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Kimberly Duncan ’18 Presents Environmental Artwork

By Sustainability Office on December 14, 2017

H2CO3 is a two-dimensional piece depicting the degradation of coral reefs. The piece consists of three panels of detailed drawings of healthy, bleached, and algal corals descending down the paper.  On two panels, the corals are met with abstract markings made by household bleach and distress from sandpaper towards the bottom. The paper is black not only so the bleaching is visible but also to make the connection that ocean acidification and coral bleaching are really effects of increased atmospheric carbon caused by anthropogenic activity (carbon is traditionally depicted as black). Each strip can stand in place of many coral reefs, the outermost in poorest health— like the Great Barrier Reef and Hawaiian Reefs— and the inner one of the remaining reefs in good health— like Indonesian Reefs. Additionally, the evolution and processes I use in this piece is meaningful. I initially drew in healthy corals followed by gradually increasing introductions of bleach and bleached corals in a pace similar to the Keeling curve. Both the method and the details of the piece portray the effect of anthropogenic climate change on coral reefs.

This piece can be connected to Anthropogenic rhetoric in Eco Art, an art movement informed by contemporary environmental issues and social justice. Visually, the use of size in Eco Art pieces is a formal quality most often utilized. As a result, the scale of my piece is inspired by others that use size as a projection of the large-scale of the environmental damage being surveyed. My past work has been a gradual incline to the investigation of environmental issues. I have mostly had a focus in projects based around people and the communication of displaced environmental degradation. Last year, I created an installation, Carbon Cube, to similarly draw attention to an environmental issue that can seem abstract.  In that piece I was giving an abstract atmospheric emission a concrete form to bridge daily human activity and environmental impact. With this project, I am bridging the gap between the daily human activity and a displaced impact.

The content I have chosen, though explored by other artists, is unique because I don’t approach it from a perspective that seldom highlights the aesthetic value of a reef. Though aesthetic, social values are capable of emotionally seducing viewers I wanted to portray the intrinsic value of ocean health as well. By connecting humans to the health of ecosystems so far from their daily lives, the piece minimizes space between them. This emphasizes not only the need for humans to fix this issue but that we are complicit as well. Formally, the incorporation of bleach as a mode of mark making is a fairly unique method.  I wanted to connect the content and form by mimicking the removal of the color of healthy corals by stripping the paper of its original color. The paper is tall to mimic the vastness of the ocean ecosystem and our effect on it. Additionally, the paper will extend out onto the floor to invite the viewer to consider their impact on the issue. Viewers will interact with the piece spatially and hopefully will consider their own “footprint”.

The most important idea I want to communicate to the viewer is that their daily actions and lifestyles do have an impact. More importantly, I want to show that the degradation of these ecosystems is not directly attributed to their surrounding countries. The issue is due to a global increase in outputs of CO2. This piece is meant to serve as a reminder that our actions have a bigger effect outside of our ecosystem and are harshly affecting oceanic systems. The piece is not meant to serve as an answer or solution but to place the responsibility for the damage on humans, a responsibility that so many deny.

Come to Clifford Gallery to see all the art theses! The exhibit will be open from December 13-February 14th.

Don’t Feed the (Land)Fill: A Sustainability Office Intern’s Experience at a Zero-Waste Conference

By Sustainability Office on December 6, 2017
-Miranda Gilgore ’18

In early November, the Post Landfill Action Network (PLAN) hosted their 4th annual Students for Zero-Waste Conference in Philadelphia. The conference brought together about 500 students and faculty as well as companies committed to challenging thoughtless, wasteful consumerism.

Sites from the Toxics Tour of Chester, PA.

