UConn Office of Environmental Policy

Promoting sustainability at UConn


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Environmentally and Socially Conscious Holiday Shopping

by OEP intern Emily Udal

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, we’ve started worrying about our holiday shopping. As a consumer, it’s important to be conscious of the impacts your purchases make – not just to the gift recipient, but also to the people who create the product. Take a break from studying and take a look at the variety of tote bags and other items you can chose from that support environmental and social good.

Recycled Canvas Totes from Etsy

Reduce your carbon footprint when you go grocery shopping. By remembering to bring a tote to carry your items, you can reduce the amount of paper and plastic bags, which have detrimental impacts on the environment.  About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute, with the average family accumulating 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store. The sad reality of plastic bag consumption is that plastic bags aren’t biodegradable, they photo-degrade, meaning the materials break down to smaller fragments which readily soak up toxins which then contaminate the soil, waterways and harm marine life. Greenpeace estimates that at least 267 marine species are known to have suffered from getting entangled in or ingesting marine debris. So next time you’re considering using a plastic bag, take the extra step to use your reusable tote bag to prevent the amount of plastic bag waste.

Paisley Magic on Etsy

FEED Guatemala Tote Bag

FEED began in 2006 to benefit the United Nations World Food Program’s School Feeding program. To date, FEED has been able to raise enough money through the sale of products to provide over 60 million school meals to children around the world through the WFP. The FEED Foundation is dedicated to supporting programs and organizations that are working to fight hunger and eliminate malnutrition throughout the world. FEED products are used with environmentally friendly and artisan-made materials, along with fair-labor production. The FEED Guatemala Bag will provide 15 school meals. The bag is handmade in Guatemala by the Collaborative Group, a non-profit organization that empowers artisans around the world using traditional Ikat fabrics.

FEED Guatamala Products

Recycled Sari Clutch by People Tree

People Tree, founded in 2001, has been a pioneer in environmentally sustainable fashion, particularly for their support of Fair Trade practices. The company, also registered by the World Fair Trade Organization, has worked with artisans in developing countries to work with local communities to sell handcrafted goods. People Tree works closely with farmers on organic cotton farming, and aims to use recycled materials and dyes that are free from harmful chemicals. Purchasing an item from People Tree helps double the income of the local artisan workers that helps foster economic development in their communities.

Recycled Sari Clutch

Apple & Bee Organic Cotton Canvas Tote

 Apple and Bee is an Australian-owned, carbon neutral business that started The Bee Foundation, a non-profit organization to raise awareness of Colony Collapse Disorder, a phenomenon where a honey bee colony will die off, likely due to fertilizers. This has widespread implications for the US economy because of its effects on agriculture. Honeybees help support a large portion of the world’s food crops and the agricultural economy, and pollinate about one-third of crop species in the United States. According to the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, bee pollination is responsible for more than $15 billion in increased crop value each year. Commercial production of many specialty crops like almonds, berries, fruits and vegetables are also heavily dependent on honey bee pollination. You can help support research on Colony Collapse Disorder through Apple and Bee, who donate part of their profits to The Bee Foundation.

Apple and Bee EcoTotes

Econscious 100% Organic Cotton Boat Totes

Econscious supports sustainable apparel by sourcing organic and sustainable fibers. The company supports social equity, ecological sustainability, and corporate responsibility by using a market-based approach to work closely with their supply chain to eliminate the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and other harmful chemicals. The Organic Trade Association classifies organic cotton to be grown without the use of toxic and persistent pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. The methods for growing organic cotton have a low impact on the environment and prohibit the use of genetically engineered seed for organic farming.  On the contrary, growing conventional cotton requires the use of pesticides, which has huge environmental impacts as well as health risks for those working around it. Purchasing organic cotton products helps support and expands the market for cotton grown without the harmful agricultural inputs, benefiting the environment and human health.

Econscious Bags


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UConn Participates in 10th Annual Campus Sustainability Day

by OEP intern Skyler Marinoff

This past October 24th was the 10th annual Campus Sustainability Day (CSD). CSD is an occasion for college and university campuses to celebrate the unique role they play in the movement towards a sustainable society. Sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), CSD is a national event with 151 institutions participating from coast to coast. This was the first year that the University of Connecticut joined in.

As a center of higher learning and forward thinking, UConn has a growing culture interested in practicing and spreading awareness about sustainability. From student organizations to faculty and staff initiatives, UConn has distinguished itself as one of the “greenest” schools in the country (as we were proudly recognized by the Sierra Club!). The contributors to UConn’s CSD were equally diverse, including sustainability staff from the Office of Environmental Policy (OEP), the EcoHouse Learning Community, Green Grads, EcoHusky Student Group, Spring Valley Student Farm, and even Ballroom Dancing Club.

The first part of CSD focused on sharing information about the various opportunities available for students to get involved in the green movement on campus. This was a great opportunity for these groups to advertise their ongoing activities and projects. Tables, tents, and displays were set up on Fairfield Way. Participants brought games, produce, and a range of information for students to take on their way through campus. The fair-style event provided a physical representation of the sustainable movement at UConn.

The second component of CSD was a review of UConn’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) by sustainability intern Emily McInerney. The CAP is a guidance document that is a product of the American Colleges and Universities Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) intended to outline steps to lead UConn to carbon neutrality by the year 2050. Emily gave a brief presentation on the history of the CAP, its progress since implementation in 2009, and what the future holds in light of the goals it sets out.

The talk set the stage for a breakout session in which the (mostly undergraduate) crowd formed groups to discuss the student-centric aspects of UConn’s CAP and sustainability initiatives. Conversation focused on ways in which students can learn about and get involved with sustainability programs on campus. Groups identified information gaps, including the general lack of awareness about electronic waste recycling and car share programs, and pressing campus issues like food waste, recycling, and sustainable transport.

