Tag Archives: sustainability

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.

SURFing Uncharted Waters

23 Jun

After an exploratory first year at Smith, I’m working as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF) with Camille Washington-Ottombre, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Dano Weisbord, Director of Campus Sustainability, and Andrea Schmid ‘17.

We are studying the resilience of Smith College.

The Resilience Alliance defines resilience as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks.” That’s not exactly cut-and-dried, and in the face of climate change, we’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty.

I’m two weeks into my research, and the most difficult part of this project is pinning down a research question that fully encompasses and properly frames our work for the summer. The study of resilience is a fresh field of inquiry and planning. In fact, there are no published papers or case studies specifically assessing the resilience of a college or university. This is not, however, a neglected approach. Many municipalities and watersheds have applied resilience thinking to their planning. Now, after years of mitigation and management, campus sustainability planners ride the crest of a breaking wave. Academics and professionals are understanding the need for campus sustainability to evolve into a holistic systems-based approach that equips institutions with the tools to adapt to the challenges of climate change. Our work is primary research.

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We’re not simply exploring uncharted waters, we’re mapping them.

– Callie Sieh ’18J studies Environmental Science and Policy and interns in the Office of Campus Sustainability. In her free time she experiments with sound and image, talks to strangers, and explores New England.

Interpreting – Reflections on Day 2

14 Jan

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is fairly widely known throughout both the Smith Community and the greater population. Ford Hall, opened in 2010, was Smith’s first LEED Gold certified building. After our discussions today I learned a lot more about what exactly this means. In Smith’s case ​ LEED Certification led to water recycling mechanisms, green roofs, and computer monitored air and light systems. Through today’s discussions about the Bechtel Environmental Classroom at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station I began to understand how LEED certification, while wonderful, is also limited.  We can do much better. The Living Building Challenge, set forth by the International Living Futures Institute, incorporates seven petals that promote change in public policies ​and ​change in industry that will encourage more sustainable architecture in the future.​

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One of the things that was the most mind-boggling to me was the requirement ​to exclude thirteen chemicals on the “red” list from the building.  That required generating a material ingredients list for every component that is needed for the building, somewhat like an ingredients list for a cereal. We look forward to teaching the 6th Graders about the Bechtel Classroom and the Field Station on Friday!

-April Birnie, ’15

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After lunch and a quick sledding break, Maggie Lind, director of education at the Smith College Museum of Art, came to the Field Station to discuss Visual Thinking Strategies with us. She began her presentation by asking us to look outside the classroom’s large picture window and describe what we noticed in the landscape. After each observation, Maggie reflected what we said, helping build the conversation. She never interjected with any specific facts or tried to lead us to a “correct” answer; rather, she allowed us to draw our conclusions based on what we saw. After that exercise, she explained that this was a facilitation technique called Visual Thinking Strategies, which allows the viewer to interpret the landscape without feeling pushed to notice or focus on any specific thing, but rather what interests them the most. Maggie also introduced us to the ideas of Freeman Tilden, who worked for the National Park Service in the 1950s and first brought the idea of landscape interpretation to the forefront. It was great to have Maggie come and discuss this method of presenting and acquiring knowledge about the field station, and left us thinking about how we could use Visual Thinking Strategies to teach the Campus School sixth graders who will be joining us on Friday.

-Catherine Bradley, ’17

After Maggie Lind (from the Smith College Museum of Art) taught us about Visual Thinking Strategies, we tested our newly acquired knowledge by going outside and finding our own artifacts for our group members to “interpret” and to apply the strategies. People chose a wide variety of artifacts ranging from gathering a cup of snow to finding a piece of bark, to taking a photograph of an artifact too big to bring indoors.

artifact

Once we each found (or photographed) our artifact, each person presented theirs to a small group and used the strategies we’d learned to allow their fellow group members to interpret the object in their own way. We went into this activity knowing that when it comes to interpretation, everything is valid and therefore many viewpoints were voiced which enriched the experience for everyone.

-Maia Erslev, ’18

Faculty Spotlight: Sharon Seelig

6 Mar

Sharon Seelig is a long time member of the community, having come to the Pioneer Valley in 1967 and to Smith College in 1980. Seelig, the Roe/Straut Professor in the Humanities, primarily teaches classes that focus on Renaissance English literature and early modern women writers. Over the past few years, she began integrating environmental themes into her courses and teachings here at Smith, and getting more involved with similar kinds of issues on campus. She currently serves as a member of the College Committee on Sustainability and as a Faculty Fellow for the Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability (CEEDS).

