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Eco-Fashion: A Sustainable Alternative or Social Trend?

By Sustainability Office on November 26, 2014

By Andrew Yurcik ’15

The fashion industry, always being on the forefront of social awareness, has previously played a significant role in environmentalism through donations and fundraisers. However, recently the rising trend of eco-fashion, a practice in which designers assure that their products are produced only from environmentally friendly materials and production practices, has brought in a new scope of how we define ones sustainable practices. Upon learning of this new trend, I wondered whether those buying these clothes actually were making an impactful decision or just following the next fashion trend.

Outside of materials or the production cycle for sustainable fashion, factors including extended shipping and special care or treatment needed for some “sustainable clothing” may be causing harmful impacts that are otherwise not apparent. Major fashion designers do not know all the ins and outs of sustainability so often aspects such as these are over looked when claiming their work to be sustainable created. Regardless of eco-fashion direct impact, its ability to raise awareness among fashion producers and the community at large is unquestioned. Most major fashion companies are moving towards more sustainable practices in their production even if their products cannot be completely deemed as eco-fashion. These changes are noticed by consumers who will lean towards sustainability if it economically feasible. However, the vagueness associated with producers claiming to be eco-friendly can be misleading to most shoppers. “When you only look at the raw materials to ask if something is really green, you are like the blind person holding the tail of the elephant,” said Chris Van Dyke, chief executive of Nau, a three-year-old outdoor clothing line founded on the principle of sustainable practices throughout its production cycle.1 Most consumers will not look beyond the tag that says “eco-friendly” on their new pair of organic cotton jeans.

So how can consumers and producers assure that they are actually being sustainable without overwhelming either side with litigation or long outlines on each part of sustainable fashion production?

One alternative is increased government involvement and regulation to determine what can be deemed sustainable clothing. In 2008, the Federal Trade Commission revised its Green Guidelines to ensure that marketer’s claims they made about the environmental attributes of their products are truthful and non-deceptive. In order to get a green certificate marketers must pass the outline requirements however it’s still possible for marketers to claim to use sustainable practices without needing a green certificate. In order to ensure true changes the FTC must implements more stringent requirements on green marketing.

A second adjustment including increased transparency between the producer and consumers allows for more educated decisions when buying eco-fashion. In industries, including food production, producers must outline the production process of their products. Similar practices could be required of fashion companies who wish to claim to be ecofriendly. By listing materials sources, and production processes, including all steps from creation to shipment and maintenance at stores via online websites, consumers will be able to fully informed on the products they are consuming. Thereby, consumers know if their purchases go beyond a social trend and are actually making impactful differences.

 

Sources:

http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2012/10/ftc-issues-revised-green-guides

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/13/style/13iht-13green.8728317.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://www.postconsumers.com/education/eco-fashion-facts/


Colgate ditches the switch

By Sustainability Office on November 21, 2014

The Colgate Sustainability Office co-hosted the event “Ditch the Switch” with SGA on November 14th 2014 in Parker Commons.  The event was created in order to promote energy reduction in the form of turning off lights, using power strips, and unplugging electronics when they are not in use. “Ditch the Switch” also built awareness about the two events going on around campus to reduce our environmental impact. This event was therefore a culminating event between CCN (Campus Conservation Nationals) and the Broad Street Challenge both working towards the reduction of water, energy, and the environmental education.

Sustainability Staff at Ditch the Switch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When students walked into the venue, they were asked to sign a pledge to reduce their energy, and additionally took pictures in front of a fun backdrop. Within the Parker Commons we turned off all of the lights, hence the name, “Ditch the Switch” and used glow sticks for lighting. Through the event we hoped to promote the reduction of energy and water consumption around campus, and make students aware that they can do small efforts to help the environment. Thanks to everyone who came out!


Rethinking “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”

By Sustainability Office on November 21, 2014

By Allison Shafritz ’15

Everybody knows the common phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” It’s a mantra that kids learn from a young age and is repeatedly used to advertise the rules of recycling. But not everybody actively thinks about the slogan as they proceed with daily activities. Increasing recycling rates is primarily about behavior change, so if we could get more people to really think about “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” on a daily basis, waste would be drastically reduced. And I think we have reached a point where most people agree that recycling is a good thing; it isn’t a controversial topic with people fighting at the picket line. Even so, in a typical day, the average American generates 4.4 pounds of solid waste—that adds up to almost a ton of trash per year! This means we need to rethink “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and put those words into action.

