UConn Office of Environmental Policy

Promoting sustainability at UConn


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Coordinator’s Corner: GHG emissions when traveling

I’ve been doing a bit of traveling this summer.  I visited family in various places in Ohio, and next I’m heading to Chicago at the end of the month for the American Political Science Association annual meeting.  As I’ve made my travel plans, I wondered whether it was better to fly or drive.  I decided to investigate!

I found a calculator online to answer my question.

Here’s my scenario – my husband and son were going to the beach in North Carolina with my in-laws for a week. They needed a car while there, so they drove. I was then meeting them in Columbus to visit with my family, and then we were driving up to Cleveland to visit some friends and more in-laws, then driving back to Connecticut.  I was originally planning to fly down to Columbus, but then I thought about how much carbon a plane emits.  Would it be greener if I drove myself to Ohio?

Using the above calculator, I figured out that with our backup car (which only gets about 26 mpg on the highway), driving alone, it would be slightly more environmentally friendly to fly to Columbus.  However, the big carbon savings comes when I join my husband and child and we do all the rest of our driving in one car.  If I brought our other car down, we would have to drive two cars back up to Connecticut – super wasteful!

Heading to Chicago later this month, it’s much better to drive than to fly with three people in the car!

Next time you plan a trip, figure out whether it’s better to fly or drive (or even better, take a train or a bus!)


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We’re #1: Sierra Club Top 10 Coolest Schools

Shout it from the green rooftops (like the one on Laurel Hall), UConn ranked #1 in this year’s Sierra Club “Cool Schools” survey on America’s greenest colleges and universities! Since ranking in the top 50 in 2010, UConn has gone nowhere but up, recently climbing from 16th, to 5th and now 1st.  This success can be attributed to the collaborative efforts of many departments on campus, support from the state of Connecticut, individual and corporate donors to the Campus sustainability fund, as well as student involvement through groups such as EcoHusky and EcoHouse.

We are working hard to promote a culture of sustainability at UConn, so that sustainable behavior carries on into all facets of everyday life!  More than 40% of our research faculty does work that benefits the environment.  UConn offers almost 600 classes related to sustainability and has recently launched a new Environmental Studies major which will help bridge the gap between scientists and policymakers through interdisciplinary course work. Here at UConn, we not only want to make an impact on today’s world, but we also want to prepare the next generation to lead us into the future!

Future investments are important, but we also want to make an impact today.  Since 2005, UConn has reduced its water use on the main campus by 15% and has recently opened a reclaimed water facility that can repurpose water for heating and cooling.  UConn also opened a composting facility in 2010 which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and volume of waste as well as providing quality compost for the community.  A new microgrid is being installed at the depot campus and is expected to be operational by June of 2014.  This grid is not only a more sustainable power source, but will help the university and near-by communities deal with severe weather such as the super storms we have seen in the past few years.  UConn has also been very committed to green building by constructing LEED certified buildings (it’s University Policy for all new construction to be LEED Silver or better) and retro-commissioning and re-lamping many of our buildings.

My personal role as an intern at the OEP doesn’t often bring me close to these incredible technological advances or large investment projects.  My focus is the students and engaging the community in environmental awareness.  In that area, UConn has also excelled through a variety of annual and special events.  In the fall we work with ResLife to run EcoMadness, which is a month long competition in which students strive to reduce their energy and water usage by as much as possible.   We also work with the Athletics department in order to put on three Green Game Days throughout the year (one football and two basketball) where we encourage fans to recycle and try to make the games carbon neutral if possible.  In the Spring we run a sneaker collection drive where donated sneakers are shipped to needy children and teens in Africa through the student group Kicks for Africa.  Our biggest awareness event of the year is Earth Day Spring Fling where a variety of vendors come to campus and showcase how their businesses are sustainable.  Dining Services is also a huge contributor and they bring in local food for students and community members to enjoy as they check out the vendor tables.

