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.