UConn Office of Environmental Policy

Promoting sustainability at UConn


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Meet Christopher!

Today on our Meet the Interns series we have Christopher Bruno!

Chris will be starting his second year at UConn in the fall, majoring in Resource Economics with a concentration in Environmental Economics and Policy.  He also plans to major in Business Fundamentals and Geographic Information Systems.  He cares a lot about environmental studies and was very excited about this internship when he learned about it from his adviser.

“The objective of what I am doing is to better our economic circumstances given our environment’s limited sources. There is a lot to be accounted for when we exploit our environment and I want to continue to find out just how much our environmental impact is costing us. I hope to learn enough to aid in the process of producing sustainable and economically feasible future plans. I will be learning more about how I can do this through my OEP internship and through my classes.

I recently went on a study abroad program in Costa Rica through the GREEN Program and have learned a lot about sustainability and renewable energy. While in Costa Rica, I visited various renewable energy plants and learned about them as well through an Enerdynamics program. I also helped set up water collection systems on small, local houses, seeing firsthand how simple, cost-effective projects could be implemented in many places without any hassle. I finished the trip off by working with a group of students and experts to produce an economically and sustainably efficient plan to reduce waste-water in a micro-apartment complex in Manhattan. The plan was based off of a new project in the city and could be implemented in retro-fitting buildings and other new projects. This trip validated my passion for what I study and is a big reason I was heavily interested in this internship.”

“I am looking forward to meeting everyone and working in the Office of Environmental Policy. The experience I will gain in this position will help me in reaching my goal of becoming an Environmental Consultant. I can’t wait to see how our projects have an impact on the campus and areas around it.”

Chris will be working on Central Warehouse Cleanup, Campus Sustainability Day, Football Game Days, the Campus Sustainability Fund, and UConn Foundation and Development activities, so look for his face at events next year!


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Meet Kerrin!

Next in our “Meet the Interns” series: Kerrin Kinnear!

Kerrin is in her second year at UConn and found the OEP through a friend in EcoHusky!  Her experiences with EcoHusky and environmental alternative spring break during her first year encouraged her to declare an Environmental Studies major.

“This past year, I was involved in multiple environmental activities.  In the fall, I became an active member of EcoHusky, where I learned about environmental initiatives on campus, volunteered for food waste studies, and pursued a leadership role in public outreach. My involvement in the club inspired me to take the Environmental Conservation class on campus, where I learned about the evolution of environmental policy over the last couple hundreds of years and the importance of protecting the environment.  In addition, my experience with EcoHusky led me to an internship with Rising Green, an environmental start-up company that works to connect passionate students with green employers in the United States.

“While these were all amazing experiences, the highlight of my freshman year had to be my alternative spring break. In March, I hopped on a bus with 52 other UConn students and headed down to Biloxi, Mississippi to help with environmental tasks in the area.  We restored hurricane-damaged marshlands by transplanting 300 Cypress trees, as well as the endangered Sandhill Crane’s habitat by removing invasive vine and tree species. Seeing such beauty in the wildlife throughout the parks and forests we visited really motivated me to pursue a career in environmental policy and sustainability.

“Next year at the OEP I will be involved in Composting and Food Waste, Sneaker Recycling, Earth Day Spring Fling,  and EcoMadness.

“I am excited to work with and get to know each of you here at the Office of Environmental Policy.  I feel so lucky to have such a wonderful opportunity to gain experience in the field of environmental policy, and hope to apply what I learn here to my future career path.  I look forward to becoming more environmentally involved on UConn’s campus!”

We’re excited to have Kerrin as part of our team!  Look for her face at events this year!


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Meet Brianna!

We’re welcoming some new interns here at the OEP!

