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. 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!