From working on the survey myself, along with my fellow interns and sustainability coordinators, I can say that this accomplishment was no small feat.  It took hours of compiling research, fact checking previous submissions, and updating old information.  Getting the metrics for some categories was quite a chore as well, but we were determined to submit the most complete and accurate information available.  It was often difficult to balance working on the survey while still keeping up with our other tasks such as coordinating and running events.  This was especially true because the spring time is our busiest season.  All in all, it was a rough journey, but also gave us interns an opportunity to expand our knowledge of what happens here on our campus both in the public eye and behind the scenes.  Despite many challenges, our hard work paid off and we are now so proud to be #1.  Thanks especially to all of last year’s seniors who held off spring fever in order to accomplish this monumental task!  Great job UConn, keep up the awesome work!

– Katie Kelleher


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Renewable Energy in Iceland: Emily McInerney’s Summer Abroad

Góðan daginn! My name is Emily McInerney and I am an OEP intern majoring in Natural Resources. I will be entering my junior year of college this fall semester. I recently spent seven weeks of my summer studying abroad in Iceland. When I first told friends and family of my plans I was met by confusion and concern. Mostly I received the astonished, “You really want to spend your SUMMER in ICEland?” or “Isn’t that where the sun never goes down? How will you sleep?” Well, I decided it was worth forgoing a tan because, as an environmentalist who aspires to an environmental career, Iceland is the perfect place to advance my education. Its geographic location and topography allow for the utilization of geothermal and hydroelectric energy and set Iceland at the forefront of renewable energy with the potential to lead the world toward a more sustainable energy budget.

Gullfoss Waterfall, one of the attractions of the Golden Ring

Gullfoss Waterfall, one of the attractions of the Golden Ring

 

 

Multicolored rhyolite mountains of the Highlands

Multicolored rhyolite mountains of the Highlands

Iceland is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where it lies on the rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates and is considered a geologic rarity with glaciers and volcanoes creating a uniquely contrasting landscape. Beginning in 1999, the Icelandic government took initiative and began creating a clean energy Master Plan that described a list of prospective hydropower and geothermal project alternatives and ranked them based on their environmental, economic, and social implications.

I spent much of the trip further researching the highly controversial Kárahnjúkar hydropower plant (constructed prior to the implementation of the Master Plan) in northeastern Iceland. Hydropower constitutes more than 70% of Iceland’s electricity. In 2010, only 42% of hydropower available for generation had been utilized. There is therefore still opportunity for the expansion of hydroelectric energy. Hydropower is constantly replenished by the hydrological cycle and produces electricity through the process of harnessing running water. Its efficiency can be as high as 80% but it does not come without consequences. So while hydropower is, of course, better for the environment than coal, oil, and natural gas, especially since it is not a source of greenhouse gas emissions, it still has negative environmental impacts.

Hydropower requires the construction of dams and reservoirs, which can greatly transform the natural hydrologic patterns and disturb the geologic features and cycles of an area. Damming a river alters the flow of water, leading to sediment buildup upstream and thus erosion downstream, which therefore causes changes to the river channel and watershed area morphology. The altered water flow also results in a change of downstream water quality. This includes nutrient composition, temperature, and turbidity of the water and will thus affect which species the waterway is habitable to. For dams located near areas of high seismic activity, which is very common in Iceland, special consideration needs to be given to the design, because any tectonic activity could greatly damage the dam and cause significant changes to the movement of water in the area.

Mountains covered in moss and lichen

Mountains covered in moss and lichen

Hiking in Landmannalaugar

Hiking in Landmannalaugar

The Kárahnjúkar hydroelectric project raised public concern because of the environmental impacts listed above and because it provided electricity to the American greenhouse-gas-emitting aluminum smelter company, Alcoa (counter intuitive, right?). Many Icelanders were uncomfortable with the development of the power plant because it is also located within the bounds of the Kringilsárrani nature reserve, recognized for its geologic formations and thus identified as a protected area. The National Planning Agency initially rejected the plan for the project, citing that the Environmental Impact Assessment did not provide sufficient information, but the Minister for the Environment approved it four months later.

I contacted Herdís Helga Schopka (the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry’s expert who worked on the development of Iceland’s Master Plan) and inquired how, given her experience in the process of ranking the energy alternatives, she suspected Kárahnjúkar would have compared to the geothermal and hydroelectric projects evaluated in the Master Plan. She explained that the purpose of the Master Plan is to try and eliminate biases by putting it through a ranked process and that it is difficult to make an impartial decision when there is no price tag put on nature. Kárahnjúkar was essentially built because energy development coupled with the construction of aluminum factories is perceived to have many economic benefits. Therefore, there is less motivation to save the land- without monetizing the environmental costs they cannot outweigh the economic gains. She reasoned that while the power plant may have been built based onits Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), it would not have been constructed if it had been analyzed and ranked in the Master Plan.

