Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Getting "Trash"ed at Homecoming: The Other Meaning

As Homecoming programming (i.e. tailgating) and general festivities get both students and alumni "trashed," they also trash the campus itself.

This past weekend, while I was talking with our campus Recycling Director, Bill DelVecchio, about the current and coming changes to recycling on campus, my dismay with the state of event management on campus was further increased.

During Homecoming, a time during which (one can easily infer) many beverage cans are produced, no recycling could be done because of contamination. Two loads (equivalent to TWO FULL TONS) of recycling had to get "trashed" because of this.

Although Homecoming is, by all means, a unique event, it also reflects a systemic problem in the way that events are run on campus. How many events provide bottled water for attendees? Overpackaged sandwiches from the Corp? Even still, how often do these events offer recycling facilities for the disposal of this waste? Not that often, for sure.

Systemic problems need to be addressed with systemic changes, and the paradigm with which we plan our events, both big and small, on campus needs to change. Zero-waste? Carbon-neutral? These are the types of events that we should be having. We, no doubt, have the resources and the brains to do it.

The photo above comes from the official Homecoming 2009 website.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Homecoming Sustainability Panel

This Saturday, I had the privilege of presenting on a Homecoming panel focused on sustainability efforts at Georgetown and in higher education in general. The discussion was specifically focused on Georgetown’s newfound dedication to sustainable construction and building operations.

The trend of universities becoming leaders in environmentally sustainable development has been a process largely driven by student demand over the past several years. Our campus is a wonderful example of this type of progress. Three years ago the average Hoya assumed the recycling bins were emptied into the trash stream, that ICC’s solar panels had fallen out of use, and that composting was something Roy Hibbert did with his back to the basket (…get it?). In the time since, sincere student dedication to environmental activism has led to improvements all over campus, not least evidenced by a sustainability committee focused on the issues long term. Today, students may be surprised to learn that 85% of our campus’ waste is either recycled or incinerated to produce electricity (a number that is sure to improve due to our new recycling bins); that each residence hall’s energy use can be tracked real time (data that’s being used in an inter-dorm energy saving competition this year); that our GUTS buses are being converted to use biodiesel; and that our electricity is being offset by investment in a large and growing percentage of Green-E certified renewable energy resources.

Perhaps the best evidence of Georgetown’s dedication to sustainable development – and the main focus of the panel – is the administration’s plan to seek LEED certification on all new building projects. The LEED program, which is run by the nonprofit US Green Building Council, judges buildings on their level of energy efficiency and general environmental friendliness. The new Rafik Hariri building will probably receive a LEED Silver certification for practices such as offsetting 129% of the building’s energy use, installing low-flow fixtures to save water, using sustainable construction materials, recycling construction waste, and utilizing smart control devices to turn off lights and heat when rooms are empty. Meanwhile, the science building is being designed to achieve LEED Gold status – quite impressive for an energy-hogging lab facility.

The pattern of investing into greater upfront construction and design costs to create more sustainable buildings is not unique to Georgetown. As the effects of global energy waste and environmental degradation have become mainstream knowledge, all aspects of development have grown to be more sustainable. Simply put, when long term costs are considered as present financial values it is usually less expensive to build green. This author is glad our university understands that relationship as our campus continues to grow.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rate Decoupling

Here is a blog post from Carter Lavin, who presented this at the EcoAction meeting last night:

Currently utility profits and their energy sales are “coupled” so utilities make more money by selling more electricity. This incentivizes them to make and sell as much electricity as possible in the cheapest way possible. Because environmental costs are for the most part externalized by these utilities, they do not pay for the ecological damage they cause, they tend to use the cheapest and most energy dense fuel which in the United States is coal. This system is part of the reason for the general inefficiency of electricity use in the United States as the burden of action and financing falls upon individuals while the utilities have the reverse incentive.

Rate Decoupling is a policy which state and regional utility commissions can enact that provides utilities a guaranteed level of revenue in return for a certain quality of service to a specific region. This means that if a utility wants to generate a higher profit they need to reduce energy demand so they may reduce energy supplied and save on fuel and operating costs.

Right now utilities occasionally launch energy efficiency initiatives but they are on small scales and infrequent. In a rate decoupled system these types of programs would be bigger, better and more frequent.

To give you an idea of how much energy we could save through rate decoupling:

California implemented rate decoupling in the early 90s and utilities started energy efficiency programs that, along with state building and appliance energy efficiency programs saved 40 Billion kWh of electricity every year-
roughly 2.8% of total American residential electricity usage in 2007 and roughly 20% of the amount of energy generated by California in 2007. If we did rate decoupling in every state and were about half as successful as they were, we would cut national energy use by 10%, and every individual and each utility would make money doing it.

