UConn Office of Environmental Policy

Promoting sustainability at UConn


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It’s Official – UConn is a Tree Campus

With Earth Day and Arbor Day fast approaching, UConn recently learned that it is the first college in Connecticut and only the third school in New England to be named a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation. The University joins a group of almost 200 schools nationwide that have earned this distinction for their commitment to tree conservation and preservation.

arbor daytree campus usaThis certification is given by the Arbor Day Foundation to university campuses that effectively:

  • Manage their campus trees
  • Develop connectivity with the community beyond campus borders to foster healthy urban forests
  • Strive to engage their student population utilizing service learning opportunities centered on campus and community forestry efforts

 

Pagoda Tree (Styphnolobium Japonicum) near Wilbur Cross. Photos by Mark Brand, UConn Plant Science Dept.

Pagoda Tree (Styphnolobium Japonicum) near Wilbur Cross. Photos by Mark Brand, UConn Plant Science Dept.

Shingle Oak (Quercus Imbricaria)  near Wilbur Cross. Photo by Mark Brand.

Shingle Oak (Quercus Imbricaria) near Wilbur Cross. Photo by Mark Brand.

 

Former Vice Provost and emeritus EEB faculty member, Greg Anderson, co-chairs the UConn Arboretum Committee and was thrilled by this accomplishment. “This impressive recognition for UConn is gratifying.  So many people for so many decades have worked to make the natural environment not only a handsome complement to the ever-improving built environment on our campus, but also an effective way to frame the landscape and a useful tool for educating our students and others about a diversity of tree species.”  The Arboretum Committee’s website includes a Campus Tree Touring Guide to 40 different special trees that can be seen on a leisurely walk around the main campus.   “It’s great to see the long-term and ongoing commitment by so many students, staff and faculty be recognized in this way.”

A Camperdown Elm (Ulmus glabra Camperdownii) on the Great Lawn. Photo by Mark Brand

A Camperdown Elm (Ulmus glabra Camperdownii) on the Great Lawn. Photo by Mark Brand

The Tree Campus designation has five components. The first is a Tree Advisory Committee – the UConn Arboretum Committee fulfills this requirement. The second component of Tree Campus USA is a campus tree care plan. This plan contains information for planting, maintenance, prohibited practices, as well as goals for campus tree preservation. UConn’s plan was developed by the Office of Environmental Policy in conjunction with the campus tree warden and Arboretum Committee member, Eileen McHugh, who also spoke about the tree campus designation. “Tree Campus USA certification is tremendous recognition for the coordinated efforts at UConn to protect and promote the trees that are such a vibrant part of UConn’s character.”

A Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria Japonica) on campus. Photo by Mark Brand

A Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria Japonica) on campus. Photo by Mark Brand

The third component of this designation is a commitment to preservation of the on-campus arboretum, which requires both dedicated annual expenditures for things like planting and maintenance, as well as volunteer time. In 2013, the University dedicated more than $350,000 to campus tree preservation.

The final components of the Tree Campus certification are an Arbor Day Observance and Service Learning Projects. As part of Earth Day Spring Fling, UConn held an Arbor Day Observance and tree planting on April 18th last year. In addition to this event, UConn students, faculty and community members engaged in service learning projects through demonstrations and coursework.

The Dawn Redwood (metasequoia-glyptostroboides) near Arjona Building on Whitney Rd. Photo by Mark Brand

The Dawn Redwood (metasequoia-glyptostroboides) near Arjona Building on Whitney Rd. Photo by Mark Brand

Tree Campus USA is an annual certification, so this year, UConn is developing additional service learning projects, along with outreach events like the Arbor Day Observance.  Join members of the Arboretum Committee and others on April 22nd, during the 2014 Earth Day Spring Fling celebration, in acknowledging this distinction with a tree planting celebration (more details to come)!

– Andy

 

P.S. (From Corinne) – Andy worked incredibly hard to make sure that UConn received Tree Campus USA recognition.  Without his dedication, this project would not have been completed.


