Friday, May 22, 2009

Georgetown Sustainability Preliminary Review 08-09

How did GU do this year as far as sustainability goes? According to the Year in Review's sustainability section:
  • Georgetown's carbon footprint is 17 metric tons of carbon dioxide per 1,000 square feet.
  • 1,140 tons of waste was recycled this year, about 30% of the total waste.
Here are some other interesting facts:
  • 172,890 apples were served at Leo's.
  • 135,000 pounds of bananas were served at Leo's.
  • 154,600 Red Bliss potatoes were served at Leo's.
  • 41,178 used textbooks were sold.
  • For every 10 textbooks sold, 3 are used.
  • Over 1,000 people went on 100 Outdoor Education trips.
So what does this REALLY mean? Find out why Georgetown is, well, below average.

Georgetown's Carbon Emissions:
17 metric tons of carbon dioxide per 1,000 square feet.
This statistic is a little misleading. Generally, carbon emissions are measured per MWHs (megawatt hours, units of energy) rather than per feet (units of area). According to the Energy Information Administration, the national average carbon dioxide emitted is 0.668 tons per MWH*. In 2003, there were 64,783 million square feet accounted for commercial buildings**. Also in 2003, there were 1,027.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted by commercial sectors***. This means that the average for commercial buildings is 15.85 metric tons of carbon dioxide per 1,000 square feet. Georgetown is a little behind, but not too bad. (Carbon dioxide emissions fluctuate, so it's hard to project this number to the present year.)

Georgetown's Recycling:
1,140 tons of waste recycled, 30% of total waste.
This article claims that 70% of trash can be recycled. According to the EPA****, the waste recovered is about 32.5%. Again, a little below average.

Georgetown's Food:
172,890 apples, 135,000 pounds of bananas, and 154,600 Red Bliss potatoes were served at Leo's.
The average meal travels 1,500 miles according to this article, which talks about a restaurant in Hawaii located near sugar cane plantations, and a sugar processing plant. The restaurant's sugar does not come from the sugar plant, located a mile away. Instead, it goes from the plantations, to refineries in California, to packaging companies in New York, and then all over the world - traveling, in this case about 10,000 miles.

According to one study*****, the average apple travels 1,555 miles. Even though apples grow in many places close to D.C., it is more likely that they travel far because Aramark does not purchase local food (as far as I know...)
Chiquita bananas grow in the Caribbean and Central America (1,550 miles), and Red Bliss potatoes grow in California (2,800 miles), Minnesota (1,250 miles), and the Dakotas (1,540 miles).

That's a LOT of miles... Assuming approximately 30 mpg for travel and 22.2 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon****** yielding 0.74 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile, an apple contributes about 1,150 pounds of carbon dioxide, a banana contributes about 1,147 pounds of carbon dioxide, and a Red Bliss potato contributes about 1,380 pounds of carbon dioxide. (Granted, this is NOT per unit of food. It is per shipment. However, this doesn't account for the millions of other shipments also going on at that time.)

Georgetown's Books:
41,178 used textbooks were sold and for every 10 textbooks sold, 3 are used.
There's not much to be said here, but used textbooks prevent trees from being cut down and also save students lots of money. At, they plant a tree for every textbook bought, sold, donated, or rented. (Yes, you can now rent textbooks!)

Georgetown's Awareness:
Over 1,000 people went on 100 Outdoor Education trips.
1,000 more people got to experience the outdoors - something that most of us in D.C. take for granted.

In Conclusion:
Though it looks as though Georgetown is hovering around average as far as carbon emissions/recycling goes, the averages are, in my opinion, woefully low. Emissions are always hard to read if you are unfamiliar with the subject since it is quite abstract. But also my calculations may be wrong since I'm no expert and other commercial buildings may be inherently more energy intensive, bringing the average up. As we know from Recyclemania, Georgetown has done okay with recycling. A good amount of recyclable material is still being trashed - a product of the norm?

Our food sourcing is one of the most worrying parts of this, though, again, it is reflective of our national mindset. We don't blink an eye at eating bananas in the dead of winter, or apples in early spring. Instead, we demand our food whenever we want it, without regard for the fact that our food is more traveled than we are.

My Conclusion:
Georgetown's numbers are just that - average. Georgetown students are not average; they are exceptional. I think we can do a lot better.


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  1. Kristin, great job with this! I am impressed by the effort put into this. Awesome job at showing the info--now let's just hope for an equally awesome improvement over the next year!

  2. If there's one encouraging thing about this information it's definitely the 1,000 people that went on Outdoor Ed trips. That's a significant chunk of campus that clearly thinks about the environment enough to want to spend time in it, so there's a potentially significant source of support there for environmental efforts that hasn't yet been tapped into.

    In general, though, this is pretty much spot on. As of right now, Georgetown does a few nice things when it comes to sustainability but all in all it is no better than average.

  3. I'm not even sure if the Outdoor Ed number should necessarily be viewed in such a light because one can be an outdoor enthusiast without being an environmental advocate; in other words, travel and action are very different. Seeing the environment and caring/acting around it do not always go hand in hand.

  4. Every point made in this post is a good point, but I especially like your last statement, Kristin, about how Georgetown students are exceptional.
    If people at Georgetown are so educated and intelligent, we should be doing much better environmentally.
    And the percentages the university provides about recycling bother me, because there's no way to know the percentage of how many recycables were thrown out (...a lot, I bet).

  5. Ill be the first to say i love leo's. As embarrassing as this is, its where i get my work done and where i see my friends. But, at the end of the day, dining halls are monopolistic and limit the influence of consumer conscience. All students can and should cut way down on or eliminate their meat consumption at leo's and elsewhere. But while depending on leo's bounty for sustenance, responsible choices are constrained by the standardized armarak menu/supply chain. so, it is either a april apple or an april orange... at the end of day its the same thing ad there few good options at leo's (beans maybe?)

    The solutions are 1 getting food from other places where you can choose local seasonal options 2 changing he way aramark does stuff or getting a more expensive dining service provider.

  6. Thinking of Leo's and local purchasing, I found it rather disheartening that, on for Green Square, it took about a month for the chefs to find a recipe they could make that would be local (and it was only ONE recipe.) It looked as though it were only mushrooms. sigh

  7. the thing with food is that we're in dc and there's an incredible amount of local food. we're so close to maryland and virginia (especially virginia), both of which are huge farming states... the excuse that there's no local food is embarrassing and, frankly, kind of lame.

    and i found the stat with outdoor ed to be particularly interesting. yes, not all of the people who go on these trips turn into activists... but it's important in that it's raising awareness