Monday, December 7, 2009

Green Campus Initiative Report

The 2008-2009 Green Campus Initiative Report is now available on the Green Campus Initiative web page.

On page 2 of the report I wrote a letter to the Lasell Community highlighting our accomplishments. I have pasted the text from the letter below.


Dear Lasell College Community,

Since the Green Campus Task Force started its work in October of 2007, Lasell College has made tremendous progress towards making our campus a sustainable place to live, work, and study. In this report we highlight the many accomplishments we have realized on our campus in the past 2 years.

Several accomplishments are worthy of special note. First, the launching of the Lasell College Single Stream Recycling Program now provides the campus community the opportunity to recycle a majority of their waste material. In the first three months, our single stream system diverted over 4 tons of material from the landfill. We look forward to improving the system and launching new education campaigns in 2009-2010 to further increase recycling rates.

A second significant accomplishment in 2008-2009 was the hiring of Princeton Energy Systems to help Lasell College develop an Energy and Sustainability Master Plan. Princeton Energy Systems will provide consulting services to help us optimize our energy usage and evaluate the feasibility of cogeneration, renewable, and alternative energy strategies.

The launching of the Environmental Studies Major and Minor also represents a significant accomplishment for Lasell College. By increasing course offerings related to the environment, we are providing the opportunity for students in all majors to obtain the information, knowledge, and skills needed to promote sustainability in their places of work and in their home communities.

Finally, in September of 2008, President Alexander signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. By signing this commitment, President Alexander has asserted that Lasell College will do its part to help create a “thriving, ethical, and civil society” free from global warming emissions.

We look forward to engaging more of our community in these efforts as we work towards becoming a model institution of sustainability.


Michael Daley, PhD
Assistant Professor of Environmental Science
Chair of the 2008-2009 Environmental Sustainability Committee

Coffee and Trash

I found a cool little web tool that generates word clouds from text. I ran the application for my blog. It seems trash and coffee are on my mind the most. Images of Wordles are licensed Creative Commons License.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Half is Trash

Students in my Environmental Science (ENV211) class conducted an audit of the trash in Wolfe Hall this afternoon. Chris gets the gold star for collecting the trash during common hours. What did we find in these round receptacles of waste?

Trash from about 12 classrooms was collected for a total of about 15 lbs. Of the 15 lbs, 7 lbs were recyclable items (paper, plastic bottles, and glass bottles). Almost 50% of the weight of the trash were items that could be recycled! These results are very alarming and indicate that we still have a lot of work to do on the recycling front.

While digging through the trash we decided to separate out the empty coffee cups. The first observation was that people need to finish their coffee or dump the liquid someplace else. It was a mess. We collected about 1 lb of paper coffee cups. We then decided to sort them to determine where they were coming from. Maybe this data will help us reduce the issue at the source. We had 49 paper coffee cups in the trash. Of the 49, 33 came from the dining hall, 12 were from our campus coffee vendor Peet's, 2 were from Dunkin Donuts, 2 from Starbucks, and 1 from an unknown vendor. Why aren't students using reusable mugs?

While it won't be popular, it may be time to force an increase in use of reusable mugs by eliminating the free dispersal of paper coffee cups from the dining hall. I will not gain popularity by pushing that idea but I am starting to think it is time. Not only is there an environmental impact but the coffee cups in the trash make an absolute mess that our cleaning staff has to deal with every night.

We are working on getting a recycling bin located next to every trash bin on campus. Cost is the big issue. We are slowly purchasing more bins but it is not in the budget to do it in one fell swoop. Any donors out there? We'll gladly put your name on all the bins!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

House Electricity Reduction Contest Fall 2009

Residents of Karandon reduced their electricity consumption rate by 12% to win the Fall 2009 House Electricity Reduction Contest. Nice work!

Hasekll, Case, Cushing, Gardner, Keever, and Pickard residents all reduced their electricity consumption rates during the contest week. Durinng the 1 week contest, students reduced Lasell's carbon footprint by 165 lbs of CO2.

Residents of Keever made an impressive effort after finding themselves at the bottom of the pile after two days. While their efforts were impressive they still fell short of the reductions taken by residents in Karandon, Hasekll, Case, Cushing, and Gardner.

Unfortunately six houses fell below the line and increased electricity consumption rates during the contest week.

Final Results:
Karandon -12%
Haskell -9.7%
Case -5.1%
Cushing -4.9%
Gardner -3.7%
Pickard -2.4%

Spence 1.4%
Carpenter 2.5%
Saunders 2.8%
Briggs 4.4%
Mott 6.0%
Chandler 11.0%

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Saturday is the International Day of Climate Action. It is no accident that this event was scheduled for six weeks before the UN Climate Negotiations in Copenhagen. Events across the world are planned in over 150 countries. In Massachusetts there are over 200 events planned for Saturday. Events range in scale from bell ringings to marches. The day was organized to

The Environmental Sustainability Committee discussed organizing an event at Lasell at our meeting in September. We concluded that we did not have enough time to get organized. But that does not mean members of the Lasell community can't participate in the day.

I am definitely planning on making my way downtown in the afternoon to the Boston Under Water Event. Organizers have all kinds of clever activities planned including a race to fill sandbags to save Boston from sea level rise.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Turtles 2009

This morning I drove with my son to the Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife Office in Westborough to pick up three northern red-bellied cooter hatchlings. They are even smaller than last year. They are so small that the biologists decided not to notch the turtles this year because the stress of the procedure would be too much for the little reptiles.

It really is incredible how small they are. They probably weigh about 5-6 grams each. In a few years they will grow to be 10 pounds.

Our participation in the northern red-bellied cooter headstart program last year was a success and I am looking forward to this year. I'm excited to engage students more in the care and maintenance of the turtles and to integrate the environmental issues more into the curriculum. We are upgrading the plumbing in WASS3 to reduce the effort needed to clean the tanks and Sodexo has agreed to donate waste lettuce again.

I let my son brainstorm names on the ride back to Lasell. He liked Chara (his favorite Bruin), Tubby, Shelly, and a bunch of ridiculous sounding noises that really made him laugh. Last year I held contests to name the turtles but this year I am going to let the children and teachers at the Barn name them.

I'll post pictures soon!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What tree is that?

At the end of Diversity of Living Organisms lab on Monday I overheard a student comment, "That was the hardest thing I have ever done!". I felt quite proud. Clearly I had provided a challenge that mentally drained students. It was an activity that was challenging but that could be done with some careful thought and patience. Students were engaged in a project conducting a tree inventory for the campus of Lasell College. Students were assigned parcels of land owned by Lasell and charged with mapping the location of each tree, the species, the size, and health.

The student was right to exclaim the activity was hard. I spent five years studying the trees at Harvard Forest and I found this campus activity very challenging. In a native forest there are a limited number of species of trees one may encounter. It makes identification an easier process. However on an old, suburban, landscaped campus the number of species found grows significantly. As we explored our campus we encountered planted ornamentals, invasives, and rare native species. We encountered at least three species of oaks (possibly four but I am still not sure). While our dichotomous keys were useful, many times the keys could not help us identify the trees.

