Archive | Sustainability RSS feed for this archive

U Store changes the publishing game

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In higher education, printing presses have typically been reserved for only the privileged: Cambridge, Harvard, a handful of others. Now, thanks to the Espresso Book Machine, TU professors, students and community members alike can benefit from the cost and time savings of a printing press located smack dab in the middle of the University Store.

TU is the first university in the state to own the unique machine, which prints bound bookstore-quality books quickly and at a low cost. Customers can self-publish their own books, print out-of-print titles, or print bound course packets, all right on campus. Thus it’s no surprise Store Director Stacy Elofir has been vying for the machine for years.

“Book stores are changing, and customers expect access to a wide variety of titles quickly and at competitive prices,” Stacy said. “This machine gives us access to a variety of books without physically having them on the shelves. The Towson University Press undergoes better quality control, is more cost effective and enables textbook money to stay on campus.”

The process is simple and guided by Custom Publishing Coordinator Jeremy Ottley. Customers provide a PDF to Jeremy, who reviews the print measurements to align the cover for layout. Then, with a few clicks of the mouse, the machine is sent to the press where the inside pages and cover are printed simultaneously, bound together by glue, and pressed together while the glue sets. Minutes later, the machine delivers a paperback into Jeremy’s waiting hands for final inspection and delivery. The process is quick—and cost efficient. Customers pay a $35 set-up fee, then a small cost (10 cents or less) per page. Course packets are printed for the cost of materials and copyright fees; out of print books are printed at market value.

To date the press has produced nearly 50 books, the very first of which came via Cataloging Librarian and Copyright Liaison Rick Davis. A student approached Rick in need of a rare 18th century book for an English class. Rick discovered that the book is not available online, and because of its scarcity is not lent out by other universities. Luckily, the owner of the book collection—which would have cost the university tens of thousands of dollars to purchase in hard copy—had made the book available for Espresso Book Machines. In less than 24 hours and at a cost of $25, Rick was able to put this rare find on Cook Library’s shelves.

Other books—both personal and professional—have been printed by students, faculty and community members. With the machine, anyone who can type can print. Stacy and Jeremy are gathering writing, editing and graphic design resources for the campus community to empower potential authors to create and publish works. Their vision is a campus-wide effort to bring creativity to life—all made possible by one unique machine.

Written by Lindsey Morgan

Comments Off

TU’s $2 million check

There was plenty of green to go around this Earth Day. On April 17, TU became Maryland’s first higher education institution to sign the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Better Buildings Challenge, committing the university to reduce energy in campus buildings by 20% by the year 2020. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency Kathleen Hogan shared the news alongside President Maravene Loeschke at a launch event in front of the West Village Commons.

At the same event, Baltimore Gas and Electric Company CEO Calvin Butler presented A&F staff with a check for $1.7 million in energy incentives earned through the company’s Smart Energy Savers Program. The program has helped TU replace or update nearly 35,000 light fixtures and install 10,000 occupancy sensors in 38 buildings, reducing campus lighting energy consumption by more than 25% or $1 million annually.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“We are proud to be at the forefront of initiatives that will positively impact our environment for years to come,” said TU President Maravene Loeschke. “Our participation in the Better Buildings Challenge and Smart Energy Savers program are already helping to improve energy efficiency on campus.”

Other events surrounding Earth Day included the annual Towson Bike Mosey, wherein bikers take to the streets to encourage drivers to share the road, and EarthFest, which featured a range of sustainability information tables as well as earth-conscious games for food and prizes.

See our own A&F employees accepting the big check in the slideshow above!

By Lindsey Morgan and Pamela Gorsuch

Comments Off

10 Tips for Greening Your Commute

By Clara Fang

By Clara Fang

Americans spend an average of 51 minutes per day on their commute, almost all of it in a single occupancy vehicle. During the summer, travel for leisure also makes up a large amount of mileage. Our dependence on cars has made the US the largest oil consumer in the world. 25% of the world’s oil is consumed by the US even though Americans only making up 4% of the world’s population. Too many cars on the road causes congestion, traffic accidents, air pollution, and greenhouse emissions that contribute to climate change. This summer, clean your commute by following these suggestions for alternative transport at TU.

