Sustainability and U: a look inside Union’s green initiatives

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By Austin Andersen

What do you think of when you hear the word “sustainability”? Do you believe that you have to be a Prius-driving, hemp underwear-sporting hippy to be considered environmentally conscious? Because that is a total misconception. Leading a sustainable life is far less intimidating than one may think, and with a little research into how we can make slight changes to the way we conduct our day-to-day lives, we can realize how easy it actually is. Most importantly, however, is the realization that these slight changes can indeed have a major impact.

Whether the average student knows it or not, Union is  strongly committed to sustainability. From student-run groups, such as U Sustain and Environmental Club, to initiatives from facilities, the administration and academic departments, relative to other schools, Union is not half bad. In my opinion, however, the average Union student may not realize the extent of this commitment and this, in turn, may adversely affect the way students lead their lives individually. So, I believe it is beneficial to give a run-down of Union’s sustainability efforts to hopefully make more students aware of what is already going on.

First, there are the student groups. U-Sustain, which meets during common hour in Old Chapel on the first Wednesday of every month, is a collaboration between students, faculty and facilities. Meetings are comprised of presentations and discussions of goals to be accomplished over the next month. Environmental Club meets Monday nights at 8 p.m. in Humanities 116. As an extension of U-Sustain, Environmental Club generates broader student involvement and takes part in the organization and execution of events. Then, of course, there is Union’s sustainability theme house, Ozone,  where I currently live with 14 other progressively-conscious characters.

Garnet Goes Green is an online blog, run and contributed to by Union students, for Union students. As part of U-Sustain’s Education and Outreach group, this blog is a place to post interesting and enlightening articles on environmentally-related current events, as well as student opinion pieces about their own involvement. A future goal of the Education and Outreach group is to have a greater presence of Garnet Goes Green in the Concordinesis so as to have a broader readership of environmental issues from around campus to around the world.

Octopus’s Garden, a three-quarter acre plot located between McKean and Wells Houses, is a student, faculty and staff collaboration to grow the school’s own local and organic produce. Some of the vegetables grown include tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, butternut squash, onions and potatoes.

The garden supplies Ozone Cafe and O3, as well as contributes to the City Mission in downtown Schenectady that provides food and shelter for the city’s poor and homeless.

Octopus’s Garden is a great example of a way that Union is reducing its carbon footprint. Locally produced food does not have to be shipped long distances by truck as it normally would; thus there is much less carbon being emitted. The result is a more sustainable process.

The Green Grant Program, initiated by President Ainlay to provide up to eight grants a year, funds up to $2,000 for grassroots sustainability projects. Seperately, there is the Green Fee Grant, which began last year. The first winner Samantha Muratori ‘14 implemented remote controlled thermostats in Seward housing to reduce Union’s carbon footprint by allowing facilities to control heat while students are not present. The Green Fee provides up to $25,000 for unique and creative projects that decrease the college’s carbon footprint.

Recycling also plays an ever-increasing role on Union’s campus. From aluminum, plastic, paper, batteries, cardboard and compost, Union has made a commitment to reduce and reuse all that we can, where we can. Blue recycling containers can be found throughout academic buildings as well as residence halls, and composting efforts in West and Upper have recently been expanded.

Last week, Union students got to see the extent to which their recycling habits have an impact. The trash audit featured  members of U-Sustain and Environmental Club, who donned white jumpsuits and rubber gloves to pick through trash bags gathered from various buildings and residences across campus. From the data we collected by weighing the bags and then separating out compost, plastic, metal, paper and cardboard, plastic bags, glass and then what was actually supposed to go to the landfill, it was definitely an eye-opening (and nostril-closing) way to spend the afternoon. There is absolutely a need for improvement.

U-Sustain’s “Do It In The Dark” competition challenges students to be conscious about their energy use around campus and in their respective housing. Utilities meters are checked weekly for each building to record how much energy has been used (or saved) compared to a baseline taken at the beginning of the competition. Reducing energy is easy: If you are not using an electronic device, just turn it off — whether a light, computer or television, it’s a simple click.

In 2010, Union installed wind turbines, which now supply 40 percent of the power used in the athletic complex. Solar panels can also be found on top of facilities, the Octopus’s Garden shed, and the newly constructed, LEED Gold Certified Peter Irving Wold Center.

It does not take much to be sustainable, and hopefully by realizing how strong Union’s commitment to sustainability is, more students will follow suit. As it comes down to an individual level, we have to realize that we are all in it together. Because whether we like to think about it or not, the time for change is always right now.

I realize that it may be easy and convenient to cynically think “I am just one person out of many,  even if I throw this plastic bottle in the recycling bin, the next person is going to throw his into the trash. So where’s the motivation?” It is turning your lights off before you leave your room. It is taking the five minute shower rather than the 15 minute shower. It is being conscious of what you eat and where your food is coming from. It takes a little education, but once you start making your life more green, you will be healthier and happier. I guarantee it.

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