When asked about her work as an English literature professor with ties to the environment and nature, Seelig attributes her interest to early childhood, where she spent her first five years on a farm in Southern Minnesota and lived in very small towns thereafter. “I wasn’t an only child, but my brother was 13-years older than I was, so I might as well have been an only child. I spent a lot of time wandering around by myself noticing things like the ferns by the house, the yellow violets under the willow tree, and the abandoned garden with surprising flowers.”

Seelig’s passion for both literature and the environment led to the creation of her First Year Seminar: Reading the Earth, which was first offered in the fall of 2008. “It has been a lot of fun to try to bring together my own training as a reader of texts to reading the world as a text.” The course, inspired by geology faculty member John Brady’s method of education through exploration and discovery, is based on the idea that we employ similar tools in literary criticism as we do in observing our natural world. From Brady’s course, Seelig developed her own focus, which was not to have a prescribed body of knowledge, but instead to allow student observations and insights to direct the class. “I wanted this to be a course about seeing,” Seelig explained.

seelig students                      Students in Seelig’s class explore and observe the world together…
student_writing                                           …and on their own.

Outside of the classroom Seelig has deepened her connection to the natural world by spending her summers as a National Park volunteer, first in Utah and then at Glacier National Park in Montana. Seelig described the latter as one of the most wonderful things she has ever experienced. “I had wanted to do this for a long time, and it turns out it is not as easy to get this gig as you might think.” Seelig described her acceptance into the program at Glacier as a hard-fought win, “I mean, I campaigned seriously for this job… [when I heard I had gotten the position] I was as happy at that moment as when I got tenure at Smith.”  Seelig went on to say that although the job was hard, there were also amazing benefits, like the opportunity to share the splendor of the natural world with others. “Each week we walked through a burn area with beautiful wildflowers, which were different every week. It was just wonderful.” As she reflected back on the experience, Seelig commented that “my interest in the natural world led me to do this, and I see it as in harmony with what I do here.”

SSeelig

Seelig continues to be an active proponent of environmental health and education through her teaching and contributions on campus. Even her daily habits reflect an environmental awareness. “When I leave Seelye I try to turn off all the lights in all the rooms. Again, it is a tiny step, but I believe that if you are aware of these things and you are practicing them personally, the idea might spread.” She also offered some creative ideas to our current landscape aesthetic. “This will not fly, but I wish we could bring goats onto campus! Lawns are a problem. Must they be only blades of grass? I mean, is that really necessary? What is wrong with clover?” Seelig attributes her motivation for taking on environmental issues to her long-standing concern about the planet. “I have seen the effect of climate change in the 40 years that I have been in the Valley. I know what is happening and it distresses me. And it worries me that many students don’t seem as concerned about it as I am. I am very glad for those who are, but it seems to me a real crisis.” And one, that in Seelig’s opinion, is starting to be addressed. “We are moving in the right direction and the sustainability committee is working on this. There are a wonderful group of alums who are the advisory board to CEEDS and they are full steam ahead and engaged, and I feel if that spirit can spread, people will learn!”

As our conversation came to a close, Seelig recited a Thoreau quote about civil disobedience that still lingers in my head: “It is not necessary for a man to do everything, but a man must do something.” Seelig reiterated that something is “…what you can. It doesn’t mean you alone can solve the problem, but you must do what you can do. You absolutely must, it is your obligation as a citizen, as a human being. It takes many people’s gifts and skills to do this, but it is important.” Through her work both in and out of the classroom, Seelig aims to continue to empower and engage those around her. “The challenge is how to spread awareness and provide students with information without insisting on one answer. Because it is important that people work through the process and come to their own conclusion.” Yet, Seelig warned, “there are a lot of things that people won’t know about if we don’t provide avenues for their exploration.” Sharon Seelig is one professor at Smith who is certainly providing some of those avenues.

