college

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.

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.

  •     Visit our webpage at www.ignite.kintera.org/students4sustainability
  •     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.

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.

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.

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:

EcoMadness Final Results 2012!

The final results on EcoMadness 2012 are in!

Energy

Throughout the competition, Buckley has held the number one spot for lowest daily per capita usage of energy, at 3.7 kWh per student per day.  Their hard work and dedication kept them in the lead, and as a reward they will have a free UConn Dairy Bar ice cream party in addition to bragging rights!

In the energy reduction category, Sherman/Webster of Towers held the lead for three weeks. However, during our double or nothing final week of competition, Whitney scrambled ahead in the final moments! They had held a top three position throughout the competition, but Whitney beat out Sherman/Webster by a slim 0.03% finishing for a 20.5% total reduction in energy consumption.

Of the 23 participating dorms, 21 successfully reduced their energy consumption by a total average of 8.5%. The average per capita use was 4.4 kWh per day.

Water

Sprague, the new home of EcoHouse, was the clear winner for water reduction with an incredible final reduction of 21.0%! For some perspective on what a major accomplishment this was, the second place dorm reduced by 13.0%. Since the second week of competition, Sprague held its leading spot with steady improvements each week.   Another winner who held their position consistently throughout EcoMadness was Hamilton/Wade/Fenwick/Keller of Towers with an average per capita consumption of 32.0 gallons of water per day throughout the course of the competition.

Nine of the 23 dorms reduced their water consumption by an overall average of 2.9%.  Excluding the dorms whose water consumption was unchanged, the average reduction in water consumption was 7.1%.  The average per capita use of water was 39.9 gallons per day. (Converting that to its weight, the average per capita use is 334 lbs of water daily!)

An honorable mention goes out to our second and third place dorms for all four winning categories:

Per Capita Energy: Holcomb (2nd Place) and Batterson (3rd Place)
Energy Use Reduction (%): Sherman/Webster (2nd Place) and Hollister A/Hollister B (3rd Place)

Per Capita Water: Terry (2nd Place) and Spraque (33.4)
Water Use Reduction: Alsop A/Alsop B (2nd Place) and Whitney (3rd Place)

The overall final results are as follows:

Water Reduction Winner:
Sprague (21% Reduction)

Energy Reduction Winner:
Whitney (East) (20.5% Reduction)

Water Usage Per Capita Winner:
Hamilton/Wade/Fenwick/Keller (32 gallons)

Energy Usage Per Capita Winner:
Buckley (3.7 kWh)

Congratulations to all the dorms that successfully reduced their water and/or energy consumption during the course of EcoMadness.  Keep up the good work and remember to keep conserving!

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.

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.

Back to School in Style

Every year before going back to school it’s always exciting to restock and update my clothes, school supplies, room decorations and everything else, but most often I hardly ever stop to consider the impacts of this fun process.  “Out with the old and in with the new” is the way most of us have come to live our lives, but this can be very wasteful.  You might not realize just how much you will throw away each time you buy new things.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to update your belongings, but before going straight to your favorite store and dumping what you already have into the dumpster, consider donating it.

In 2010, UConn diverted 14, 137 pounds of donations from going to dumpsters through the Give and Go program.  The program is especially useful at the end of the year when you don’t feel like packing up everything you’ve got. For now, if you’re still in the process of acquiring new items it’s not too late to be green about it!  Instead of purchasing brand new items, consider going to thrift stores, clothing swaps, or consignment shops. Not only are things cheaper there, but you can often find great unique pieces that no one else will have.  Look through your stuff and try not to get rid of anything that’s still useful, just for a newer model.  Also try trading with your friends, that way you can each have a change of scenery without having to spend a dime!  My favorite things are usually not what I buy new, but those random items I find at rummage sales or consignment shops because they are one of a kind and so different from items of mass production you see on every shelf.

