UConn Office of Environmental Policy

Promoting sustainability at UConn


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Come Join UConn’s Earth Day Celebration!

Each spring the OEP along with the UConn Department of Dining Services’ Local Routes Program, EcoHusky Student Group and EcoHouse Learning Community organizes a sustainability festival called Earth Day Spring Fling (EDSF). The event features a multitude of student groups and campus departments as well as eco-friendly vendors/exhibitors. This year’s celebration will be held on April 18th from 11:00am to 2:00pm with an inclement weather date of April 19th.

Last year’s event generated heavy foot traffic as students, faculty, staff, and Mansfield community members stopped by to check out the Earth Day celebration.

Last year’s event generated heavy foot traffic as students, faculty, staff,
and Mansfield community members stopped by to check out the Earth Day celebration.

Located on Fairfield Way, students can easily stop by for a quick bite to eat on their way to and from class. Dining Services provides delicious local food (including vegetarian/vegan options) purchasable by either a flex pass or $9.00 in cash. All dishware is reusable to assist in achieving a low-waste event—with the bulk of waste being either recycled or composted. Hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and Mansfield community members are expected to attend. A diversity of vendors will be attending (approximately 35 to 40), including UConn’s very own EcoHusky Student Group, Kicks for Africa (a non-profit created by UConn student Chibuikem Nwanonyiri that collects lightly used shoes to send over to children in Africa), the Connecticut Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, Lili D Magpie Creations (sustainable jewelry), Capitol Clean Cities (an organization dedicated to increasing the use of eco-friendly vehicles) and much more.

 EDSF is a low-waste event.

EDSF is a low-waste event.

UConn was recently ranked 5th on Sierra Club’s Cool School Survey this past year and we aim to continue improving sustainability on campus so we can reach our goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Students are encouraged to come and learn more about what they can do to help promote sustainability on campus. This event offers the opportunity to learn more about environmental initiatives implemented at UConn as well as general sustainable practices. Some vendors will be selling products or handing out free samples while others may provide informational pamphlets.

Students can sit amongst their friends in the lawn area surrounding Fairfield Way and simply relax or seek out Jonathan the Husky who will be posing for photos to attract students toward our fundraising initiatives as part of the Ignite Challenge (Students 4 Sustainbility). Live acoustic music will be performed by two local bands named Skychase and Research n Development. There will also be a tree planting at 1:00pm on the east side of Budds Building.

edsf5

Come join us and help UConn celebrate its biggest environmental awareness event of the year. With spring in the air, let’s cross our fingers and hope for warm weather. We hope to see you there!

For more information please visit our website.


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Stretching UConn’s Water Budget, Part I

As UConn and Mansfield envision our future over the next 50 years, it’s clear that an additional source of water will be required to meet the needs of both the town and the campus in the coming decades. Our shared goal is not just development, but sustainable development, of important proposed projects such as the long-awaited UConn Tech Park on our North Campus, a managed retirement community in Storrs, and the commercial redevelopment of the Four Corners area, about a mile north of campus on Route 195.

That’s why, nearly two years ago, UConn and the town embarked on the public process of an Environmental Impact Evaluation to identify and evaluate several alternative sources of water supply, each of which would be capable of adding up to 2 million gallons a day, or nearly double the water system’s current capacity on a typical late-summer day.

Since then, inquiring minds want to know: What has the University done to conserve water, reduce demand, and stretch its current water budget? In other words, has UConn demonstrated that it is deserving of more water by being a good environmental steward of its current drinking water resources?

The answer is yes, according to an experienced environmental and water planning professional, David Murphy of Milone & MacBroom. Over his nearly 20-year consulting career, Murphy has prepared water supply plans for 15 different water companies and public water supply systems throughout the Northeast. “I’ve never seen conservation like I’ve seen at UConn,” he announced to a large audience assembled at the UConn Health Center in Farmington last December.