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Intern Reflection Essay: Climate Change Inequality

Last summer I studied abroad in Iceland. A country at the forefront of renewable energy, Iceland has the potential to be a global leader in sustainability. Its energy is almost entirely powered from geothermal and hydroelectric and thus it is capable of an exceptionally small carbon footprint. However, there is no drive for this among the Icelandic people. Lights are kept on throughout the daytime and cars are driven for errands just down the street. This contrasts remarkably with an earlier visit I made to Peru. The Peruvians lack many of the resources we take for granted in the United States and yet the environmental devastation they live within—littered streets, polluted air, and dirty water—causes no alarm among its citizens.

There are three dimensions to sustainability: social, economic, and environmental. Strong sustainability requires a balance between these three pillars—without economic stability, the government cannot implement environmental regulations and cannot provide the environmental education necessary to create a “green” movement among its people. The environmental degradation in Peru is largely due to the government’s lack of action. It is the government’s responsibility to provide its people safe, clean resources. Unfortunately, environmental law in Peru is not well enforced. Additionally, Peru has not prioritized developing renewable energy resources (although recently there has been a push for increased solar energy – hopefully that marks a turning point for Peru). And so I experienced countries at very opposite sides of a sustainability spectrum:  one which economically cannot give the attention to environmental awareness that is warranted by the pressing reality of climate change and yet needs it sincerely, and another that is privileged with all that is required of an ecologically conscience nation and without the motivation to push for it among the people and culture.

After travelling to both of these beautiful countries I found myself very frustrated. Climate change looms on the horizon and the consequences of a warming planet are reason for great concern. The extent of climate change is not fully understood but what has been acknowledged is that the amplified rate at which it is occurring can be attributed to anthropogenic behavior. And this is not spread uniformly throughout the globe. Wealthy nations are contributing greatly to greenhouse gas emissions yet it will not be these same countries that most severely feel the threat of climate change. And what is even more upsetting is that the developing nations that will suffer the greatest because they do not have the economic strength and political stability to combat global warming are also mostly unaware of the dangers to come because there are many more pressing issues to confront such as inadequate food and poverty. So if the disparity between developed and developing nations was not already distressingly thick, climate change will surely broaden it further.

It is therefore the responsibility of countries such as the United States, who have the finances and the technologies, to lead our planet to a more sustainable future. The carbon emissions released by the United States does not solely affect our own citizens. It is a global crisis and so every car we drive, every coal power plant we construct, every long shower we take, and every technological device we keep plugged in is slowly yet catastrophically warming the entire planet. So, what should we do to reduce the climate change inequality that plagues our world? It starts at a local level. It requires cooperation and collaboration between leaders, businesses, and residents of a community and it demands environmental education.

Additionally, climate change inequality is not just found on the global scale. Even within the United States itself this disproportion is present. There are coastal cities at risk of flooding from sea level increase and yet they are not any more responsible for greenhouse gas emissions than the nation’s interior cities. Even on the micro scale this disparity is felt where industrial establishments directs emissions towards poverty stricken neighborhoods who cannot afford to fight this discrimation. UConn is committed to doing its part to help these efforts. In 2006 a co-generation plant was constructed to replace the previously used oil-fired utility. The co-gen burns natural gas, a cleaner fuel than oil and coal, and thus capable of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by up to 300,000 tons each year. It captures and utilizes steam to prevent efficiency loss. In 2008 former President Hogan signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). This committed the university to carbon neutrality by 2050. The co-gen plant is just one of many technologies implemented by UConn to help assist in its mission towards carbon neutrality. UConn also has a fuel cell at the Depot campus, a bike and car sharing program, a reclaimed water facility, and much more.

But change cannot solely be acquired through better infrastructure and technology. We must demand a difference. This requires the voices of UConn’s students, staff, and faculty. It necessitates a new university culture that is eco-conscience and environmentally aware. UConn has many sustainability related courses and research opportunities. It has clubs and events that allow student participation. And it has many individuals who care greatly about playing their role in environmental stewardship. UConn is forging a path. It is setting precedence for universities throughout the country and throughout the globe. UConn is a leader in sustainability and is challenging the fight against climate change inequality.

– Emily


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Katie’s pumped for Green Game Day!