1. Walk. If you are going to a meeting on campus, WALK instead of drive over there. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from one end of campus to the other, the minimal amount of exercise you should get each day. The American Heart Association lists the following benefits of walking 30 minutes a day:

  • Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
  • Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • Improve blood lipid profile
  • Maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity
  • Enhance mental well being
  • Reduce the risk of osteoporosis
  • Reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer
  • Reduce the risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes

If you can commute to campus by walking instead of driving, you can save hundreds of dollars on a TU parking permit. If you sign up for the Alternative Transportation Program at Towson and leave your car at home, you get four free parking passes and reimbursement for a taxi or rental car in the event of an emergency. Go to TU’s Parking &Transportation Service Website for more information.

2. Bike. Did you know that TU has a bike share program? The program is available for staff and as students. You can rent a bike for free for one year from the Office of Campus Recreation Services. Bicycles typically get rented out at the beginning of September and February. Contact Jillian Rogers for more information.

4. Take the TU shuttle. The TU shuttle serves thousands of riders every day. It goes around campus, off-campus to local neighborhoods and apartment complexes, and to downtown Baltimore. The service is entirely free to anyone with a TU ID card! Parking and Transportation Services recently added another route to the off-campus shuttles and added service for mini-mester and summer semester. Leave your car at home and save money on gas and parking! Look up shuttle schedules and routes here.

5. Take advantage of TU’s public transit subsidy. All Towson University faculty and staff are eligible to receive a $25 discount on monthly passes for the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) bus, light rail and subway, as well as the MARC Train. Faculty and Staff are also eligible to purchase transit passes with a pre-tax payroll deduction. Individuals can register for the transit subsidy by submitting a completed Alternative Transportation application form to the Parking and Transportation Services Office. The discounted transit pass can be purchased directly at the Auxiliary Services Business Office (ASBO). Click here for more information. Use the MTA transit planner to find your route.

5. Carpool. Towson University offers a carpooling program which provides incentives to commuter students, faculty and staff who carpool to the university. The Carpool program is designed to allow 2-4 individuals who are driving to campus together at the same time to associate a single permit with multiple vehicles (3 vehicles per person). Individuals who carpool are given four daily parking passes per term and offered a guaranteed ride home when an emergency or last-minute schedule change leaves them without transportation. (Restrictions Apply) See more information here.

3. Switch to a four-day work week. If you are commuting to class, try consolidating your schedule so you reduce the number of days you commute to campus. At work, talk with your boss about switching that 5 day 8 hour work week to a 4 day 10 hour work week. Removing that one day from your schedule will reduce time and energy spent on commuting by 20%.

2. Work from home. TU has a telecommuting policy that allows employees to work from home if it does not interfere with his or her work. If you live far from Towson or have other extenuating circumstances, it may be possible for you to work from home one day a week. Employees need to discuss with their supervisor whether teleworking is an option for him or her. Click here for TU’s teleworking policy: Teleworking 07-06.40.

6. Improve driving habits. Speeding up to a red light or stop sign and consequently slamming on the brakes wastes gas and wears down the break pads and rotors. Poor driving habits can decrease fuel economy between 5 and 33 percent. For a gallon of gas costing $3.12, improving driving habits can save between 16 cents and $1.03 per gallon.

7. Slow down. Cars reach their maximum efficiency at about 60 miles per hour. According to, drivers pay an average of 24 cents more per gallon for every 5mph increment above 60mph. Consider using cruise control (except in very hilly areas) to increase your vehicle’s fuel efficiency.

8. Keep your engine properly tuned. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence indicates that bad spark plugs can decrease fuel economy by up to 30%, and can cost drivers up to about 94 cents per gallon at today’s prices. If a car’s gas mileage suddenly drops, there’s a good chance it’s because of misfiring spark plugs. A faulty oxygen sensor can also reduce fuel economy and a replacement can improve your mileage by as much as 40 percent.

9. Maintain Your tires. Properly inflated tires can improve gas mileage by up to 3.3%. The proper tire pressure for your vehicle is usually found on a sticker in the driver’s side door jamb or the glove box and in your owner’s manual. Do not use the maximum pressure printed on the tire’s sidewall. Misaligned tires create drag and reduce fuel efficiency by as much as 10%. Tires that are not balanced properly can also result in lower gas mileage.

10. Plan trips. If you are traveling a long distance, consider the greenhouse gas emissions as well as convenience. Don’t take a plane if you don’t have to. Take the train, or bus, or carpool. Group destinations along the way and drive during times when you won’t be stuck in traffic. Set a budget on how much you want to spend on travel expenses, and then make goals to reduce. A little bit of planning can save you lots of time and money.


