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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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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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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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.


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What You Should Know About Storrs Campus Water Conservation

 

Editor’s Note: Since July, UConn has lifted the mandatory water conservation measures. Voluntary measures are still in effect as of September 2012.

Written July 31, 2012, under moderate drought stage conditions by Rachael Shenyo, Sustainability Coordinator

So what’s going on?

The University of Connecticut Storrs Campus draws water to meet its daily water consumption needs from wellfields along two rivers that flank the University property: the Fenton River to the east, and the larger Willimantic River to the west. Under normal rainfall and water table conditions, the University is authorized to draw 844,000 gallons daily form the Fenton wellfield, and up to 2.3 million from the Willimantic wellfield. Our 2011 total water consumption was 471,651,000 gallons, giving us an average daily water consumption of 1.3 million gallons per day, well below the threshold we are authorized (and also, due to water conservation measures already taken, 13% lower than the 1.5 million gallon/day usage rates from 2005). Under normal stream flow conditions, then, the University stays well below the limits where excessive use would adversely impact the rivers, with some room for leeway during unusually dry conditions. It is important to keep in mind that water usage patterns differ from season to season, with more water being used for cooling and irrigation in the summer than in other seasons, but far more for residents and programs during the normal fall and spring semesters.

Impact studies (and unfortunate experience) have shown that during times where the water table is down, and/or during times of unusually low rainfall, the University’s normal level of water usage can negatively impact the stream flow of both rivers, especially the smaller Fenton. Thus, the University developed a set of guidelines that describe stages of voluntary and mandatory conservation measures that will be enacted during conditions that warrant it. These guidelines, and the severity of the restrictions, are based on actual real-time stream flow data collected from the two rivers. The real time stream data is provided via the USGS, and can be seen here for the Fenton, and here for the Willimantic. The goal of the restrictions is to eliminate or reduce non-essential water use, and significantly reduce water used for essential functions. The University has just issued a Stage II Water Supply Watch, which includes mandatory restrictions. 


How bad is it now?

(Editor’s Note: Links are updated weekly, so values reported on July 17-30, 2012, when this was written, may not reflect current values).

At this writing, the flows in both rivers are running at roughly 50% of normal flow, as calculated by the USGS as a 5 year moving average. According to the USDA Drought Monitor, Tolland County Connecticut is hovering between abnormally dry conditions (see map on right) and moderate drought, and has been since March 6, 2012. According the Northeast Regional Drought Center information available through Cornell, precipitation for the first half of 2012 has been only roughly 60-75% of normal (see below). The water table can handle some amount of fluctuation, and when the water table is higher than the river flow, it can replenish the rivers during periods of low rainfall. Some normal give and take happens as part of the natural processes during seasonal changes. However, during prolonged periods of short rainfall, the water table itself falls below the level of the rivers. When this happens, stream flows in both rivers go down.

While the USDA information is not predicting extreme drought conditions to develop, they are cautioning that it would take 6.54 inches above normal rainfall amounts to return the water table to normal levels. Even that number is misleading, since it takes a week in  most regions for precipitation to reach the water table, and in drought conditions, where the soil can be baked harder than normal, surface rainfall, especially in the form of heavy downpours, often washes off completely (or temporarily floods) instead of being absorbed.  So even a hypothetical hurricane that drops a foot of rain next week would not necessarily resolve the situation.

It is worth noting here that the most significant source of groundwater in the north is spring melt of winter snowfall, and we had almost no snowfall this winter in the entire state. The months of August and September are traditionally the driest months for our region, so if normal rainfall patterns prevail, the dry soil conditions will not alleviate, and the water table will not get any relief until October. October is when deciduous trees drop their leaves, and coniferous trees prepare for winter, thus drawing less water from the ground for maintenance of vegetation and life processes. The years when UConn has had to enact water restrictions, it has typically occurred during August and September, and been somewhat alleviated in October.

This year has been unusual for the state history, being the driest winter and spring on record, so there is no guarantee that conditions will return to normal in October without significant precipitation. At this point, the USDA is not predicting that severe drought conditions will be reached. Short and long term precipitation models at current indicate near normal precipitation patterns for the rest of the year, but it is unknown if conditions will remain at or near the current moderate drought conditions.