Katie Kelleher
OEP Intern

Sustainability Exchange – Part 5: Final Thoughts

It’s hard to compare the “Green City” of Freiburg, population 220,000 and home to Freiburg Uni (enrollment 23,000), with the small community of Mansfield, Connecticut, home to UConn’s main campus in Storrs, where the town’s population literally doubles when 22,000 students return in late-August for the start of the academic year.  In fact, it would be difficult comparing any town or city to Freiburg, with its unique blend of historical charm, natural surroundings, ecotourism and green technology cluster.   After my self-styled “International Sustainability Exchange,” which, thanks to a professional staff travel grant from UConn’s Office of Global Programs, consisted of two weeks of: (i) meetings and interviews with university and city officials, (ii) a guest lecture and conversations with graduate students studying Renewable Energy Management, and (iii) guided and self-guided tours of the campus, city and surrounding sights, I left Germany reassured that UConn deserves its lofty #5 position in the Sierra Club’s 2012 rankings of America’s greenest colleges, yet inspired by Freiburg to envision how we can do even more to improve campus sustainability.

The Freiburg town hall (center), where I met with local officials, including the mayor’s environmental director, and found “Green City” tours and information.

Beyond Freiburg’s strengths in renewable energy, mass transit and bicycle friendliness, (see Parts 1-4 of this blog), here are some takeaways based on my sustainability exchange experience.

UConn can do more to promote its natural assets. The 440-acre Fenton tract of the UConn Forest, adjacent to the Agricultural/East Campus is certainly not as vast and scenic as the iconic Black Forest, which overlooks Freiburg and the University’s campus, but there is plenty of natural diversity for UConn students and local hikers to experience there.  About eight years ago, student environmental organizations, led by EcoHusky and the Soil and Water Conservation Society, installed trail head signs on the East Campus, marking access points to Fenton forest hiking trails. Still, when I ask for a show of hands during one of my guest lectures, I’m always amazed that most third- and fourth-year students, even in environmental majors, have never been on the blue-blazed Nipmuck trail along the Fenton River, or walked through the Fenton tract to see the remnants of the University’s long-abandoned Horsebarn Hill ski lift, or its special forest areas featuring stands of old growth trees and the Oguschwitz Meadow. Similarly, there’s not widespread appreciation among students, faculty or staff for the North Campus’s 64-acre Hillside Environmental Education Park, with its 2 miles of hiking trails, including boardwalks and observations decks over restored wetlands.

In contrast, from anywhere in Freiburg, there are constant reminders that the Black Forest or “Schwarzvald,” is nearby – it’s a centerpiece of Freiburg’s vibrant ecotourism business and self-described identity.  Freiburg has also created rest stops and embellished attractions that draw people of all ages up the hillside trails and into the forest, like benches, picnic areas, playgrounds, public art displays, historic monuments, an observation tower and, of course, a beer garden (this is Germany after all) overlooking the city.

View of Freiburg from a hillside trail in the Black Forest

A popular hillside restaurant and beer garden helped attract people onto the Black Forest trails.

It was a short hike into the Black Forest to this observation tower, which was built as a civic project with financial support from company and individual donors.  Below is the view of Freiburg from near the top of the tower.  On a clear day, the Swiss Alps would be visible from this vantage point.

It was also remarkable to be able to reach Freiburg’s many parks and natural attractions on foot or by bicycle, along well-marked bike paths.  Leaving from the city’s centralized “Mobile” bike station, I pedaled for 30-40 minutes along the Dreisam River trail to reach Freiburg’s Seepark, a beautiful public lake, surrounded by open space and playing fields.  It was a nice day and there were pockets of people, their bikes nearby, swimming or sunbathing on the grassy lakeside, but no parking lots for motor vehicles anywhere in sight.  I biked on the trail that looped around the lake and stopped for lunch, a tasty Weisswurst, at the waterfront beer garden (this is Germany after all).

The lake at Seepark was easily accessible by bike from the inner city and Freiburg Uni’s campus.

