UConn Office of Environmental Policy

Promoting sustainability at UConn


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Basketball Green Game Days: Spring 2013

Click on a picture to learn more about our green game days this spring! Thank you to everyone at the games who donated to Kicks for Africa. Collection of lightly used sneakers will continue throughout the semester at bins placed around campus.

 


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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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Blog Action Day 2012: The Power of We

…when people get together to make the world a better place.

The Power of We – Conserving Water Resources at the University of Connecticut

Public awareness of the increasing scarcity of water on a global scale has been growing over the last few decades. The main concerns are water quantity and quality; millions of people around the world have infrequent or no access to a source of clean water. This problem is exacerbated by a growing population with ever increasing demands for natural resources. In contrast, here in the USA it is hard to imagine anything but a tap flowing with cool, crisp, potable water. Too often we take water for granted. Through technological advances in the drinking water industry we are seemingly able to meet the majority of demand for water in our own country. At least, we don’t often hear about when our water infrastructure fails.

                Connecticut is generally considered a water-rich state; we have adequate supplies of groundwater and high quality surface water reservoirs. However, despite this perceived abundance of water resources certain sites have been known to overstress their water sources. At the University of Connecticut there is an undergraduate population of around 17 thousand alone. If faculty, staff, and graduate students are factored in there is a daily demand for water to support in excess of 25 thousand people. It should be noted that not all of these will have needs for UConn water during peak demand hours; many live at home and will cook and bathe using separate water sources. Even so, UConn has experienced its share of water supply issues.

UConn receives high quality groundwater from two well fields adjacent to the Fenton and Willimantic rivers. The University must remain vigilant in monitoring the withdrawal rate and water levels of these rivers through its department of Facilities Operations and a partnership with the US Geological Survey. In 2005, a stretch of the Fenton River ran dry due to low precipitation and water pumping from UConn’s Fenton well field. This was a significant ecological hardship for the area and resulted in a redoubling of UConn’s water monitoring and conservation efforts.

UConn’s water supply issues did not stop there; in the spring and summer of 2012 low snow melt and precipitation associated with a nationwide drought stressed its groundwater sources yet again. The university issued a water advisory, mandating conservation efforts, including a limit on lawn watering, car washing, and ornamental fountains. Voluntary measures were suggested in conjunction.

In September, with the return of the student body, water conservation took on new urgency. The mandatory conservation measures had been lifted; however the water advisory remained in effect. Inconsistent precipitation and increased water demand led to an uncertain forecast for our water supply. Upon arrival back to school, one of my first tasks as a student intern in UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy was to implement a water conservation outreach campaign that would target the student population.

I, along with a fellow intern, outlined a schedule of steps that could be taken to promote the importance of saving water to students. Our efforts focused on advertising the facts and importance surrounding saving water and how water supply may affect life at UConn and the surrounding ecological and human communities. Through September and October we created materials to achieve this goal; the message was advertised in the student theater, student union, recreational facility, laundry rooms, and via social media.

Our message focused on what students could do to reduce their water usage. We were able to couple our program with existing programs like the OEP’s “Stop the Drop” campaign, which focuses on promoting students’ role in reporting wasteful infrastructure damages for repair. Our new materials detailed some of the wasteful habits many college students fall into, for instance in dormitory laundry rooms we advised students to restrict usage of washing machines to full loads of clothes. By combining a recognizable slogan and symbol into our work while adding new elements to the theme we hoped to maximize the effectiveness of our message.

Our efforts were rewarded when water usage for September showed that UConn used 7% less water than a year earlier. One of the greatest successes and largest contributors to these results was progress in a continued leak detection and repair program focused on UConn’s water distribution system. Retro-commissioning projects have resulted in improved system efficiencies and controls, and the combination of outreach on the parts of our office, Facilities Operations, and a variety of campus and university stakeholders managed to reduce the water demand beyond our expectations.

With infrastructure improvements underway, the outreach component of this issue must persist. In fact, the water conservation program should ideally be perpetual. With growing populations this conservation mindset must continue to spread and flourish if we are to maintain our quality of life and preserve our natural environment. Hopefully, through continued efforts we can help change our culture into one that puts a high value on our natural resources. We have a semester-long plan to continue our water conservation program and have begun to work with student organizations, like EcoHusky, to address this issue from multiple sides.

The events at the University of Connecticut over the last few years have demonstrated how a community can change its practices in order to responsibility utilize its available water supply. Throughout this process UConn has looked to other institution for guidance in its water supply plan and we hope that other groups will be able to learn from our experiences. Although UConn is a small speck on the global water budget, it may prove that a widespread change in practice and thought process on this micro-scale may prove to be effective in conserving the Earth’s precious water supply.