Recycling is something I have been involved withsince high school, when the Environmental Club decided to revamp the school-wide recycling program. Prior to this, my school essentially dumped all waste into one truck and brought it to the landfill. While jumpstarting this program, I realized how much of our waste is actually recyclable material; the amount we could have saved by recycling sooner is astounding. If more households, campuses, and businesses around the country implemented successful recycling programs, we would make huge strides towards creating a more sustainable planet. The EPA estimates that increasing the nationwide recycling rate from 28% (our current rate) to 35% would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 10 million metric tons of carbon equivalent.

There is usually a moment or set of events that triggers an individual’s interest in something. For me, my interest in recycling and reducing plastic use was triggered by learning about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This “Pacific trash vortex” is comprised of two separate masses of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean; one is near Japan, and the other is in between California and Hawaii. They are primarily made up of extremely small plastic particles called microplastics, and 80% of the debris is the result of human activity in North America and Asia. Learning about the garbage patch was eye-opening for me because I grew up on the coast and consider the ocean to be an extremely valuable resource.

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National Geographic

Since I started working at the Sustainability Office the summer after my sophomore year, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a few different recycling projects at Colgate. I know that increasing recycling rates at Colgate does not directly connect to the garbage patch floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. However, I do believe that increasing awareness plays a pivotal role in both of these issues. Increasing awareness can lead to behavior change, which can lead to environmental action, which can lead to policy reform, and so on. That’s why I have been invested in recycling programs at Colgate over the past few years.

There are so many opportunities to get involved with and expand recycling programs on campus. Although Colgate is a small community, we still generate a lot of waste and ultimately, recycling comes down to the students. Although Recyclemania (an annual recycling competition) does not start until the spring, it is never too early to begin! If we do not collectively make a change in our recycling behavior, we will never be as sustainable as we can be. So next time you’re holding a plastic bottle or a pizza box, take a moment to think about which bin you should be using.


Bees: where would we be without them?

By Sustainability Office on November 19, 2014

By Grace Dennis ’15

Have you ever thought of bees when you bit into an apple? Probably not, unless a swarm of bees was disrupting your picnic. Bees are much more than a buzzing nuisance; according to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), they are responsible for pollinating 35% of the food we eat. Many foods, from apples to avocados and almonds, wouldn’t be available without the help of bee colonies who pollinate the crops each year. Pollination is carried out by both wild bee colonies and farmed colonies raised by beekeepers that are “rented” by farmers each season.

In the past 10 years bees in the United States and across the globe have been spontaneously leaving their colonies and abandoning their pollination duty. This problem, known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), has already affected about one-third of bee colonies in the US (NRDC). CCD affects both wild bee colonies and farmed colonies and the exact cause is somewhat unknown. One possible cause of CCD is global warming, which is causing the bloom of flowers to come at different times, out of sync with bee hibernation cycles. Blooming flowers provide the food needed by the bees after they come out of hibernation. Another possible cause of CCD, primarily in wild colonies, is habitat destruction. Development has caused a loss of traditional honeybee habitats, which has decreased colony numbers. Pesticides are believed to be the primary cause of CCD, especially a type of widely used pesticides called neonicotinoids. Pesticides used on nearby crops and by beekeepers to control mites in the colonies harm the honeybees and may lead to CCD over time. Neonicotinoids have been banned for two years in many European countries in an effort to determine their effect on honeybee colonies.

Efforts at multiple scales are needed to help reverse the bee decline. Farmers can have the biggest impact on efforts to bring back bees. Farming practices that help preserve the natural habitat of bees could help bee colonies return to areas affected by CCD. Another major way farmers can help bring bee colonies back is to decrease pesticide use. The National Resources Defense Council recommends Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods to decrease the need of toxic pesticides near bee colonies.

On a smaller scale bee colonies can be restored through the planting of household gardens. By growing plants that bloom at different times of the year, bees species that come out of hibernation at different times will have a source of food and a great habitat to colonize. The Colgate Community Garden grows a variety of plants that help create a healthy habitat for bees. Another way to support bee communities in Hamilton is through the planting of gardens around Broad Street houses. If you don’t have the most green thumb, another way to help restore bee colonies is to buy organic produce. Through supporting organic practices you can ensure toxic pesticides that could harm bee colonies were not used.