So what is the University doing?

The University administrators expect that at the beginning of the fall semester this year, the combination of already dry conditions, low water table, near-normal [low] rainfall patterns, and sudden spike in on-campus water usage will stress the existing river watersheds. As stated earlier, average daily water consumption is around 1.3 million gallons/ per day, with numbers reflecting highest water usage occurring during the month of September, which corresponds with our expected driest season. The University will continue to monitor the steam flow of both rivers, and usage will be diverted from the especially vulnerable Fenton River. Mandatory water conservation guidelines have been issued, and may be modified if the situation worsens. The following mandatory conservation measures, which affect mostly UConn personnel, were effective immediately as of July 17:

  • Lawn watering for all University and non-University users is limited to four hours or less per day and only between the hours of 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Athletic fields will be allowed up two hours of water per day during the same hours.
  • Filling of public or private pools must be provided via water delivered from another source.
  • Washing of motor vehicles is banned. The University’s wash bay will be closed until further notice.
  • The use of ornamental or display fountains is banned.
  • The use of water for washing and wetting down streets, sidewalks, driveways, or parking areas is banned unless required by the local public health authority.
  • The use of UConn water for dust control at construction sites is banned. Contractors are required to provide water for dust control from off-site.
  • The use of hydrant sprinkler caps is banned.
  • Water main flushing will only be used to address water quality issues.

If the conditions worsen, you may see the dining halls switch to paper plates and plastic cutlery, in order to reduce water needed for plate washing. Although this measure seems counter-intuitive from a “green” perspective, it may be necessary for during times when water conservation needs outweigh our desire to reduce overall waste volume produced by the University.

UConn Storrs has also taken the initiative on this issue, with a move towards sustainable landscape design that involves the use of rain gardens and native species and drought tolerant plants that reduce water use; low-flow shower heads and dual flush toilets; steam line renovations that repair leaks where water is wasted; and the construction of the first large-scale reclaimed water facility in the State of Connecticut, which, upon completion, will cut Storrs campus’s current daily potable water usage by up to ¼.

So what can individuals on campus do?

As with so many things, everyday small actions do make a big difference. Our goal is to reduce water consumption across the campus, from all sources, by as much as possible. Voluntary water conservation measures are being requested of residents and users of the University water system, including:

  • Take shorter showers.
  • Run dishwashers and washing machines with full loads.
  • Use water only as needed when washing dishes, shaving, and brushing teeth.
  • Avoid power washing buildings and washing vehicles with public water.
  • Raise the thermostat in UConn buildings, particularly when leaving at night.
  • Immediately report leaky fixtures in UConn buildings to Facilities Operations: 860-486-3113.

If you are in a position to inform others, as a professor, Residence Assistant, or other individual involved in outreach, please know that we have a wealth of materials available to you that we encourage you to use to help spread the message of responsible water use. They are listed in the Additional Resources section below.

Additional Resources:

Employers and Department Heads:

  • We encourage you to inform your employees of the mandatory conservation measures by ensuring that they read either this blog, or this shorter article in UConn Today.

Residents of University Houses, Dorms and Apartments:

  • Expanded tips for water conservation in dorms and apartments can be found here.
  • Report any and all leaky faucets or showerheads immediately 860-486-3113.

Resident Assistants:

  • Our water conservation FAQ page and RA Water FAQ page may help you answer questions residents have about UConn’s water supply
  • We will soon be making reminder posters available for laundry rooms, bathrooms, and common areas

Area Homeowners:

All:

  • For additional background information on the Fenton River, click here.
  • To see a list of current water usage projects by the University, click here.
  • For any additional questions, please contact the Office of Environmental Policy at 860-486-5773.

 


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A Calling for Sustainability: One Grad Student’s Story

My name is Rachael, and I am a non-traditional graduate student. I am actually a mid-career professional who has decided to change careers to create work in a field I care passionately about.

I did my undergraduate work in Pennsylvania in animal science and biotechnology. I subsequently used my degree to work as an environmental educator, veterinary technician, and farm market manager before settling into a 12 year career in biomedical research. I took two years off to pursue a dream as a Peace Corps volunteer in the rural highlands of Western Guatemala.

