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House Sustainability Challenge 2018

29 May

The House Sustainability Challenge culminated its first chapter with a final winner: the Drying Racks team (Yolanda Chigiji ’21, Julianne Borger ’21, Emma Krasky ’21, Sadie Wiese ’21, April Hopcroft ’21 and Sophie Guthrie ’21). Congratulations! This group presented a practical alternative to drying machines and made it available to everyone in their house (Morrow-Capen) on a trial basis. Here’s how it went- they displayed several prototypes made out of inexpensive, recycled materials, such as bamboo, to their house community and encouraged their creation through small workshops. As a back-up, in case a DIY drying rack was not within the skillset or comfort zone of students, they made sure to have some standard designs on each floor of the house. These racks were managed with a sign-out system so residents on each floor are aware of who was using which drying rack at any given time. In case of a lost or damaged frame, the person, whose details was on the sign-up sheet, was contacted and the situation was assessed. Through the use of portable racks, the students were able to reduce the number of dryers in use over their trial period by almost 200 cycles in both houses.

The House Sustainability Challenge, sponsored by Smith’s Conway Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Residential Life, CEEDS, the Office of Campus Sustainability, and The Design Thinking Initiative, held its final challenge on April 20th, allowing each group to present their proposals and pilot programs to the judges. The winning team was awarded $1,000 while the remaining finalists received $250 for their respective houses. The winning team’s design for a campus-wide drying-rack program will be implemented next semester.

The runner-up team projects were:

  • A proposal to reduce water consumption through shower-flow regulators in Comstock House (Katie Knowles ’19 and Karime Gutierrez ’20)

  • A project to increase the heating efficiency in Chase and Ziskind House by recording real-time room temperatures and creating a communication channel between students and Facilities Management to better regulate temperature (Yuqing Geng ’21 and Erika Melara ’20) 

The House Sustainability Challenge was developed as a way to encourage students to use their expertise as residents to help envision and design innovative ways of solving real life issues on campus in an environmentally sustainable manner. Design solutions must also be economically feasible and replicable across the residential houses.

-Erika Melara, CEEDS intern

Controlled Rot: Growing Mushrooms at MacLeish

27 Apr

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” goes the proverbial phrase used to encourage making the best of what one has. At the MacLeish Field Station we have lots of forest that provides much shade. So why not grow food that does not require full sun—such as mushrooms? In April, eight students spent an afternoon inoculating logs with both blue oyster and shitake mushroom spawn. Their work was part of an agroforestry demonstration project being established this year at the Field Station.

Alexandra Davis ’18 and Lilly Williams ’18 drill logs in preparation for inoculation.

Inoculating logs is relatively simple. Holes drilled into recently cut logs are filled with mushroom spawn and then sealed with cheese wax.

Tracy Rompich ’21 inoculates logs with shitake spawn.

Tess Abbot ’20 and Molly Peek ’18 seal the spawn in the logs with cheese wax.

After being labeled, the logs are all stacked in the shadiest part of the forest. Over the 12 months the fungi will grow and spread throughout the logs, becoming well established, and hopefully begin fruiting mushrooms that we can harvest next summer!

 
Preparing hot chocolate for all the volunteers on the beautiful spring day are,
from left, Lily Williams, Molly Peek, Alexandra Davis, and Diana Umana ’19.

Sustainability Challenge 2018 – Heat Efficiency

23 Apr

For this year’s House Sustainability Challenge (2017-2018), I teamed up with my classmate, Yuging Geng (’21), to design a project that could potentially increase the environment-friendly initiatives on campus. Living in Massachusetts, cold, winter-like makes up much of our academic year, making our heating systems a potential source both for energy savings and for improvement of personal comfort. Before moving to Ziskind, where I currently live, I was in Sessions House where my room felt significantly colder. However, closing my window disrupted my only source of fresh air, with the result that I often had to put on extra layers of clothes or purchase additional blankets to keep myself warm and comfortable. In Yuging’s house, Chase-Duckett, she noticed that her friends had variable temperatures in their rooms. For example, one of Yuging’s friends felt uncomfortable because it was too cold, while another friend’s room felt significantly warmer, sometimes even too warm. Based on these experiences, when the call went out for the Sustainability Challenge, we decided that students would benefit from a system in which they could view their dorm-room temperature so they could make better informed decisions about when to contact facilities to request a change in temperature.