The conference began on Friday with a discussion of Environmental Justice and a “Toxics Tour” of the astounding number of polluting factories, incinerator, and industrial facilities located in nearby Chester, PA. Chester is in many ways the embodiment of environmental injustice and was therefore a good location for the tour. Among the Chester Water Authority, industrial center, paper mill and paper manufacturer, two chemical plants, empty plots that were formerly home to polluting factories or waste sites, trash substation, power plants (one current, one now turned into office space), and sewer overflow, Chester is perhaps most famously home of the nation’s largest trash incinerator. Despite being the country’s largest trash incinerator, importing trash from the surrounding county, nearby Philadelphia, NY, and NJ, the Covanta trash incinerator lacks many of the pollution controls that other incinerators have. The discussion of environmental justice and the tour were a striking way to start the weekend’s discussion on waste and the hopes of creating a zero-waste future because it showed the consequences of inaction and business as usual: polluted rivers, smelly air, and injustice. On Friday evening, the keynote speaker, Kate Bailey from Eco-Cycle, reminded us to think of zero-waste among other large scale energy saving initiatives.  


Well rested and excited for what the day would bring, I started Saturday off by enjoying a zero-waste breakfast (bulk items with no packaging, real silverware, and compostable bowls for attendees who hadn’t brought their own) and meeting new friends. I attended workshops on reducing on-campus disposable coffee cup usage, conducting a waste audit, and discussing zero-waste across different perspectives. I ate a zero-waste lunch. And I was inspired and encouraged.

Having wanted to go to this conference for the past 3 years because of my interest in zero waste initiatives, finally attending the conference was really a dream come true for me. The conference also fits into the larger picture of my work as an intern for the Office of Sustainability here at Colgate. Given Colgate’s waste problem (more than 850 tons of waste produced so far in 2017 and only a 12% recycling rate), I was eager to see what solutions students at other schools have found to reduce waste. One of the biggest takeaways from the conference is how far a little thoughtfulness can go. Bringing something to the correct recycling bin, packing something in a reusable container instead of a ziplock, not taking a straw to go with your disposable cup isn’t hard, it just takes a little extra thought. Colgate has a long way to go before it hits its 2025 goal of a zero waste campus, but with a little intentionality on all of our parts and a commitment to a just future, I think we can make huge strides.

Colgate Receives Highest Ever AASHE STARS Score

By Sustainability Office on December 6, 2017

STARS Gold SealLast week, Colgate University received a STARS Gold rating for the second time with its highest ever score (72.19) from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).

The AASHE Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) is a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. Colgate is one of only 124 institutions to receive a gold rating from AASHE STARS.

“AASHE STARS is the gold standard for assessing sustainability programs in higher ed. The fact that we scored so high and achieved a Gold rating illustrates a commitment to sustainability from every level of the institution,” stated director of sustainability, John Pumilio.

The assessment broadly approaches sustainability addressing a range of categories from operations to diversity and affordability. Most notably, Colgate scored well in the water, air and climate, purchasing, curriculum and engagement categories.  

Innovative and forward-thinking initiatives, such as Colgate’s comprehensive wellness program, Chapel House geothermal exchange system and a longitudinal study of the soundscape of Colgate’s hill also played a role in our institution’s new rating.

“I am really proud of the work Colgate is doing toward integrating sustainability across the university and it is wonderful that this work is recognized by the AASHE STARS program,” stated Chair of the Sustainability Council, Dr. Catherine Cardelús.

The nature of this report demonstrates that campus sustainability relies on more than just the work of one office, but rather dedicated student, staff and faculty champions across the institution who work to create a more socially and environmentally responsible and resilient community.

“I’m grateful to be working at an institution that places such a high value on sustainability and especially grateful to members of our sustainability team, Pamela Gramlich, and our student interns for their tireless effort over the past few months,” Pumilio stated. “STARS Gold is something the entire Colgate community can celebrate.”

Colgate’s entire AASHE STARS report can be viewed here. Special thanks to Dana Chan ‘19, Chaveli Miles ‘19, Annaliese Clauze ‘20, and Sonia Ost ‘20 for their work on the report.  Please email sustainability@colgate.edu with any questions.


Library Staff Members Form Sustainability Group

By Sustainability Office on December 5, 2017
-Revee Needham ‘18

This semester, a Library Sustainability Group formed under the direction of staff members Sergei Domashenko and Jesi Buell. Over a dozen staff members have joined and pledged to make an impact in their workplace. The three main focuses of the group are waste reduction, outreach and marketing, and literacy and education. In order to educate all staff members on how to be sustainable in their job at Case-Geyer Library, the literacy subgroup is focused on creating a staff sustainability guide. To save energy, personal desk light bulbs are in the process of being converted to LED light bulbs.