-Hanna Mogensen, ’14

The Land of Chocolate, Fries, and… Environmentalism? Thoughts on Environmental Differences Between Northern Europe & the US

21 Feb
“Donc les Américains s’occupe de l’environnement maintenant?” (So, Americans care about the  environment now?) my Belgian friend’s father dryly asked me when I told him that I was very involved in environmental issues at my college in the U.S. The embarrassment and inexplicable desire to protest criticisms of the United States when asked a question such as this one is a sentiment that I, and many Americans abroad, are all too familiar with. I tried to explain to him while it’s true that we unfortunately have an infrastructure and lifestyle that does not favor green living, and there are a myriad of issues with our consumption and policy, there is also a magnificently growing environmental movement that more and more people are being inspired by every day. We soon moved on to other topics of conversation that engaged the entire room, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the manner in which he so condescendingly responded to my description of the efforts that Smith and other American institutions have been making. Indeed, there are stark differences in the manner in which Europeans and Americans regard the environment and issues surrounding it, differences that portray the United States in a pretty unfortunate light. But are these portrayals correct? Is Europe really “better” than the U.S.?

The simple answer is yes. A person’s carbon footprint is on average lower in Europe simply by living there. First off, their towns and cities are much closer together than those in the United States, so people do not have to travel the same kinds of distances that we do in the U.S. Gasoline is also much more expensive there, costing the equivalent of about $8 per gallon, and in some places as much as around $10 (4). This cost, in itself, makes people more likely to use public transport. In addition, public transportation -particularly trains- are commonly used because they are relatively inexpensive and widely accessible. In Belgium, for example, a city, town, or even village without a train station is basically unheard of. In many places in Europe, particularly Northern Belgium, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia, biking is the most common mode of  travel for short distances. In these countries, cities and towns are built to accommodate biking. Houses also tend to be much more efficient, many built “up” rather than “out”. The average carbon footprint in the EU is less than half the size of that of a North American. (U.S.: 19.74, Belgium: 10.88, France: 6.5*, The Netherlands: 10.5, Denmark: 9.8, Germany: 10.2) (1) This is not to say that Europe is without faults on the environmental front, however. These countries, often glorified for their environmental stewardship, still have a lot of work to do.

The EU can often “hide” its carbon emissions because they are not being emitted in Europe. The large population and demand for high-energy food (imported goods, animal products), particularly in Northern Europe, makes the carbon footprint of these countries skyrocket. For example, when the amount of international cropland necessary to feed the Belgian population is counted, Belgium becomes one of the ten countries with the largest environmental footprint. (2) Convincing anyone who is a heavy meat eater to switch to a less carbon intensive, plant based diet is difficult. Asking Northern Europeans to give up their charcuterie, cheese, and imported delicacies? It would be easier to get a wild tiger to be vegetarian. As with the U.S., most of the goods used in Europe are produced overseas. The pollution that goes into making goods sent to Europe are not generally calculated into their carbon footprints. Europeans buy just as many clothes, tools, office supplies, electronics, and beauty products as we do.

1623755_10151938730901270_1400589827_n                             An entire store dedicated to (energy intensive) cheese.

Europe is, however, in a better position to adapt to an environmentally friendly infrastructure than the United States. While one reason is that the infrastructure they have in place is already much greener, an even larger one is the mentality of most Northern European countries. My friend, who has family in Denmark and frequently travels there, told me an interesting story about the first time she saw a theater piece in Copenhagen. When the piece ended, everyone began to clap. She clapped along with them, as she normally would, but after a few seconds of clapping she began to notice something. Everyone in the theater had started to clap in unison. Everyone’s hands were coming together at the same time, increasing in speed and intensity together, and eventually fading out in unison as well. She said it was one of the strangest things she had ever experienced. It was not just the theater- it is how people clap in Denmark. Though I never experienced it in Belgium, it is apparently common in other European countries as well. I don’t know if there is any true correlation between this cultural trait and a general group mentality, but it is true that in Europe both individuals and governments are much more focused on the collective than here in the United States. This norm of communal thinking bodes extremely well for tackling challenging environmental issues, where group cooperation is key. Americans are generally much more focused on personal freedoms and the right to give as little as possible to others, all while driving a gigantic truck. Our overarching, culturally perpetuated notion that the solution to any problem is to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and strive for individual success is a backwards and harmful approach to this global crisis. Not everyone is stuck in this mindset, however. As I previously said, the U.S. has been making great strides in many cities: small-scale farming is taking off, there are huge green initiatives gaining strength every day, and people are generally becoming more environmentally conscious. It does, however, make large-scale environmental policy more complicated and arduous. It is simply much easier to make significant policy changes in smaller, more socialist countries.

