Friday, February 28, 2014

How is Union Doing in Do it in the Dark?

Some suggestions to reduce electricity use: 
Replace your incandescent light bulbs with Compact Fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)
Turn off the lights when you leave the room
Unplug chargers, printers, and other electronic devices when they are not in use

What is Do it in the Dark?
As a participant of Campus Conservation Nationals (CCN), a 3-week electricity conservation competition program known on campus as Do It In the Dark (DIITD), we have this online platform that displays participating buildings' electricity consumption. Check your buildings standings compared to others on campus as well Union's standing in comparison to other NY6 schools. NY6 schools include Colgate University, St. Lawrence University, Hamilton College & Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

As of 2/28/14.... (one week left in the competition)

To keep updated about the competition, 
go to the building dashboard

Thursday, February 27, 2014

How is Union Doing? Updates on Recyclemania

Recyclemania Quick Facts

What: a recycling competition and benchmarking tool for college and university recycling programs to promote waste reduction activities to their campus.

Where: Colleges and universities in the US and Canada, including Union College.

When: Feb 2 - March 29 (8 weeks)

Some Results: 
Food Service Organics
 pounds of food composted / person
The standings as of 2/27/14. Union is in first place for Food Service Organics
with 6.547 lbs. of food composted per person.
Hint: zoom in on your browser to better see graph 

What does this mean? 

          Well, it means that we do a good job composting. 

But, it also means that we are wasting a lot of food on campus. 

While food waste is generated in the kitchens during food preparation, much of the food waste we generate is from the consumer end, mainly students in the dining halls. In the spring term U-Sustain will be working on ways to raise awareness about food waste and campaign to reduce our food waste. 

Here are some food waste facts from the United Nations Environment Programme 
  • Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.
  • In the United States 30% of all food, worth US$48.3 billion (€32.5 billion), is thrown away each year. It is estimated that about half of the water used to produce this food also goes to waste, since agriculture is the largest human use of water. (Jones, 2004 cited in Lundqvist et al., 2008)
  • In the USA, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions. (This is why composting is so important!!)

Per Capita Classic
total amount of paper, cardboard, bottles, and cans collected 
on a per person basis
The standings of the Per Capital Classic as of 2/27/14, sorted by state.
Union ranks 37th overall and 6th in New York State
Hint: zoom in on your browser to better see graph

To learn more about Recyclemania and to look at the standings, 

At the end of the competition, there will be a final post about our results compared to past years. :)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pizza, Politics, and Environmental Activism: students are encouraged to plant seeds and be a little more patient

By Marissa Peck
On Tuesday, February 19th 2014 over thirty students squeezed into a classroom in the basement of Lippman hall for a Pizza and Politics panel on Environmental Activism. Members from Pi Sigma Alpha- Union’s political science group-the Environmental Club, and Ozone House were in attendance. The panel consisted of Political Science Professor Tony Dell’Aera, Electraical Engineering Professor Robert Smith, and David Higby, the Director of Federal Government Relations of the Nature Conservancy. After a brief introduction by the panelists, Zach Jonas ’14 only had to ask one question, and the students and panelists took it from there for the almost hour long meeting: What is the role of activism, specifically environmental activism, in policy change?
Zach Jonas '14 introducing the panel. Professor Dell'Aera
is on the far left, David Hibgy is in the middle,
and Professor Smith is on the right.

Professor Dell’Aera began by explaining that our political system was slow moving and that it is difficult to change the status quo. Policy change must be compatible with the political system, and activism is key in providing a vision of the future that favors policy makers as well as the activists’ mission.
David Higby spoke from his experience as a lobbyist, who does not use money or bribery, but who does represent the values and beliefs of the Nature Conservancy. He used previous examples of policy changes that environmentalists hold dear to their hearts: the Clean Air Act of 1963 and the Clean Water Act of 1972. These two pieces of legislation were major steps forward in environmental policy, and they were made possible by activists. Policy makers responded to public demands for cleaner water and air. These two laws were passed when many people doubted they ever would be, just as many doubted that women would realize suffrage or desegregation would be achieved in the U.S.
Professor Del'lAera explaining the current political situation
on Capitol Hill.
Today, partisanship has changed and environmentalism is seen as a ‘special interest’ instead of a general interest topic that crosses party lines. According to Higby, this extreme polarization that we are seeing today on Capitol Hill has to do with widespread gerrymandering, or the (successful) attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party by manipulating district boundaries to create advantageous districts for a certain party. This gerrymandering has created a gridlock, and the push for environmental policy is becoming harder and harder. It is here where local activism can play an instrumental role because districts are drawn by local and state representatives. Higby sees that activism at the local level can be the most effective in changing policy at the national level.
Higby listing off environmental policy achievements,
such as the Clean Water Act.
Professor Smith provided an interesting perspective as he mostly works in the research of alternative energies. He has taught the ESPE capstone senior seminar for the past two years. He stated that our society is resistance to change and to learning, and he importantly pointed out the media’s role in affecting the general public. Interestingly, he saw the media’s influence to have positive potential in gathering a critical mass on one side of an issue, specifically on the issue of climate change.
Climate change is a pressing concern, and Higby matter-of-factley stated that “we do not have a generation to wait for congress to change.” Action must be taken sooner. Professor Smith proposed that perhaps the immediateness of climate change might be the exact thing that gathers a critical mass and pushes for the congressional change that we, as a nation, desperately need to benefit not only the environmental movement but also other social movements and issues we face as a society.
Austin Anderson '15 
Austin Anderson ’15 then asked the question that reflected the motivation of the majority of the students in the room for attending the panel. What can we do, as students and young people, to achieve true strides for America’s environmental policy? Austin described the sometimes frustrating reality that environmental degradation and movements for protection are really out of our control. In response, Higby immediately threw the question back to Austin: “What do you think you can do?” Higby later explained that he did this to show us that we already know what to do and we possess most of the tools to achieve change, we just have to do it.
Professor Smith answering Austin's question.
“We expect instant gratification,” stated Professor Dell’Aera. He explained that in our modern world information and communication are instantaneous and we have grown accustomed to this fast-paced return. So, when we do not succeed at something in the same fast paced manner, we consider our work to be a failure. But, with the environmental movement, change is slow and we must be patient. Professor Dell’Aera stressed that we, as activists, must train ourselves to accept small changes and we must pride ourselves in our small feats because it is through dedicated and long-term small achievements that we will realize great change. “Substantial change does not take place without all of the small scale, cumulative success,” said Professor Dell’Aera. We plant the seeds and must be patient while they grow.