Okay, so Murphy is UConn’s water consultant and made this observation while kicking off the University’s second public hearing on the draft Environmental Impact Evaluation – it would be fair for some to question his objectivity. But his comment was a completely unsolicited professional opinion and, more importantly, it’s based on the University’s record over the past seven years.

UConn's water towers, with Towers residence halls in the foreground. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Conn’s water towers, with Towers residence halls in the foreground. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Improvements to our system’s infrastructure, equipment, and controls have yielded the largest reductions in consumption, albeit at the greatest expense. Seven years ago, UConn instituted an ongoing leak detection and repair program to find and fix broken water mains and distribution pipes that each can waste tens of thousands of gallons a day. An improved sub-metering program and new monitoring devices have enhanced our ability to identify even small leaks, which would have gone undetected years ago. We also improved controls and pumping schedules that prevent routine overflows and loss of water from our storage tanks and underground reservoirs.UConn takes its water resources stewardship seriously. The record shows that in 2012, our system used an average of 225,000 gallons per day less than it did seven years ago, and 350,000 gallons per day less than it did 10 years ago, despite serving a larger population. Our water conservation strategies fall into three categories: supply system improvements, demand-side installations and retrofits, and behavioral changes. This post will highlight supply-side conservation measures and, in a future blog post, Part 2 will focus on the rest.

But clearly, the most innovative and beneficial conservation-based supply system improvement will be up and running next month, when construction of the $25 million reclaimed water facility is completed and the facility begins operating. The reclaimed water facility will save up to 500,000 gallons per day when it’s needed most, by treating and reusing effluent from UConn’s sewage plant. This reclaimed water will be used for purposes that don’t require drinking water quality, such as cooling and boiler make-up water at UConn’s cogeneration facility and central utility plant. In the future, it could also be used to irrigate certain athletic fields on campus, further reducing our current demand for potable water.

UConn carefully monitors flow in the Fenton River near one of its two wellfields, using among other things an automatic USGS stream gauge installed in the river just upstream of the wells.

UConn carefully monitors flow in the Fenton River near one of its two wellfields, using among other things an automatic USGS stream gauge installed in the river just upstream of the wells.

Aside from these capital and equipment investments in water conservation, UConn also protects aquatic habitat by curtailing pumping from its wells based on real time measurement of stream flow in the river near its wellfield. This protocol was adopted by the University as a result of an unprecedented three-year study, completed in 2006, which verified the impact of pumping from these wells on reduced flow rates in the Fenton River during drought-like conditions.

The practice has since been formalized inUConn’s Drought Emergency Response Plan, which prescribes that we will ratchet back pumping when the automatic stream gauge in the Fenton River records flow rates as low as six cubic feet per second. Further along during an extended periods of dry weather, when low flow in the river reaches three cubic feet per second, and typically much sooner, UConn will stop pumping from the Fenton wellfield altogether.

Simultaneously, the University will issue Water Conservation Advisories to all system users. If drought conditions persist and streamflow in the more robust Willimantic River, near UConn’s primary wellfield, also drops to certain levels, then water conservation measures at the University become mandatory, such as prohibiting vehicle washing and use of UConn water for dust control at construction sites.

Our wellfield management strategy has been effective in preventing induced infiltration that can exacerbate low-flow conditions in the Fenton River, especially during summer droughts in 2007 and 2010. As climate change threatens more frequent and extreme weather events, including extended hot, dry periods and severe storms, UConn is bolstering the resiliency of its system while protecting aquatic habitat, and will continue to follow these stringent emergency water conservation procedures.

Next: UConn’s demand-side water conservation measures and outreach to promote water use behavioral changes.


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Give and Go – Did You Know?

uconn_give_and_goby OEP Intern Meredith Hillmon

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. The recycling and reuse program encourages students to donate unwanted belongings to local charities and non-profit organizations instead of throwing them away. Parents of students, faculty and town residents are just as welcome to bring donations, or they may volunteer at one of the collection locations sorting donations and motivating the community about being more mindful of the environmental impacts of dumping trash.