It would also create many green collared jobs to help with all the retrofitting and energy audits that utilities would provide for free or at steeply discounted rates for their customers.

Currently Arizona, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington State are currently reviewing rate decoupling and similar new rate structures.

This is a policy problem that can be solved by advocating change to those who are in charge of policy. Once that change is made then it will be the utilities who are going to push us to adapt more energy efficient buildings and appliances. The people who are in charge of making this decision are the people who regulate the utilities. These are boards that are sometimes regional and sometimes within a specific state and they are typically called Public Utilities Commissions or Public Service Boards or Public Service Commissions and you can find a list of them on Contact them and say that you support rate decoupling in order to increase grid stability, improve energy efficiency, protect the environment, and create green collared jobs.

If you want to read a imaginative description of what would life in a rate decoupled world be like, I suggest reading the chapter in Thomas Friedman's book Hot, Flat and Crowded called “If it isn't boring, it isn't green.”

Image from

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Canvassing with the DC Project

Yesterday, Emily, Keely and I went over to Dupont Circle to meet up with The DC Project, a new non-profit organization. The DC Project aims to address social justice and climate change on a two-fold level.

They aim to create demand for green jobs by asking people to weatherize their homes. They also try to connect people with green job training so the demand is answered.

As of late, there's been a lot of emphasis on the new "green economy." Unfortunately, it's been a lot of marketing and less substance - it's been proven difficult to connect people who need jobs the most with the training that they need to work in green-collar jobs. This is what the DC Project tries to fix.

So the three of us went around DC going door-to-door to tell people about weatherization.

Weatherization is the process of making your home more energy efficient. The idea is that homeowners should insulate their homes so less heat escapes from the home - saving money and also requiring less heating and therefore reducing your carbon footprint.

Some examples of weatherization are: sealing gaps/holes, installing storm windows, sealing air ducts, and installing insulation.

We had a great time walking around and telling people about the DC Project and about weatherization. Overall people were really receptive- and we look forward to working with this group in the future.

Image from:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Meeting Dr. Jane

If you want to know all of the details of what Jane Goodall said in her lecture, you can check it out on the Georgetown website. The audience absolutely adored her, and she spoke with wisdom, grace, compassion, inspiration,...(The list goes on.) Her messages of peace and conservation, of humility and compassion, were, in my opinion, in tune with the ethos of Georgetown University, something we should all remember.

However, you can watch her (Mr. H, peace dove, and all) at the link above. What you can't watch is the student reception.

A group of us from the EcoAction board were able to attend the student reception for the lecture. Also at the event were contingents from GW and American as well as students from the Center for the Environment and Lecture Fund.

Dr. Jane (as those around her seem to call her) befittingly requested that the receptions be vegetarian. Her work with animals has inspired a love and compassion for them, and the reception should follow suit. We were able to indulge in an array of hummus dips (regular, black bean, and one other) with toasted pita corners, a variety of fruits, vegetables, and cheeses, and much more. I know I ate too much afterward, but it was all healthful food, so I don't have to feel too guilty.

After lots of mingling among the students, Dr. Jane finally walked in. When she entered the room, a silence fell over the room. All noise stopped. Tripti accurately described her entrance as "regal." She had an air of serenity and wisdom in the way she carried herself and, as we soon found out, in the way she spoke with us.

It was a bit intimidating to speak with Jane Goodall (that's right, THE Jane Goodall) when she finally got to our group while doing rounds. However, she was very welcoming; in the moments of silence around her, one feels that she is contemplative and compassionate. We spoke with her about the connection of business and law to social responsibility and of her work with youth from across the globe. She emphasized her message of an inspirational environmentalism. When speaking with students, she would often encounter many who had become depressed or indifferent, feeling that their future had been compromised by those before them. However, she seeks to inspire today's youth to take action in their communities, finding the steps (whether big or small) that can benefit people, animals, and the environment. She encouraged us to stay positive, stay focused, and stay active.

I had not had the opportunity to buy her book at that point (I did so just before the lecture), but I was able to get her to sign the back of a Roots & Shoots flyer that I later pasted into the book.

I have not yet read her book, but I am looking forward to doing so soon; the lecture gives a taste of the stories in her book--of the hope for the future that she sees around her. The only surefire way to lose a fight is to give up.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Penn Gets Recycled Caps and Gowns...Can Georgetown?

