fraction of the carbon cost. The MBTA needs to somehow balance their costs and the costs to riders. They need to keep riders costs low enough so that people don't switch to driving to work. Not only do people factor in cost when making their decision on how to commute, but also comfort, schedules, and time. If taking the MBTA takes more money and time than driving, like my commute this morning, then inevitably people will choose the vehicle option.

Thursday I have another plan. I will take the 86 bus to Reservoir and transfer to the green line. It should take under an hour and only cost a subway fare.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Spring Break Commuting

It is spring break here at Lasell College. The students have all rushed off to Fort Myers and other sunny hot spots. Staff members are still working and there are a few faculty members floating around. I have decided to take advantage of this open week and make some progress on neglected projects. I've also decided this is the week to experiment with my commute. With no classes to teach and no meetings to make, I can afford to explore all the possible combinations of public transportation to get to Lasell.

Let me start off by saying that I have not given up on public transportation as a means to move me to work. Despite my bad experience with the 505 bus last week (it didn't stop), I am going to press on. Today, I decided to give the 505 one last chance. It failed! With my son on my back in the Tough Traveler (made in Schenectady, USA!), we headed to the red line T stop in Harvard Square. We spent the next 30 minutes at the T stop. We had to let two trains go by as there was not room for the two of us. If it was just me, I would have squeezed in. But with the backpack, I thought it was not fair to jab people with the aluminum frame. Initially, we had plenty of time to make it to Downtown Crossing for the 8:44 505 bus. Now, we were approaching Park Street and it was already 8:45. I decided to bail out and take the green line to campus. This went okay but it was long. My son fell asleep in my lap it was so long. Once we arrived at Riverside, we still had to walk up the hill to campus. The trip took an hour and forty minutes. Ouch!

I'm still not giving up! There are more combinations to be explored. I've decided going downtown is not the best approach. Tomorrow, we will try something new. I just explored all the possibilities on the MBTA trip planner web page. I'm thinking tomorrow I may take the commuter rail from Porter Station to Waltham. Then the 505 or 558 bus to Lasell. If things run on schedule the trip should take 20 minutes to walk to Porter, 10 minutes from Porter to Waltham on the commuter rail. Wait 8 minutes for the 505 and then 10 minutes to Lasell. This adds up to about 50 minutes. Wishful thinking but I will try. I'll keep exploring options. I'm willing to walk a mile or more so that helps.

Even if the Urban Ring project takes off, I'm not sure it will help my commute. It looks like they may add a commuter rail stop in Allston near BU and the new Harvard Campus. Probably in about 10 years I might be able to take the T to Allston and then the commuter rail to Lasell. For now, I will battle on!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Slow Food

I love watching my 9-month-old son interact with the world around him. His world is so small and he takes things at his own pace. He doesn't seem to worry about a thing and he doesn't have to rush off anywhere. Watching him eat is particularly fascinating. This morning, I gave him some cut up melon, some pear, and a handful of Cheerios. 45 minutes later, he was still slowly enjoying his food. He didn't care that I needed to shower and get to work. He was enjoying this simple pleasure at his own pace.

Watching him eat has made me realize that the mission of Slow Food International is really something we should all consider. The mission of the organization is to "counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world." Watching my son work on a piece of melon the size of a raisin for 10 minutes has made me realize maybe this is the way nature intended us to enjoy food.

I am guilty of racing through meals. Often I rush up to Valentine Hall at Lasell and scarf down a meal between meetings and classes. I know I need to slow down at my meals. Eating is more than just calories.

I spent the summer reading books by Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver. These books have been highly influential in my thinking about food. Since reading these books, I am now a big proponent of local agriculture. Eating local has so many environmental advantages. Animals are treated more humanely, less pesticides and herbicides are used, and less energy is used in packaging and shipping food. It is a great sign that farmers markets are experiencing rapid growth as more people recognize the value of knowing their farm. I hope this trend continues.

Institutional buyers, such as Lasell and other colleges, can have a large impact on how food is produced in this country. Farm to School programs are expanding and I think it is time all college campuses participate. Colleges are advocates for social responsibility and it is time we accepted responsibility for how the food we feed our students is grown. The dining hall experience is such a significant part of student life. We should use this as a teaching opportunity to educate students about where and when food is grown. We should be supporting local farmers whether they are growing apples, chickens, tomatoes, or grass fed beef.

We have had discussions about using more local food and local food products at Lasell. I hope we continue these discussion. I think change will come if more students slow down and think about what they are eating. If we all just think about our food like my 9-month-old son, the ills in our food economy will be worked out.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Data Loggers Have Arrived

When my package from Onset Corporation arrived in the mail this afternoon I was like a child at Christmas. I quickly tore open the box with excitement. The box contained a set of HOBO Data Loggers that record temperature and light. We are going to use these data loggers in my Science for Educators class as part of our phenology study on the campus of Lasell.

When we return from spring break, we are going to start observations of spring phenological events. We are going to watch for things like bud burst, flowering, and leaf out in vegetation. We can compare the timing of our observations with those recorded by Henry David Thoreau about 150 years ago. Thanks to Abe Miller-Rushing and Richard Primack from Boston University, we have a spreadsheet of thousands of phenology observations for hundreds of species made by Thoreau. By comparing the same species we can look at how the timing of spring events have changed and question whether we are observing global warming.

The data loggers add two new variables to the project. Now, in addition to just time, we have temperature and light levels. We can analyze data and explore the impact of temperature and light on phenology events in vegetation. Analyzing raw data is one of those experiences that makes students uncomfortable but I think they gain so much from it. Finding patterns and meaning in their observations is great way to introduce these future educators to science. I am looking forward to spring and the opportunity to return to studying the environment in the environment.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Crazy Cooter

The title of this post might suggest I am going to write about General Lee, Bo and Luke today. But the crazy cooter I am actually writing about are turtles. Specifically, the northern red-bellied cooter. The northern red-bellied cooter is a turtle listed on the federal threatened species list and on the state endangered species list. The species once had a range along the east coast but now is confined to some ponds in Plymouth County, Massachusetts. Habitat loss from residential construction has been one of the major causes of the decline of this species. Herbicide that has runoff into the water has also been cited as an issue for this species.

The Massachusetts Heritage and Endangered Species Program has a novel program to help bring back populations of the northern red-bellied cooter. I saw this program in action this weekend when I went to the Green Briar Nature Center in Sandwich, MA. They run a program called Headstart and it is intended to give baby cooters a fighting chance to survive. Under this program, nature centers and schools volunteer to raise cooters from hatchling size starting in September and then release the developed turtles in the spring into natural habitats. Hatchlings start at the size of a quarter but soon grow so quickly they can consume a head of lettuce a day. Hatchlings are easy prey for predators such as skunks and raccoons and the probability of survival in nature is small. The Headstart program helps hatchlings grow in a safe environment and then releases them once they are large enough to avoid being easy prey.

I found this to be a tremendous idea and a great learning opportunity. As we are remodeling the environmental studies classroom for the new Environmental Studies Major, I thought raising an endangered turtle would be a much better addition to our classroom than raising tropical fish. Yesterday, I called the state coordinator of the program to ask if Lasell could participate in the program. I am anxious to hear his reply.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sluggish Mornings

On Sunday morning we shifted into Daylight Savings Time. On Monday morning, we observed sluggish Lasell students trying to make it to their class. While the end of Daylight Savings Time is celebrated like a holiday by college students across the country, the spring forward event is greeted with resentment.

Daylight Savings Time is often cited as a policy to save energy. However, the data supporting this theory is inconclusive. It is interesting to learn why Daylight Savings Time was first proposed by William Willett in London. Willett's motivation was not to minimize candle use or increase retail sales. Rather, he was a golfer and annoyed that his afternoon round was cut short at dusk. This really gets students going when they discover they lose an hour of sleep because a guy wanted to play more golf.

But I am with Willett on this one. Living on the east side of a time zone and in the midlatitudes means the sunlight available in the early evening is limited. Compare Massachussetts to western Michigan. While the sun may set here at 8, a city in Michigan will get almost an hour more of evening because they are on the western side of the time zone. Similarly, we can compare Massachusetts to Florida in early April. Florida has much longer evenings of light during this time.

Personally, I love the adjustment of our time. It provides more opportunities to get outside. I can go for a walk safely after work. I can go running, ride my bike and even play golf. It definitely benefits Americans living in the northern parts of our country and on the eastern parts of time zones. Let's keep springing that clock forward and encourage Americans to get outdoors, exercise, and enjoy nature!

Monday, March 10, 2008

MBTA to Lasell

I took the bus to Lasell today. I bundled up my 8 month old son in the Babybjorn and we headed out for our commute. We started in Harvard Square in Cambridge. From the Harvard Square T stop we took the red line into Downtown Crossing. It was actually very pleasant. First, a woman gave me a seat as she saw I had my hands full with the baby. Maybe there is hope for humanity! I also saw a friend so I had the chance to catch up her until she hopped off at Park Street. At Downtown Crossing, we went to the street level and waited for the 505 Express Bus. The 505 is great and definitely underutilized by Lasell students. It stops right on Commonwealth Avenue outside of campus and goes straight downtown. Whereas the green line will take 40 minutes or more to get downtown plus the walk to the station, the 505 gets you there in about 10. Unfortunately, the bus was a little behind schedule today so we had to wait a bit in the cold for the bus. Even with the delay, the trip took about an hour and cost me $4.00.