The program has become a huge success. It is not only an easy way for students to recycle, but it is an event that generates heaps of donations. The 2010 Give & Go was record breaking. 14,137lbs of donations were received, and more than 300 students, faculty, town residents and parents volunteered for a total 750 hours at 15 different collection locations. Over 3000lbs of furniture and rugs were dropped off, 2000lbs of appliances, and over 1500lbs of clothing, shoes and nonperishable foods. The 2011 Give & Go brought in numbers close to the 2010 record with 12,897lbs of donations – over 4000lbs of rugs, nearly 3000lbs of furniture, over 1000lbs of appliances and clothing and over 700lbs of food.

Equally as impressive numbers are expected for the upcoming 2013 Give & Go program. Given the incredible success of the event so far, one can only predict an even more astounding number of donations. In order to get involved with Give & Go, contact the new Program Coordinator Sara Butter at uconn.co.giveandgo@gmail.com.


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Ignite Challenge: Students 4 Sustainability!

IGNITE Challenge – Competition to Win $10,000 towards Environmental Initiatives and Awareness

What is the opportunity?

The Ignite challenge is UConn’s first crowdfunding competition that gives UConn students and young alumni the opportunity to follow, connect with, and support causes at UConn they are most passionate about. UConn alumnus, David Barton ’61, is helping sponsor the competition to promote philanthropy and to engage campus wide participation. Selected groups will compete for donors and awards, with the top prize of $10,000 to a supported cause that will benefit the UConn community.

Who benefits?

All donations for our cause will directly go to the Campus Sustainability Fund. The Campus Sustainability Fund supports programs and initiatives that raise environmental awareness and develop conservation-minded students. Through demonstration projects like green roofs, renewable energy and biofuels, recycling and composting enhancements, campus bicycling amenities, water and energy conservation competitions, and donating reusable goods to community partners, students learn to be environmental stewards and positively contribute to society.

The Campus Sustainability Fund was enacted to provide part of the necessary capital to aid the Sustainability Office in its efforts to meet this aggressive goal to become a sustainable campus. Continuing to build a sustainable campus and creating a culture of environmental stewardship among students will require an upgrade of the University’s resources dedicated to sustainability and specifically, the further development of the Sustainability Office within the OEP. Support of the fund will ensure that UConn will continue to be a leader in sustainability within the state and throughout the country.

Why this is important?

The Ignite Challenge is the first opportunity we have had to raise significant money through a donation for the Campus Sustainability Fund (“CSF”). The CSF in recent years has been short of  external funds, which are crucial to financially supporting many of our environmental initiatives at UConn. UConn has made significant progress as a top green university with the recent Sierra Club ranking placing UConn as the top 5 greenest college campus, but we need continued support.

How to participate?

Groups were pre-selected to participate in the Ignite challenge through an application process. The Office of Environmental Policy’s cause is to support Environmental Awareness and Initiatives at UConn through the cause “Students 4 Sustainability.” If you are passionate about environmental issues and would like to help your university continue its sustainability efforts, please sign up as a donor today! Winning causes will be selected based on the highest number of student and young alumni* donor participants, not on the sum of dollars raised.

*Young alumni include Graduates of the Last Decade (2003-2013)

How YOU can Donate to our cause, “Students 4 Sustainability”

There are a variety of ways to donate to our cause for the IGNITE challenge, below are some of the possibilities.

  •     Text2Give: Text 5055 with the following phrase:
    •   For students: “uconn earth [your first and last name] [peoplesoft]”
    • For young alumni: “uconn earth [your first and last name] [graduation year]”
    • Respond YES when asked to confirm your $10 donation in a follow-up text message that you will receive. This gift will support the cause “STUDENTS 4 SUSTAINABILITY”

*More information of Text2Give can be found here: http://www.foundation.uconn.edu/text-donations.html

When is the competition?

The competition spans from February 1 – May 3, 2013

 
Thank you for your continued support. Remember to Go Green and Stay Blue!