Finally, the discussion turned towards ways to address these problems or promote the progress that UConn has made. Including sustainability-related information early in students’ UConn experience such as during freshman orientation or campus tours received widespread support, as did adjusting the parking fee structure to encourage alternative transit or carpooling. Students suggested that simple relatable messages could be effective in addressing issue like food or electricity waste.

Overall, CSD proved to be a success. The greatest accomplishment of 2012’s CSD was the collaboration and communication that occurred between the diverse factions of students and organizations. Networking, conversation, and education were focal points of the day’s events and these exchanges between the different parties will be a platform for which UConn can continue to build itself, both in practice and in philosophy, as a school dedicated to long-term sustainability. We look forward to participating in 2013!


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EcoMadness Final Results 2012!

The final results on EcoMadness 2012 are in!

Energy

Throughout the competition, Buckley has held the number one spot for lowest daily per capita usage of energy, at 3.7 kWh per student per day.  Their hard work and dedication kept them in the lead, and as a reward they will have a free UConn Dairy Bar ice cream party in addition to bragging rights!

In the energy reduction category, Sherman/Webster of Towers held the lead for three weeks. However, during our double or nothing final week of competition, Whitney scrambled ahead in the final moments! They had held a top three position throughout the competition, but Whitney beat out Sherman/Webster by a slim 0.03% finishing for a 20.5% total reduction in energy consumption.

Of the 23 participating dorms, 21 successfully reduced their energy consumption by a total average of 8.5%. The average per capita use was 4.4 kWh per day.

Water

Sprague, the new home of EcoHouse, was the clear winner for water reduction with an incredible final reduction of 21.0%! For some perspective on what a major accomplishment this was, the second place dorm reduced by 13.0%. Since the second week of competition, Sprague held its leading spot with steady improvements each week.   Another winner who held their position consistently throughout EcoMadness was Hamilton/Wade/Fenwick/Keller of Towers with an average per capita consumption of 32.0 gallons of water per day throughout the course of the competition.

Nine of the 23 dorms reduced their water consumption by an overall average of 2.9%.  Excluding the dorms whose water consumption was unchanged, the average reduction in water consumption was 7.1%.  The average per capita use of water was 39.9 gallons per day. (Converting that to its weight, the average per capita use is 334 lbs of water daily!)

An honorable mention goes out to our second and third place dorms for all four winning categories:

Per Capita Energy: Holcomb (2nd Place) and Batterson (3rd Place)
Energy Use Reduction (%): Sherman/Webster (2nd Place) and Hollister A/Hollister B (3rd Place)

Per Capita Water: Terry (2nd Place) and Spraque (33.4)
Water Use Reduction: Alsop A/Alsop B (2nd Place) and Whitney (3rd Place)

The overall final results are as follows:

Water Reduction Winner:
Sprague (21% Reduction)

Energy Reduction Winner:
Whitney (East) (20.5% Reduction)

Water Usage Per Capita Winner:
Hamilton/Wade/Fenwick/Keller (32 gallons)

Energy Usage Per Capita Winner:
Buckley (3.7 kWh)

Congratulations to all the dorms that successfully reduced their water and/or energy consumption during the course of EcoMadness.  Keep up the good work and remember to keep conserving!


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Retro-commissioning at UConn

by Alexander Samalot, OEP Intern

The variable frequency drive

UConn is currently undergoing a significant conservation and construction effort that many students may not know about. Currently buildings are becoming drastically more efficient through adjustments in the way energy is handled. I recently sat in on Sebesta’s (an engineering and design service company hired by the school) meeting. They were explaining to the UConn Utility services the changes that have been made across campus followed by a tour of the newest completed building, the Agricultural Biotechnology Laboratory.

What Sebesta has done is a process called retro-commissioning. It involves specifying building occupancy schedules, allowing for certain utilities to be turned down or off when not needed. Previously buildings would run the CO2 and heating/cooling ventilation based on the hours that the building had expected use. This wastes a tremendous amount of energy for unused space. Even small changes in the run time and rate of heaters and chillers and ventilation can have exponential savings.

The pumps controlled by the variable frequency drive

Most of the explanation regarded the changes in the newest retro commissioned building, the agriculture biotech facility. Due to these changes there is supposed to be an annual savings of $112,000. The large number of laboratories in the building needs a significant amount of ventilation for the potentially dangerous chemicals. The laboratory I toured was a Biosafety level two (out of four). It is not a life threatening area; biosafety level two simply means certain biological agents may be used in the lab, which demonstrates the need for lab ventilation.

There are three places which were specifically retro-fitted; one is the lab itself, the fume hood and the biosafety cabinet.  There are new controls using top of the line technology such as infrared and camera controlled zone pressure sensors. This is a very technical way of describing a box which detects if someone is sitting in front of the hood, which automatically turns off the ventilation when not in use. Also there are new valves called VAV’s which open and close using a mechanical arm when not in use and operate at a highly reduced flow. The building itself offers Variable Frequency Drives which are newer computers controlling water and air pump motors that move all of the warm and cool air and water throughout the building. These controllers drastically decrease the energy costs of the building causing very large savings and reduced energy use.

The Retro commissioning project is a great example of how new technology can be successfully implemented to have a large effect on campus. The existing buildings have had their existing infrastructure optimized resulting in notable reductions in energy use and savings for the school. With the construction of so many new buildings on campus focused on sustainability , it’s important to remember that there are buildings on campus that are over sixty years old that have significant room for improvement.