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LEED Certification: Is it really all it’s cracked up to be?

By Sustainability Office on January 30, 2014

By Sammi Leroy ’14

LEED Certification Plaque from the Trudy Fitness CenterThis summer I was an intern at New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation. I worked in the Energy Management Division, which is tasked with minimizing the energy usage of the agency and, in turn, money spent on energy bills. One of my fellow interns was given the job of assessing what it would take to get our office building LEED certified. After a while, he got frustrated with the project, saying that it wasn’t worth it to get LEED certified anyway because the certification was illegitimate.

This confused me.

Not worth it to become LEED certified?! LEED certification is illegitimate?! LEED is the most well-known green building certification in the world! And not only is it a big accomplishment, but also a way to ensure that a building operates efficiently and has a minimized impact on the environment. Or at least it seemed that way to me.

I decided to investigate, and was surprised by what I found. Read more

Plastic pollution: The dangers in everyday products

By Sustainability Office on January 27, 2014

By Grace Denis ’15

Did you ever think plastic could be making you sick? Most people have heard of the dangers of toxins like BPA and know not to drink bottled water that has been left in a hot car, but many people don’t know of the dangers lurking in their tap water and food sources. Every day single use plastic bags, bottles, straws, food containers, and product wrapping end up in rivers, lakes, and oceans across the globe. Up to 80% of this plastic originates on land and is accidentally washed into the waterways.

Plastic is designed to last forever and breaks up into tiny pieces over time. These small plastic pieces attract toxic chemicals like BPA, and pesticides like PCBs and DDT. The toxic chemicals are diluted enough in the water to pose very few health risks, but become concentrated and dangerous when they collect on tiny plastic pieces. Aquatic animals consume tiny plastic pieces, mistaking them for small pieces of food. Once ingested the plastic releases all the toxins it gathered in the water and introduces these toxins into the food chain. Toxic chemicals released by plastics have been found in blood tests from people all over the world and have even been detected in newborns.

Simply increasing the amount of plastic recycled isn’t enough to stop this flow of plastic pollution. Plastic pellets used in the manufacturing of single use plastic bottles, bags, and other plastic products are commonly spilled into oceans and rivers during shipping. These pellets act in the same way as post consumer plastic pollution and play a large part in the buildup of toxins in wildlife and our bodies.

Society has the power to reduce the amount of toxins entering our bodies by reducing the amount of plastic we use. Disposable bottles, straws, bags, and containers are created with the intention of being used for only a couple minutes or hours before being disposed of. Dianna Cohen, the co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, advocates the addition of a fourth “R” term, Refuse, to the common phrase, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. By refusing to buy or use single use plastic items or products wrapped in plastic whenever possible, consumers can drastically reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in our waterways. The Plastic Pollution Coalition website lists easy ways to make a big impact on your plastic consumption. Here are a few ideas:

  • Instead of using disposable water bottles and to go cups, stainless steel bottles and mugs and reusable plastic bottles can be used everyday to ensure your coffee is always hot and you always have water when you need it.
  • Disposable plastic straws contribute to a large percentage of plastic pollution that can easily be diminished by forgoing straws altogether or switching to reusable stainless steel or less harmful paper straws.
  • Trips to the grocery store offer many opportunities to take a stand against disposable plastics through the choices made about which products to buy. Purchasing products with minimal packaging is a great way to limit plastic pollution that also decreases the amount of unnecessary waste consumers have to dispose of. Shopping trips also offer a chance to forgo the ubiquitous disposable plastic bags. Carrying purchases home in your own reusable bags, like these stylish ones from Baggu, can also save you some money since stores like Whole Foods offer discounts to shoppers who supply their own bags.

Plastic pollution is something that affects all of us who share this planet and we can all take simple steps to limit the negative impacts of plastics. Through making simple choices, consumers can limit the amount of plastic entering our waterways and can help reduce the amount of plastic created in the first place. So next time you head to the grocery store take a second to think about what your potential purchases support and if there’s a better option. And don’t forget to always Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Refuse!

Living the Sustainable Lifestyle at Colgate

By Sustainability Office on January 23, 2014

By Matt Baumbach ’14

As a student deeply involved in our school’s push for sustainability, I question many of my daily activities. Questions about the length of my shower, whether or not I remembered to turn off my bedroom lights before leaving in the morning, and always searching for the nearest recycling bin (which, at Colgate, isn’t too tough!) are constantly on my mind. In my time at Colgate, I have made it a priority of mine to spread awareness about sustainability and climate change, in order to help both the school and the world that we all have to live in, regardless of how we treat them.