I thought about a comparably-sized swimming hole near UConn’s main campus in Storrs, the Mansfield Hollow reservoir and picnic area.  It’s probably about the same distance from Storrs as Seepark is from Freiburg’s inner-city, but getting to Mansfield Hollow by bike on the most direct path from the main campus would be along Route 195.  With posted speed limits of 45 MPH in sections, no designated bike lanes and often narrow shoulders, Route 195 is the main drag into and out of UConn’s campus and one of the busiest state roads in Connecticut. In other words, Mansfield Hollow is not as easily connected to the campus or well-used by most UConn students.

Recycling made easy.  UConn is now a single-stream campus (with a large inventory of dual-stream bins purchased just five years ago), while Freiburg Uni is decidedly multiple-stream.  At UConn, students can use any recycling bin for any recyclable item.  The green outdoor single stream bins are plentiful throughout the core campus and usually coupled with black trash containers, so that recycling is as convenient as trash disposal. At Freiburg, there were separate bins for separate colored glass bottles: green, brown, yellow or clear, alongside separate bins for different types of paper, and separate bins for aluminum cans, and separate bins for plastic bottles. Sometime these multiple-stream recycling bins were coupled with trash cans, but often they were not.  While both universities receive a small financial incentive from their haulers for delivering clean streams of recyclables, UConn’s contractor separates items at its transfer station, which makes recycling more user-friendly and efficient on campus. Also, as a land grant university, with agricultural roots, we also compost nearly 5,000 tons of organic waste a year at our state-of-the-art facility, constructed in 2010.

Sustainable stormwater management.  Not too long ago, at the start of UConn 2000, a $2.3 billion state bond-funded capital improvement program that has successfully transformed the University’s campuses, we had our share of problems managing stormwater, particularly from construction sites. UConn has responded over the past 10 years by becoming a national leader in on-campus low impact design (LID) features, such as rain gardens, bio-retention swales, permeable asphalt parking lots, porous paver snow shelves and terraces, and green roofs. By infiltrating rainwater, LID features maintain a site’s natural hydrology and ease the volume and velocity of runoff into conventional storm drainage systems, which can cause downstream erosion and carry sediment and pollution directly into rivers, lakes and ponds. All of our on-campus LID features are part of the landscape and designed to be seen by thousands of students every day – some have signs describing their environmental benefits.

I was told by a reliable source that Freiburg Uni has several green roofs, but none of them appear to be easily visible or accessible to students. I photographed one green roof which was shown to me from the third floor of an administrative office building.  The city of Freiburg has plenty of impervious cover (IC), which usually correlates to water quality problems.  However, I’m not sure that’s the case here.

Although IC is the antithesis of LID, one can hardly argue with the intricately inlaid brick and cobblestone walkways, roads and plazas that are integral to the historic charm of Freiburg’s Old City or “Altstadt.”  Then there’s the bächle – a system of narrow canals continuously flowing throughout the Altstadt with some combination of stormwater, surface water and ground water along those brick and stone roads and walkways, then between, under and through courtyards and buildings. The bächle also help cool the surrounding buildings and neighborhoods.  Were these canals part of the same geothermal system that cools half of the Freiburg Uni campus?  Although I’m sure they once also served as the city’s sanitary sewer, I was told there is no longer any sewage discharging into the canal system.  In fact, the water looked clean.  Parents let their kids play in the canals and pet owners let their dogs drink from them.  I wish I had learned more about how the bächle worked. Is it a complex system to operate and maintain year-round and what is its role and relative effectiveness in managing stormwater and improving water quality? I’d be curious to know what sorts of things have been lost and found in the bowels of the system. I accidentally fumbled a map into a rapidly-flowing bächle and it quickly floated down the canal, dropping and out-of- sight into a catch basin before I could retrieve it.

The bächle (above and below) is a narrow canal system that collects stormwater and flows throughout Freiburg’s Altstadt and portions of the University’s campus.

