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.