We ended the lab with what I would call a start at a campus tree inventory. I definitely need help from a local expert. The identification books are useful but some time with an expert would make me more confident. I'm not ready to publish our findings.

We found some beautiful historic trees though. Some of the oak trees measured over 3 meters in circumference. We will bring our maps back into the lab and start to compile and analyze the data. One goal is to clearly map the location of our historic trees. These trees are incredible resources for our campus that deserve additional attention and protection.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lasell Orienteering Course

Yesterday students in my World Geography class wandered around campus carrying a compass and a set of directions. It was a beautiful afternoon and I did not hear any complaints about heading outside for this activity. In lecture we have been working on map skills including topographic maps. In lecture on Tuesday we practiced how to use a map and compass and on Thursday we went out to put their practice to the test.

I established a set of seven orienteering courses. Students were given a set of about 10 directions. Each direction included a compass bearing and a distance. For example 150 feet at 215 degrees. They worked through the set of directions and hopefully ended at the correct destination. Not only was it a chance to practice their compass skills, the activity also forced them to do a little math. Students figured out their pace (how many steps per 100 feet) and then had to calculate the number of steps they needed to take to move the correct distance. Students quickly master the activity as it is not the most challenging but I still like to do it because it reinforces classroom concepts and it is memorable. As sad as it is to admit it, in a few years students might not recall much from the course but they will all remember that World Geography is the class in which students get to go outside and do a compass course. I like to try and do at least one activity like this in each course I teach. It is almost like trying to establish a brand identity. Professor Fredericks does this well. Everyone knows there is a Monopoly simulation in his accounting course.

Setting up an orienteering course is very time consuming. But having a PhD in geography I figured I must be able to use GIS tools or something similar to set the course without actually having to step outside. I first went to Google Earth to see if it could be done. At first look I could not because the compass did not have degree bearings. I figured somebody had created a compass kmz layer and sure enough I found one. After bringing in the compass I could look at campus from space and craft a set of orienteering directions. Luckily a topic in Tuesday's class was on declination. True north and magnetic north are not the same thing. I knew that the bearings on Google Earth would be true north so I had to take into account our declination which is about 16 degrees.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Waste-Free Lunch

I feel a bit ridiculous in the morning lugging my son and two canvas lunch coolers out of the apartment to the car. I must look like a mess with two lunch coolers, a computer bag, a gym bag, and a daycare supply bag draped over my shoulder. I think my son recognizes my struggle and insists on being carried just to complicate the 200 yard trek. I could easily eliminate the need for the large canvas lunch coolers but I refuse.

I used to eat almost everyday in the dining hall at Lasell but I have shifted to bringing lunch. Weekly costs and class schedules are part of the reason but mainly I do it because I want to eat healthier and eat in a more environmentally friendly manner. When I walk into the dining hall I have a hard time going for the salad bar when there are creamy hot entrees calling my name. The lunch I bring is super healthy and has no meat or refined carbohydrates. Just lots of fruit and vegetables. I need to emphasize lots as you need to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables to feel satisfied.

In addition to eating lower on the food chain, I work on packing waste-free lunches. Instead of plastic disposable baggies most of my lunch is packed in washable plastic containers. The large volume of food I bring packed in plastic containers explains the need for the large orange canvas cooler I bring. I know it looks like I am heading to the beach for a picnic but the cooler it really is just my lunch. I similarly pack a waste-free lunch for my son. This operation turns me into bag man every morning but I think it is worth the struggle.

Waste-free lunches are increasing in practice. Many schools have committed to promoting this approach to help teach reduce, reuse, recycle. The EPA even offers materials on Waste-Free Lunches. I think I will approach the teachers about starting a waste-free lunch campaign to try and modify the lunch packing behavior of parents at the daycare center. Parents will be packing lunches for the next 15 years and now is the time to learn how to do it more sustainably.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sunny Days

Most days I really enjoy my job as a professor at Lasell College but some days I really love it. Today is one of those days. In about an hour I get to take a group of students in my Diversity of Living Organisms (BIO102) class into the field to go birding. We will wander around the wetland and woods capturing images of the diversity the bird world has to offer while enjoying the 75 degree fall weather. Lovely!

Birding? Birding is not really my thing. I'm not very good at it so the challenge makes it even more enjoyable. We are heading to Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge in Concord. Birding is typically not an activity young college students engage in and I often get doubting looks when I tell students we are going birding. But once they get past their initial skepticism students usually buy into the experience and appreciate the activity. I ask students to write reflections about their birding experience and I frequently read comments about how they have a new appreciation for bird diversity.

Off I go to view the killdeers, snowy egrets, great blue herons, downy woodpeckers, yellow-rumbed warblers, red-tailed hawks, red-eyed vireos, dark-eyed juncos, and many other interesting species the Refuge has to offer. I hope my colleagues enjoy their day working in their stuffy offices and classrooms!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Our New Dorms

Today I attended the ribbon cutting ceremony on the "new corner of campus". The ceremony officially opened the two new residence halls and the new fitness center. The new quad created by the new buildings is very nice and a wonderful addition to our campus.

I worked out for the first time in the new fitness center this morning. It is a very efficient use of space and has some very nice equipment to help keep our student body healthy. I also wandered into the new dormitories on a guided tour. The design is again very efficient. I would describe the dorm as a slight modification of the traditional dormitory model with the exception of a shared bathroom located between neighboring rooms. I know there are many green building concepts incorporated into the new buildings including a very impressive rainwater recovery system. I'll share more about these features in future posts.

The ribbon cutting event today was quite nice. They had cookies, popcorn, ice cream, and iced tea. Dining Services did a great job minimizing waste and they even brought their own recycling receptacles. A lot of hard work went into building East and West Hall but I definitely think it was worth the effort.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Fair Choice

The coffee carts at Lasell College have made a transition to serving Peet's Coffee this year. I'm pretty excited about this change. This morning I went for my first cup at the Laser Beans Café. After paying for my coffee I went to the station to dispense my coffee into my reusable mug. There I noticed I had a choice of House Blend or Fair Trade. I wondered why would anyone choose the House Blend over Fair Trade? Choosing the option that provides a livable wage to growers in Central America certainly seemed like the obvious choice to me.

I went to Peet's web site to do a little research. Maybe the two coffees really do taste significantly different and that drives consumers to make a less sustainable choice? House Blend is described as having a medium body and between a balanced and bright liveliness and is from Latin American beans. Fair Trade is between a medium and full balance and has a balanced liveliness. I drink a lot of coffee and I have no idea what this means.

There are a lot of cups of coffee consumed in a day at Lasell. Just look at all the paper cups in the trash (see previous blog posts about this one). It is great to have a Fair Trade option and I hope the community recognizes the significance of making this choice. Peet's coffee is new to our campus. Get in the habit of choosing Fair Trade from the start. If you don't see Fair Trade on the cart, send a note to Dining Services and respectfully ask that there always be a Fair Trade option. Collectively we can have an impact in helping farmers earn a livable wage.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Where has Daley been?

