UConn Office of Environmental Policy

Promoting sustainability at UConn


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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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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.