Students listening to the panel.
                What was the take home message of this Pizza and Politics? The political situation today unfortunately is not in favor of change. All panelists believed that the Keystone XL pipeline would end up being approved by the government because, as Higby remarked, “the politics of today are going to win out over the public (and environmental) interest of tomorrow.” However, the panelists were hopeful and looking to us, the students, to continue to be encouraged by the activist environment, which fosters new activists and keeps pushing for change. Not participating because it is difficult to achieve large-scale and quick change is the wrong mentality. We must keep chipping away and always stay true to the facts that we know to be true. Eventually these facts will support the movement and pressure big change (aka: save the planet!)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Forum Focus: climate 'crisis' response

EPA regional director keynotes Union conference
By Kelly de la Rocha
Gazette Reporter

Friday, January 24, 2014

SCHENECTADY — Climate change and its adverse effects are undeniable, but there are solutions, Judith Enck, the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional administrator, told attendees of Friday’s climate change conference at Union College.
Welcome to the conference!
Photo by Marissa Peck

More than 150 municipal and state officials, planners, engineers and students attended the daylong event, which focused on building community resilience in response to climate change.

“I think that climate change is the greatest economic and environmental challenge of our generation, and we are feeling the effects,” said Enck, the event’s keynote speaker. “The 12 hottest years on record have all happened in the last 15 years. [The year] 2012 was the hottest year ever in the United States. Sea surface temperatures are the highest they’ve ever been since we started measuring sea surface temperature back in the 1800s. In New York Harbor, the sea level is a foot higher than it was a century ago. We are having more intense and frequent storms.”

The Capital Region is experiencing more weather extremes and a warming trend, according to information presented at the conference by Richard Westergard of Shade Tree Meteorology and Union College Professor Richard Wilk.

The two cited data from the master’s thesis of 2013 Union graduate Elizabeth Rodiger, who studied extreme weather events and climatic changes in Schenectady and six surrounding counties. Between 1939 and 2011, the average daily temperature in the Capital Region increased about 3 degrees, with the four highest temperatures recorded in the past 20 years, Wilk noted.
Congressman Paul Tonko
Photo by Marissa Peck

Upward trends were also recorded between 1960 and 2009 in blizzards, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, high winds, hail, freezing rain and drought.

“Pay attention to Mother Nature’s whims, and consider those trends in planning,” Westergard suggested to the crowd. “Take these things into consideration and build with weather extremes in mind.”

Enck said it’s an economic necessity for the country to address climate change, citing the $60 billion provided by the federal government to New York and New Jersey for the Hurricane Sandy recovery effort.

Climate change can be combatted through the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, but in order to do that effectively, detailed, tough conversations about how to improve resiliency must take place, she said.

“We all have a role to play in tackling the climate crisis,” she said in an interview following her speech. “There are things we can do as individuals, but more importantly, there are things that we have to do in the business and government sector to drive down greenhouse gas pollution, and then secondly, we need to work collaboratively with mayors and local governments to prepare for future storms — and we certainly learned that through Irene and Sandy. To be effectively addressing the climate change issue, we need to drive down greenhouse gas pollution [while] at the same time preparing our communities for future Sandys and future Irenes.”

Suggested actions community members can employ to reduce greenhouse gas emissions include using mass transit and fuel-efficient vehicles, living close to work and using energy-efficient light bulbs.
Kyle Lanzit '13 and co-worker in front of their table to
 promote Community Energy. Photo by Marissa Peck

In 2005, the city of Schenectady began implementing an energy conservation performance contract that reduced emissions by about 4 percent within three years, said City Council President Margaret King during a presentation at the conference.