We decided to wire in a breadboard, a temperature sensor (DS18B20), to Raspberry Pi 3 and code it, using Python, to collect temperature data and display it on a website (i.e. livestream). An additional benefit of using Raspberry Pi is that no changes in the infrastructure would need to be employed, as its performance mainly depends on Wi-Fi. Since we are both international students, we calculated the temperature in both Celsius and Fahrenheit. We envisioned this project as an early tool to raise awareness not only about campus heating systems, but also about the lack of ventilation during the summer. Take a look at our prototype website: https://melaraerika.wixsite.com/sustainchallenge for more info!

This year’s House Sustainability Challenge was sponsored by the Conway Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, the Design Thinking Initiative, the Office of Campus Sustainability, CEEDS, and the Office of Student Affairs.

-Erika Melara ’20 is a Scorpio who is happy that winter is finally fading away!

Proxy Carbon Pricing at Smith?

11 Dec

Environmental Science and Policy major Breanna Parker (’18) recently presented an interim report on her thesis “Proxy Carbon Pricing at Smith: An economic transition strategy to lower carbon emissions through informed decision-making”. The inspiration her work, as she explained it, was the report which was released this spring by the college’s study group on climate change. The report provided a series of recommendations to develop and internalize constant carbon emissions such as a carbon proxy price to help guide major problems in budget management along with other decision-making processes. Smith College currently emits 27,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. While there are already a variety of new projects underway at Smith that will be more energy efficient (e.g. the new library), in order to significantly reduce our emissions, Parker recommends that the college apply proxy carbon pricing. With this honors thesis, Parker seeks to engage Smith stakeholders in order to standardize and incorporate the acceptance of carbon emissions into the decision-making process.

The specific mechanics of applying a carbon proxy is vital for a sustainable approach. Ultimately, this is an additional design criterion that people can use to evaluate different options. For instance, when evaluating a new purchasing offer, we first consider the quantities of carbon emissions obtained, then we modify the units to compare it with other options, and apply a proxy over the lifetime or life-cycle of a project since carbon emissions will continue to be released as the product is used. To this evaluation, we also add the initial and maintenance costs. With this method the complete carbon emissions cost can be used in comparison with other choices in order to select the most energy efficient and affordable plan. To help the audience better understand the process, Parker used the example of purchasing a light bulb. Which is a better choice- incandescent or LED? The incandescent light bulb has a cheaper initial cost, but has an expected lifetime of only about 1 year. In comparison, the LED light bulb has a lifetime of approximately 22 years. Since bulbs generate additional costs each time they must be replaced, even before it gets turned on, the incandescent starts out with a higher hidden cost. Moreover, incandescent light bulbs use more energy, which cause more carbon to be emitted. In comparison, the LED light bulb, although it has a higher initial purchasing cost, has a slower operating system that requires less energy and produces fewer carbon emissions. This, combined with its longer replacement interval, makes it the better option. This simple example highlights the importance of considering the entire lifetime cost of a system or component, which is not always considered.

Parker then spoke about some of the ways that Smith might be able to benefit from using proxy carbon evaluation. One example was in the renovation of Washburn House. When thinking about heating systems, there are two main approaches: geothermal or natural gas boilers. The latter is more common given its lower initial cost. Nonetheless, if the cost comparisons include long-term maintenance  and carbon emissions, the natural gas boilers have significantly higher life costs and higher carbon emissions, suggesting that a geothermal approach would be a better choice. She noted that carbon proxy evaluation can be used in other situations, too, and it is important and interesting to also consider the vehicles used at Smith. For instance, vans rely on gasoline, but with the availability of an electric parking station near campus, over the long run a transition to electric cars would mean lower carbon emissions and lower monetary costs.

Other universities have implemented different methodologies to acknowledge and lower their carbon emissions. For instance, Yale University has a carbon fee ($30) that is applied to all administrative units individually (buildings). Through some modifications in their infrastructure, they are able to read their carbon emissions levels, so if an academic building has lowered their carbon emissions, then they are able to gain a monetary revenue for other projects. Princeton University has a proxy carbon price similar to what Smith is considering. In this method, a tool was created for administrators to record the initial costs, operating and maintenance expenses, and apply a proxy carbon price to their projects. Swarthmore College has a combination of both a carbon fee ($100) and a proxy carbon price calculator.