Landscaping and gardens.   Freiburg, including the University’s campus, has several meticulously-maintained gardens, featuring manicured lawns and colorful flower beds around courtyards with statuary and fountains. In stark contrast, the landscape in other parts of Freiburg’s campus and city side streets was poorly maintained.  Patches of lawn around many buildings had given way to tall weeds that looked untouched by a mower all summer.  There were potholes, fallen debris and overgrown hedges along the sidewalks.  I’m not sure if this was a concession to budget cuts or a more natural approach to landscaping, or a little of both.

Flower gardens at the Anthropology Museum in Freiburg.

Well-maintained, traditional landscaping at the entrance to the hospital on the Freiburg Uni medical school campus.

Friends of mine who are organic gardeners have eliminated or minimized lawn area in their yards. They add wildflower seeds to a meadow mix and extol the virtues of clover. By late-summer they end up with a lot of crabgrass but they’re content because they haven’t used herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. That kind of approach to landscape maintenance is a tough sell on college campuses.

UConn employs integrated pest management techniques on its lawns and landscaped gardens, and our newest classroom building features xeriscaping, bio-retention swales, a green roof and even edible plants, like blueberry bushes. Like other campuses in colder climates, winter takes its toll on our landscaping and a dry summer can turn our lawns brown in a few weeks, especially since we conserve potable water by limiting landscape irrigation to new plants, gardens or turf.  We’ll complete construction soon of a new centrally-located academic building, which includes a large underground cistern that will be used to collect rainwater for irrigating the lawn and gardens around one of our busier outdoor common areas, the Student Union quad.

Farm-to-Table. Freiburgers value locally-grown food, locally-brewed beer and local wines from area vineyards. Signs in an inner-city grocery store identified local dairy products and produce, which were fresh, relatively inexpensive and very good. Every morning in the Altstadt’s central plaza, the Munsterplatz, a farmers’ market bustled under a dozen or so tents. On my bike ride to Seepark, I came across acres of community gardens divided by fences into small rectangular plots, some with elaborate sheds or makeshift greenhouses, and all very successfully growing everything from flowers, to herbs and vegetables.

A small section of the lush community garden plots on found my way to Seepark – there were micro-scale wind turbines on the roof of the building in the background.

Part of the local Farmers’ Market held every morning in the Munsterplatz.  Below, an evening festival held in the same plaza featured local wineries and breweries.

UConn has also embraced locally-grown food, which is sourced and promoted through Dining Services’ Local Routes program. Whitney is the original sustainable dining hall at UConn, and has specialized in, among other things, locally grown, organic, veghan, vegetarian, fair trade, free range and rainforest alliance items.  Small placards in Whitney tell diners where their food came from, like the honey from UConn’s apiary or veggies from the 1.4 –acre Spring Valley Farm, cultivated by students living in two off-campus farmhouses that are part of UConn’s EcoHouse living and learning community.

In the final analysis, it’s fair to say that I found more similarities than differences between Freiburg Uni  and UConn, the two sister universities that partner for study abroad and other global exchange programs.  Freiburg Uni benefits from being part of the greenest city in Germany.  The investment the city has made in sustainable mass transit alone is mind-boggling and the University community, like any other resident or visitor is, quite literally, “along for the ride.”  Even though residents and officials in UConn’s hometown of Mansfield may be just as environmentally-minded and visionary as their Freiburg counterparts, they have small town resources and tend to rely on, and partner with, UConn for things like utility services for town, commercial and residential buildings in and around Storrs.  Consequently, UConn’s sustainability record has benefited from having to be more self-sufficient in managing its property and developing these kinds of basic programs and services for the University community.  With the ownership, maintenance and operation of 4,000 acres of land, a variety of research farms, a public transit system, a water supply system, a 25 MW cogeneration facility and a sewage treatment plant, along with miles of underground and above ground distribution infrastructure, comes the ability for UConn to shape its own destiny and the opportunity (some would say obligation) to develop more holistic, integrated approaches to sustainability. Vielen danke Freiburg for the ideas and inspiration!