“In terms of climate mitigation, we have entered a power-purchase agreement with SolarCity through [the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority] for the largest solar installation in New York state,” she noted.

The city’s wastewater treatment plant has been upgraded to use anaerobic digestion, a move that significantly reduced electricity usage, saving approximately $30,000 monthly in operating costs, she said.

Schenectady County has developed a community-wide climate action plan, expanded recycling efforts and is redeveloping multiple brownfield sites, noted Tony Jasenski, chairman of the Schenectady County Legislature.

Proactive preparations for weather-related disasters produced by climate change are a must, said conference presenter Jared Snyder, assistant commissioner for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. He suggested communities incorporate climate change considerations into all plans they produce, including comprehensive land use plans, emergency evacuation plans and capital spending plans.
An exhibit at the conference
Photo by Marissa Peck

   At the state level, NYSERDA is working to make New York more resilient to climatic extremes and weather events by investing in the electric utility industry and improving how the state responds to extreme weather events, said Janet Joseph, vice president of technology and strategic planning for NYSERDA. The state is also establishing a 3-billion-gallon gas reserve in Long Island and providing emergency backup generators to gas stations on critical roads in the state, she said.

Tackling climate change is possible, Enck emphasized in her speech.
“Remember the hole in the ozone layer? Well, it’s closing. There was a global agreement phasing out the chemicals that were harming the ozone layer, and the ozone levels are improving,” she said.

She also called attention to the fact that acid rain has been reduced by 65 percent since the 1970s, thanks to measures implemented by the United States and Canada.

“We can fix these problems if we choose to do so,” she asserted. “Solutions are out there.”

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

2014 Green Fee Recipient Selected

By: Lucas Comstock
The Green Fee Governance Committee would like to proudly announce our 2013-2014 recipient: Forrister Ross '14 and his proposal to install Lucid monitoring systems in the four first year dormitories.  The system will provide real time data on electricity consumption in an easy to use dashboard that will be physically displayed in the dormitories, as well as be accessible by all students via the web.
Forrister Ross '14

Lucid Design Group is in the business of providing energy consumption awareness to both the public and private sector.  Their experience has culminated in energy savings at private universities around the United States, including Cornell, Stanford, and Emory.  Lucid’s software, BuildingOS, will be installed to monitor Richmond, West, Davidson, and Webster
Hall.  Each of these four locations will be accompanied by an IPad kiosk that will provide real time data on the electricity usage in the building; another set of IPad’s will likely be displayed in Olin Science Center.  The rest of campus will be able to access this data via a webpage, which includes screens that including the electricity usage, green living tips, building comparisons, competition data and even the weather.  Cornell’s Lucid Dashboard can be seen here as an example:

Ross has worked with the Office of Residential Life to ensure the longevity of success the Lucid system can bring to campus.  Residential Advisors will be the first to make their new floor mates aware of the system this coming fall and will provide simple tips on ways to reduce consumption.  Competitions will occur throughout the year to encourage energy reduction by offering small prizes to the building that shows the largest reductions.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

What's up with Recyclemania?

Quick Facts
What: a recycling competition and benchmarking tool for college and university recycling programs to promote waste reduction activities to their campus. 
          Where: Colleges and universities in the US and Canada 
                     When: Feb 2 - March 29 (8 weeks)
                                Why: The overall goals of Recyclemania are...

  1.                       to motivate students and staff to increase recycling efforts and reduce waste generation.
  2. to generate attention and support for campus recycling programs.
  3. to encourage colleges to measure and benchmark recycling activity in their effort to imporve their programs over time.
  4. to have a fair and friendly competition

Union's Results SO FAR... to see updates click here.
         The categories:
              Grand Champion - 44 of 114 
The Grand Champion results are the recycling rate as a percentage of its overall waste generation. 

Weight of RecyclablesX 100 = XX%
      Weight of Recyclables + Weight of Trash
              Per Capita Classic - 29 of 349
This category looks at total amount of paper, cardboard, bottles, and cans collected on a per person basis. 
Weight of Recyclables= XX.XX lbs.
Campus Population
              Gorilla - 92 of 360
The school that recycles the highest gross tonnage of combined paper, cardboard, bottles and cans regardless of campus population.
                Waste Minimization - 58 of 159
Schools compete to see which produces the least amount of both recyclables and trash on a per person basis. Schools are recognized for the lowest overall per person quantity.  In addition, participating schools pledge to undertake at least three specific waste reduction practices. 

Weight of Recyclables + Weight of Trash
Campus Population
          Targeted Materials: results are calculated on a per capita basis. 
              Paper - 57 of 204
              Corrugated Cardboard - 13 of 210
              Bottles & Cans - 55 of 200
              Food Service Organics - 1 of 184 !!!!

Look out for U-Sustain events in the upcoming weeks to help reduce our waste, especially in the dining halls.

Tabling for the event is happening in Reamer on Mondays and at Ozone Cafe on Fridays. Ask questions! Pick up Recyclmania goodies! Meet the team! Get involved!

All information for this article from