Parker hopes that like other colleges and universities, Smith College will acknowledge its carbon emissions and move towards using carbon proxy evaluation for future projects so that the full cost- both environmental and financial- is part of the decision making process.

-CEEDS Intern Erika Melara (’20) is an Engineering major. She comes to us from El Salvador, where she enjoys eating pupusas and going to the beach.

Building a Shelter at MacLeish

27 Oct

Hi there! My name is Tess, and I intern at MacLeish Field Station. I am a soon to be declared Environmental Science and Policy Major with a Sustainable Food Concentration. I live in Wilson House and hail from Brooklyn, NY. Last semester, I was first introduced to construction and building when I got the chance to work in the Hillyer wood shop and help build a wood shed for the Field Station’s fire pit. I found working with wood very rewarding, and as a summer intern, I got to see the woodshed to completion, helping to stain and stock it.

This semester, I’m excited to continue learning carpentry skills with the rest of the MacLeish interns. We work with Scott Johnson, manager of Smith’s Outdoor Adventure Program, and together we are building an Adirondack camp shelter to protect campers from cold, wet New England weather.

Lucinda DeBolt and I working in the roof while Sophia Stouse passes us tools.

The shelter, located in MacLeish’s main campsite behind the Chestnut Orchard, arrived as a pre-cut kit, complete with pine and hemlock boards, fasteners, roofing material, and a step-by-step manual. Of course, putting together a kit is never as easy as the manual makes it sound! As we began construction, Scott quickly realized some notches were not cut correctly, and the frame and siding were misaligned. After several calls to the manufacturer, new pieces arrived and we’ve made great progress.

Lucinda pauses mid-action.

We should have the entire shelter finished before the end of fall! We hope to see you come by and check it out!

A Rainy Day Adventure: Theory into Practice

24 Apr

A heavy April downpour set the perfect tone for our first Water Inquiry Story Workshop, held in the Design Thinking Lab of Smith College. Skilled educators from four elementary schools cast dripping umbrellas aside before digging into the learning adventures of Inquiry Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings, our newly published storybook. Pilot teacher Katy Butler introduced the interactive text as she did with her first graders, saying: “It’s a picture book story with characters… the kind of story where we will stop and talk, stop and think, stop and go. You will get to do the activities.”

Katy Butler reads “Inquiry Inc and the Case of the Missing Ducklings” at the Water Story Teacher Workshop.

Teachers then had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the student mindset, studying images of storm drains and ducklings, discussing the questions: “Where do you think the water goes?” and “Where will the ducklings go?” before working together to show their ideas about drain design and water pathways. In his new book Wait, What? And Life’s Other Essential Questions, James E. Ryan– Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education– writes that, “Inquiry… should always precede advocacy,” and it was, indeed, this sense of participatory engagement that characterized teachers’ efforts to “think… talk… and go” in preparation for doing so with their students. Read more at the Water Inquiry Blog

Planning and Piloting

25 Jan

News from Water Inquiry: January 2017

waterinquiry_jan17

 

“I have too many ideas” was a pleasing lament to hear on an icy afternoon in mid-December. Nestled inside a first-grade classroom at Jackson Street Elementary School, Katy Butler (’12, MAT ’18), classroom teacher and Water Inquirer extraordinaire, guided her students through an exciting encounter with our interactive story, Inquiry, Inc. and the Case of the Missing Ducklings. Collaboration was the modus operandi of our Water Inquiry team this semester.… read more

Earth Friendly Move-In Guide

23 Aug

A new year means a fresh start – for you and your environmental footprint! For many of us, coming to college is the first time we’re making completely independent decisions about our space set-up, laundry, what we buy, what we throw away, food choices, and our habits at home. Here are some ways that this transition can empower us to have a gentler impact on the environment…

Packing It All In: Getting your things where they need to go

  1. Pack fragile items by wrapping them in T-shirts or newspaper – skip those packing peanuts!
  2. If you’re taking a car, pack your items in reusable bins. You’ll be moving rooms and storing stuff a lot in college, so large, portable bins are a great investment. You can also pack clothing straight into trash bags and reuse those later!
  3. If you’ll want a power strip for plugging in many things, consider buying one with a switch or a timer, so you can make sure your electronics don’t use energy while you’re out and about.
  4. If you have a roommate, check to make sure you’re not bringing duplicates of things that could be shared!