My last post to this blog was in late May. While taking a three month break is not a good way to grow a blog, campus is quiet in the summer so I decided to allocate my time to other efforts.

This summer I had the opportunity to get back into my field research. You may have seen the short story about my work on the Lasell homepage. The Boston Area Climate Experiment is a very exciting project that is going to have a big impact in the climate change field. I have been studying how carbon and water processes in vegetation will be altered climate conditions. It was nice to return to being an ecologist for the summer. This week I am starting to assume my other role as a teacher of science.

I also spent time over the summer writing grants. I developed a proposal to implement Smart Meter Technology in the residential buildings at Lasell. The technology will allow us to meter electricity use within individual dorms and even floors. With this technology we will be able to run competitions and share energy use information with students in real time. This technology will provide a tremendous platform to build student research projects from in a variety of classes at Lasell including environmental studies courses, economic courses, and even psychology courses.

Taking advantage of the recent Davis Foundation Grant, I also wrote a few proposals for research in the courses I am teaching this fall. Students in Geography will be conducting a transect study of geographic variables along the MBTA Green Line. Students in Environmental Science will be studying the water quality of the campus pond and researching potential non-point sources such as the golf course and residential lawns. Finally students in the Diversity of Living Organisms will be conducting a biodiversity inventory of vegetation on campus to start the generation of a long-term management plan.

Also this summer I met with consultants from Princeton Energy as they conducted their work to help Lasell develop an Energy Management Plan. This document will be extremely useful in guiding energy conservation project decisions over the long-term. I look forward to seeing this report soon.

I wrote a report of the work done by the Environmental Sustainability Committee. I will be sharing that document with the campus very soon. We have made great progress in the past two years.

Finally I had the opportunity to interview candidates for the Assistant Director of Plant Operations and Sustainability position. Hiring a staff member with sustainability responsibilities will be a huge boost to our Green Campus Initiative. Hopefully we will see someone on campus in that position soon.

I am excited to be returning to the classroom though. I revamped my Environmental Science course and I am very excited about the changes in structure I have made. I am also very excited about the field experiences I will be taking students on in Diversity of Living Organisms. We will be researching birds at the Great Meadows Wildlife Refuge, crabs on the Quincy shore, salamanders at Hemlock Gorge and visiting many other great ecosystems.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wind in Sight

I went to visit my parents over the long weekend and participate in a trail race at Camp Pok-o-MacCready. I took the ferry across Lake Champlain from Grand Isle, VT to Plattsburgh, NY. While I am biased because I grew up there, I still think the Champlain Valley is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Wedged between the Green Mountains to the east and the Adirondacks to the west, the Champlain Valley is a real gem.

I've crossed the lake on this ferry hundreds of times. This was the first time though that I noticed the wind parks just north of Plattsburgh. Last summer, the Noble Ellenburg Windpark, the Noble Clinton Windpark, and the Noble Altona Windpark were completed. On top of a small ridge I could count dozens of wind turbines spinning in the distance. Actually there are over 175 turbines spinning at these three sites that generate enough electricity to power 93,000 homes. Noble has also built a wind park in Franklin County that generates enough power for 35,500 homes. Combined, the wind parks constructed in this part of the North Country generate enough electricity to supply all the homes in Clinton, Franklin, Essex ,and Warren Counties.

The economic benefits to the North Country are well documented. Hundreds of jobs were created during the construction phase. Permanent jobs will remain in place to maintain the operations. Land owners receive lease payments. The town and county will receive tax revenue. The development of this wind park brought some needed relief to two rural towns of Ellenburg and Clinton. In the 1980s and 1990s rural communities fought for prison construction in their towns for economic development. Are wind parks the prisons of the 2000s?

The remaining question though is how does the construction of 175 wind turbines that are over 390 feet impact the scenic beauty of this region? While they can be seen from Lake Champlain and presumably from some of the summits of mountains in the northern Adirondacks, I think the turbines are all right. They weren't built in the middle of the Adirondack wilderness but rather north of the mountains. They actually generate some excitement, "Look, there are the wind turbines!"

This is a part of the country that has been devastated by the impacts of the coal industry. The pollutants from the burning of coal in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania fall as acid rain in the Adirondacks. The forests and lakes are impacted. Almost 700 of the lakes in the Adirondacks are so acidic they have lost aquatic plants and wildlife. I'm not worried about the construction of wind turbines altering the viewshed, I'm worried about an increase in the burning of coal that will continue to alter the chemistry of the forests, lakes and streams. I'm glad the residents of the North Country allowed this wind project to move forward. I hope residents continue to put pressure on Washington to shift how we power America and reduce the burning of coal.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Green Office Champions

Potter Hall wins!

When first measured in March things were ugly in Potter Hall. The building had the highest electricity use per person, occupants generated tons of waste, and recycling was not a habit. Many occupants of Potter were critical of my blog posts. They did not like being labeled environmentally unfriendly.

While they were angry, they changed. With help from students in Environmental Science (ENV211), occupants in Potter Hall took important steps to reduce their environmental impact. Refrigerators were uplugged, computers were powered down overnight, and more material made it to the recycling bin. During the Green Office Challenge Week, Potter Hall realized a 53% recycling rate (up from 20%). They also managed to reduce electricity consumption by 35%.

Potter Hall did not cruise to victory though. The occupants of Plummer Hall were committed to winning. Every watt of energy possible was conserved in this building as they reduced electricity consumption by 46%. Plummer also had the highest recycling rate during the competition week (54%) but their total waste was up 43%.

Based on recycling, waste, and electricity Plummer actually had an edge over Potter. But occupants in Potter stepped up in one additional category- vehicle miles traveled. During the competition week, a few occupants of Potter changed and either walked to work instead of driving or carpooled. This change in behavior was not seen in any other building. Thanks to the effort of these individuals, Potter Hall was the clear winner. Look for the Green Office Challenge Award on the door of Potter soon! Congratulations!

I must recognize the efforts of all the occupants of Plummer, Potter, Bancroft, and Klingbeil. Thank you for taking the competition seriously and for working with my students. I always appreciate your willingness to help students with their academic projects. I hope you will continue to take measures to reduce your environmental impact in the office.

Finally, Klingbeil deserves recognition for being green to begin with. While they did not come close to winning the Green Office Challenge, this building was already quite environmentally friendly. Electricity consumption and waste generation were already low, and recycling was already high. Dramatic improvements such as those seen in Plummer or Potter were difficult when things were already quite lean. Keep up the good work Klingbeil!

I've pasted the table of final results below.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Navy Shower

On Earth Day I decided it was time to try a Navy shower. What is the Navy shower? Essentially it is an approach to taking a shower to reduce the amount of water used. Here is how it went for me. I started the shower and waited about 10 seconds until the water was at a temperature I could tolerate. I then hopped in and got my hair and body wet. Then the painful step- I turned off the water but remained in the shower. Surprisingly it was not nearly as cold and uncomfortable as I expected. With the water off I applied some shampoo to my hair and soap to my body. I turned the water back on and rinsed the suds off and I was done. Under 1 minute of water usage. I glanced at the shower head and noted it used 1.6 gpm. I used under 1.6 gallons of water to shower. I used more water when I flushed the toilet.