Global bee decline is estimated to cost $5.7 billion each year (NRDC). While actions taken by farmers to reverse this decline are extremely important, consumers can also make a big impact. Planting household gardens to increase bee habitats is an option reserved mostly for more suburban dwellers, but anyone who buys groceries can opt for organic in an effort to save the bees. By taking steps to bring back the bees we can all help avoid a world without the delicious produce we consume every day.


Forever Wild: the Adirondack State Park

By Sustainability Office on November 14, 2014

By Anna McHugh ’17

“The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the [Adirondack] forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.”–Article XIV, Section 1: New York State Constitution[1]

At the 1894 Constitutional Convention in Albany, NY, the conservation of the Adirondack State Park was on everyone’s mind. The result was Article XIV, Section 1 which made land in the Adirondack Park “forever wild”[2] and protected from further development.

July 2013

My family spills into the small cabin with loud voices and far too many shoes. Summer would not be summer without a week in the Adirondacks in a cabin stuffed with almost everyone related to me.

I escape to the front porch, newspaper in hand, noticing hammer marks, saw cuts, and new paint. These are my grandfather’s fingerprints. The family unpacks while I open the weekly newspaper, The Adirondack Express. I always look for the graduating class picture; sixteen students in white robes and caps stand awkwardly squinting in the sun. I read three lines and decide to give up because it is summer after all. The massive boulder in the lawn peeks out from the earth reminding me of the annual picture taken there with my cousins; every year we see the subtle changes and developments.

The article remained on the porch until the next day when I opened the newspaper once again. I turn a page; the article read, “Legislature approves constitutional amendments authorizing land swaps.”[3] It described the approval of a proposed Constitutional Amendment, Proposition 5, allowing a swap in land that would expand the Forest Preserve by 1,507 acres while simultaneously authorizing NYCO Minerals of Willsboro to expand its mine in “forever wild” land areas. The 200 acres of old growth forest being given to the mining company will be cleared and open pit mined. In exchange, the Preserve will receive over 1,000 acres of heavily cut-over and used lands. In essence, the land that was originally said to be kept as wild forest would be used for mining and in return, the company would swap land previously used. I closed the newspaper and returned to the day’s activities with a heavy heart. In November of 2013, Proposition 5 was approved by 53%-47%.[4]The old growth forests that are being swapped for mining are very rich and complex. They are vital for the interactions of local wildlife. By destroying these forests, the health of the rest of the Preserve will be unstable.[5]

July 2014

Each year going back to the Adirondacks keeps me grounded as this place, my home, never seems to change. Each year, I am consistently amazed by it’s beauty. I walk down the porch stairs, book in hand, and see the water. I look up to see the clouds’ shadows rolling over the mountains and pieces of the sun bursting through the waves.

My family’s history is embedded in this landscape; I’ve grown up here. Knowing that this place is not as protected as it could be, scares me. Putting corporate interests over the “Forever Wild” Amendment can lead to the manipulation of this land for selfish and harmful gains. Proposition 5 is a slippery slope towards an unhealthy future where corporations can take previously preserved land for economic gain and in return preserves like The Adirondack Park will lose beauty, stability, and their wild.

 

For more information:

http://saveforeverwild.org/

http://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2013/06/forest-preserve-advocates-differ-on-mine-land-exchange.html

 

[1]http://www.adirondack-park.net/history/article14-text.html

[2]http://www.adirondack-park.net/history/political/convention.html

[3]http://www.adirondackexpress.com/News/06252013_landswapnews

[4]http://www.nytimes.com/projects/elections/2013/general/ballot-measures/results.html

[5]http://saveforeverwild.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Vote-No-on-Proposition-5-FactSheet-3.pdf


Colony collapse disorder

By Sustainability Office on November 12, 2014

By Katherine Schultz ’15

Since 2007, billions of bees have been lost from colonies. Population loss reached 36 percent in 2007 and new research shows the loss of managed honeybee colonies from all causes has dropped to 23.2 percent nationwide. While the numbers are heading in the right direction, the problem is far from over. Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is the name that has been given to what seems to be the most serious die-off of honeybees in decades. Loss has been reported across nearly all of the United States, as well as countries overseas. CCD impacts both commercial beekeepers and hobbyists.