Settling Down: On-campus tips

  1. Pick up a reusable water bottle at campus events – the first week has tons of free stuff, and buying bottled water is a waste of your precious cash.
  2. It’s easy to overbuy on room stuff and school supplies at the very beginning, but keep in mind that you can always get things later, once you more fully know what you’ll need.
  3. Ask your greeters, RA, or Eco Rep to show you where the dorm recycling is – to get any cardboard clutter away sooner rather than later!
  4. There are so many alternatives to paying big bucks for new textbooks: borrow from a housemate who has taken the class, rent from the bookstore or online, buy cheap used books online, use the textbooks on reserve at the library, or share with a classmate!

Forget-Me-Nots: Things to bring

  1. Check out Smith’s “Free and For Sale” facebook page for cool stuff from cool people – buying from other students is cheaper and prevents things like furniture and clothing from going in the trash. (Be sure to turn off notifications, or you’ll get 30 notifications daily) Another source of great clothes is your house’s Free Box! Anyone can add unwanted clothes or take nice finds!
  2. Buy green for your room: There are many environmentally friendly products at a reasonable price. Everything from shampoos to recycled school supplies! Lots of these items are available at the school bookstore or downtown.
  3. Skip the mini fridge – Personal fridges make up a significant portion of energy usage on campus. Every dorm has a full-size communal fridge! If you do need a mini one, consider sharing it with a friend you trust.
  4. Make/bring/buy/share a drying rack – laundry is expensive, (the dryer costs you $1.35-1.50! That’s a slice of pizza!) and dryers are huge energy monsters. It only takes a couple of hours for clothes to dry when you hang them up!
  5. Bring Tupperware – Smith’s dining halls are usually open for only 2½ hours for each meal- if you’re in a hurry or planning on staying up late, having Tupperware makes grabbing food much easier. And they help cut down food waste!

Once you are here, don’t forget to ask staff in Campus Sustainability about how you can get involved – they’ll have a lot of great ideas for how you can continue to green your time on campus. You can find them in CEEDS, in Wright Hall 005.

-Shelby Kim ’18 and Ellen Sulser ’18
Shelby: I will be a junior this year (how did that happen?!). Sociology major! I grew up in Los Angeles. My main interest right now: ways that making & sharing things can bring about communities that are more resilient and more fair. I will be leading a backpacking orientation group and can’t wait to meet the class of 2020!
Ellen: I’m a junior in Capen house from Saint Louis, Missouri. I’m studying environmental science and policy, reading too many books and attempting to crochet. I can’t wait to study abroad in China in the spring.

Summer at the MacLeish Field Station

17 Jun

Summer work at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station is off to a great start! Interns Molly Day ’19, Casey Hecox ’19, Naomi Jahan ’18, and Rachel Moskowitz ’18 have been working on several projects to keep the Field Station at its best. These projects include maintaining the challenge course, clearing weeds around the rock walls, maintaining the apple and chestnut orchards, and installing the test permeable surface materials in the new experimental parking lot.

Wall_interns

Molly and Naomi treat “The Wall” challenge course element with linseed oil.

The interns have been doing a lot of work to keep the dozen elements in our Challenge Course in great condition. They have treated all of the wood surfaces with linseed oil, removed rocks from the immediate surroundings, and used those rocks to build cairns as trail markers for the paths leading to the elements.

The interns have also begun laying down several different permeable materials on the experimental parking lot at the entrance to the Field Station. The parking lot, designed last summer by then-intern Laura Krok-Horton, ’17, aims to help us learn more about which of several different permeable materials will hold up best in this particular location and to wear and tear (including snow plowing), and what possible effects a permeable surface might have (positive or negative) on storm water run-off and flow in the nearby stream.

Permeable1

The first six parking spaces are covered with a permeable sheet material through which clover and other plants have already begun to grow.

 

 

One side of the parking lot is covered by a permeable plastic material through which clover and grass can grow.

permeable2

Student interns work together to lay the sectional paver material on the parking lot.

 

 

 

 

The other six parking spaces include two each of concrete pavers, gravel, and plastic pavers. The concrete and plastic pavers are being filled with soil and will eventually be seeded.

 

 

-Naomi Jahan (’18) is a geosciences major from Los Angeles, California. She lives in Wilder House and spends her time reading, singing, and looking at rocks.