My experience was positive. I felt good about saving water and it was something I could do in the future. I don't think every shower will be a Navy shower but maybe one per week.

Shower length at Lasell College is a behavior we would like to modify as part of our Green Initiative. URI has found some interesting results in regard to shower length and college students. Students surveyed spent an average of 13 minutes in the shower. Campaigns to reduce shower length were ineffective. Surprisingly campaigns were effective in reducing the number of showers per week. Students reduced the number of showers from 8 to 6.8.

The results of the study made me think about how many showers I need to take each week. I rarely shower on Saturday or Sunday but I do shower each morning before leaving for Lasell. I don't shower in the evening so I would say I average between 5-6 per week. In the summer this dips to probably 4-5. You don't need to be clean to go do field work.

Results from behavior modification initiatives are very useful. Other schools our using our experience from trayless dining and single stream recycling to inform their initiatives. Next fall we can take the results from URI and launch our own campaign to reduce the number of showers per week.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Earth Day

While many environmental supporters argue against Earth Day (everyday should be Earth Day), I like the day as it provides another opportunity to raise awareness. The day yielded some very positive results for Lasell College and our Green Campus Initiative. Professor Toffler's Introduction to Environmental Studies class and my Leadership class combined forces to plan the day.

While my vision of closing the road between the dining hall and the athletic center was rejected, we were still able to secure three parking spaces for our activities. One space was turned into a small park. In the park we had a bench and some vegetation. As this is the central corridor for foot traffic on campus, we wanted to promote awareness that the road could be turned into a green space for pedestrian use only. The two other spaces were reserved for hybrid car parking only. The drivers of these vehicles were thrilled to see a space reserved for them.

Students also ran the Tap Water Challenge. They challenged community members to taste three types of water and identify their favorite. Participants sampled tap water, Poland Spring, and Shaw's Brand water. The results were completely random. All three types of water received an equal number of votes.

We also collected sustainability pledges on Earth Day. People walking by were stopped and asked if they could pledge to do any of the following:
-For one day a week not drive to or between classes(students)/ not drive to work(faculty and staff
-To purchase/use a reusable coffee mug or water bottle rather than disposables
-To power down computer or TVs overnight/while you are not in your room
-To not eat meat one day per week
-Reuse plastic bags at least twice before disposing them

In total we collected pledges from 95 people. 57 people pledged not to drive one day per week. Of course this one was easy for all the students that don't have cars on campus. 40 people pledged to purchase and use a reusable mug or water bottle. 61 people pledged to power down the computer or TV overnight and while not in the room. 42 pledged not to eat meat one day per week and 52 pledged to reuse plastic bags. 41 people pledged more than 2 items. We will be sending emails to remind people of the pledges they have made and show our support.

Thanks to the Donahue Bookstore and Jennifer Tinkham we were able to award prizes to two students willing to make a sustainability pledge. Erica Choutka and Lindsay Ryan are now the proud owners of green Lasell College water bottles.

The day was a big success but credit has to be given to students in Leadership and Introduction to Environmental Studies. The energy they brought to the day made it work. Their willingness to stop fellow students and ask them to sign a pledge or participate in the challenge made the day a success. Great job!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Green Office Challenge Week

The Green Office Challenge starts today and will run through Friday. Klingbeil, Potter, Plummer, and Bancroft are competing to demonstate the biggest improvement in four areas: waste minimization, recycling rate, electricity usage, and vehicle miles traveled.

Baseline data was collected in March and students in Environmental Science (ENV211) will be looking for improvements in each building. There are many things building occupants can do. Turn off the computer at night, minimize artificial light usage, unplug refrigerators, bring waste-free lunches, recycle all paper material, carpool, take the T, and don't use the printer or copier unless absolutely necessary.

Studies have shown that 90% of the waste in an office setting can be recycled! Two computers left on overnight in Bancroft use 5% of the weekly electricity. While it depends on the age and how often the compressor runs, I roughly estimate that the six refrigerators in Potter use about 7% of the electricity in the building.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Napkinless Dining Next?

Last week students in my Environmental Science class measured food waste during lunch servings. In the fall we noticed the significant reduction in food waste as a result of trayless dining. Have things slipped as boredom of food choices creeps in over the academic year? A bit but things are still still much better than last year. We measured 0.21 lbs of food waste per person. This is higher than the 0.16 lbs we measured in the fall but still much lower than the 0.33 lbs measured last year. We can still do better but trayless dining is a good sustainability program to incorporate on college campuses.

One of the observations students made while conducting the food waste audit was the number of napkins used by students in the dining hall. Dining Services uses napkins made of recycled paper and tries to cut down on napkin waste by using carefully designed napkin dispensers. But still there is a lot of use of paper napkins in the dining hall which ends up as waste.

I started thinking about the time I spent working at the Pok-o-MacCready Outdoor Education Center in the Adirondacks. I worked there in the late 1990s when sustainability didn't attract the attention it does today. In our dining hall we had no napkins. Many of the groups that came in were French Canadian so we got a lot of "quoi?" We tought the students to use their socks and we also had one bucket with washcloths in case students really made a mess and needed to wipe their hands. They could get up and go get a washcloth. By the second or third meal the students figured it out and it just became normal.

How would college students react if I took away their napkins and asked them to use their socks? They certainly would not respond to this with the spirit of a sixth grader. Paper napkins at every meal have evolved into an expectation in our dining culture. How did we get to that point?

I decided to do a little research on the history of napkins. It is actually a fascinating story. The first napkin was made of dough! Use the dough to collect the morsels stuck to your face and then you can cook it and eat it. The Romans started using bread to wipe fingers and would throw it to the dogs after. The French expanded use a linen napkin that was communal for the table. Eventually each individual was given a linen napkin. Paper napkin use become common between 50 and 75 years ago. Think of how many meals humans have consumed in their history on Earth without paper napkins. We are talking about 200,000 years of meals. Somehow those 100 billion people were able to eat comfortably without a paper napkin. We can figure out how to get rid of this waste in our dining hall.

Many college campuses collect paper napkins to be composted. The idea of composting has met some resistance at Lasell but with some creativity we could figure out how to make it work. We could also increase the formality of the dining experience and offer washable cloth napkins. There would be an initial cost but this is certainly a more sustainable solution. Or maybe we can borrow the idea from the Poko Outdoor Education Center and just go napkinless. We could stake our claim as the only napkinless and trayless college dining hall in the World!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Many Reasons Why

Saturday is Lasell Day at Lasell College. We open up the campus to prospective students and their families to answer questions about our programs. I am looking forward to meeting prospective Environmental Studies majors.

I spent some time today reflecting on why a student would choose to study Environmental Studies at Lasell College. What are the strengths of our program? While there are many things that the College has to offer, why would a student choose Environmental Studies?