Eyjafjallajökull glacier covered in ash from volcanic eruptions

Eyjafjallajökull glacier covered in ash from volcanic eruptions

Iceland's beautiful Skogafoss waterfall

Iceland’s beautiful Skogafoss waterfall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I then followed up with Brynhildur Davidsdottir (a Program for Environment and Natural Resources Studies professor at the University of Iceland) for a second opinion. She concluded that there must be a balance between the three dimensions (environment, economy, and society) to achieve sustainability. Weak sustainability must have positive movement overall but it allows for tradeoffs. Strong sustainability has positive movement for all three dimensions. For Kárahnjúkar, it was easy to rationalize the economic value of the power plant as outweighing the environmental degradation because there was no ranking system applied to the EIA. Therein lies the tradeoff and thus it characterizes weak sustainability. The Master Plan, however, uses multi-criteria analysis and gives all three dimensions numerical value and thus portrays strong sustainability by creating a platform for comparison.

This concept can be applied to UConn’s Climate Action Plan (CAP). In 2008, UConn’s president signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). This committed the university to carbon neutrality by 2050. Unfortunately, UConn doesn’t have the same access to renewable resources that Iceland does. Instead, the University created the CAP to organize mitigation and adaptation strategies for climate change and to help advance sustainability on campus. The CAP’s mitigation strategies are organized into three groups: energy, sustainable development, and transportation. Each group lists tactics for improvement  and describes their estimated emissions reduction, first cost, rate of investment, and time of implementation. These tactics are then ranked as either limiting, good, or excellent.

Although not a numerical ranking as seen in the Master Plan, the CAP utilizes a similar technique to compare the environmental benefits in terms of carbon dioxide reduction to the cost of the project or program. The social aspect is not directly applicable to the CAP and was not included. The CAP can thus be said to characterize strong sustainability. UConn recently received the number one ranking for the Sierra Club’s 2013 Cool Schools Survey and this can largely be attributed to how UConn has strategized and implemented measures for achieving carbon neutrality and its technique for assessing the feasibility of its greenhouse gas reduction measures.

What I found supremely interesting about Iceland is that, despite having the capacity to run the entire country on renewable energy, it has a horribly large carbon footprint. This is because the general public does not understand what it means to be sustainable. They have plenty of warm water so they take long showers. They drive everywhere, even down the block for a quick coffee, because, to put it simply, they can – it’s socially acceptable.

Here at UConn, we are working to educate students, staff, and faculty on the importance of being environmentally friendly. This is done through the many events we hold throughout the year: EcoMadness, Earth Day Spring Fling, CIMA, and much more. This new number one ranking should give students pride in their school and will hopefully help us continue to decrease our carbon footprint.


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Sustainability Roundup: Preparing for Climate Change

As people all over the world can share, our weather is changing as a result of global climate change.  Connecticut has experienced two hurricanes in the past three years, as well as several very bad blizzards that have left much of the state without power for days or even weeks.  Here are a few links to programs that are being put into place to cope with more frequent extreme weather events. 

UConn is installing a MicroGrid on the Depot campus to protect important facilities from power outages in future weather events. 

Several states, including Connecticut, are passing legislation to deal with the effects of climate change

The city of Ahmedabad, Gujarat in India has developed a Heat Action Plan to protect people from dangerous and more frequent heat waves.  Full Plan available here.

The City of Groton, CT has developed a very detailed process for dealing with climate change at a community level. See here for the full plan. 

Please feel free to share any other plans and programs that have been developed to address the effects of climate change that you know of. 

 


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Carpooling at UConn

Attention UConn commuters! This year, parking services is offering a carpooling program available to commuter students at the University of Connecticut.  The aim of the program is to encourage students to reduce their carbon footprint with the incentives of saving gas and money by riding to school together.  Carpooling is also a great way to save some money on your parking pass!