To make the all staff meetings zero-waste, recycling and compost bins are available to use.

The waste reduction subgroup is focusing on educating library staff and visitors on how to properly recycle and dispose of waste. The new landmark bins for bottles and cans, waste, and paper are an important infrastructure investment for clear signage. However, issues with contamination persist, as some people do not empty their liquids before recycling. When this happens, the entire bag of recycling must be thrown out.

Earlier in the semester, the Library Sustainability Group collaborated with the Office of Sustainability to ensure the all-staff meeting was zero-waste. Staff members were encouraged to bring their own mug or water bottle and recycling bins and compost bins were available for food waste. Focusing on staff education and sustainability literacy is as important to advancing the university’s sustainability mission as student education efforts.

Upon speaking with the Interim University Librarian, Steve Black, it’s clear that sustainability is supported at all levels within the Library. Mr. Black applauded the grassroots campaign and is happy to see staff members taking initiative to make their workplace more sustainable. He is collaborating with the Office of Sustainability to conduct an electricity analysis of the Library with its 2,500+ light fixtures.

Case-Geyer Library is uniquely situated to highlight its sustainability measures since its role as a public space differs from personal residence halls, for example. While students spend around 4 years at Colgate, staff members stay much longer, emphasizing the importance of this group’s efforts. Staff members are excited to go above and beyond their primary job descriptions to enact change.

New signage promotes the proper disposal of your materials into the recycling and waste bins.


Speaking to several members of the group, each had their own motivation and goals for their work in advancing sustainability in Case-Geyer Library. Mark Sandford explained that this group is important to have, as many other sustainability efforts are focused on student life, and overlook the staff who work at Colgate too. Joe Bernet emphasized that every person needs to step up and do their part in regard to sustainability. Additionally, Michael Sitts was eager to learn more after taking the Foundations of Sustainability course with John Pumilio, Director of the Office of Sustainability.

The group has been reaching out to other notable library institutions, such as Cornell and College of the Atlantic, to gather ideas to bring to Colgate. Overall, the members are excited and motivated to work collaboratively to tackle incorporating sustainability into the library. Mr. Domashenko, a leader of the Sustainability Group, hopes that in the future the library can serve as a model for other buildings and staff to learn from on campus.

You too can assist in their mission and the university’s mission for sustainability while visiting Case-Geyer Library. Take advantage of the natural window light and be sure to turn off lights after you leave an empty room. Follow the direction of the “Leave No Trace” signs, and properly dispose of any food or beverages in the appropriate bins. Empty liquids from your bottles before disposing in the Bottles and Cans recycling bin. Additionally, be sure to place any paper coffee cups in the waste bin, as they are not recyclable. If you’re unsure of how to dispose of something, remember “when in doubt, throw it out.” We can all do our part to make the library even greener.



In the United Kingdom, Is Sust a Must or a Bust?

By Sustainability Office on November 9, 2017
-Madison Smith ’19

Upon arriving to Manchester, England in early September to begin my study abroad adventure, I was not entirely sure what to expect in terms of sustainability. Would it be similar to sustainability at home where we struggle to recycle more than 15% of our waste and where climate change is still a wildly partisan issue despite scientific consensus? Or would it be like a utopian society in which everything runs on solar power and people never forget to pack their reusable straws? I attest that my findings have landed somewhere in between.


In general, sustainability appears to be more engrained in everyday life. For example, the University of Manchester supplied sufficient recycling bins and directions to both my apartment kitchen and my individual bedroom before I even got there. Vegetarian and vegan food options are widely available and clearly labeled at most, if not all, restaurants in the city. Plastic and paper bags cost 5 pence at all stores, which very quickly forces you to carry around a backpack or a reusable shopping bag. Finally, due to the adequate bike paths and positive stigma surrounding bikers, one may actually be more likely to get hit by a biker than a car while walking around – a bad thing for an oblivious pedestrian like myself, but a great thing for reducing carbon emissions.


