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The vitality of a sustainability-related education

By Sustainability Office on April 25, 2014

By Sara Reese ’16

As Colgate students and faculty, we are challenged to meet “The 13 Goals of a Colgate Education,” goals that embody the true meaning of a liberal arts education – 1) Conduct interdisciplinary inquiry, 2) See ourselves critically and honestly within a global and historical perspective, 3) Be engaged citizens and strive for a just society, and 4) Respect nature and the diversity of life on earth, just to name a few.  As an Environmental Studies major and intern in the Colgate Office of Sustainability, I believe that integrating sustainability more deeply into the curriculum will help students accomplish these goals and will produce more globally minded students.

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What is environmental justice and why should we care?

By Sustainability Office on April 23, 2014

By Breanna Giovanniello ’16

Environmental activists have recently taken to intertwining the issues of the environment with human rights abuses. The amalgamation of these two movements is more widely known today as environmental justice. The principle of environmental justice asserts that no people, based on their race or economic status, should be forced to bear a disproportionate burden of environmental risks. Innocent bystanders or communities that are not party to the activities generating burdens should not be subject to such burdens (Adeola, 688). Environmental injustices involve a systematic exclusion of minority groups in vital environmental policies and decisions. Environmental justice is the movement that links environmental degradation with social justice in a fight for sustainable human rights.

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Melting Ice – Economic Benefits and Indigenous Struggles

By Sustainability Office on April 21, 2014

By Jenna Glat ’15

Last fall, I enrolled in a fascinating Geography course called “Arctic Transformations,” taught by Professor Jessica Graybill. I assumed we would be learning about indigenous cultures, oil and gas, and climate change affecting the region, but little did I know how much this course would have opened my eyes to the environmental horrors occurring in the polar regions of our Earth. While there are many potential economic benefits that will impact nearly every other region of the globe, the harmful effects on indigenous communities outweigh the positive possibilities.

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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.

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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.

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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 out.

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.

Click the report card below to view full size:


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%.


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