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Breaking news: Extreme weather impacts Hamilton and New York State

By Sustainability Office on April 18, 2014

By Gillian Fisher ’16

It’s safe to say that we have all noticed the crazy weather patterns that have taken Hamilton by storm this winter – literally. At this very moment in mid-April, outside my window, the wind is howling and whipping the mountains of accumulated snow into the air.  This may seem like a typical winter scene, but after a month of this every day, I’m starting to wonder if it will ever get better.

Last winter was my first winter at Colgate, and I honestly didn’t think it was too bad.  Coming from western Massachusetts, I’m used to the never-ending darkness and wearing at least three layers all of the time.  That being said, I was quite unprepared for this winter.  One particular week, where it was below zero every single day, will be ingrained in my memory for a long time.  Although Punxsutawney Phil confirmed that there will be six more weeks of winter, I don’t think this is exactly what people had in mind.

All over the world, various places are experiencing extreme weather events, whether it is heat waves, snow storms, or tons of rain (See our earlier post entitled Willful Ignorance?).  In the United States, especially in the northeast, we have been hearing about the polar vortex, while places in the Southern Hemisphere such as Brazil and Australia have experienced record high temperatures.  But are these extreme temperatures just coincidence?  According to Omar Baddour, chief of the data division at the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization (WMO), these huge storms have been directly connected to an increase in global warming.  Additionally, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is considered to be a global authority on all things climate change, recently released a new report backing up all evidence that global warming is leading to extreme weather events such as heat waves and increasingly harmful rain storms.

It has also become evident this winter that the Arctic is warming up at an unusually fast rate; there is not nearly as much ice as there has been at this time in past years.  Global warming means no ice and no ice means more global warming.  This is obviously quite concerning.  As the polar ice caps melt, sea levels will rise.  Predictions vary, but many scientists believe that global sea levels will increase by somewhere around two to three feet over the course of the next century.  In addition, there are further predictions that our East Coast sea levels will increase much more than that, particularly affecting the island of Manhattan.

In New York State, we know that temperatures and precipitation levels will continue to be altered by climate change.  One group of researchers predicts that temperatures across the state will increase by up to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2080s.  They also predict that the average precipitation per year will increase by up to 15 percent by the same time (Rosenzweig et al. 2011).  These changes would drastically affect our everyday lives here at Colgate.

In Hamilton, we will need to adapt to and be ready for increasingly harsh winters and possibly warmer summers.  During the winter, this might include more university staff dedicated to shoveling pathways and putting down salt on the ice.  Personally, I know that I will need heavier boots to trek through all of the snow in the coming years.  In the summer, on the other hand, Colgate might need to invest in better infrastructure to deal with flooding.  The university might also need to install air conditioning systems into all dorms and academic buildings to accommodate warmer temperatures during the late spring and early fall.

These new adaptive measures will definitely be costly for Colgate and for all New York State residents.  This is why it is important to keep focusing on mitigation strategies, as well.  In other words, we need to implement programs and policies that will stop or slow global warming in addition to adapting to it.  Mitigation is part of the bigger picture.  Until there is a global consensus that climate change is real and dangerous for humans and the earth, it will be difficult to make these mitigation strategies universal.

However, the extreme weather events that have occurred this winter in Hamilton are tangible evidence of the impending effects of climate change.  Before we can make significant improvements at the state and then federal and then global levels, we will need to work within our own small community to implement strategies for both adaptation and mitigation.  We are able to see first-hand at Colgate how climate change can alter our weather patterns.  Therefore, by recognizing that global warming will only continue to worsen and by starting efforts to do something about it, we can continue to move in the right direction towards new universal standards on eliminating the threat of climate change.

What are your thoughts on climate change?  Has your hometown experienced recent extreme weather events?


Finding (recycleable) treasure in the trash

By Sustainability Office on April 18, 2014

By Claire Lichtenstein ’16

Before attending Colgate University, environmentalism wasn’t on my radar. The capacity for an individual to make a huge impact on the environment went over my head. I remember learning about recycling as the environmental practice that an average Joe can do, but I wasn’t convinced that it was even a topic of concern. How can recycling a piece of plastic or two change levels of carbon emissions in the atmosphere? I just wasn’t buying it as one of the major ways to combat the environmental issues our planet has been facing.