On the other hand, the U.K. has some tendencies that I have found more wasteful and problematic. I don’t think anything can illustrate this better than the time I found an unpeeled orange in a plastic container. To further explain, it is very common for people to buy prepared food at small grocery and convenience stores throughout the day. The sandwiches, salads, etc. are always dressed in heavy plastic and cardboard packaging, and yes, this includes the produce, whether it be raw or ready to eat. I am more accustomed to having to bag our own produce in the U.S., and thus having the option to bring a reusable bag or skip the bag altogether. Here, that autonomy does not exist and if you want the sandwich or broccoli or unpeeled orange, you also get the unnecessary plastic.

It is by no means a perfect system, but the U.K. has nonetheless progressed to certain policies and practices that we are just starting to talk about in the U.S. I would love to investigate beyond my initial observations and look at other areas in which the U.K. may surpass, or perhaps lag behind, the U.S. in terms of sustainability, such as food waste, renewable energy sources, and distribution of environmental burdens. I will keep you all posted!

Green Your Halloween

By Sustainability Office on October 30, 2017
-Julia Feikens ’18

It’s that time of year: scary movies, lots of candy, and fun costumes for everyone! However, while Halloween is considered one of the most popular holidays in America, there’s a way to make it even better…make it green!

Halloween is a great time to start making easy, sustainable decisions, especially in regards to your costume choice. One of the major concerns with Halloween is the abundance of one-time only disposable costumes. Instead, try these fun tips to make your costuming less impactful on the environment (and your wallet). 

  1. Use what you own
  2. Rent a costume at a much cheaper price than buying it
  3. Swap costumes with friends
  4. Buy re-wearable, used, or vintage items
  5. Use natural materials

Photo courtesy of usgbcma.org

In addition, make sure to avoid harmful or offensive costumes, so that everyone can enjoy the night together.

While celebrating, here are some tips to keep on Halloween-ing sustainably:

  1. When possible, use reusable items, such as cups and plates, and avoid disposable or paper products.
  2. Recycle what you can, but make sure to quickly wash out anything besides water to ensure no contamination enters recycling bins.
  3. Avoid smashing pumpkins and leaving waste in public spaces.
  4. Have a fun night!

Are You Nuts to Keep Eating Almonds?

By Sustainability Office on October 27, 2017
-Maggie Dunn ’19

You’ve probably heard that almonds are one of the healthiest foods you can eat, and in many ways this is true. They lower your blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, and facilitate weight loss. But do these health benefits outweigh the costs to the environment?

Each almond produced consumes 1.1 gallons of water across its lifespan. Americans now consume more than 10 times the amount of almonds they did in 1965. While the US is the world’s leading consumer of almonds by far, it is also the leading producer of almonds. 82% of almonds come from California, the only state in which they grow. However, California just experienced the worst drought in recent history–so bad that experts are considering expanding what is currently a 1-4 drought system to include a whole new level of drought which will be called D5. That is the state that California is in, yet it continues to produce millions of almonds each year.

For the sake of comparison, beef requires 1,847 gal/lb to produce, while almonds take 1,929 gal/lb. Cutting meat out of your diet is certainly good for health reasons as well as for the amount of water it saves. Given the even greater water demand for almond production, almonds also need to be considered as a food that is not environmentally friendly with regards to water consumption. There are plenty of other options that allow you to replace the almonds in your diet with more eco-friendly alternatives.

Photo courtesy of almondinsights.com

Using almond butter? Replace it with peanut butter. Sunflower seed butter, tahini, and soy nut butter are all nut-free alternatives, as well as coconut, hazelnut and so on. Using almond milk? Replace it with soy milk, coconut milk, hazelnut milk, flax milk, cashew milk, or rice milk. Replace almonds in your trail mix or granola with cashews and walnuts, which still use lots of water (1,260 gal/lb and 1,112 gal/lb, respectively) but are much better compared to their alternatives.

Thinking about the food you eat and the impacts it has on the place you live is often a difficult shift in thought, but ultimately an essential one to make. In the changing world in which we live, we can no longer afford to give no thought to where our food comes from and how it is made. So next time you go to Price Chopper, make a decision to save water and skip the almonds.