For more information on the Campus Sustainability Fund, or the Ignite Challenge please visit:

http://www.ecohusky.uconn.edu/about/csf.html

http://www.foundation.uconn.edu/studentgiving/index.html

Important Disclosures:

$10.00 donation to support the University of Connecticut Foundation through the  mGive Charges will appear on your wireless bill, or be deducted from your prepaid  balance. All purchases must be authorized by account holder. Must be 18 years of age or have parental permission to participate. Message and Data Rates May Apply. Text STOP to 50555 to STOP. Text HELP to 50555 for HELP. Full Terms and Privacy Policy: s.uconn.edu/txt. Foundation.

Your gift to Students 4 Sustainability will be administered by the UConn Foundation, Inc. and deposited into the Campus Sustainability Fund (#22701). Donations will be used to support programs, projects, supplies, equipment, staffing and related expenses needed to develop, coordinate, promote, carry out, measure and report about UConn’s system-wide campus sustainability initiatives.


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Tapping the Brakes on the Way to the Climate Cliff: Behavioral Changes to Consider

A recent post on this blog talked about the sprint to the “climate cliff,” and focused on 350.org’s latest advocacy campaign calling for divestment by higher education endowments in fossil fuel industry stocks. As students return to UConn from the long inter-session and holiday break, some may ask “how can I reduce my personal carbon footprint?”  OEP intern Meredith Hillmon, a 4th semester Environmental Science major, researched the EU’s recent study about individual behavioral change options for reducing carbon emissions.  She summarizes the report below. 

A 2012 European Union (EU) study emphasizes the importance of changing behavior to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Recommendations in the study apply to households and individual consumers, and translate as a carbon-reduction roadmap for UConn students. The report focused on GHG emission reduction potentials ranging from driving hybrid or electric cars, to tele-working, virtual meetings and adopting a vegetarian diet. While purchasing a more eco-friendly vehicle or teleworking may not be immediate options for UConn students, there are still other ways for the EcoHusky in all of us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

In terms of mobility, the EU highlights the use of more fuel efficient cars, carpooling, sustainable modes of transportation and reduced travel distance. Watch for new campus parking fee rates next fall that will provide discounts for students who are ridesharing or commuting in fuel-efficient vehicles.  Students can also take advantage of UConn’s car-sharing program, operated by Hertz on Demand. For a low hourly rate, a student can rent one of four Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles (ULEVs) stationed around campus.

Another point emphasized by the EU is the importance of being aware of thermostat and ventilation settings. Whenever possible, students should make the effort to reduce the heat in their dorm (or the air conditioning in their apartment) by one or two degrees, and learn the optimized thermostat and ventilation settings for the best heating and cooling efficiency.  The water temperature and length of showers can also significantly impact greenhouse gas emissions.  When it comes to reducing your carbon footprint, long, hot showers are discouraged.

Switching to a vegetarian diet, or a reduced animal protein diet, is another behavioral change supported by the EU study. Eating more veggies and less meat can be healthier for you and the environment! Red meats have the largest carbon intensity, whereas vegetables and fruits have the lowest carbon intensity. UConn offers plenty of vegetarian, vegan and locally-grown produce options throughout campus dining facilities, especially at Whitney Dining Hall, making it easy for students to reduce their carbon footprint through diet.

Behavioral changes can produce considerable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The EU has illustrated and ranked several doable sustainable options, many of which are available to students at UConn. Each of the following makes a significant impact in the long run. By implementing even one of these behavioral changes, you are already reducing your carbon footprint.

Reduction Rank* Behavioral Change
1 Switching to an electric car/commuting by bicycle
2 Switching to a hybrid or more fuel-efficient car
3 Shifting to a vegetarian diet
4 Shifting to a healthier diet  – more seasonal fruits & vegetables, more local & organic foods
5 Carpooling, taking the bus/using mass transit
6 Reducing animal protein intake – meat, fish, dairy & eggs
7 Turning off lights in dorm rooms and bathrooms
8 Reducing heating/cooling by one or two degrees
9 Unplug electronics or power cords when not in use
10 Taking shorter showers with a more moderate water temperature

*Based on the comparative analysis in the 2012 EU study of the carbon-mitigation potential, through 2050, of various behavioral change strategies. Food estimates based on commercial farms and fisheries.