Here is my list:

1. Our Connected Learning Philosophy. The Environmental Studies program utilizes the Lasell College campus as a learning lab to connect classroom concepts with real world applications. Environmental Studies students conduct greenhouse gas audits of campus buildings and write campus sustainability reports addressing issues such as energy, water, waste, purchasing, and transportation. Students develop an understanding of sustainability issues by closely examining the institution in which they live, work, and study.

2. The Faculty. For a small colllege it is impressive how many faculty members we have with expertise in the environment. We have an environmental lawyer, two environmental economists, an environmental chemist, and an ecologist. In addition we have many other faculty with interests or experience in fields related to the environment. This includes faculty in psychology, business, fashion, and communications.

3. Geographic Location. Lasell College is located in a safe neighborhood of Newton but students have easy access by public transportation to the resources of Boston. The environmental scene is Boston and Cambridge is vibrant and our location gives students access to the many event hosted by various organizations. For example, in the next few weeks the Livable Streets Alliance,, Toxics Action Center, Environment Massachusetts, Massachusetts Climate Action Network, and the New England Grassroots Environment Fund are all hosting events. There are tremendous opportunities for students to engage with environmental organizations outside Lasell.

4. Geographic Location. I realize I have geographic location listed twice but it is really a huge asset to our program. The environment is the largest social movement in the world and so many non-profit organizations have offices or are headquartered in Boston. Associated with these offices are great internship opportunities for our students. Also many of the state and federal offices working on environmental issues are also located in Boston.

5. The Green Campus Initiative. Lasell College has committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. Further we have set several other sustainability goals as part of our Green Campus Initiative. The Initiative provides a great opportunity for Environmental Studies students to take on leadership roles to help reduce the ecological footprint of our campus.

6. The Turtles. Our lab houses three endangered aquatic turtles. While they are big now, they were only 7 grams when we first brought them home.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Earth Hour

Saturday, March 28th, the World Wildlife Fund is coordinating Earth Hour. They are asking individuals, businesses, organizations, and governments to turn off the lights for one hour. Specifically the lights should be turned off at 8:30 PM local time.

This is a clever idea and the organization has done a good job in promoting it. I'll be at a surprise birthday party on Saturday evening. How do I convince the host, somebody I have never met, to switch the lights off at 8:30? WWF has produced some good PR materials. Maybe I will print some and sprinkle them throughout the apartment and subtly plant the idea. Better yet, maybe I will convince the birthday boy that this is something we need to do. Really it would make the party much more interesting. At the very least I will shoot to have the lights turned off for some length of time. Even if it is only for 10 minutes, it will still raise awareness of the issue and get people at the party talking about energy conservation.

Have fun in the dark!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Light a Fire Under Them

It is clear the occupants of Potter Hall are not happy with my recent posts about how they have a larger environmental impact than the offices of their peers. Hey, data can't lie! Well maybe data can be used to manipulate a bit. Mark Twain said it best, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." But the data I have reported is pretty straightforward. The occupants of Potter Hall are using more electricity and producing more waste per person than any of the other offices.

Why are the Potter Hall occupants so offended? Maybe referring to them as muggles has set them off. What does muggle mean anyway? I know in Harry Potter it means a person without magical powers. I can only think of one person in Potter that might be offended by this label. Maybe muggle has a meaning I am not aware of. Wikipedia informed me there are a few other meanings such as a person lacking a skill, a marijuana cigarette, a hot chocolate, or it can be a verb to represent the act of removing a cache in the sport of geocaching. I don't think these explain why they are so offended.

What can it be? Probably I have hit a nerve by identifying this group as the worst environmental offenders in the Green Office Challenge. Nobody likes to be labeled the worst. This little experiment really highlights the power of making environmental impact data more transparent. When groups see they are not the best, they will be motivated to change. The key is groups. Doug McKenzie-Mohr has done some great work showing the power of social marketing in fostering sustainable behavior. I am starting to realize the sustainability movement needs pscychologists more than physical scientists (notice I stuck in physical so as not to offend the Psychology Department). Britain Scott, at the University of St. Thomas, and Susan Kroger, at Willamette, created a great resource for teaching pscyhology for sustainability. I am trying to figure out how we can run a similar course at Lasell. It would be a great addition to our Environmental Studies Program.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Oh, Mr. Potter

The more we look the worse it gets for Potter Hall. As part of our Green Office Challenge, students in Environmental Science (ENV211) examined electricity use over a three day period last week. Potter Hall used 398 kWh compared to 157, 159, and 129 kWh in Plummer, Bancroft, and Klingbeil, respectively.

Occupants of Potter will quickly point out that they have more people working or a bigger square footage. We can normalize by these factors and guess what? Potter Hall is using a much higher rate of electricity consumption than other similar offices on campus. Per square foot, Potter Hall is using nearly three times the electricity as Plummer and Bancroft. Per person, Potter Hall uses about 9.5 kWh per day compared to 3.3 in Klingbeil and 6.6 in Bancroft.

I pointed out to the students charged with helping Potter Hall with the Green Office Challenge that they better win. This building clearly has the most room for improvement. First we found they have a low recycling rate and now we discover they use an excessive amount of electricity. Hopefully my students will be able to help Potter Hall occupants understand the impact of their daily actions and to reduce their ecological footprints. For those of you placing wagers on the Green Office Challenge, Potter Hall is my favorite to win.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Muggles in Potter Hall

We launched the Green Office Challenge at Lasell College last week. Faculty and staff working in Potter, Bancroft, Klingbeil, and Plummer are competing to demonstrate they are the greenest office on campus. Electricity, waste, recycling, and vehicle miles traveled were estimated during the baseline period last week. We will measure these areas again in April during the competition week and look for the greatest improvement. Students in my Environmental Science Class (ENV211) are working with office occupants to help them identify how to reduce their environmental impact.

The contest has piqued the interest of many faculty and staff members. Member of Klingbeil have been plotting how to win this contest. I've heard some of thier ideas such as telecommuting during the contest week. Hopefully some ideas will emerge from this contest that are sustainable.

The baseline data is very interesting to examine. Potter Hall, home to many college administrative offices, has the lowest recycling rate. During the baseline week only 20% of their waste was recycled. Plummer was not much better as they only recycled 32% of their waste. However Plummer does deserve credit for minimizing waste and only producing 38 lbs of waste for the week compared to 70, 78, and 91 lbs in Potter, Bancroft, and Kleinbeil, respectively. Bancroft had the highest recycling rate as 69% of their waste was recycled. Klingbeil was close at 62%.

Potter and Bancroft are two good buildings to compare. They produced about the same amount of waste for the week but Bancroft had a much higher recycling rate. What was different in these buildings? I don't have the answer yet but I will certainly have my students find out. Maybe Potter Hall occupants need to be educated about recycling more? Maybe recycling bins are missing or hidden in Potter? Maybe these employees feel less of an obligation to recycle?