My mindset has changed drastically since taking my freshman seminar at Colgate, called Global Change and You, taught by Professor Catherine Cardelus. This class was structured as an intro to concepts of environmental studies, and each student was encouraged to pursue an individual focus. We learned about recycling as one of the most important weapons against greenhouse gas emissions. Recycling keeps materials out of the landfill, which reduces pollution caused by landfill gas. According to the Campaign for Recycling, “Landfills are designed to be anaerobic, meaning that once waste has been dumped, very little air remains below the surface. Landfill gas is generated as a byproduct of the digestion of organic materials by organisms that thrive in these anaerobic conditions. Food waste, paper, grass, and other organic matter is readily digested and turned into landfill gas, which is 50 percent methane. While most modern landfills are required to capture some of their methane emissions, significant quantities continue to escape into the atmosphere.[1] Thus, recycling can save significant portions of material from arriving at the landfill, and reduce the possible gas emissions that they could cause.

Not only is recycling economically beneficial, but recycling materials eliminates unnecessary emissions that are incurred when the product has to be made from scratch. For example, take aluminum cans. According to Keep America Beautiful, the energy needed to produce one aluminum can from virgin ore can be used to produce 20 cans from recycled materials!  Also, tossing away an aluminum can wastes as much energy as pouring out half of the can’s volume in gasoline. The organization also writes that the “pollutants created in producing one ton of aluminum include 3,290 pounds of red mud, 2,900 pounds of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), 81 pounds of air pollutants and 789 pounds of solid wastes.[2]

After learning all of this, I decided to focus my research on recycling at Colgate.  I teamed up with Breanna Giovanniello ’16, a fellow Green Raider, and we completed trash audits at home hockey games, in order to assess how much recyclable material was being thrown into the trash.

We spent four hours after various hockey games going through the trash collected at Starr Rink. Armed with face masks, lab coats, and a scale, we discovered that there were incredibly high levels of “mis-recycling”, simply because of a lack of convenient recycling bins next to trash cans, or a lack of knowledge about proper recycling rules.

We found that many of the trashcans were filled with recyclable items. In fact, during one game, the trash bins were full of only 55% of waste, while the rest was full of compostable or recyclable.

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It became frustrating going through the trash and seeing the results of a nonexistent education about recycling on campus, so I tried to learn more.

Over 75% of waste is recyclable, but people only recycle about 30% of it[3]. At Colgate, we participate in competitions like RecycleMania to improve our recycling rates and educate the average student about the importance of recycling. I decided to ask a few of my peers about their feelings on recycling and I found their responses very interesting:

  • “Colgate tries to recycle, but without appropriate accountability for an individual, people can mis-recycle and not worry about it.”
  • “I can never find the recycling bins! They barely have them in classrooms, and even less generally outside on campus. This leaves me with no choice but to throw a plastic water bottle in the trash for convenience’s sake.”
  • “I find it hard to understand how people so easily ignore recycling bins all the time. There will be a recycling bin next to the garbage can, and they will put recyclables in the garbage can!”

It is obvious that the average student wants to consciously make an effort to recycle, but they might not know specific recycling rules or realize how integral recycling is to helping the environment. Through my work in the Sustainability Office, I am happy to see that I have become a resource for friends and peers who will ask me questions about proper recycling.  As an institution, we must become transparent and available to answer questions and educate students about our recycling practices and its importance.

What about you?  Do you recycle at Colgate?  Want to learn more about recycling at Colgate?  Start here!


[1] http://www.campaignforrecycling.org/faq/ghg

[2] http://www.kab.org/site/PageServer?pagename=recycling_facts_and_stats

[3] https://www.dosomething.org/actnow/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-recycling


White above our heads

By Sustainability Office on April 16, 2014

By Sale Rhodes ’16

The media is buzzing about LEED building certification, solar hot water heaters, insulation, and other cutting edge ways to ‘greenify’ your home, but have you put enough thought into your roof? Studies and new technologies are ubiquitous about roof options that can help reduce your carbon footprint. From solar panels to rooftop gardens, how should you choose what to put above your head?