Another difference that I have noticed in the past few years is that it seems as though Americans like to make a big deal of things: instead of quietly changing infrastructure and policy because we know that it is the best decision for our future, we feel the inexplicable desire to broadcast the “incredible changes” we are making (no matter how small). This is especially apparent in the manner in which universities, organizations, businesses, and even individuals treat the process of “going green”. While many European institutions will simply make changes because they know it’s the right choice, and will only share those changes with the public by minimal advertising or via an information page about environmental efforts, a similar institution in the U.S. will do all of that plus an educational campaign and a party. The United States does not do anything quietly, a quality that makes us appear rather juvenile to our European counterparts. As I attempt to explain to my Belgian friends that there is an incredible fossil fuel divestment campaign that is sweeping the country, that everyday there are grassroots organizations gaining strength, and that the government and universities often financially support efforts for people to study environmental issues, I know that momentarily I will hear the retort that will silence all of these nice efforts: “yet you still can’t seem to sign the Kyoto Protocol”. Sorry, America, no amount of student organizations and creative advertising can get you out of that one.

Of course, both continents have an incredible amount of work to do, as we are responsible for having disproportionately destroyed and consumed the resources of this planet for the past few centuries. I truly believe that what we need is a combination of American spunk and European ethic. Many American citizens have a youthful, excited appetite for change that does not exist in the same way in Europe. In Europe, however, the government has the dedication and realistic outlook to make actual change. For example, Germany, which currently gets 23% of their electricity from renewable sources is moving toward the goal of 80% renewable energy by 2050. The original plan had been fairly reliant on nuclear energy, but after the nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel immediately made changes in the country’s energy plan. As Peter Almaier, the federal minister for the environment, nature conservation, and nuclear safety said, “We are changing profoundly and completely a structure that has developed over  150 years”. (5) I would say that the United States needs a bit more of this diligent attitude. As is the case with many issues, there are problems to be solved everywhere and there is no single right answer. I personally hope that in the coming years the United States will take a few hints from European environmental policy and make necessary changes. For this to be possible, we will have to move beyond environmental responsibility for show and towards environmental responsibility for survival; we have no choice.

*France has much lower emissions because the majority of their electricity comes from nuclear energy

– Savannah Holden, ’16

Sources:

1: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/environment/air_co2_emissions.htm

2: http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/sustainable-earth/pictures-ten-countries-with-the-biggest-footprints/#/rio-20-united-nations-country-footprints-
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3: http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2013/11/2012s-carbon-emissions-in-five-graphs/

4: http://www.ibtimes.com/gas-prices-pump-europeans-pay-almost-twice-much-us-residents-1322727

5: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-11-14/2014-outlook-germanys-green-energy-switch

The Good Life Lab: A powerful message on life, stuff, and true sustainability

7 Oct

In late September, students at Smith College were blessed with a lesson in the environmental, physical, and emotional impacts of stuff, and our insatiable desire for more of it. Wendy Tremayne, author of The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living, and her partner, Mikey Sklar, gave an hour and a half long talk about their adventure from one extreme lifestyle to another, and the incredible lessons that we can all learn from their change. In 2006, they both left their high profile, high stress, and highly taxing careers in marketing and on Wall Street, sold (almost) everything, and bought a piece of land in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Their goals were to decommodify (commodify: treat as a commodity, commercialization) their lives, reconnect with nature, use their skills (and acquire more) to make what they need rather than buy it, and live an abundant life.

They succeeded phenomenally. In a couple of years, they had built a sustainable home, were growing about 50% of their food (and were making just about all of it), had learned dozens of new skills, and were living a more relaxed, interesting, secure, exciting, and abundant life then before – on under 30,000 dollars a year. The Good Life Lab includes everything from lessons on how staggeringly unsustainable the current “ideal lifestyle” is to step by step directions on how to make your own biofuel. It serves as both an exciting story to spark interest and inspire a new way of looking at the world, as well as a guidebook on how to embark on a making versus buying lifestyle.