Hopefully just highlighting their inadequate recycling rate compared to other campus offices will motivate Potter Hall to figure out how to get the job done. I am looking forward to seeing how the Green Office Challenge plays out. I really hope to see some creativity and improvements.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

March Madness

College basketball shines in March. The Lasell College men just lost a heartbreaker in the GNAC Tournament. My alma mater, Siena College, has had an amazing year and just won the MAAC Tournament to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Basketball brings excitement and energy to college campuses at a time of year when students in the northeast are ready to be done with winter.

While the players are shining on the court, so are the lights overhead. The energy consumption by a college gymnasium is extremely high. I now know that our Athletic Center is lit by HID fixtures that use 1000 watts each. There are 16 of these lamps so they use about 16,000 watts. Athletes are in the gym by 7 AM and the facility is in use late, say 10 PM. The lighting is slow to turn on so it most typically is left on everyday for over 13 hours. We can estimate the gym lights are on for about 3,000 hours during the academic year. This costs the College about $6000 for the electricity and requires the emission of about 55 tons of carbon dioxide to generate.

What options are there to reduce electricity consumption in gymnasiums? Other Colleges have been exploring new lighting technology in their gymnasiums that reduce energy use while enhancing the lighting quality. Smith College in Massachusetts has taken the initiative to retrofit most of their gym spaces.

There are two main options that would work for Lasell. First, we could simply replace the 1000 watt lamps with 750 watt lamps. This would be an easy means to quickly achieve a 25% reduction in electricity usage. This change would save the College about $1500 a year, reduce our carbon footprint by 13 tons, and only cost about $3,000.

Second, we could do a retrofit to T5HO lighting as done in the basketball gymnasium at Smith. This project would cost a bit more, Smith spent $20,000 but the energy savings would be drastic. This retrofit would reduce wattage by 67% and occupancy sensors limit power when the space is not in use. Based on my assumptions, this retrofit would save the College $4,000 in electricity each year and reduce our carbon footprint by 36 tons. This one project would reduce electricity use by Lasell College by about 1%- a big step towards our 80% CO2 reduction by 2050 goal. The athletes will appreciate the enhanced lighting and cooler temperatures, those 1000 watt fixtures are also generating heat!

As colleges market their programs during the NCAA Basketball Tournament this year, you will see an increase in the mention of sustainability and green initiatives. Pay attention to the images colleges show while they mention these initiatives. Lighting will be a recurring theme, including in gymnasiums. Lighting is the low hanging fruit for energy conservation. Retrofitting lighting has high rate of return over the life of the project. These projects save colleges money and reduce carbon footprints and are very easy to justify.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cutting Carbon One Refrigerator at a Time

In the fall I wrote about the excessive number of refrigerators Lasell College students have in the residence halls. Research by students in my Environmental Science course has identified more excessive refrigeration on campus. Faculty and staff offices! Students have been visiting faculty and staff office buildings to conduct energy use audits as part of our Green Office Challenge. While visiting these offices, students have been documenting appliances and electronics and noted a large number of refrigerators. In some buildings students noticed the ratio is close to one refrigerator per office. In Potter Hall alone, students counted 7 mini-refrigerators and they still haven't visited every office in the building.

Observations such as this are great because they provide an opportunity for action. Students can now work with the occupants of the buildings to identify how they can reduce the number of refrigerators. I won't suggest anything because I want to see what students come up with but I suspect sharing may be involved.

I really like this project because students will encounter so many of the realities in trying to green an organization. Students will likely come up with solutions that are simple and logical. However when they recommend these changes they will encounter all kinds of suprises. Changing behavior is not easy. The refrigerators may have been in use in that office for the past 10 years. Office occupants will be resistant to change.

Going green does not have to cost much but it will require some sacrifice. Faculty and staff may have to sacrifice the luxury of having a refrigerator in their office for the good of the College's carbon footprint.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Landfill Gas to Energy

Waste management companies such as Allied Waste and Waste Management are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to produce electricity from methane gas released in their landfills. In the past, methane gas released from decaying material in landfills was simply burned off to the atmosphere. But there is growing investment in capturing methane to generate electricity. There are now over 200 plants that capture methane gas from landfills to produce electricity and the companies plan to continue to expand these operations.

Understandably the waste companies spin this as part of their sustainability efforts. Typically the companies will highlight how they are recapturing this wasted greenhouse gas to generate electricity and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. There is truth to this and sales representatives are good at using this in their pitch. They will put you at ease with the 180 tons of waste your organization generates each year because it is going to generate electricity. While it is true that electricity will likely be derived from our decaying waste, the massive amounts of waste we generate still is something we need to worry about.

The waste generated at Lasell College does make it to a landfill that captures methane gas to produce electricity. Of course this plant is located somewhere in South Carolina! Our waste is loaded up on trains every night in Boston and hauled down to landfills in South Carolina. The costs of hauling the waste south on trains and dumping it into landfill there are less than utilizing landfills in the northeast.

I completely support the idea of capturing methane gas from landfills to produce electricity. However I also recognize that we waste too much in this country. We should not feel at ease with our waste generation patterns because we know it will help produce electricity.

Waste management companies are increasing their offerings of recycling services to fill a demand. This will help keep material out of landfills but it will not reduce our waste generation. We cannot rely on waste management companies to find solutions on how to reduce and reuse our waste though. Remember we pay them to take our waste (recycling and trash) by the ton.

Reducing our waste in the first place is the real challenge. We need to pressure manufacturers to minimize packaging. We need to buy less and share more. We need to eliminate the thow away culture that has taken control of our communities. At Lasell College, coffee cups and water bottles are two of the leading materials that end up in our waste. There is a simple solution, reusuable mugs and bottles, for both of these but we have not been able to create that culture yet. There are some college campuses where you risk being mauled if you are seen carrying a paper coffee cup to class. How do we get to that point?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Biofuels and Cropland Requirements

Today in my environmental science class we are working through a series of calculations to estimate the amount of cropland it would take to produce enough ethanol to satisfy American's thirst for oil. The average American uses about 25 barrels of oil per year. Some rough estimates:
-25 barrels is about 146,200,00 Btu
-It takes about 1124 gallons of gasoline to produce this equivalent in Btu
-To produce this Btu equivalent would take 1843 gallons of ethanol
-It take about 737 bushels of corn to produce this much ethanol
-It takes about 6.7 acres of land to produce this many bushels

So the average American needs 6.7 acres of corn producing land to satisfy their oil thirst. The rough estimates get more fun. Let's multiply the 6.7 acres of land needed by the number of Americans and we get somewhere around 2 billion acres. How many acres of cropland is there in America? About 435 million acres. The entire land area of the United States is 2.262 billion acres.

Environmental studies students at Lasell quickly start the see the issue with biofuels. While biofuels may help supplement our liquid fuel needs it certainly is not a solution. Where will the carrots (83,000 acres), strawberries (51,000 acres), and wheat (55,000,000 acres) grow?

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Look and Feel of Single Stream

Lasell College is almost done transitioning to a single stream recycling system. The transition has presented many challenges but I think we are making good progress. For example, the single stream system expands the materials that can be recycled so much that the small "Slim Jim" recycling containers are not big enough. This is a good thing but an issue we had to address. Our solution- use 30 gallon garbage cans lined them with blue bags. The blue bag is the symbol of recycling at Lasell.