Fuel Freedom

U.S. Department of Energy

Originally posted on the Towson Goes Green blog.

Comments Off

Announcement: Waste Diversion Inventory Completed

Towson University’s Office of Sustainability has just released the TU Waste Diversion Inventory Report, covering the years 2008 through 2012. The report tracks changes in Towson’s waste and recycling generation over the past five years and compares the data with data from other Maryland universities as well as state and national averages.

The report explains the methods used by Towson to measure and track its waste. Additionally, the report concludes with recommendations as to how Towson could improve its waste diversion program. If you want to get involved in Towson’s sustainability efforts, this report has some great information to get you started!

Comments Off

Why I Don’t Like the Word “Sustainability”

by Clara Fang

by Clara Fang

“So, what do you do for a living?”
The question has been asked of me hundreds of times, and more often than not, the answer yields blank stares and further questions.
“I’m a sustainability coordinator at a university.”
This time I am talking to a nurse at an urgent care clinic.
“Oh. Is that where you keep the students from dropping out of school?” She asks casually as she wraps the blood pressure gauge around my arm.

At times like this I am left to ponder how evocative this word sustainability is that everyone uses so liberally but nobody seems to understand. Everything is “sustainable” these days—sustainable tourism, sustainable agriculture, sustainable business and sustainable development. Yet despite its ubiquity, sustainability has become a catch phrase known only to insiders, the same way that cultural critics know heteronormativity. Seriously, try saying sustainability five times in a row. Try fitting it on a conference brochure. No matter how you put it, it’s an awkward and ugly word, meant to deter the layperson.

So why did we start using the word sustainability so much anyway? Environmentalism was born out of the conservation movement, where individuals like John Muir and Aldo Leopold advocated the preservation of wild lands in opposition to development and industrialization. But in the late twentieth century, traditional environmentalism was perceived as elitist and narrow – a movement focused on the preservation of nature at the exclusion of human welfare, including those of indigenous people who have used the lands for ages.

Sustainability, as opposed to environmentalism,  is considered a more inviting and inclusive term because it implies the connection between the environment and the welfare of societies that depend on the environment. The widely cited definition of sustainability from the United Nations, “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” articulates this balance. The emergence of environment, social equity and economic viability as the three pillars of sustainability soon became another widely accepted definition of sustainability. “Sustainable development” is a term meant to reconcile economic growth with conservation. The term says: “we are in favor of development, within certain constraints.” It was meant to not alienate non-environmentalists.

Except it did the opposite.

The word environmentalism is limiting, but it is derived from a word that most people understand. As we all know, the environment refers to nature, our surroundings, ecosystems and the planet in which we live. To be an environmentalist means to be someone who is an advocate for these entities. It is based on an actual object that people can relate to. Sustainability is a concept that is intellectual and abstract, but the word itself is not self-explanatory. And what do you call people who believe in sustainability? Sustainabilitists? Try saying that five times.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines sustainable as “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” It is related to sustenance, “the maintaining of someone or something in life or existence.” When we sustain a medical patient, we don’t mean to heal him; we mean to keep him alive. When we say we want to sustain an institution’s finances, it doesn’t mean to grow it; it means to keep it from falling into debt. How long can people be sustained on polluted air? A long time. They could live for decades with asthma and eventually die from lung cancer, but they are sustained in the meanwhile. How long can the planet sustain global warming? Forever. Seventy percent of the world’s species may become extinct, but there will be enough to sustain life on earth no matter what we do.

In nature, sustainability is not a healthy state of things. A healthy ecosystem is vibrant, thriving, dynamic and creative. In a climax ecosystem, such as a mature rainforest, diverse species find their own niches and the activities of one feed those of another. Human societies are the same way. A healthy human society is defined by the flourishing of human rights, arts and culture. A society that values its natural and human assets doesn’t merely sustain them. It allows each to thrive in its own way. A society that merely sustains itself is in trouble; it is on the verge of collapsing.

Sustainability implies that the goal is to maintain the status quo. But has it been established that the status quo is good? The birth of modern democracy was a systemic change that had nothing to do with making the existing system at the time more sustainable. Many countries have sustainable development as their goal. Development could refer to progress in knowledge, happiness, or social equity, but in most cases, sustainable development refers to economic growth. And who benefits from that growth? Even if it can be sustained indefinitely growth alone does not lead to knowledge, happiness, or social equity. Mark Heiman in his essay “Education for Sustainable Development: Addressing the Oxymoron” writes, “We cannot change our relationship with nature until we change the social relations of production, as the same system that exploits nature also exploits human labor.” Sustainability isn’t necessarily sustainable until we define what it is that we are sustaining.