I have been a self-taught lifelong naturalist, and when I arrived at my destination almost 11,000 ft above sea level in Guatemala, I quickly realized how fragile and marginal the summit environment was. I also quickly realized how difficult and balanced a chore it is to support oneself in this locale. For one year, I worked as a field veterinarian, health extensionist, and development professional. I started a sheep genetics project that had promise to help lift about 45,000 people out of poverty while teaching them to better care for their fragile environment. I ended up working on this project for 9 years.

road to siete pinos

My post-Peace Corps US career moved me from tuberculosis and flu vaccine research to overseeing health of transgenic mice and rats, and then I became an animal welfare and research ethics specialist. This path led me to UConn’s door in March 2009, where I worked as the campus IACUC coordinator and vice-chair while I started my Master’s degree in Agricultural Resource Economics part-time. I quickly realized that the needs of the master’s degree program were intense, and were in conflict with the hours required to maintain my work position. In 2010, I made the scary and tough decision to leave my employment and venture on as a full-time student.

My end goal is to turn the projects I started in Guatemala into a non-profit foundation that helps research, advise on, teach, and promote the use of climate change adaptation strategies for poor people living in highland regions. My experiences provided me with unique perspectives on how climate change is already starting to impact families’ abilities to feed themselves, and I can clearly see the ties between poverty and environmental degradation. For my Master’s degree, I am studying the economic impact of climate change in this vulnerable region, in order to provide myself with baseline data that I can use when I solicit team members and funding to start my NGO.

extended dry season

I currently work half-time in the UConn Office of Environmental Policy, and take graduate classes full-time. My path has not been without its trials. I have, in the past 5 years, suffered three job losses, and have had to physically move 6 times. My personal and family relationships have been strained, as has my health. Going back to school after 15 years away has been challenging, as I accustom myself to a much more demanding mathematical workload than I had ever known before. Life plans had to put on hold. I am paying my way through school, and ​​finding that I am struggling with bills and rent, often wondering if this is all worth it.

Yet I believe in what I am doing. Someone once told me that a calling is “that which you find impossible to walk away from.” It has been said that when you get beyond the US public debate of climate change, and get out into the heart of what the world risks losing at the mercies of unchecked climate change, you may actually learn to love aspects of what may be lost. In my case, I have learned to love it all- the bird species in jeopardy, the people struggling to find their way out of poverty while preserving one of the most fascinating and beautiful cultures on the planet, the cloud forests and maize fields.

milpa

My talents and interests have led me to the corn fields of Central America. I am an honorary Maya for the work I have done, and I consider that the greatest reward I have ever received. I try to challenge my students, the ones who work for me every day, to also tap into their individual potential, and think beyond finding “jobs” when they graduate. I want them to care about the work they do, both in the OEP Office, and in the larger scope of the world around them. We are part of a team trying to learn how to motivate people to care about their world, and how to effect positive change. We are trying to develop a sustainable and grateful mindset toward the world around us, one small victory at a time.


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EcoMadness. Saving the planet one water drop at a time

Ever hear the phrase “Every bit counts”? Well whether you believe it or not, small changes can add up to make a big difference. Even if you aren’t involved with any eco-friendly groups on campus you can still make an impact on the environment on your own. Large volunteer events and organizational movements are great, but people don’t always realize how significant their daily routines can be in affecting the environment.

One way that we try to raise awareness of this on campus is by holding an annual EcoMadness competition. During EcoMadness select dorms on campus compete against each other to see who can reduce their consumption of energy and water the most. The winning dorm receives a free ice cream party and an energy or water offset certificate based on which category they win. You don’t need to invent a spectacular eco-friendly machine to do your part. All you need to do is make small changes in your daily lifestyle and the results can be amazing! In just the first two weeks of the competition, Buckley has reduced their water consumption by 15.6%!

So please just flip the switch next time you leave a room, or save 5-10 gallons a minute by shortening your shower. Unplug your cell phone charger when you’re not using it, and only wash your clothes when you have a full load of laundry. Be smart, do your part, and always remember that just a little can go a long way!

Check out this year’s EcoMadness competition at the official EcoMadness webpage and find a few more tips on how to conserve energy and water.