Students may choose to share a permit for North or South Garage, commuter lots, W Lot, or C Lot.  The great thing about this permit is that you’re sharing the space, not just one car.  Because each carpooler’s vehicle is registered, you can rotate who’s on driving duty.  Additionally, parking services provides 2 complimentary day passes per carpooler into this deal that can be used in any commuter lot, just in case you can’t make the carpool sometimes.  If 2 days isn’t enough, additional permits may be purchased at a low price.  So if you’ve got a couple of friends who also commute to UConn from your area, then get together and purchase a carpool permit!  Check out the parking services webpage to learn more about how you can sign up for this great program.  http://web2.uconn.edu/parking/carpool.html

 

– Katie


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Recycling at UConn

Paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, bottles and cans – what do all of these materials have in common?  Did you know that all of them can be disposed of in the same recycling bin? Three years ago, the University of Connecticut, with the help of WilliWaste, revitalized its twenty-year-old recycling program and adopted a single-stream recycling system. The goals of the new program are to save even more energy, reduce more waste and further the prevention of pollution. In 2010, it was determined that faculty, staff and students at UConn recycle only about 20% of the disposable materials that they use each day. Since then, UConn has set a new goal of at least 58% by 2024. To expedite the University’s progress towards the lofty, sustainable goal, more than one hundred outdoor recycling bins have been added across campus. Just like the indoor recycling bins, any bin can accept any recyclable material.

Data shows that, since single stream recycling was implemented in 2010, the new program has been successful. The amount of waste tonnage by bottles, cans, and newspaper has significantly decreased as students and staff have started discarding all recyclables into the same container. The amount of waste tonnage by mixed paper and corrugated plastic has also decreased. Therefore, the amount of single streamed waste has grown and continues to do so. The University of Connecticut hopes to see the amount of waste tonnage for single stream recycling increase over the next few years. Ultimately, we wish to achieve our goal of having over half of our disposable materials recycled.

More can be recycled than you think!  Books, aluminum foil, and aerosol cans can all go into any recycling container.  There are also e-waste containers in several campus locations (Library, Student Union, Co-op) for printer ink or toner cartridges, batteries, and broken electronics.

Today, in 2013, the University has worked diligently to change the way the campus community views the importance of recycling with various events and programs. If you would like to help UConn further its waste reduction initiatives, get involved in the programs meant to promote the importance of recycling to students and to the community.  Each year, the Office of Environmental Policy (OEP) teams up with athletics to host three Green Game Days – one football game during the fall semester and two basketball games during the spring semester.  At these events, student volunteers encourage fans to recycle their used items instead of throwing them into garbage cans. Volunteers also collect recyclables from tailgate areas at football games, as well as lightly used shoes for donation at basketball games.  However, lightly used shoe and sneaker recycling is not a one day event.  Throughout the entire spring semester, lightly used shoes and sneakers are collected and donated to the student group Kicks for Africa. The shoes are then shipped and distributed to less fortunate children in African countries.

For other waste reduction, UConn runs a program called Give & Go at the end of each year. Give & Go is an opportunity for students to donate furniture, clothing, school supplies and nonperishable food items as they move out at the end of the semester (for a list of all collected and donated items, visit: http://ecohusky.uconn.edu/recycling/giveandgo.html) . The recycling and reuse program encourages students to donate unwanted belongings to local charities and non-profit organizations instead of throwing them away.  And of course we have regular surplus sales at the University Surplus store to send items the University no longer needs to a new home! (There’s one on Friday 8/9/13 – check it out!)

We don’t stop at reusing and recycling – we are also trying to reduce the amount of waste we produce.  The University has also opened a composting facility, and Dining Services has removed all trays from dining halls (with the exception of South Campus) to reduce the amount of food waste produced by students.  In addition to reducing the amount of food waste generated on the front end, any food that is disposed of is composted in eCorect machines located within the dining halls.  By composting organic waste, UConn is reducing the overall volume of waste while re-purposing it to divert waste from landfills.

Next time you have an empty bottle in your hand, remember to recycle it instead of tossing it into a garbage can.  Don’t be afraid to lift the lid of any recycling container and make use of UConn’s single stream program.  If you are unsure of what can and cannot be recycled, visit our recycling guidelines page or call the Office of Environmental Policy!

– Katie and Meredith