At the end of one day we noticed a lot of trash ending up in the blue bags. I guess it still looks too much like a garbage can even with the stickers and posters. My leadership class came up with a clever solution and I think this may work. We placed flags on the bins attached to wood dowels. Now a flag hangs over the recycling bin making it abundantly clear that this is a recycling bin and not a garbage can.

Next week we will continue to monitor progress. I think there is a lot of energy and excitement for the new system. Students appreciate the opportunity to recycle more of their waste. Students have been active across campus trying to educate the community. There is now a nice display in the window of Wolfe Hall. Bulletin boards and recycling stations are now decorated to promote our recycling system. The presence of recycling on campus is building and I think the culture is going to take hold.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What did you recycle yesterday?

Lasell College launched our new single stream recycling system yesterday. What did you recycle? Did you take advantage of the opportunity to recycle your cereal box? How about your laundry detergent bottle? The new single stream recycling system significantly expands the types of materials that can be recycled at Lasell College. And all of the materials can be placed in the same container!

Under our previous recycling system, campus members only had the opportunity to recycle paper, cans, and bottles. Now we can recycle cans, milk cartons, books, bottles, newspaper, cereal boxes, cardboard, notebooks, all plastic numbered 1-7, and many more materials. Campus community members now have the opportunity to recycle most of their waste. The challenge now is to change behavior and get students, faculty, and staff into the habit of recycling.

We now have the opportunity to recycle plastics numbered 1-7. What does this mean? Take a look a the bottom of any plastic container and chances are it has a number between 1 and 7. Water bottles, milk bottles, shampoo bottles, ketchup bottles, mustard bottles, yogurt containers, butter tubs, and clear food packaging all can be recycled. Take a look at the bottom of your waste and determine if it can be recycled.

Yesterday I recycled a tissue box, a cardboard box, empty envelopes, and some junk mail. The only trash I generated yesterday during my 9 hours at Lasell was a napkin at the dining hall and a banana peel. Faculty and staff should quickly recognize that they do not need trash bins in their offices and should convert their bins into recycling containers. Students in the residence halls should consider a similar transition. With the new single stream recycling system you should be able to recycle over half of your waste. Consider this a challenge. Can you do it?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

All Together Now

Next week we will begin the conversion to a single stream recycling system across the Lasell College campus. A lot of people have put in some hard work to make this conversion happen. We are hopeful that the conversion will simplify recycling and significantly increase our recycling rates. The physical resources will be in place, the custodial staff will be trained, and we will be launching a major education campaign in an effort to make recycling part of our culture at Lasell. By providing the community with the opportunity to easily recycle more materials and by providing educational materials, we hope the campus community will embrace single stream recycling and make this program a success.

A tremendous amount of work still has to be done but I want to take this opportunity to recognize the efforts of several campus members. Many people have been hard at work trying to make the single stream recycling system a success.

Tom Koerber, Director of Plant Operations, pursued the single stream option with the right level of caution. He took time to gather information to make sure a single stream system was best for Lasell. He negotiated the best possible contract with haulers and has hired a staff member to handle our recyclables.

Linda Williams, also in Plant Operations, has served a pivotal role in converting Lasell to the single stream system. Once the decision to convert to a single stream system was made, Linda has been busy preparing the physical resources the system will require. From ordering colored bags to printing stickers, Linda has been hard at work getting ready to re-purpose trash bins into recycling containers. There are a ton of trash bins around campus and Linda is starting the challenging process of associating all trash bins with a recycling container.

Kayla McKenna spent about a week of her winter break designing the single stream poster for Lasell. I think the design is great and the posters provide a concept that will be repeated across campus in all our educational efforts. The posters will be placed near all the recycling containers on campus so community members know how to recycle properly.

Lasell College now has a great recycling logo thanks to Samantha Crisman. Samantha also worked hard over winter break to design this logo. The logo has been printed on stickers and will be displayed on recycling containers around campus.

There was quite a debate about the appropriate recycling system for Lasell and Professor Toffler played a critical role in helping us reach a final decision. He spent time researching the pros and cons of different recycling systems and brought together the appropriate people to discuss. Professor Toffler has a passion for the environment and has done a great job energizing students on campus about sustainability issues.

Amy Greene recruited and trained students to serve as Sustainability Stewards. These students will have a presence on campus and be ready to educate fellow students about our new recycling system.

Scott Lamphere, Director of Residential Life, scheduled a recycling session during RA training. This provided a great opportunity to educate leaders in the residence halls about the new recycling system. Scott has also lead the bulletin board effort. Bulletin boards across campus will have a consistent look that presents our new single stream recycling system.

Students in my Leadership class are currently initiating leadership projects to make the single stream recycling system a sustainable success. Students are taking on projects to decorate recycling station areas, increase signage in the residence halls, produce marketing materials to promote the system, obtain recycling totes for student rooms, and many more clever ideas. They have a lot of energy and will play a big role in helping to create a green culture at Lasell.

This is just a sample of the many people hard at work trying to make the single stream system a success. It is going to take a campus wide effort to really make this system work. I encourage you to thank the people working hard on the recycling system and ask them how it is going. I also encourage campus members to step up and take on a leadership role to help us reach our sustainability goals. Whether you are a student, faculty, or staff member, we can find a way for you to help.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Total Diversion

I discussed in an earlier post the recycling system that was set up at the AASHE Conference I attended in the fall. At each station there was an opportunity to divert paper, compost, cardboard, and recyclables from the landfill. The recycling stations were impressive and I liked how the trash bin was labeled LANDFILL. Let's just make it clear where this material is going.

AASHE recently published the statistics from this recycling effort. I'm sure it took a lot of work to set this system up and to make it work but the results are impressive. For a conference with over 2000 people in attendance they were able to divert from the landfill over 90% of the waste material. Very impressive! Around 8,000 pounds of waste was collected and only 778 lbs was sent to the landfill.

At Lasell College we should learn from the AASHE Conference recycling. Their success clearly shows that if you give people the opportunity to divert their waste from the trash they will. In the next few weeks we will be launching a new single stream recycling system at Lasell. I'm excited about this system because it will give campus community members the opportunity to recycle many more materials than in our previous system. With this system in place, it is reasonable to set a goal of a 30-50% diversion rate.

But the AASHE Conference recycling results also highlight the importance of standardized waste stations. I believe we should set a goal at Lasell to eliminate all stand alone trash bins. If a trash bin is standing alone it will inevitably collect material that could be recycled. We need to standardize the appearance of every waste station and make sure there are more opportunities to recycle than to trash. With a standard look to every station, community members will learn the system and our recycling rates will increase.