   

One of the most inspiring things I took away from this talk (and perusal of the book afterwards) is how irrevocably intermingled human sustainability is with the sustainability of the earth. When Wendy and Mikey decided to dive in head first and live a decommodified life, they were not only switching to a much greener way of life with a much smaller carbon footprint, but they were allowing their own lifestyle to be just as sustainable and kind on a personal level. In a developed world that is afflicted with all kinds of chronic illnesses, cancers, anxieties, loneliness, and more, yet full of items to buy to supposedly fill those holes, it is no wonder that many people feel rushed, stressed, and uneasy. As the planet suffers from our continual need of commodified goods and an ever-growing GDP, we are also suffering. As Wendy said in an interview ”We go to work to earn money to buy back the world that we already own”, and this work, which for many people is both stressful and draining, makes it necessary to purchase instead of create our livelihood.

One of the most reassuring stories that Wendy had to tell was that of her experience during the market crash in 2008. She and Mikey moved out of New York City and took their money out of the stock market (which everyone was telling them was a terrible idea) right before the crash. They were fully entrenched in the decommodified life by the time the severe repercussions hit a most of the nation. As it turns out, they were not affected at all by the economic downturn, nor were the rest of their neighbors living a similar lifestyle. Life in Truth or Consequences, with a strong local economy that was largely trade based, continued on normally. When living outside of the “system”, YOU determine your well-being and livelihood,  not the businesses on Wall Street. What is more secure than that?

I recommend Wendy’s book to anyone who feels as if they are craving a change in their day-to-day hum drums of life (or anyone who would like to learn how to fashion a fire breathing  trampoline). This book is a message to remember ourselves, our skills, what is truly important to us, and how we want to experience our short time on this earth. It is a message to take care of the planet while taking care of ourselves. If that is not the definition of true sustainability, I’m not sure what is.

-Savannah Holden, ’16

Savannah Holden is a sophomore and prospective Government major, economics minor, and sustainable food concentrator. She is loving her new job as a CEEDS intern, and tries to spend as much time as possible reading, cooking, being active outside- all while figuring out how to travel more!

Bright Ideas: Spotlight on Monique Gagne

16 Mar

As a CEEDS intern, one of my favorite topics to blog about is students focused on the environment. It is always interesting to see how they have woven their passion for the environment into their liberal arts education. Lucky for me, this campus is filled with confident, conscious women who are well on their way to changing the world. I met Monique Gagne, ’13 on my recent trip to Washington, D.C. and was impressed by her activism and dedication to environmental challenges like stopping the expansion of the Keystone XL Pipeline. She is not shy about standing up for the environment. On the trip to D.C. she was also one of a small faction of traditional-age students, or “trads” as we Adas call them, that went out of her way to make me feel comfortable, as I didn’t really know any of the students on the excursion. I liked her immediately.

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As we talked about what fuels her passion for the environment, I learned that Monique is a former intern for the Office of Environmental Sustainability, also located here in CEEDS. Having that in common, her interview became more of a conversation. It was wonderful to chat about her experiences and how she plans on continuing to link her past, present and future to address the looming environmental concerns that face this planet.

Monique is an engineering major with a minor in landscape studies. As she began taking classes at Smith, she realized that the environmental engineering track was the one that appealed to her the most. She focused on the petroleum industry early in her studies, but was intrigued by advanced topics in water quality.  She began to delve deeper into the issue of water quality and the concerns that are certain to arise when water becomes scarce. Monique followed her new-found interest into a PRAXIS funded internship this past summer, which allowed her to work with sustainable water systems.

Ms. Gagne has already secured employment at Lutron Electronics after she graduates this year. This innovative company has been on the forefront of sustainability by using smart technology to save energy. The dimmers that Lutron creates use daylight to determine just how much light is necessary in a space. This simple element lowers energy consumption, which is a central step to creating energy efficient spaces. As we were talking, Monique pointed out Lutron technology in the lighting system above us in the Campus Center. Their energy-saving products are also in some of the other high performance buildings on campus, like Ford Hall. Monique will be able to use the know-how and environmental awareness she learned here to carry into her life after Smith.

How has her liberal arts education prepared her for her future? Monique noted that because of her Smith education she can no longer see the world through just an engineering or a landscape lens. Instead, she sees the nature of the world as multidisciplinary, which allows her to be creative as she seeks to effectively engage environmental issues– and life.  It is comforting to know that there are students like Monique here at Smith who care about the fate of the environment and who are thinking about what happens to the next generation as well.