Is everyone ready for Green Game Day this Saturday???  I certainly hope so!  So, what can you do to make the most of this year’s football Green Game Day?  Start your game experience right at home by packing only reusable and recyclable materials for your tailgating party.  When you arrive at the game keep an eye out for EcoHusky and EcoHouse volunteers who will be promoting eco-friendly behavior and collecting recyclables from fans.  If you’ve got a minute between barbecuing and swapping stories with fellow fans, take a walk over to the Fanfest area where more volunteers will be waiting to educate you about UConn’s green initiatives (there are even some fun giveaways!  Honestly, who doesn’t like free stuff?) During the game keep an eye and ear open for any messages that will let you know all of the great ways that Rentschler field is going green.

My experiences at past Green Game Days (GGDs) have always left me with a positive feeling.  At Rentschler, I’ve gotten the chance to both collect recyclables from tailgaters and work the booth, both of which I found to be rewarding experiences.  I was so encouraged by how fans were completely on board with our efforts and gladly handed over their empties for recycling.  Several fans even wanted to know more about our mission and I was happy to give them a little insight into the efforts of the OEP and our affiliated student groups.  At the booth I thought it was great educating fans of all ages and interacting with them through fun little games and just general conversation.  I have also had the opportunity to orchestrate two Basketball GGDs and I would just like all the fans to know, it takes a lot of work!  I sincerely hope that everything we do behind this scenes pays off and that you as fans feel like the green message has shown through and encourages you to be more eco-friendly in your endeavors even after you leave the game.

So gear up, get pumped, and get ready to recycle!

-Katie


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Texas Turbines

Over the summer, I had the opportunity of a lifetime to take a three-week road trip with my parents and two of my siblings through Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado.  Having grown up in the Northeast, it was shocking to see states with such different terrain and landscapes.  Much of the time, the land and skies seemed endless, mainly due to the lack of trees compared to places like Connecticut (go UConn!)

Wind Turbines

While it was a little bizarre driving through such flat, open land, it’s because of this terrain that I had one of the most inspiring experiences of my trip.  My family and I were driving along I40 through the northern stub of Texas when we came across an amazing scene: massive, white wind turbines lined the interstate, side-by-side for miles.

I gazed at the turbines in complete awe.  I’ve always been fascinated by alternative energy sources, and was excited to see machines harnessing wind power up-close and personal.  This experience prompted me to research more about wind turbines and farms.

To put the size of these turbines in perspective, the blades can be up to 150 feet long, giving them a rotor diameter the length of a football field!  These giant structures are relatively cheap to build, quick to construct, and produce renewable energy through capturing kinetic energy in the wind and turning it into mechanical power.  Because harnessing wind energy does not produce CO2, wind turbines also have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

 In addition, there are two types of wind turbines.  Horizontal axis wind turbines (HAWT) are the most common and rotate horizontally, whereas vertical axis wind turbines (VAWT) rotate vertically.

 I was excited to learn that UConn has explored plans for small HAWTs at three sites on campus.  Although right now, it looks like the installation of wind turbines is not cost effective for UConn (due to our highly efficient Co-Gen plant), it’s good to know it could be an option in the future!

– Kerrin

Sources:

http://www.summitenergy.com/blog/2011/03/winding-up-wind/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_turbine#Types


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Cleaning Green

Our intern Katie, just moved into campus apartments instead of a traditional dorm.  Consequently, she’s been researching how to live more greenly, including cleaning.  Here is the result of her research!

Simple Switches

We all want to live a little greener so we try to recycle and save energy, but what about those necessities of life that may include harsh chemicals or other substances that are unfriendly to the environment?  Fear not, there is a solution!  Many people are still unaware that there are a variety of green cleaning and personal hygiene products available in the market today.  All it takes is a few simple switches and knowing which brands to buy.  Some key words to look for are “biodegradable,” “environmentally friendly,” and “eco-safe.”  However you must be careful and take a look at the ingredients just to be sure the product is actually what it claims to be because many companies merely use these buzz words as a marketing ploy.  In addition to buying greener products you should also consider replacing old sponges and mops with products made from recycled or post-consumer materials.  Next time you go shopping for a fresh batch of cleaning supplies look for these brands or order them online:

  • The Honest Company
  • Green Works
  • Seventh Generation
  • ECOS
  • Method
  • Simple Green

You can also check this list for several brands of Eco-friendly cosmetics and soap:

http://www.greenlisted.org/personal-care.htm

If home remedies are more your style, check out this link for some great formulas and substitutes:

http://eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_solutions.htm

– Katie


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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.