Sustainability and Greek Life at Colgate – Where We Are and Where We Go from Here

By Sustainability Office on October 13, 2017
-Dana Monz ’18

With roughly one-third of the Colgate student body involved in Greek life, it is important to analyze the various houses’ relationships and actions in accordance with sustainability. While it is easy for individuals to take initiative through incremental actions – such as turning off a light, shorter showers, and recycling, among many others – Greek houses should aim towards collective action and large-scale measures, as they are among some of the largest and most influential groups on campus.

As required by the university, each organization has a “Sustainability Chair” who is responsible for promoting sustainability within their house, implementing sustainable practices, and organizing events within the Greek community. Additionally, throughout the semester, the Sustainability Chairs meet with the Program Coordinator and the Director of Sustainability to discuss action and possible events.

Among the various Greek organizations, there appears to be general measures that each house is practicing. The Sustainability Chairs have articulated that they have two stream recycling (bins for plastics and cans and different bins for paper products), signs communicating what can and cannot be recycled, stickers by the lights reminding individuals to turn them off when the room is vacant, and reusable containers.

While these actions are commendable and helpful initiatives, there remains a lot more that the Greek organizations could be doing in order to be forerunners of sustainability on this campus. For instance, many of the organizations use plastic and Styrofoam cups, paper products, and plastic silverware, thus generating incredible amounts of waste, as well as lack of dialogue about sustainability in their houses and on campus. Not only should the houses work towards reducing their waste, but they should organize and participate in events like Colgate Unplugged and Recyclemania in an effort to take a stance as a large portion of the Colgate community and reduce their carbon footprints.

I commend the Greek organizations for their significant strides towards sustainable actions, but I encourage the Sustainability Chairs and their broader organizations to do more, take initiative, and increase dialogue about the sustainability issues that are meaningful to this campus and imperative to address today.

Link between carbon footprints & affluence has far-reaching policy implications

By Sustainability Office on October 2, 2017
-Seamus Crowley ’18

Greenhouse gas emissions, specifically the policy surrounding their regulation, are at the forefront of a larger dialogue concerning environmental protections. Often there’s talk of wide-reaching, large-scale “solutions” such as a carbon tax. But according to Andy Pattison, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, these ideas are overgeneralized and don’t always hold the proper people accountable for their emissions.

Pattison, who has a background in public policy as it relates to the environment, has recently been interested in studying the effect that affluence has on the amount of emissions an individual community puts out. “I’m interested in finding a way to unpack the role of carbon emissions on a local level for use in policy”, Pattison explained. Working alongside his colleagues Matthew Clement and Robby Habans, from Texas State University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign respectively, Pattison is working to publish a series of five papers that address this topic. The second in the series to be published came out in September of 2017. This paper, titled “Scaling down the ‘Netherlands Fallacy’: a local-level quantitative study of the effect of affluence on the carbon footprint across the United States”, was published in Environmental Science and Policy.

An important component of this paper is that, as Pattison distinguishes, greenhouse gas emissions can be broken down into two categories: production and consumption emissions. Production emissions are created via the manufacturing of goods, whereas consumption emissions are created through sectors such as energy and transportation. Therefore the “Netherlands Fallacy” can be described wherein, according to Pattison’s paper, “a wealthy developed nation like the Netherlands may appear to have minimal environmental impacts because many of the products consumed within its borders are produced elsewhere”.

By looking at local emissions in the U.S. through the lens of the “Netherlands Fallacy” a lot can be gathered about what groups of people are responsible for certain emissions in different areas, Pattison explained. They found a positive correlation between consumption emissions and the affluence of an area; hence, as wealth increases so do the carbon emissions. However, the relationship between production emissions and affluence is more complicated. In this case the relationship can be represented by an inverted-U; as affluence rises, production emissions rise as well – until a point –  then production emissions start to fall as affluence continues to rise. Therefore, the authors reach the conclusion that more affluent communities are displacing significant, carbon-intensive production operations onto poorer communities. Pattison labels this as the environmental inequality Kuznets curve in order to reflect the disproportional burden of emissions that less affluent communities have to bear.