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– Liz Wright, ‘AC

Life after the blue (recycling) bin: a visit to the SMURF

7 Feb

During January I visited the Springfield Municipal Recycling Facility (SMURF) as part of the Five-College Environmental Leadership Workshop.  This facility accepts materials for recycling from several municipalities and schools in Western Massachusetts, including Smith College. They use a dual-stream system, which means that they only take pre-sorted items in two categories- in this case, paper and plastic.

ImageThis is where the trucks dump their loads of plastic. Trackers are then used to push the bottles through a small hole onto a conveyor belt to start the sorting process by color and number.

This video clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZBwdTApgR4) shows the beginning steps of the plastic recycling process. Take home message? Don’t include plastic bags with your recyclable plastic containers! (Local stores like Stop and Shop will accept plastic shopping bags for recycling.)

ImageThe sorted plastics are packaged into bales to make it easier to weigh and transport them.

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Paper waiting to be transported to a local paper mill where it will be mixed into their production line.

As we walked through the paper storage area a truck came in to unload. This video clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mAuPb6tiRY) shows the vehicle unloading about two tons worth of paper and cardboard. The SMURF receives several such truckloads every day.

-Stefanie Cervantes, ’13

Blue Sky Initiative Meets Olmsted

22 Jan

About a year ago, the Five-Colleges (University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Hampshire, Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges) decided to think about ways to make all the schools more sustainable- individually and collectively. Last summer, hundreds of ideas generated by campus community members as part of the Blue Sky Initiative were tossed around, separated into different areas, and a shorter list of finalists was decided upon for further review. As a CEEDS intern, I was asked to look at that shorter list and choose one that interested me. I have always been interested in sustainable land use and so was immediately drawn to the Sustainable Landscapes Project. Fellow CEEDS intern Renee R. and I read over the proposal and started brainstorming ways that this initiative could be implemented on the Smith campus.

One of the unique things about the Smith landscape is that it was designed in 1893 by renowned landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted. Olmsted also designed Central Park in New York City, Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” and many other well known National Parks here in the U.S.  The Smith landscape is typical of Olmsted, and incorporates his principle of highlighting the natural landscape and incorporating this natural beauty into the built environment. With the help of the Botanic Garden and Arboretum, changes to the campus have been made, as much as possible, in keeping with that original Olmstedian vision.

In 1995, the College issued a landscape mission statement. It reads:

” The Smith College landscape is a constructed environment. When we are careful, it is artful; and if we are thoughtful, it will be shaped by an ideal vision. An ideal landscape composition cannot be created whole; once created it cannot be maintained is static form. It changes in response to the requirements of the people who inhabit it. College campuses are ordinarily designed with an unusual intentionality. Smith College’s campus adds to usefulness and beauty a commitment to use the landscape as an integral part of the educational mission.”

This statement was the basis for the development of the Landscape Master Plan that was released in 1996. This Master Plan outlined the importance of keeping the Olmstedian principles ingrained in Smith’s landscape design. Renee and I took the above principles and those from Blue Sky’s Sustainable Landscape Initiative to create a new, contemporary mission statement for this new project.

“The goal of the project is to identify and convert underused and ecologically/economically costly spaces into more sustainable, cost-effective social areas. Currently, these are maintained lawns that serve no purpose for aesthetic enjoyment or education engagement. Parts of the campus landscape have not evolved with the current green mission of the College, and this project aims to rectify that while maintaining the original Olmstedian ideals of integrated natural landscapes and continual utility. The Sustainable Landscape Project provides the opportunity to integrate the campus into the educational experience. ”

With this new mission in mind we started to look at possible areas for conversion. We discovered that in the 1996 Master Plan, the space in front of Neilson Library was supposed to be developed as an outdoor social area. Why the idea was dropped is unknown, but since this area is currently planted in grass and not used by students it seems perfect for conversion!

As of right now, we have many ideas for how to transition our landscape to one which is less resource intensive to maintain and which incorporates more formal and informal “learning moments.” Our ideas include outdoor sitting areas, native and edible plantings, and engagement of different academic departments.  For now we will continue to gather more information and connect with others who might help with this project in the hopes that when President Christ and the Five College Board of Directors meet later this spring this project is one of the initiatives they choose to move forward on.
– Stefanie Cervantes, ’13olmstedplan