In George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language”, he advises writers to never use a Latinate word if a plain Anglo-Saxon one will do. He was convinced that people who couch their ideas in flowery, Latinate language are trying to hide something. Sustainability is a Latinate word if there ever was one. It is  technical, abstract and political. You will never hear sustainability in a poem. It will never appear in a pop song. It is not poetic and certainly not inspirational.

Sustainability is a technical requirement, not an aspiration. It dumbs down the value we place on the environment to merely utilitarian ones. But if we want to inspire, motivate and help people envision a better future, we must aspire to something more than sustainability. To merely “sustain” ourselves while the rest of the world is collapsing is not enough. So instead of sustainable, let us be eco-conscious, eco-positive, earth-oriented and environmentally responsible. We are not here to put the needs of nature above those of the people, but to deliver environmental justice, a world where everyone is entitled to the basic necessities of clean air, clean water, fresh food and shelter. Let us leave our children a planet that isn’t just sustainable, but vibrant, flourishing, abundant and life-giving for all.

Leave a Comment

How Much Do We Actually Recycle?

By Clara Fang

You have probably seen the RecycALL bins in the hallways. You may already know that Towson does single-stream recycling, which means that all papers, plastic containers with the numbers 1 through 7 inscribed on the bottom, and metal cans be placed in the same bin. So we’re doing a great job of recycling, right?

Consider these statistics:

  • Last year, Towson generated 4,650 tons of waste, the equivalent of about 1,860 pickup trucks!
  • Approximately 18 percent of that was recycled, or about 335 pickup trucks.
  • 3,777 tons were discarded to the landfill, the equivalent of 540 adult elephants.

These statistics are not as significant as they may seem.  From February 3 – March 30, Towson tracked and reported its recycling and trash generation as part of the Recyclemania competition, a national competition between colleges and universities to encourage recycling.

Towson has been an active participant in Recyclemania since 2009, This year a prize of up to $500 is offered to the Residence Hall that recycles the most. After eight weeks of the competition, Towson placed 217th out of 269 schools, behind Frostburg State University; University of Maryland, College Park; University of Maryland Baltimore County; and Harford Community College. The following chart shows Towson’s recycling rate (18 percent) compared to those of other institutions in Maryland and the national average (30.8 percent).

The results of the Recyclemania competition will be announced on April 12 on the Recyclemania website and through a national press release. Towson will not even be in the first half of those listed.

But the  knowledge from Recyclemania is already generating momentum on campus for change. Signs promoting recycling are being created, recycling  bins are being ordered and the Trash-to-Treasure event, scheduled for Memorial Day weekend, involves donating and selling tons of items left by students that would otherwise end up in the trash. But these activities will not make a dent without the vigilance of the students, faculty and staff who decide what does and doesn’t get recycled at Towson every day.

However,  the university has made major strides toward sustainability in recent years. In addition to single-stream recycling, Towson has instituted electronic recycling in the Residence Halls, as well as battery, light bulb and ink cartridge recycling. All the pre-consumer food waste from dining halls is composted. In addition, Towson recycles a large portion of construction waste, including concrete, asphalt, glass, wood, furniture and carpeting. When the Office of Sustainability invited the community to drop-off electronics for recycling on March 29, more than 80 people showed up and unloaded 2.9 tons of electronics.

Recycling is not just something nice to do; it conserves natural resources, it saves wildlife and it improves human health. But in addition to recycling, we need to think about the impact of our consumption and reduce  the amount of materials that we purchase.

When we drink water out of a container, we save hundreds of plastic water bottles from ever being manufactured (and then recycled). When we take a reusable bag to the grocery store, we prevent plastic bags from trashing the environment and prevent the deaths of turtles and birds. We can buy materials with less packaging, begin composting at home, and reuse what we have. Not only is it good for the environment, it saves money, too.

Recycling is everyone’s responsibility. Can we count on you to help?

Leave a Comment

Charge Your Electric Vehicle on Campus

By Jaslynn Hutley

By Jaslynn Hutley

Electric vehicle charging stations will be available on campus free of cost beginning late spring 2013. In order to contribute to the Go Green Initiative, the University will install over 15 charging stations throughout campus. The charging stations will be available to both TU affiliates and to visitors on campus. All individuals who wish to use the charging stations must have a valid TU parking permit Monday-Thursday 6 a.m. – 8 p.m. and Friday 6 a.m. – 3 p.m. The charging stations will be located in all of the campus garages and in the Administration Building parking lot.