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Accelerating to the Climate Cliff

Several UConn scientists said it well in a recent Hartford Courant op-ed piece, “…we find ourselves beset by one of the biggest challenges our country has ever faced. No, it is not the fiscal cliff we hear so much about. The largest challenge our country faces is the climate cliff. If we do nothing to address climate change in the next four years, the solutions become more limited, more expensive and more damaging to our country.”  Kudos to Doctors Urban, Capers, Likens and Anderson whose clear commentary called for leadership from President Barack Obama to unite Americans and begin a bipartisan fight against this common threat to our national security.

Citing the midwestern droughts, and the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, the UConn scientists echoed the world’s leading climatologists and warned, “[n]o one should feel secure when the climate — the very basis of our food and our economy — is shifting. Failure to act now will mean more severe warming, more extreme droughts, more frequent storms and it will mean that this “new normal” we have created will last longer than the hundreds of years to which we already are committed.”

Speaking of food, the economy and climate, Mark Hertsgaard’s article in Newsweek and the Daily Beast, provocatively titled “The End of Pasta,” is recommended reading about how climate change and the discovery of new American oil fields have combined to threaten the future of rice, corn and grains, such as North Dakota-grown durum wheat, used to make pasta.

Hertsgaard

Author Mark Hertsgaard speaking at a CIMA program jointly sponsored by UConn and the Town of Mansfield on March 27, 2012.

EcoHuskies will recall that Hertsgaard was a featured speaker last March at UConn’s Climate Impact Mitigation and Adaptation (CIMA) events.  In his keynote address at a CIMA program co-sponsored by the Town of Mansfield, he offered excerpts from his latest book about coping with climate change (“Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth”).  In his Newsweek article, he describes how “the development of controversial “fracking” technology, which enables drillers to extract oil and natural gas from previously inaccessible underground locations, has given rise to a massive expansion of production” – one that could make the U.S. the leading oil-producing nation in the world by 2020.

What then can we do to stop the acceleration to the climate cliff that will inevitably increase following this surge in production by the oil and gas industry, which Hertsgaard notes is already “the richest business enterprise in human history?”

A new strategy promoted by 350.org and advanced by a few small colleges across the country calls for higher education endowments to divest in fossil fuel stocks.  Activist Bill McKibben of 350.org explained the rationale for divestiture in a Rolling Stone article published last summer. Simply put, the amount of carbon contained in the world’s proven oil, coal and gas reserves – the assets that the fossil fuel industry is committed to extract and sell in order to realize full economic value for their owners, investors and shareholders – is five times greater than the cap on carbon emissions that scientists say would prevent a catastrophic global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius. If energy companies could not exploit these reserves, their values would plummet, because they would be writing off, or “stranding,” an estimated $20 trillion in assets.

In fact, these assets don’t even account for the new American oil and natural gas boom from shale discoveries made accessible by fracking.  And companies like Exxon and Shell are not only ramping up their efforts to search for more fossil fuel reserves but also scaling back or shutting down their renewable energy divisions in order to focus on their “core business.”

Thus, according to McKibben, 350.org’s “Do the Math” campaign aims to expose, demonize and divest in the fossil fuel industry, “…what all these climate numbers make painfully, usefully clear is that the planet does indeed have an enemy – one far more committed to action than governments or individuals. Given this hard math, we need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization.

McKibben cites the successful 1980s campaign to divest in companies doing business in South Africa, when 155 U.S. college campuses joined 19 states, exerting international financial and political pressure that eventually led to the end of apartheid.