Often times, though, I am confronted with the question of scale: do all of my efforts, and the efforts of those who I’ve talked to and worked with, really make that big of a difference in the scheme of things? I mean, how can recycling a 20-page paper from junior year, choosing not to buy a bottle of water from the vending machine, and riding my bike to class through the cold really do that much to offset all of the bad things people are doing to our environment around the world?

Being a student at Colgate, in particular, is something that I believe makes this view all the more tempting. At our beautiful campus, tucked into the rolling hills of Central New York amidst beautiful fall foliage and wildlife, it is near impossible for me to imaging the challenges facing those who reside in places that will be first-impacted by our changing climate. Melting sea ice is changing the way Inuit communities in Canada, Greenland, Alaska, and Russia access food and other essential resources for their survival. Rising sea levels threaten millions of people across Southeastern Asia (and, a little closer to home, much of the Gulf Coast and Eastern Seaboard here in America). Decreasing precipitation rates and increased frequency of high-temperature regimes is wreaking havoc for agricultural communities all over the world, from the heart of Africa (small-scale, local agriculture) to our Midwest (large-scale, industrialized agriculture). Sadly, the list is seemingly endless.

Still though, this is all just stuff we’re told. These are some tough truths that we hear or know about, and yet will rarely see. Therefore, it becomes that much tougher for us to be motivated to do anything about it. I think there is a very real, and dangerous, disconnect between sustainability as something cool that everyone ought to do, and a state of mind that everyone needs to adopt.

As Colgate students, we are afforded the tremendous luxury of working towards an education that allows us to think globally and act locally. While our day-to-day actions may seem obsolete in the global scale of everything, I want to challenge all of us to think bigger than that. Being a leader is doing much more than knowing the right way to do things and sharing that with those around you. Every step that you make in a sustainable direction, whether seen or unseen by someone else, is a step in a positive direction. Clearly, challenges abound in our future, but it’s up to us to rise to those challenges and do our part in the always-raging fight against climate change.

Watch this two minute video produced by Sustainability Office intern Nora Gordon ’16 to see first hand how to live more sustainably at Colgate:

Recycling: Why you should care

By Sustainability Office on January 20, 2014
Recyclemania at Colgate. Photo by Duy Trinh '14.

Recyclemania at Colgate. Photo by Duy Trinh ’14.

By Kathryn Bacher ’14

It’s almost second nature to me now. I rarely even think about it when I stretch for a plastic yogurt container, some remnants still inside, or retrieve a receipt that probably wouldn’t have taken up much space in the landfill anyways. Thankfully finding plastic water bottles is becoming rarer as my sermons begin to sink into my roommates’ heads. What about all of those other sermons though? How many times do I have to remind them that our county recycling center recycles all plastics and thus plastics should never be in our trash? Still I find myself picking and sorting through it daily.

If you ask my roommates, they might tell you that I am slightly extreme, but it is because recycling is too simple to not be done. It does get done in our house, but I have little faith it would if I wasn’t around. On Wednesday nights we put the recycling and trash by the curb, only to see that most others on the street have not separated their recyclables. If I struggle to convince my housemates, how can I convince my neighbors? Or the Colgate community? Or our entire society? Read more

2014 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory

By Gordon Brillon on January 11, 2014

Compared to Colgate’s 2009 baseline inventory, the university decreased its emissions by 3,841 MTeCO2 (from 17,353 in 2009 to 13,512 in 2014), or by 22 percent. Emissions increased by 389 MTeCO2 in FY 2014 (13,512 MTeCO2) compared to FY 2013 (12,934 MTeCO2).  Despite a dramatic increase in the consumption of fuel oil #2 following the heating plant upgrade and a particularly cold and long winter, 2014 marked a year of positive trends. Colgate’s continuing drop in emissions associated with our vehicle fleet, refrigerant use, fertilizer use, electricity consumption, commuting, business travel, and paper use is due to the ongoing implementation of effective behavior change programs, numerous energy conservation and efficiency projects, and meticulous implementation of the projects and policies specified in our 2011 Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (S-CAP). 2014

Where can you recycle your electronic waste?

By Sustainability Office on January 3, 2014

If you are like most people, then you may have old electronic devices piling up at home or in your office.  Electronic devices include just about anything that plugs in or takes batteries.  You know you shouldn’t put these items in the trash since they contain toxins such as lead, mercury and cadmium that can contaminate our air, water and soil.  Many electronic devices also contain precious metals and other valuable materials that can be reclaimed and recycled (instead of mining and manufacturing new raw materials).  All electronic devices need to be properly recycled, but how and where?

Fortunately, we have a few convenient options for you.  Here we will answer a few frequently asked questions: Read more