Many blame genetically modified crops, cellular phone towers and high voltage transmission line`s for the disappearance. Genetically modified crops in particular have the possibility of resulting in a poor diet for the bees and reducing their immune system. The only well known enemies of the bee world are varroa mite, but they do not appear to be sole reason for the unusually high losses seen. Many scientists believe that it is a combination of parasites (mites), pathogens, pesticides, and management stresses.

There are so many crops that require pollinators, so the losses from CCD will have a dramatic impact on the human food chain. Beekeepers provide honeybees to farmers all around the country to pollinate the crops that wind up in our supermarkets. Honeybees are a principal pollinator of hundreds of fruits, vegetables, flowers and nuts. Despite the fact that we know the potential harms and consequences of CCD, we have yet to know the actual causes of the disorder.

One of the most sensible actions to take to compact the decline of the honeybee colonies is to become a beekeeper, and reintroduce honeybees in different areas around the world. This idea has greatly impacted my family. After reading various articles on CCD, my family decided to get two hives in 2013. Unfortunately, due to the harsh winter, the two colonies did not survive into the spring. This past year, we have graduated to three hives, and the bees appear to be flourishing. We have positioned the bees right next to our vegetable garden in order to promote the growth of our fruits and vegetables as well. As a result of the implementation of the bees back in 2013, our garden has thrived and grown exponentially since 2012, when we put the garden in.

Below are two pictures I took this summer of some of the honeybees, and my mother with one of our hives. The honeybees have been an amazing addition to both the vegetable garden and the flowers around our house. I have been able to see first hand the small impact honeybees have on our environment, and understand the negative implications CCD can have on the future of agriculture around the United States and internationally.

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Climate Action at Colgate

By John Pumilio on November 8, 2014

Earlier this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the synthesis report of their 2014 Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).  The release of this major new United Nations report is the most troubling and scientifically conclusive report yet.  For me, the 100+ page report can be boiled down to three simple and profound scientific realities.

First, we must limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels or we will suffer from “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”  Temperatures have already risen 0.8 degrees Celsius.

Second, limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius gives us a remaining carbon budget of about 1 trillion tons.  That may sound like a lot, but given our current rate of burning fossil fuels, we have less than 30 years to wean ourselves off of coal and oil.  Since severe climate impacts are already upon us, the passing years promise to bring greater catastrophes and human suffering with every increased ton of carbon burned.

Third, the world’s major energy companies have several trillion tons of known fossil fuel carbon waiting in reserves.  These companies are valued on their known reserves and they have every intention of burning all of it.  To make matters worse, these companies are spending an addition $600 billion annually in search of new sources of coal and oil.  If these reserves are burned, we will be putting ourselves and our children and grandchildren in a very perilous situation.

2011-2015 Climate Action Plan Wedges Graph to Carbon Neutrality

2011-2015 Climate Action Plan.

As one of America’s top higher education institutions, Colgate University places great value on scientific research and integrity.  Our commitment to carbon neutrality by 2019 confirms our institution’s belief in the overwhelming and conclusive science behind climate change (see specific text of ACUPCC).  It is also Colgate University’s mission to educate and prepare students for civic life and work in the 21st Century (see the 13 Goals of a Colgate Education approved by the Academic Affairs Board in 2010).  In order to achieve this mission, we must not only educate all students on the science, impacts, and possible solutions to climate change, but we must also continue to reduce and eventually eliminate all carbon emissions associated with our campus operations.

Achieving this shared goal will not be easy, but it must be done.

Right now, faculty, staff, and students on Colgate’s Sustainability Council are working to develop our road-map to carbon neutrality by 2019.  We need your help.  Please comment below or share any ideas you have with the chair of the Sustainability Council, Catherine Cardelus (ccardelus@colgate.edu) or director of sustainability, John Pumilio (jpumilio@colgate.edu).


Exfoliating microplastics and the environment

By Sustainability Office on November 7, 2014

By Lindsey Sagasta ’16

When at the grocery store looking for a new face wash to try out, I thought about some of the benefits and drawbacks of each brand and type: what would be best for my skin, what smells good, etc… I was basing my decision off of general labeling and not what is necessarily inside the wash or how the contents can harmfully affect our world. Average consumers know little to nothing about the products they use on an everyday basis- and that’s pretty concerning.