A typical roof made of shingles, concrete, tar, or other ‘non-renewables’ are referred to as black roofs and because they neither reflect sunlight nor convert sunlight into energy, they are the least energy efficient option. Solar panels that convert UV rays and heat into energy to be used within the home or elsewhere on the nearby energy grid are a great option, but they are pricey and difficult to get approval for.

Green roofs, otherwise known as rooftop gardens, are a very popular option among environmentalists and outdoorsy folk. While having a living system on your roof fueled by sunlight and rainwater sounds about as ideal as can be, the feasibility of green roofs is often over estimated. Slanted gardens two stories above ground can actually be extremely hard to manage. One of many reasons for this is that soil retains water, so you would definitely need a sturdy roof that won’t spring any leaks to keep the garden from collapsing into your own home. Another worry here is that while every garden needs diversity, your rooftop would be at risk for growing all sorts of weeds and potentially unwanted plants. Therefore, unless you have the ability to weed regularly, a green roof might be a bigger hassle than you think. However, the facts are not all negative; green roofs will save money spent on heating and cooling, as they will effectively insulate the home from the top down. If you’re still set on a green roof regardless of your slanted, difficult to access shingles, check out this link (http://grist.org/list/these-flowerpot-roof-tiles-let-you-make-any-roof-into-a-green-roof/).

What we really want to know is how can you live beneath an earth-friendly roof without breaking your bank or your back? White roofs! According to the White Roof Project, painting your black roof white could save a total of $5 billion in energy costs in the United states and potentially 24 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Painting rooftops white increased the albedo effect of our homes and cities. This means that it improves the reflective qualities of our structures so that less sunlight is absorbed by the earth and subsequently trapped in our atmosphere. Reducing the dark surfaces on our planet is a major way that we can reduce global warming by reflecting sunlight back out of our atmosphere. So, what do we think? Should Colgate go-white as part of its mission to go-green?


Colgate’s first state electronics challenge environmental report

By Sustainability Office on April 15, 2014

By Jack Eiel ’15

Last September, Colgate joined an initiative called the State Electronics Challenge (SEC).  This organization specializes in assisting organizations with tracking and quantifying the recycling achievements of their eWaste (electronic waste) programs.

Colgate became a partner of SEC to help supplement its recently established eWaste recycling program.  The SEC provides semi-annual reports that document and quantify the environmental impact of Colgate’s eWaste program.

There are three components to the SEC: purchasing, operations, and end-of-life protocol.  Each component deals with a fundamental step in minimizing Colgate’s electronic and energy waste.

Purchasing focuses primarily on which types of computer, monitors, and multifunction devices Colgate is buying for faculty, staff, and student use. SEC uses the EPEAT rating system to judge the energy efficiency of electronics. EPEAT (Energy Product Environmental Assessment Tool) awards electronic devices a medal (bronze, silver, or gold) that corresponds to the level of energy efficiency during manufacturing as well as operational use.

End-of-life protocol deals with the final step in the lifecycle of electronic equipment.  When these units stop working how does Colgate dispose of them?  Typically, Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) is responsible for recycling such big ticket items (i.e. TVs, desktop computers, LCD monitors). These electronics are brought to the Regional Computer Recycling and Recovery (RCR&R), where they are disposed of according to R2RIOS standards.

After collecting data for the fall 2013 semester, we submitted our numbers to the SEC.  Just last week we received Colgate’s first personalized electronics report card.  Needless to say, the results were great!

In 2013, Colgate bought 99% EPEAT GOLD certified electronic devices. This alone kept over 7,000 lbs. of municipal waste out of the landfill.

Additionally, Colgate enables ENERGYSTAR POWER SAVER on 100% of its operational devices.  This practice alone saved almost one million kilowatt-hours of energy.  That’s enough to power 75 homes for a year!

These numbers are very encouraging, but there’s always more you can do.  The easiest thing to do is make sure to properly recycle your eWaste—there are eWaste stations located all over campus for small electronic devices.  For larger electronic equipment, call EHS and they will let you know the proper way to dispose of it.

rsz_sec_sustainability_report_2013-_colgate_university-page-001


Climate change policy has the potential to move mountains

By Sustainability Office on April 14, 2014

By Sammi Leroy ’14

In 2007, New York’s Public Service Commission (PSC) set forth a new Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard (EEPS), declaring that the city needed to reduce its electricity usage by 15% from projected usage in 2015. A frenzy of activity resulted: program targets were established, utilities joined city and state public service providers in developing programs to incentivize lighting upgrades and citizens were mobilized to spread the word about this ambitious electricity reduction goal.

I was one of those citizens.

After my sophomore year at Colgate, I interned with a start-up called Envirolution down in New York City, where I was trained to do basic lighting audits and ROI and payback assessments. I pounded the pavement with other interns, educating small business owners about the incentives they would receive if they chose to upgrade their lights and how such an upgrade would not only benefit their bottom line but also reduce the city’s overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and electricity usage. Overall, our message was received with curiosity and genuine interest. I was empowered both by the message I was spreading and my ability to teach others something so vital to the resilience of the city. It was that summer that I witnessed first hand, for the first time, the power of policy.

Ever since, I have kept an eye on our federal government. What policies have federal officials developed to protect our climate and increase energy efficiency? Unfortunately, not many. The issue of climate change has become deeply politicized, polarizing our Congress and preventing the creation of legislation that mandates the decrease of GHGs or increases the efficiency of resource consumption.

After having made promises in his inaugural address and most recent state of the union to address climate change, President Obama has gone it alone.  In October of 2009, President Obama signed Executive Order (EO) 13514, “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance.” As its title suggests, this EO requires federal agencies to increase the efficiency of their operations, thereby enhancing their performance and setting an example for state and municipal governmental agencies. Then, in November of 2013, President Obama signed EO 13653, “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.” Primarily, this EO instructs federal agencies to take measures that make it easier for American communities to implement preparedness and adaptation programs.  In June of 2013, the Obama Administration released the President’s Climate Action Plan (PCAP), a plan more robust than any made in history to address climate change. The plan is three-pronged: cut carbon pollution in America, prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change, and lead international efforts to combat global warming and prepare for its impacts. Finally, in late March, the Obama administration announced plans to look into cutting methane emissions across the country.

But is it enough to move mountains?

No doubt these policies have mobilized the federal agencies, which have contracted the help of many public and private organizations to assist in meeting reduction targets. “Since 2008, federal agencies have reduced GHG pollution by more than 15 percent – the equivalent of permanently taking 1.5 million cars off the road” (Climate Action Plan interactive). However, as all EOs go, Obama’s are vulnerable to the individual who takes over the White House after his term is up in 2016, and there’s no saying whether they will be upheld. The legislature remains extremely divided on the issue and has shown little support for Obama’s initiatives. Only time will tell whether or not the federal government reaches the goals the Obama administration has set. In the meanwhile, we wait with baited breath for Obama’s decision on the Keystone Pipeline and new developments in the methane project.


Natural Gas- An Energy Bridge to the Future?

By Sustainability Office on April 10, 2014

By Allison Shafritz ’15

In high school, a group of green-minded students in the Environmental Club (myself included) sported pins on our backpacks that read “No LNG,” or liquefied natural gas. The campaign against an offshore natural gas drilling site was a popular issue at the time for the local environmental organization Clean Ocean Action. I was aware of the main arguments and supported Clean Ocean Action on this campaign, as did many other coastal residents. However, I had no idea just how important, complex, and widespread the issue of natural gas would later become. Recently, natural gas has been proposed as an energy bridge or “bridge fuel” in the transition from “dirty” fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, to renewable energy. Natural gas is considered a “cleaner” fuel because it produces less carbon dioxide than oil and coal. But more and more research is showing that natural gas is definitely not a clean source of energy. Because of this, it has acquired the nickname the energy “bridge to nowhere.”

The primary constituent of natural gas is methane, which releases about half as much carbon dioxide as coal when burned. However, this statistic alone does not tell us the whole story about the advantages and disadvantages of natural gas. The real danger of natural gas is methane leaks. NASA has reported that at hydraulic fracturing sites out west, about 17% of the methane leaks into the atmosphere. Methane is actually a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide; according to Cornell scientists, over a twenty year period, one pound of methane traps as much heat as 72 pounds of carbon dioxide. In fact, natural gas only retains its advantage over coal if methane leaks can be kept below 2%.

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NASA image: methane leaks seen from space

 

The opponents of natural gas as an energy bridge fear that increasing reliance on natural gas will end up being a long-term solution. Instead, they argue that we must do everything we can to limit our emissions of greenhouse gases. A switch to natural gas will do nothing to remediate projected climate warming; the only thing that will slow warming is a shift to renewable energy. In this sense, natural gas has been brushed off simply as a delaying tactic rather than an alternative solution.

There are also those on the other side of the argument, who claim that natural gas is a perfectly viable solution. They argue that relying more heavily on natural gas gives us more time to focus on research and development in renewable energy technologies. Steven Chu, the former U.S. Secretary of Energy, argues that natural gas is a good solution because there is technology available to deal with methane leaks. But if the technology is available, then why aren’t we using it?

I believe that this issue is largely dependent on the time scale and a few external factors. Natural gas may be a viable bridge fuel if (and only if) it is implemented as a short-term solution, we focus on research and development in renewable energy technologies, and methane leaks are kept below the prescribed 2%. This situation is entirely hypothetical, but I think that if these conditions are not met, natural gas will only lead us to a world with even higher levels of carbon dioxide, melting ice caps, and an increasingly acidified ocean.

Back in high school, all I knew about natural gas was that an offshore drilling site would have negative effects on the local ecosystem. Now, as natural gas comes to the forefront of the energy debate, it is becoming more apparent that this issue is complex and does not have a clear solution. I once again find myself contemplating the natural gas controversy, more knowledgeable but more uncertain than I was in high school.


Recycle Old Televisions & Monitors on Earth Day

By Sustainability Office on April 7, 2014

Do you have old television sets or monitors sitting around that you need to get rid of?  Bring them to the Village of Hamilton Department of Public Works on 18 Milford Street on Earth Day (April 22) between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m.

It is important to properly dispose of old TV’s and computer monitors as they contain lead and other toxins that must be handled carefully,” said James Zecca Director of Madison County Landfill. “The collection provides a great opportunity for residents to dispose of outdated electronics as they make the shift to flat screen, digital and handheld devices.

Madison County TV and Monitor Recycling_opt


The New and Improved Colgate Community Garden

By Sustainability Office on March 24, 2014

rsz_greenhouse_snow_removalSpring is officially here and the Colgate Community Garden is getting a major face lift! Flooding at the current Newell apartment site last year proved to be too much to fully overcome. Over the winter the garden team and Green Thumbs members worked hard to put together a proposal to move the garden to a new location.

We are pleased to announce that, with the support of the University, the Colgate Community Garden will be relocating to a new (and flood-free) location for 2014! The new garden will be located just past the townhouses on Broad Street as you head south from campus. There is currently a greenhouse that was utilized in part by the garden team last year and plenty of land that does not flood on a regular basis, which could not be said for the Newell location!

Over the next few months, the garden team will be hard at work setting into action all of the plans that were made over the winter. First up is a major overhaul of the current greenhouse. The greenhouse will get a new covering and several new raised garden beds installed inside of it. Re-covering a greenhouse of this size (30 feet wide by 60 feet long) is much easier to do with lots of helping hands. Stay tuned for our announcements about how YOU can help with this project!

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Once the snow melts (thank you Upstate New York for yet another long winter…), there will be plenty more happening at the new garden site. Tasks will include tilling the grass, moving the garden fence from the old location, moving the shed, forming garden rows, moving plants, and of course planting seeds. Anyone who is interested can come down and lend a helping hand. The more help we get, the quicker we can be on our way to a successful garden this year!

Thanks to all who have helped with the garden so far, and we look forward to many more exciting times to come!


Willful Ignorance? Not at Colgate

By Sustainability Office on March 19, 2014

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), America’s premier scientific society, warned the world is at growing risk of “abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes” because of a warming climate.  As a scientific body, the AAAS rarely intervenes on policy issues.  However, in their new report, What We Know, they stated, “We consider it our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know: human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risks and costs of taking action.