Unfortunately, odds are against 350.org’s fossil fuel divestiture campaign.  According to a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, colleges and universities are less willing than they might have been 25 years ago to use their endowments as tools for advancing social or environmental goals, or frankly for any objective other than maximizing return on investment. Coming out of a deep recession, especially at public universities where state appropriations have been slashed, most college endowments have set ambitious goals for growth, and fossil fuel company stocks have been and will be among the most profitable.

Let’s resolve that 2013 will be the year for political leadership and non-partisan policies here in the U.S. and around the world to address climate change.  The environmental and economic consequences are too severe and likely happening sooner than predicted if we continue accelerating down the road to the climate cliff.


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LEED: Minimizing UConn’s Environmental Footprint

by OEP intern Emily McInerney

leedsilverOn March 25, 2008 President Hogan signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). This pledge led way for UConn’s Climate Action Plan: a comprehensive outline that strategizes and maps out sustainability initiatives to help UConn reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Carbon neutrality is defined as proportional amounts of carbon released and carbon sequestered. This can be achieved through carbon offsets such as our Co-gen facility or something as simple as planting a tree. Realistically, however, carbon neutrality does not mean a zero carbon footprint. For UConn, the aim is to have the 2050 carbon emissions 86% below our 2007 levels. One of the very first initiatives implemented at UConn to lower GHG emissions was the adoption of our own Campus Sustainable Design Guidelines. These guidelines apply to both the construction of new buildings as well as the renovation of preexisting buildings.

The Sustainable Design and Construction Policy requires a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver certification as a minimum performance standard for all projects that exceed $5 million. The U.S. Green Building Council developed LEED to act as an international green building certification system. LEED buildings offer savings in water and energy, reduce GHG emissions, improve air quality to promote health safety for occupants, and lower operating costs.

Oak Hall

Oak Hall

Most recently, the construction of two new buildings at UConn, Laurel and Oak Hall, have been completed that fulfill the LEED silver requirement. Oak Hall is set next to Homer Babbidge Library at the site of the former Co-op. Laurel is located where the Pharmacy building was originally constructed. These locations prevented the clearing of forests, wetlands, and other natural environments. There are several sustainable features that are important to note. From the outside, porous pavement reduces storm water runoff and flooding by providing storage and infiltration during storm events and a bio retention basin reduces harmful storm water runoff by collecting and holding storm water. The area is lined with native vegetation that provides habitat and food for local species. To reduce transportation CO2 emissions, biking is encouraged. There are 132 bicycle rack spaces available to facilitate bike transit.

Moving inside the building, the focus is on increased energy and water savings. The bathroom offers dual flush toilets and electric hand dryers to reduce paper waste. The combination of all water efficient features is anticipated to reduce water usage by 48%. The high performance windows both increase natural lighting which reduces energy costs and provide insulation through window glazing which reduce heating and cooling needs. Laurel is expected to have 16% energy savings and Oak is estimated to have 18% energy savings.

Visually speaking, LEED buildings are most notable for the recycled content and renewable materials that comprise their exterior paneling and interior walls and floors. Oak Hall uses bamboo for wall panels, recycled copper for the exterior siding and regional bricks. The bamboo is more sustainable than wood because it only take 3-5 years to harvest, the copper is made up of 80-95% recycled content, and the bricks are produced within 500 miles of campus. Approximately 75% of construction waste was diverted from landfills and reused or recycled.

Beyond sustainability, LEED buildings also have health benefits. Indoor environmental quality is improved through green cleaning products that are biodegradable, have low toxicity and low volatile organic compound content (VOC), and have reduced packaging. All plywood is formaldehyde-free and adhesives, sealants and paint have low or no VOC. Both Oak and Laurel are definite eye catchers. These buildings are not only environmentally friendly and cost effective but also aesthetically pleasing.  It is something to appreciate that sustainability can be characterized as modern and hip. For those interested in seeing how these LEED buildings affect UConn’s GHG emissions, the Office of Environmental Policy is planning to upload energy and water saving dashboards online.

Here are some examples of the sustainability features in Oak and Laurel Halls: