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.