The most striking finding of Pattison’s paper, however, is the relationship that a community’s carbon footprint has to their affluence. The impact of affluence on emissions is pronounced to an extremely high degree when you factor in both consumption and production variables. In fact, affluence is even more strongly correlated to an intense carbon footprint than it is to consumption emissions. Understanding this direct link between emissions and affluence is important, but as Pattison points out, realizing the impact on emissions policy is critical.

Pattison notes that in order to properly address the impending climate crisis the world as a whole needs to reduce its carbon emissions. However, when you consider the idea of a widespread carbon tax for example, it’s clear now why such an initiative is too general. “When looking at a policy based on penalty or benefit you need to be careful, otherwise you might end up charging the wrong people”, noted Pattison. In order to properly and fairly reduce carbon emissions we have to look at which communities are creating the largest carbon footprint and localize the burden, otherwise the economic strain can begin to fall on those who deserve it the least.

It can be easy to get lost in the research of this work, but it’s important to remember that it’s addressing real-world problems for which we need to work to find solutions. Professor Pattison hopes that in moving forward with the remaining papers in the series addressing this important relationship he and his colleagues can develop a conceptual framework to adequately relate their theories and findings in order to directly inform carbon policy. Pattison sums up his initiative best by saying, “We need to match the goals we have as a society with the goals we have on how to deal with climate change in order to be the most successful”.

Soundscapes of the Colgate Hill

By Sustainability Office on September 28, 2017
-MaryKathryn McCann ’18

Take a few moments to think about an early summer or late spring morning. People normally think of sounds such as birds singing, crickets chirping, and early morning commuters on their daily drive. These sounds are all considered to be part of the environment’s soundscape. A soundscape is composed of the biophony, all biologically sourced sound; anthrophony, sound caused by humans; and geophony, sounds emitted by nonbiological sources of a specific location.¹ From a soundscape, information about the overall health of an ecosystem can be identified.

Recording in the woods on the Colgate Ski Hill.

Over this past summer, under the direction of Professor Ana Jimenez and Director of Sustainability John Pumilio, Erin Biggar, Karl Brown, Sydney Ziatek, and I started a longitudinal study of the soundscape of the Colgate Ski Hill. The recordings of the soundscapes focus mainly on birds. Male birds sing in order to claim territory and attract mates, but singing is very energetically costly to the birds. The collected recordings are able to provide insight into the richness and abundance of bird species in the area; these recordings are then quantified and used to calculate the change in the frequency and intensity of sounds over the breeding season and from year to year due to climate change and increased anthropogenic noise due to changes on Colgate’s campus.

The data collection of this experiment involved taking recordings of individual birds and soundscapes during most dawns and dusks for 7 weeks of the late spring and early summer. The recordings collected were analyzed using computer programs, R and Raven, to understand how the various songs produced by the birds changed over the breeding season and with changes in temperature. Our current data suggest that with continued temperature increases, the bioacoustical sound will decrease. With the increase in temperature, songbirds will be more energetically challenged to attract mates and to breed. This is because most of the energy of a bird will be used in order to keep its temperature regulated, and less energy will be allocated to singing.  As temperatures rise, it is believed that bird migration patterns will alter in response. The birds could fly north earlier and fly further north. This change could have damaging effects on the bird population. The change could create more competition for food and territory among species of birds, driving out many bird species and creating, as Rachel Carson states, a “silent spring.”

Spectrogram from an individual recording of a chestnut sided warbler from the top of the Colgate Ski Hill.

In order to understand the changes that are happening to our forests and how these may impact bird populations, we first need to look at the causes of global climate change, and the major one is human activities that release greenhouse gases. Colgate is working towards climate neutrality by 2019 and it is one way that we can help offset the negative effects of climate change. It is up to us to make sure Colgate’s goal of carbon neutrality is reached and that our own actions are environmentally conscious. Our collective actions caused global warming; therefore, our collective actions can help slow down climate change.

Visit this website to check out Colgate’s soundscape: https://colgatesoundscape.wixsite.com/colgatesoundscape


Bernie Krause, “Anatomy of the Soundscape,” Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, Vol. 56, No. 1/2, 2008 January/February