Plastics are, and always will be, a major environmental concern. There have been many initiatives to reduce the production of plastic products, encourage consumers to reuse items meant for one use, and recycle the waste once it has served its purpose. Disposable plastic water bottles, plastic grocery bags, and plastic take-out containers are a few of many products heavily publicized as hazards to the environment, and campaigns have been created to decrease our dependence on such items (i.e. www.banthebottle.com). But what happens to the plastics consumers don’t know they are using?

Recently, the exfoliating plastic microbeads used in cosmetics such as scrubs and toothpastes have alarmed environmentalists, prompting government and institutionalized research. Earlier this year, Illinois was the first state to ban the microbeads in personal care products due to their extensive damage to our skin and the environment. The microbeads cannot be filtered out of water during sewage treatment due to their size, and consequently, they continue with the flow of the water and contribute to the $13 billion in damage that plastic waste causes to marine life every year. Companies that are to phase out the microbeads will re-incorporate biodegradable alternatives such as ground nut shells and salt crystals that were used in the past.

Fish and other marine life involuntarily swallow the microbeads, leading to possible DNA damage and death. The Convention on Biological Diversity published an overview that states over 663 different species were negatively affected by marine debris, and approximately 11% of these cases were specifically related to the ingestion of microplastics. Larger organisms that depend on the smaller fish for food accumulate the toxins that are stored in the tissues. The chemicals used in the plastics are “biomagnified” throughout the food chain, and in some cases, the final consumers are humans. Thus, the DNA-damaging plastic that kill smaller fish can be transferred in larger amounts to humans.

It was reported that 1,500 to 1.7 million plastic particles accumulate per square mile in the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes are utilized for fish stocks that are distributed in the surrounding areas. This prompted the Illinois ban that requires manufacturers to phase out microbeads by 2017-2019, and encourages other states to pursue similar laws. New York, California, and Ohio have begun drafting legislation banning the plastics.

What you can do to make a difference (and it’s pretty easy): there are many natural versions of face washes that are good at removing dead skin off your face, like oatmeal, rice, apricot seeds, walnut shells, powdered pecan shells, and bamboo. Some products that Dr. Debra Jaliman, author of “Skin Rules” recommends are St. Ives Fresh Skin Apricot Scrub and Dermalogica’s Microfoliant, or any exfoliators that contain glycolic and salicylic acid. As reported by Huffington Post, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, The Body Shop, L’Oreal, Colgate-Palmolive and other major companies have already started phasing out microbeads in hopes to eliminate their use by 2015. Until the use of microbeads are completely eliminated, you can make a difference by avoiding products that still contain the plastics. When at the store looking to buy exfoliating face or body scrubs, toothpaste, etc., use the smart phone app “Beat the Microbead” to scan personal care products. The app will quickly inform you if the product contains the plastic microbeads.

There are more plastics that affect the environment than many people realize, the microbeads used in cosmetic products are a great example. So while you are using your Nalgene or stainless steel water bottles, or using reusable cloth grocery bags, you can increase your influence by being conscious types of exfoliating products you use. Reaching out and informing the consumer of the simple everyday choices they can make that can have a positive impact on our world can make the greatest difference.


Give peas a chance

By Sustainability Office on November 5, 2014

By Rachel Hangley ’15

When people hear that I don’t eat meat, their first reaction is to ask “why?” and oftentimes, “do you miss it?”. I reply simply saying that no, I don’t miss meat and that it really wasn’t that hard to give up at all. Society is changing so that a person can easily find vegetarian options in the grocery store and at any restaurant, and they are just as tasty as anything else on the menu. The response to the first question of why I am a vegetarian has changed over the years, but as I get older I only come across more and more reasons that support my choice to give up meat.

I would have become a vegetarian much sooner if it weren’t for my parents fearing that I would not get enough protein (a myth about vegetarianism that people still believe despite having been proven false over and over). I have always loved animals and couldn’t stand to think about how they were so cruelly and inhumanely treated in order to get on my plate. When an argumentation essay was assigned in my English class in high school, I took the opportunity to thoroughly research why vegetarianism was a positive life choice and I used the paper to convince my parents on the subject. I finally decided to take control of my diet and personal choices and gave up eating meat, regardless of the push-back I faced from my family. This step was perhaps the first tangible way in which I became an activist for what I believe in. This choice originated in a desire to boycott an industry that grossly tortures billions of animals a year and neglects the value of life. As I learned more about sustainability and environmentalism, I found out that my choice to become a vegetarian also had myriad environmental benefits.