Brianna Church is a part-time intern at the Office of Environmental Policy. She has already hit the ground running this summer! She is starting her second year at UConn as an Environmental Engineering major in the Honors Program.  She learned about the OEP when she took a freshman honors class with Rich Miller on environmental sustainability.  She was excited to apply for an internship position with the OEP because of her interest in sustainability and the important experience working at the OEP provides.  At the OEP, Brianna will be focusing on outreach events.  She’s not entirely sure which area of environmental engineering will be her focus, but outreach is essential for all programs to promote environmental change.

“I have always wanted to pursue a career that would enable me to help people but for a long time I was unsure of which path would be most rewarding and most fitting for me. It was in the seventh grade that I discovered my dream job. That year my school hosted a presentation given by two members of the Connecticut chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. The younger of the two was an environmental engineering major. After describing the technology that she and her colleagues managed to design, and even implement in another country, I knew exactly what field I wanted to pursue. I had always had a love for animals and the natural environment. In addition, I was strong in math and science and have always tried to understand how things work. It was clear that environmental engineering was, and still is, a perfect fit for me.”

Brianna Church

Brianna Church

“I cannot wait to meet and work alongside of all of you here at the Office of Environmental Policy and am very grateful for this opportunity. Additionally I am very excited to get some hands on experience in my field.”

Welcome aboard, Brianna!  Look for her face at OEP events this fall!


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A Perspective on Sustainable Practices in Costa Rica

by OEP intern Emily Udal

costa_rica_6Over the winter intersession, I had the opportunity to travel to the beautiful country of Costa Rica for three weeks to take 6-credits worth of classes titled Economic Development & Human Rights in Latin America and  Latin American Studies.  The trip was very successful despite it being the first time UConn has attempted this specific study abroad program. Over the span of three weeks I came to appreciate the natural beauty and landscape of a country that pledged to become carbon neutral by the year 2021. Currently about 26% of the country is a “protected area”, and about 5% of the world’s total biodiversity can be found within its borders. Many of Costa Rica’s sustainable practices are integrated into the culture of the country, where a respect for earth’s natural resources and promoting environmental initiatives began as early as the country abolished their military in the 1940s.  The additional savings allowed the government to reinvest it’s expenditures to improve education systems, public infrastructure and to develop commerce for the region. Sustainability in the country is also conducive to the terrain and climate, allowing Costa Rica to obtain over 80% of its power from hydroelectricity.

Beginning in the early 1990s, President José María Figueras made sustainable development one of the central themes of his administration, where a costa_rica_5major effort was set in motion to look at the country’s sustainable growth potential. Since 1999 Costa Rica’s strategic efforts related to sustainable development through the Ministry of the Environment and Energy appear to be focused on implementing Agenda 21 at the local level as a tool to generate multi-stakeholder participation planning for constructing sustainable development. Over this period, the country also pioneered a carbon tax which is used as an incentive to pay landowners or indigenous communities per hectare, to preserve natural forests.Many reforestation efforts have been in place in the country in order to protect the primary forests, making it the country with the most trees per capita. Aside from national policy making, other local initiatives are crucial to fostering sustainable development practices, where rural areas rely on forms of eco-tourism to supplement family incomes.

The country is best known for its national parks and protected areas, demonstrating how nature conservation can become an engine for eco-tourism and sustainable development. Our group had the opportunity to travel to agricultural cooperatives and visit a village noted for its “rural tourism,” called Nacientes Palmichal. The farm was self-sufficient and used simple solutions for converting energy costa_rica_4through a bio-digester and utilizing small plots of land for agricultural products.

My work at the OEP focuses heavily on implementing renewable technology, raising awareness to students about environmental challenges and developing a plan to address long term carbon reduction. However, once in Costa Rica, I realized the way of life of the Costa Rican people focuses on wisely utilizing resources, respecting and caring for the environment and incorporating sustainability as the fabric imbedded in the culture. Preserving the environment can improve the quality of lives for many people in the regions, where conserving water and forests are conducive to survival. In the US, the focus for sustainability is retrogressive in many aspects, where we are trying to correct an existing problem, while in Costa Rica sustainability is progressive to future opportunities for the nation.


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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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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.