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!