These stations are a part of the ChargePoint network. ChargePoint® is the largest online network of independently owned charging stations operating in more than 14 countries. For electric vehicle (EV) drivers, ChargePoint provides state of the art features, including the ability to locate, reserve and navigate to unoccupied charging stations with online tools and with mobile applications for iPhones and Androids.   For more information about the charging stations’ network and for instructions regarding how to sign up, please visit our webpage.

Comments Off

Everyone wins with LEED Certifications

by Eric VanLieshout

by Eric VanLieshout

Towson University is home to more than 50 buildings, which house the living, working and learning environments of more than 25,000 students, faculty and staff. Such a large campus population and infrastructure can potentially leave a significant carbon footprint, but Towson has taken the President’s Climate Commitment Committee (PCCC) pledge to reduce the campus footprint to zero carbon emissions by 2050. Over the last few years, the university has successfully undertaken a number of projects designed to create more sustainable, environmentally friendly buildings that meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification standards.

In 2007, Towson committed to building all new construction projects to the US Green Building Council’s LEED silver certification standards. As a benchmark for determining the sustainability of campus buildings, LEED provides a framework for identifying and implementing measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. To achieve certification, projects must meet a number of requirements related to sustainability, including measures related to energy usage, water efficiency, waste reduction, indoor air quality and the level of impact on the surrounding landscape.

Two of the newest buildings on campus achieved LEED Gold certification, surpassing the basic requirements of TU’s pledge. The College of Liberal Arts (CLA) and the West Village Commons (WVC) buildings are significant achievements that represent Towson’s dedication to sustainability. Both buildings are replete with high-efficiency HVAC systems, environmentally friendly landscaping, energy efficient lighting and occupancy sensors, recycling facilities and green roofs, among many other features. Furthermore, both buildings were constructed with a significant amount of recycled materials, taken from the older campus buildings that they replaced. But the commitment to sustainability does not end when the dust settles; LEED stipulations extend to the use, maintenance and operation of each completed building. This ensures that LEED certified buildings remain committed to sustainability throughout their lifetimes.

In addition to new buildings and projects, a lot of work has been done to renovate and update the older buildings on campus, many of which were built over 25 years ago. The Energy Services Contractor (ESCO) project saves over $1 million annually in energy costs, which is a financial way of saying that the project significantly reduces the university’s energy consumption by approximately 10 percent. The ESCO lighting project is only one of many retroactive efforts, however. Renovations of campus buildings have been keenly attuned to sustainability,  not simply addressing functional and spacial needs. The renovated administration building recycled 75 percent of the material removed from the existing structure, for example. But there is still more to LEED sustainability than buildings’ materials and systems.

The environment is also a primary consideration in LEED certifications, and Towson has worked to design not only a scenic campus, but a healthy landscape integrating man-made structures and nature. Its new buildings are situated to positively affect the flow of rainwater and help the vegetation on campus flourish.

This accommodation of nature works both ways, too. The CLA and WVC buildings are constructed with large windows and special materials to allow sunlight and the ambient atmosphere to contribute to a comfortable interior climate. Aside from the direct, explicit benefits of this environmental interaction, the LEED consideration for and use of the environment significantly increases the longevity of certified buildings.

LEED certified buildings such as those at Towson University are not gimmicks built to appease current trends. These are forward thinking structures designed to efficiently stand the test of time directly through their sustainability. LEED environmental considerations influence  buildings’ designs, which simplify their operations by implementing low maintenance, high efficiency systems. While the up-front costs may be higher, these buildings are investments, and their projected costs – even considering their longer life span – amount to significant savings for the university. And while monetary savings are important, they are only one facet of the savings of sustainable building practices.

Saving water, energy, materials and labor (which allows the university to invest more time and effort in other endeavors) are stipulations of sustainability that dovetail with the interests of any efficiently run institution. Reducing Towson’s carbon footprint is not just a matter of sustainability and environmental ethics: reducing its carbon footprint entails reducing the carbon it uses. Stated another way, sustainable building practices are part of the fundamental restructuring of University operations designed to reduce  intake, a restructuring that permits a greater output from a smaller input.