This commute really is eco-friendly thing for me to do. But it is really hard to justify when all the costs and benefits are analyzed. To get to Lasell and home on the bus costs me $8.00 per day. Currently, Lasell does not have a program to reimburse public transportation costs. The Green Campus Task Force and the Human Resources Office are working on addressing that problem. Besides the cost, it takes about an hour door to door on taking public transportation compared to about 20 minutes by car. I take the Mass Pike when I drive so there is a $1.00 toll each direction and then the cost of gas and wear on my vehicle (figure about $0.40 per mile so $6.40). Lasell offers free parking to faculty and staff so no cost there. Add in the tolls and driving costs me about $8.40 compared to $8.00 on the bus but driving saves me an hour and twenty minutes of time.

The big question really is if my time is worth the 10 pounds of CO2 my vehicle emits commuting to Lasell each day? I'm beginning to realize the answer may actually be that I need to carpool. I just discovered that another professor lives about 5 blocks away. If she doesn't mind riding with a crazy little boy, that might be my green solution.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Greenhouse Gas Reduction

The Green Campus Task Force at Lasell College is currently sponsoring a contest that will award $750 to the student that proposes the best idea for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from campus. I have removed myself from the judging and volunteered to serve as the faculty mentor to students interested in participating in the contest. I have been helping students develop their plans and I have been really impressed with their ideas. Students bring a perspective that faculty and staff don't have. They see things through a different set of lenses. The ideas students are generating are really creative and I have been impressed with the amount of research students are doing. They have contacted campus offices for information and some have even sought out advice from governmental agencies and commercial vendors.

While the Green Campus Task Force can only award two prizes($250 to second place), I really think all of the plans have the potential to be implemented on campus. This contest was a great idea and student efforts are laying the foundation for future initiatives. Keep up the great work! Only 1 week left until proposals need to be submitted.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Driving on Campus

Lasell is a small campus. Despite our compactness, I frequently observe students driving from their residence halls to the dining hall or to class. I had to check this out further so I loaded up Based on my quick estimate, the furthest any student has to walk to get to the dining hall is less than a third of a mile. Most live much closer.

Why do I bring up this point? It is exactly trips like these that need to stop. About 40% of all trips by automobile in America are under 2 miles. These are trips that could be done by walking or riding a bike. To the individual, it doesn't seem like a big deal. After all, it is only a third of a mile. However, when 100's of millions of Americans make this decision every day, it adds up.

Enjoy the campus and walk to dinner!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Ban on Plastic Bags

On March 1st, Whole Foods moved to remove plastic bags from check-out lines. Customers have the option of a paper bag made of recycled material, purchasing a reusable bag for $0.99 or a more expensive canvas bag. This is a bold move by Whole Foods that will likely impact their bottom line. Executives hope they will set a trend in the grocery industry helping to keep millions of plastic bags out of the waste stream.

At first glance this seems like a great move for the environment. Banning plastic as Whole Foods and some cities have would benefit the environment. Plastic bags certainly contribute to our waste and they frequently fly away and end up in streams and rivers. However, I recently read a publication by the American Chemistry Council that made me rethink this move to ban plastic. The publication cited how much more energy is used in producing paper bags compared to plastic (40%). To deliver the same number of bags, seven trucks are needed to transport paper compared to one for plastic. Both paper and plastic bags can be recycled. Recycling paper uses much more energy and there are more chemical waste products that end up in our watersheds.

Waste is certainly an issue, but so is energy. This is a big move by Whole Foods but it still is not achieving a sustainable solution. The best solution to the grocery bag debate would be to force every customer to reuse their own bags. I don't know how that could be done though. Most customers don't think to bring their own bags. A truly bold move would be to stop supplying bags at the register altogether. Is that possible? People flock to Sam's Club and this store does not provide bags. Maybe it can be done.

At Lasell, we have a similar issue we have been debating. How can we get students to use refillable coffee mugs at the campus coffee shops? We would love to see paper cups eliminated from campus. We have talked about banning them for a day but fear a student revolt. Our current plan is to flood the campus with reusable mugs and promote awareness. If we can get a reusable mug in the hands of every student and make them aware of the environmental consequence of using paper cups every day, maybe it will make a difference. Changing behavior is certainly a challenge.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

New Classroom Space

I met with a student from the fashion department today to discuss plans for the new environmental studies classroom. The classroom has brand new furniture and will be getting new casework over spring break. It is a great space as it has windows on two sides and our choice of furniture will make it very flexible.

The student I met with is from an Interior Design class. We talked about what we could do in the environmental classroom to give it the feel of environmental studies. Immediately, she had great ideas! Plants, bamboo shades, frames for student work, were just a few of her initial ideas. She is drafting up a plan and we will complete the project in the next few weeks.

We also talked about ways to make the hallway more welcoming. Again, plants seemed to be the focus of her attention for this area. We may put up maps or remotely sensed images in the hallway also.

I'm really excited to see the draft of her ideas for the classroom and hallway. I love that it is a student doing the design work. Interior design certainly is not part of my skill set. It also gives this student to apply what she is learning in class.