U Penn recently signed a deal with Oak Hill, a company that produces 100% recycled caps and gowns here in the US.

That's right, just as you graduate to a new level of your life, plastic bottles will graduate into a new existence right along with you.

According to the Oak Hill website, if 100,000 students wore the GreenWeaver gowns at their graduation, approximately 2.3 million plastic bottles would be kept out of landfills (23 bottles per gown). This would mean that Georgetown would save about 35,000 plastic bottles at graduation.

Even better, according to Tree Hugger, Oak Hill plans to donate money to the campus environmental group for each gown purchased. Penn's done it as part of a new climate initiative. With the increasing responsiveness here on the Hilltop, is the climate right?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Not too Green in the Green Space: SAC Fair Review

Today was the day of the SAC Fair, that day at the start of the school year when every club goes into full-out recruitment mode and when suddenly freshman are the most popular folks on campus.

However, I would like to use this piece to express my dismay about the wastefulness exhibited throughout the Fair, a sad by-product of this fun annual event.

The wastefulness of the SAC Fair appears on a few different fronts.

1) Paper: If you get someone to sign up for your club, you do not need to give them five quartersheets, too. So much paper gets used and wasted during the recruitment efforts. Obviously, as we all do with free stuff, everyone takes whatever is given to them, but all of those quartersheets will end up in the trash (or hopefully, the recycling).

For our table, I printed out all of our sign-up sheets on old club flyers (if not just double-sided). I am a rarity in that I enjoy taking down old flyers, but I think that there is a lot of value in extending the lifespan of the materials that you use. If you can print on the backs of other sheets (and I have done so at SAC before, so it's possible), then you should---at the very least it saves money on paper!

2) Recycling: Bottles, cans, and pizza boxes dominated the trash cans throughout Copley Lawn and Red Square. Outdoor events on campus (not to vindicate those indoors entirely) tend to generate tremendous amounts of waste, and often the recycling containers are not as convenient as the trash cans (especially when extra trash cans are set up for the event).

Brainstorming the Solution:
If I remember correctly, Outdoor Education had worked on putting together a "how to run a green event" guide before, and this is something that I would like to see promoted and integrated into the system. The best way to make the change is to institutionalize the improvement.

Although priority number one for next year should be to (actually) have the logistics improved, I think it could also be fun to brainstorm creative ways to make use of the old pizza boxes et al. Maybe my EcoAction peers (alas, I will be gone next year) can build something at the table? Add some more life to the event while extending the life of the materials---why not?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Sustainability Website: It Exists!

Earlier this week, I posted a link talking about the Sustainability Action Committee, but now we have something even BETTER. That's right, my friends, we have Georgetown's very own SUSTAINABILITY website.

The site (which you should explore for yourself) highlights many factets of sustainabilty at Georgetown.

In the section about "What we're doing," you can learn about both recycling and emission from Georgetown. One of my personal favorite facts is that only about 15% of all waste from GU ends up at landfill because Waste Management has a relationship with an "Energy from Waste" facility, which produces a clean form of energy.

The website talks about the "Switch it Off" energy competition which has recently gone into effect in the residence halls and apartment complexes on campus. (You should have a sign on your door). It also gives links to faculty members doing research in environmental work.

Most importantly, for all of you out there, it highlights ways to get engaged (including a link to our very own website)!

So, go on the site, explore, learn, see fun photos. As they say, knowledge is power, and the first step toward reforming the way power (energy) works is to have the knowledge how!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

DeGioia Praises Sustainability Efforts, Evades Transparency Question

In today's edition of The Voice (Full credit to the Voice for the photo above) were excerpts from their interview with President DeGioia on Tuesday. A few days ago, Vox Populi (The Voice's widely-read blog) asked readers for questions that they would like to see addressed. I noted the big fat "F" that Georgetown got for the category of "Endowment Transparency" in last year's Sustainability Endowment Institute Report Cards. Although we had an overall score of B- (not that bad), that F really hurts chances of advancement. So, what's behind that F?

Apparently, DeGioia evaded the question quickly. This part of the interview was especially interesting because you could tell that the pace got very quick (notice the indications of unfinished sentences/talking over each other). DeGioia refused to comment on the "F" ("I can't comment on that grade") although he said he thinks that "we deserve better." He also lauded University sustainability efforst, such as the new sustainability website (discussed in an earlier post), the "Switch it Off" competition, and their participation in the Ivy League Plus Sustainability Working Group.

What are your thoughts?