It is interesting to also point out the amount of compost collected at the AASHE conference. This is an area I have suggested we consider at Lasell. Over 33% of the waste weight at the conference was compostable material. We do not collect any compost at Lasell. Back of house compost from Dining Services is the first place we should look. The waste from chopped vegetables currently goes into our trash. We could develop a system to get this material to a farm for composting. We pay by the ton for trash hauling and organic waste is filled with water and heavy. We could save a lot of money and increase our diversion rate with a simple composting system. Dining Services supports this idea and we are now trying to find a way to make it happen.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Stay on Target

I'm still riding the wave of energy brought on by Obama's inauguration speech. Classes have started for the spring semester at Lasell College and I am more fired up than ever. Students are coming to class with more passion and energy for the environment than ever before. If I can just enable these students and step out of their way good things will happen at Lasell.

2008 was the 9th warmest year on record despite a strong La Niña event in the Pacific Ocean (strong La Niña events typically cool the global temperatures). The warming trend continues as does the urgency with which we need to change our consumption patterns. While global temperatures are trending up, the economic climate is trending down. We are facing high variability and a large degree of uncertainty in our economy.

What does this mean for sustainability efforts at Lasell? While there is uncertainty in the economy, we cannot wait until the economy recovers to implement sustainability programs. The planet continues to warm at an alarming rate and we must do our part and act as fast as we can to address this issue. It has never been our intention to reach our greenhouse gas reduction goals through the purchasing of offsets. Our plan relies on implementing programs that will change the green culture of Lasell, reduce waste, and increase energy efficiency.

The Green Campus Task Force produced a report in 2007 outlining over 50 measures we could take to reduce our environmental footprint. By the end of the year, I hope to produce with the Environmental Sustainability Committee a Lasell College Climate Action Plan. By having a long term plan in place, the College will have a stable document with which to fall back during tough times. We need to take the measures recommended by the Green Campus Task Force and evaluate how much they will cost, what will the impact be on greenhouse gas reductions, and how much effort will it take to sustain program. With that information we can put together goals for the next five years.

Given the current economic climate, I would advise that we pursue low cost, high impact, high effort projects first. Implementing low cost projects does not ensure success though. These types of projects typically require a sustained campus wide effort. Good old sweat equity is needed to make these projects work. Whether from students, faculty, or staff, the success of these projects will depend on our efforts and creativity.

We must continue to make progress towards our sustainability goals despite economic uncertainty. The stakes are too high not to meet our sustainability commitment. By shifting our priorities we will be able to stay on course without having to invest heavily in energy conservation projects. It won't be easy though and we are going to need help from every corner of campus. The projects are going to require an enormous amount of energy!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Work of Remaking America

Today in deWitt Hall members of the Lasell College community gathered to watch an historic moment as President Obama was sworn into office. This was truly a significant event in American history that means so much to so many. I was touched on my T ride to Lasell today when I overhead a lady describing how she was wearing peals to support Michelle Obama and how she was going to get the inauguration on DVD so she could save the moment forever.

Tonight the pageantry will end and tomorrow Barack Obama and his team will get to work. Coincidentally Lasell College will resume classes tomorrow. I found it very inspiring when Obama stated, "Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America." Tomorrow we start a new semester and students and faculty at Lasell must recognize the significance our work has in this endeavor.

While "remaking America" can mean many things, remaking America's impact on the environment is most meaningful to me. The Earth's resources cannot sustain the American lifestyle infinitely. We need to remake how we acquire and use energy. We need to retrofit our homes and buildings to conserve every watt and therm possible. We must minimize waste and maximize repurposed materials. While these sound like monumental tasks they are all things that we can make happen right here at Lasell.

Good things are happening as we continue to "remake Lasell" as part of our Green Campus Initiative. We will be launching a comprehensive recycling program in February. Plant Operations continues to update insulation, lighting, heating units, and windows to improve energy efficiency. The Environmental Studies major continues to grow and more students are expressing interest in sustainability issues. We have had our share of differences in how to pursue our sustainability goals but tomorrow we "dust ourselves off and begin again."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

That's a Lot of Lux

The lighting in my office suite area is poorly designed. One switch in the hallway controls the lights to the hall and multiple faculty offices. In the morning I leave the lights off and turn on two 20 watt CFLs in my office. Eventually one of the professors I share the suite with will arrive and throw on the switch.

Sometimes I feel like music should play when the switch is turned on because it is a flood of light. There is enough light in my office to perform surgery! The small suite area has 18 fluorescent lamps each rated at 32 watts. It is lighting overkill. In my little office there are over 2.7 watts of lighting per square foot. I pulled out a light meter and measured over 50 footcandles. I've thought about climbing up and pulling out the lamps but I want to have the light available when students come in for help or advising.

How much light do I really need in my office? Since I spend most of my office time working on my computer I think 10 footcandles would be plenty. My office suite is just one example of over lighting. I know over lighting is an issue elsewhere on campus and one way we can trim our carbon footprint.

Lighting on the Lasell College campus consumes a large proportion of our electricity and presents an interesting challenge. There needs to be a balance between lamp costs, lighting output, and occupant needs. Maybe I'll pull together a group of professors to argue over the number of footcandles needed in classrooms. There isn't one answer so this would be a fun academic exercise. Each learning situation has a different lighting need. Unfortunately we do not have much control. Most of the lighting in our classrooms have only an on or off option and too often they are left on.

Most of our lighting is 32 watt T8 style lamps. This is actually a fairly efficient system. Of course when you have 6 of them in a 70 square foot area something is lost in the efficiency category. More efficient options do exist. For example, I want to learn more about the lamps sold by Philips that are 25 watt T8 lamps. Switching to this lamp would trim 20% in a hurry.

Monday, January 5, 2009

My 432 lb Diet Pepsi

Perhaps out of boredom I just decided I needed a soda. I ventured over to Wolfe Hall to the soda machine. I inserted my $1.25 and received an ice cold Diet Pepsi. I recognize there are so many environmental issues with my decision but sometimes a soda sounds so much more refreshing than tap water. I'll put the discussion of aspartame, plastic bottling, transportation, manufacturing, and recycling aside for now. I want to discuss the vending machine.

Most people probably wouldn't even notice but I am developing an eye for this type of thing. The last final exam at Lasell College was on December 20th and classes resume on January 21st. I was just able to purchase an ice cold soda in a building that is empty from students for a full month. There are only three offices in the building so chances are the machine is getting no use. In fact, I am willing to bet I may have purchased the only soda from that machine for the 1 month break period.

A typical soda vending machine uses about 400 watts. The machine does not have a VendingMiser so it is fully powered 24 hours a day. For the 1 month period when students are not on campus the machine will use about 288 kWh of electricity. This costs the College about $34.56. The carbon footprint of the vending machine during this period is about 432 lbs of CO2 if we assume 1.5 lbs per kWh.

Small details such as vending machine power add up on a college campus but are hard to manage. I have no idea how many machines we have on campus. I'm sure there are some in the dorms running right now as well as in other academic buildings. If there are 10 then we are wasting $345.60 in electricity during the break and indirectly emitting 4320 lbs of CO2.

I could dig further and call around to find out who overseas vending machines on campus. I don't know whose responsibility it would be to unplug machines. I'm sure we have some type of contract but locating the details would take quite of bit of time. I'm busy trying to prepare my syllabus for my Environmental Science class. I think I just identified the first assignment though.