Click here to get the facts from AAAS.

Originally published on March 3, 2014

Last month, Pew Research Center released its latest poll results of American viewpoints on climate change. The results are worrying.  According to the poll, 67% of Americans believe that there is solid evidence of global warming while only 44% believe that human activities are responsible. On the contrary, 97% of climate scientists agree that global warming over the past century is due primarily to human activities. Clearly, the public is far behind the science on this issue.

Consensus Gap

Understanding climate change is not only about climate modeling and predicting the future. It is also about historic data and recent trends. Since the 1970s, the rate of global warming has tripled. The 2000s were warmer than the 1990s and the 1990s were warmer than the 1980s. Moreover, nine of the top ten warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000. And 2013 was the 37th year in a row with above average global temperatures.

But what about this winter? Polar vortex became part of our vernacular and below freezing temperatures have been common and sustained. But if you look across the country and the globe, the warming trend has continued. At the same time we were experiencing -15 degree temperatures in central New York, regions in Alaska were recording temperatures above 60 degrees. That is unheard of. Also, California has been in a record drought, the Northwest has experienced above average temperatures, Sochi hosted one of the warmest Winter Olympics on record, Australia experienced temperatures over 120 degrees, and the U.K. suffered through unprecedented flooding. In fact, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies just reported that January 2014 was the 3rd warmest January on record going back to 1880.

This warming trend has not been benign. Over the past three years, 80% of U.S. counties have been severely impacted by weather-related events and the burden to U.S. taxpayers is taking its toll. Superstorm Sandy, for example, cost us over $60 billion. In 2013, there were over 41 weather events that cost $1 billion or more in damage. That is an all-time high breaking the record from 2010. The National Flood Insurance Program is currently $25 billion in debt (it is a $30 billion program) and on the brink of insolvency. The Crop Insurance Program is generally a $3-$4 billion per year program. However, in 2013, tax payers shelled out over $11 billion.  This was due in large part to severe droughts in the mid-West which also drove up corn and food prices across the country. Despite all of this, the American public remains complacent on climate change. Out of 20 public policy issues tested in the Pew poll, climate change ranked 19th in the order of importance among Americans.

Until the American public catches up with the science, we may lack the resolve to adequately address climate change. We need to get past climate denial and start aggressively working to reduce carbon emissions. At the same time, we also need to adapt to climate change that has already been locked into the system due to past emissions.

Here at Colgate, we are taking action on climate change. Since 2009, we have reduced our emissions by over 20% and our recently approved Campus Master Plan recommends significant climate-adaptation strategies to overcome flooding and changing weather patterns. These actions will better prepare us to thrive in a changing world.


Colgate experiences dramatic reduction in water usage

By Stephen Dickinson on March 12, 2014

Between fiscal year (FY) 2012 and 2013, Colgate’s water usage plummeted by about 8 million gallons of water, saving the university over $100,000 in operating costs (not including the energy savings due to a reduction in hot water usage!). To put that in perspective, 8 million gallons is approximately enough water to fill more than 12 Olympic-sized swimming pools!

How did Colgate manage to drop its consumption so dramatically in the course of a year? During the summers of 2011 and 2012, Colgate installed a total of 562 Moen low-flow shower heads around campus (107 in 2011 and 455 in 2012). These showerheads use only a third of the water some of the old showerheads used, which results in several gallons of water being saved every time a student showers. The total cost for the showerhead project over the two years, including labor, was approximately $17,400.

While not all of the water reductions might be attributed to the change of showerheads, such a significant drop in just one year is certainly due in large part to this project. In fact, since the showerheads were installed, Colgate’s water usage is down more than 11 million gallons from FY 2011. The use of the low-flow showerheads, coupled with the strong outreach of the Green Raiders (Sustainability Office Interns) has lead to a dramatic reduction in water use; proving once again that investments in sustainable practices can have dramatically positive payoffs.

The Sustainability Office would like to thank Colgate’s entire plumbing shop including Jim Albertina, Mike Bonsi, Jerry Bugbee, Steve Degroat, Chuck Haurik, and especially Tom Kane for making this project possible.

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