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The UTC Sustainability Case Competition

By: Emily Udal

So what if you take a problem on campus, relate it to a new trend and make it a competition? That was exactly my thought process when deciding to create the first sustainability case competition. Popular with business schools across the country, the purpose of a case competition is to take a given problem and to try to find a solution for it. There is no or right or wrong answer, however a good amount of thought and creativity are key.

Once I determined the goal of the case competition, I tried to find a way to appeal to a mass number of students to help them solve a campus-related problem, while gaining professional experience with a blue-chip company. The objective of organizing this case competition was for students from all majors and graduation dates to get hands-on experience to put on their resume for a future internship or job. The concept originated from trying to bridge environmental stewardship and business at UConn through a creative concept that is both feasible and respectful to a $10,000 budget constraint.

With over 100 students signing up, the case competition had garnered significant interest by the campus community.  In today’s competitive job market, landing the perfect internship is crucial to early career success. With the case competition open to freshman and sophomores to participate, it allowed students to gain professional experience early, which is often difficult considering most career-related opportunities are open to upperclassman.

UTC Case Competition Participants

UTC Case Competition Participants

The finalists included teams that proposed more efficient bus routes, an internship program for a biogas facility, retrofitting exercise equipment to produce its own electricity, and a Daily Campus smartphone app to reduce newspaper usage.

The winners of the competition introduced the concept of Ethos Based Recycling. The winning team members included key members from the EcoHusky Student Group. Their concept was based on increasing the amount that students at the University of Connecticut recycle through a fresh perspective on recycling.

The program would involve an overhaul of the current recycling receptacles on campus to provide an emotionally rewarding and educational experience to students as they recycle. Some of the new features that would be included on the recycling bins would be: information on recycling on the bins to intervene in the issue of improper disposal; motion sensors bins that will respond with applause and list the number of items that have been recycled on a given day; painted scenes of nature on the recycling bins to inspire students to protect their environment through the simple act of recycling.

The event was the first to bring environmental stewardship, business and friendly competition to find a student solution to a real problem faced at UConn. The winning proposal has been considered at major environmental workgroups, such as the University’s Environmental Policy Advisory Council, to try to implement such a program on campus. The overall goal of giving hands on experience was achieved, but more importantly, the event has brought a fresh student perspective to some of the current environmental initiatives at the University of Connecticut.


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A Freshman’s Introduction to Sustainability

My name is Emily and I am a UConn freshman majoring in Natural Resources with a concentration in water and climate. My interest in the protection of our ecosystem is ethically, scientifically, and emotionally rooted. My dad is a geologist who has worked in the environmental field for the last 25 years. He began his career cleaning highly contaminated superfund sites and now manages a large portfolio of real estate. He is responsible for ensuring that the land and buildings he covers are compliant with federal and state environmental regulations. He works hard to preserve the environment and educate others on the importance of sustainable business practices. My dad’s belief in his work is seamlessly integrated into everything he does from family dinner conversations about rising ocean levels to detailed explanations of the latest fossil find. His enthusiasm and passion for his work and our natural surroundings is infectious. 

I’ve known for several years now that I want to follow in my dad’s footsteps and dedicate myself to environmental studies. When I started to apply for college my senior year of high school, UConn was not very high on my list. I knew it was regarded as an excellent public university but I had always pictured myself at a small school deep in the mountains. To be honest, when I ultimately decided to go to UConn, I was disappointed and this feeling of discouragement didn’t subside for quite some time.

It was recommended that I take an INTD course with Rich Miller, the director of the Office of Environmental Policy (OEP). The class would be a one-credit course that focused on UConn’s sustainability initiatives. The first few weeks concentrated on student introductions and familiarization of the campus layout. Within the first month, however, we started to discuss the University’s outlook and goals on sustainability. We went over UConn’s recycling, composting, education outreach, transportation, energy, and much more. I was very surprised at the diverse range of sustainable activities UConn had committed itself to.

Over the course of the semester, I learned a great deal about the University’s efforts and I must confess I was very impressed. My spring semester of freshman year I was lucky enough to receive an internship at the Office of Environmental Policy and this has served to further expand my knowledge on UConn’s devotion to environmental conservation. I attended several important meetings including one for EPAC (Environmental Policy Advisory Council) and a Recycling Workgroup. It was exciting to finally be introduced to others who shared my love for the environment.  Unfortunately, I have noticed that there is fallout when it comes to the general student body’s understanding and recognition of the OEP’s work. For instance, UConn has single stream recycling but very few know what this is and even those who do are unaware that it is used on our campus. I am very proud of what UConn has done to support sustainability and I only wish more would feel this same way.

Now that my freshman year has come to an end and I have had time to think back on all of my experiences, I must say that I am very happy with my choice to come to UConn. The tremendous size once intimidated me but now I see this only gives me a larger audience to influence. I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to help our University take a leadership role in sustainability and I want nothing more than to help educate my peers on the importance of protecting our environment and bring recognition to all that the OEP and UConn has done thus far.