If you Google “vegetarianism,” you can find hundreds of facts and statistics about how much environmental harm is avoided by becoming a vegetarian. On average, the dietary greenhouse gas emissions for vegetarians are 50-54% lower than the mean, and for vegans they are a full 99-102% lower. If all Americans forewent meat, the environmental impact would be equal to removing 46 million cars from the road. Not to mention all of the direct environmental harms other than climate change that meat production contributes to, such as overuse of water and pollution of ecosystems.

The facts are staggering, but people do not have to completely give up animal products to have a significant positive impact on the environment. Meatless Mondays is a great program that is being implemented by individuals, families, schools, and companies all over the world in order to decrease meat consumption and its environmental impacts. For example, not eating simply one pound of beef per week, an individual can save the equivalent amount of water as they would by not showering for a full year. This shows that little steps can have a huge impact on the environment, especially when adopted by many people. Furthermore, giving up meat one day a week not only benefits the environment; it is better for one’s health. A primary goal of the Meatless Mondays campaign is also to educate people about the personal benefits of skipping on meat. Meals can be delicious, nutritious, and protein-packed without any animal products, and this is what Meatless Mondays is trying to show, one meal at a time. This is especially relevant in public schools, where young kids are beginning to form their lifelong conceptions of what their diet should consist of.

At Colgate, I’m hoping that Meatless Mondays will have the same effects. By implementing Meatless Mondays at Frank Dining Hall in just the main entree stations, it gives people the opportunity to try new, meat-free foods and maybe decide that they enjoy those options. We are not trying to completely overturn anyone’s lifestyle, but rather introduce students to different ways of living that incorporate the bigger picture. What one decides to eat is not a self-contained decision as it has a huge impact on both the environment and the lives of billions of animals, and one should at least take these into consideration when choosing what to have for lunch. Rather than seeing people who don’t eat meat as crazy, animal-loving tree-huggers (but what’s so bad about that, anyway?), it is my hope that the public will begin to appreciate the value and benefits of limiting the meat that they eat, even if it is only once a week.


Ready for Solar Energy in Central New York?

By John Pumilio on November 2, 2014

A few weeks ago, I attended the CNY Solar Summit in East Syracuse.  The event attracted state and local policy-makers, government officials, industry and community leaders, business owners, installers, homeowners, and curious New Yorkers from every walk of life.  The excitement throughout the day was palpable.  With good reason.  Solar energy in New York is poised to explode.  The NY-Sun initiative, launched in 2012, has created one of the greatest solar market opportunities in the country.  The response has been impressive.  Over the past two years, solar energy in New York grew by 316 megawatts—enough to power about 32,000 homes—eclipsing all installations from the previous decade combined.  Large manufacturers are also taking notice.  Last month, SolarCity, one of the leading solar companies in the world, announced plans to build a 1.2 million square-foot ‘Gigafactory’ in Buffalo.  Not only will this create thousands of new jobs but the manufacturing plant will turn out solar PV arrays at an attractive price using low-cost, carbon-free hydroelectricity from Niagara Falls.

Solar energy is already in our backyard.  You may remember that in 2012 and 2013 we initiated the Solarize Madison project.  By streamlining the installation process and through volume purchasing, we were able to reduce the cost of residential solar installations.  This first-of-a-kind project in New York resulted in over 40 solar installations on Madison County homes including the solar thermal installation on Creative Arts House (100 Broad Street).  The program is now being replicated in over a dozen other New York communities including Syracuse.

While Madison County’s solarize program has concluded, solar energy in New York is just getting started.  The NY-Sun initiative provides a convenient website to explore your options.  I often talk with local homeowners who are waiting on the sidelines for the technology to improve or for costs to come down.  My advice is to explore the option now—while the incentives are right and the cost is low.  If you determine that it makes sense for you now, then get in the game!

You can start the process by contacting a certified installer through the NY-Sun program for residents and small businesses.  The installer will work directly with you to evaluate your options and right-size your system.  The installer will also assist with all NY-Sun and NYSERDA paperwork, including financing options.

Do you think solar energy is right for you?  Share your thoughts on renewable and solar energy in New York. Visit us on Facebook, follow our Twitter feed, email us at sustainability@colgate.edu or comment on this blog post.

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