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.


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.

Stretching UConn’s Water Budget, Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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:



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.

The Continuation of the Climate Impact Mitigation & Adaptation Series

by: OEP Sustainability Coordinator Laura Dunn, OEP Intern Skyler Marinoff, & OEP Director Rich Miller

In the interest of keeping climate change at the forefront of the UConn community’s attention, the Office of Environmental Policy will help coordinate a system-wide interdepartmental “teach in” this upcoming April. Tentatively titled “Our Environment: A Dialogue on Change,” this week-long effort, from April 15-22, is set to continue building on the momentum set by a number of successful Climate Impact Mitigation and Adaptation (CIMA) events in the spring of 2012.

CIMA 1: Daniel Esty, commissioner, state Department of Energy & Environmental Protection, called for attention to both mitigation and adaptation when dealing with climate change. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Kicking off in March last year, the CIMA lectures featured university faculty and guest speakers such as independent journalist and author, Mark Hertsgaard, and the Teale Lecture speaker, Michael Mann, an award-winning climatologist. Other events included a panel discussion focused on incorporating various aspects of sustainability, a Climate Impact Expo in the town of Mansfield, and an interactive Eco-footprint exhibition developed by the EcoHusky student group. Very importantly, President Herbst reaffirmed the institutional commitment to UConn’s Climate Action Plan (CAP), which had been approved by her predecessor in 2010, and endorsed a new Climate “Adaptation” section of the CAP that spoke of our dedication to help communities more proactively address the effects of climate change and sea level rise. The reactions of students were very positive, as shown by the overwhelming attendance of the Michael Mann lecture and the passionate participation in discussions during both the sustainability panel and at the close of each lecture or expo.

CIMA 1: Gene Likens, Board of Trustees Distinguished Research Professor, said ethical behavior and social responsibility are important components of a sustainable environment. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

This year, the UConn community can expect another well collaborated and dynamic CIMA week planned by the organizing committee of student, faculty, staff and town representatives. Given the success of last spring, the committee aims to focus the month of April on the environment in whatever way relates best to each department. In order to reach a wider audience and engage in a broader discussion, CIMA 2 will feature a week long “teach in” in which faculty are provided with pertinent instructional materials that can be incorporated into a class or two during the teach-in. Scheduled for the week of April 15th to April 22nd(Earth Day) this series will also encompass various events focused on the environment and culminate with the annual Earth Day Spring Fling, the annual main and regional campus celebrations co-sponsored by the OEP, Dining Services, EcoHusky and EcoHouse!

Other events planned for April that relate to “Our Environment: A Dialogue on Change” include:

(1) 5 April – Humanities Institute “Day in the Humanities,” (2) 9 April – special lecture on ‘Silent Springs’ by historian, Naomi Oreskes, (3) a “Coastal Perspectives Rachel Carson Symposium” at Avery Point, (4) 12 April – a tentatively scheduled Law School special conference on natural gas and nuclear power, (5) 18 April – a Teale Lecture Series presentation, “The Lost Woods of Childhood” by poet Allison Hawthorne Deming.

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.

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:

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!

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.

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!