Sustainability requires new levels of efficient infrastructure that will allow Towson University to do more with less, and to evolve, to expand and to adapt to the ever-changing future of higher education while using minimal resources with the utmost effectiveness and efficiency. Years from now, the benefits of these LEED buildings will take shape in ways that cannot be guessed at. To guess what the future of higher education holds is difficult, but Towson has shown that it is ready to rise to any challenge.

Comments Off

Recycling: Why It’s More Than Just Trees

By Clara Fang

Towson is currently participating in Recyclemania, a national competition that takes place between February 3 until April 5 among more than 300 colleges and universities to recycle and to reduce waste. American University won 1st place in the Grand Champion category last year by recycling 85 percent of its waste. Towson placed 164th by recycling 24 percent of its waste. Towson’s rival, University of Maryland-College Park, placed 88th by recycling 35 percent of their waste. But why is it important to recycle? Consider these facts:

  1. In 2009, Americans produced enough trash to circle the Earth 24 times.
  2. Over 75 percent of waste is recyclable, but roughly 30 percent is recycled.
  3. We generate 21.5 million tons of food waste each year. That food would reduce the same amount of greenhouse gas as taking 2 million cars off the road if it was composted.
  4. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to listen to a full album on an iPod. Recycling 100 cans could light  a bedroom for two whole weeks.
  5. Recycling aluminum cans saves 95 percent of the energy used to make aluminum cans from new material.
  6. Americans throw away 25,000,000 plastic bottles every hour.
  7. Americans threw away almost 9 million tons of glass in 2009. That could fill enough tractor trailers to stretch from NYC to LA (and back!).
  8. If Americans recycled just one-tenth of their newspapers, about 25 million trees could be saved each year.
  9. The average person in America? generates over 4 pounds of trash every day and generates about 1.5 tons per year.


Waste does not disappear from the Earth when it is thrown away; it still exists and affects the environment.  In fact, so many places in America have run out of space to put their trash that communities are shipping trash overseas. Developed countries often pay impoverished communities in other countries to receive and deal with their waste.. In many cases, waste is shipped overseas to be “processed” by people in developing countries without proper equipment or procedures.

About 70 percent of the world’s annual 500 million tons of electronic waste ends up in China according to a report by China Business News. Workers use their bare hands to dismantle e-waste, or are protected only by gloves and masks. According to a CNC report, “They crack open the electronics and strip away the valuable parts that can be reused, such as gold and silver. Workers are also cooking [burning] circuit boards to remove chips and solders, and burning wires and other plastics to liberate copper.” Burning circuit boards release toxic fumes that can cause cancer and leukemia.

Please recycle. You will not only help the environment, but you will also save lives.

Comments Off

Climate Change: Why it Matters to TU

By Clara Fang

By Clara Fang

More than 600 colleges and universities have signed the American Colleges and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment since 2007, a pledge to eliminate carbon emissions from campus operations by 2050. Also, Towson recently updated its Climate Action Plan, which now describes 63 actions the university will take to reach that goal.

Why is the university doing this?  There are three answers to this question: 2, 350, and 80.

2 degrees.  A few years ago in Copenhagen, the United Nations Convention on Climate Change determined that an increase of 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, from pre-industrial levels is the maximum amount of global warming that could be tolerated. Global temperatures have risen almost 1.2 degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, and scientists assert that we are well on our way to above the 2 degrees Celsius if we continue to burn fossil fuels at our current rate. We have seen devastating impacts around the world from just 1 degree of warming in the last few years. Last year was the hottest year on record in the United States, and nine of the ten hottest years on global record were after 2000.

Warmer temperatures are the cause of the proliferation and the spreading of pests and diseases. Melting glaciers and droughts lead to water shortages in many parts of the world. Agricultural output is threatened, which is a cause for concern considering that the need to feed an expanding population continues to grow. Hurricane Sandy, the drought in the Midwest, and forest fires in California and Colorado are just a few examples of the way that climate change affects all of us.

Why is 2 degrees the limit? Climate change is not a linear process; nature often has tipping points.  Ice and snow melt when the temperature rises above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Warmer ocean waters absorb less carbon dioxide, which in turn leaves more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; this excess gas leads to more warming. Warmer air holds water vapor, which warms the atmosphere even more. The fact that these tipping points exist—and that the effects of going beyond these tipping points cannot be reversed—is terrifying and provides renewed incentive for going green.

350 parts per million is the maximum concentration of carbon dioxide that scientists deem safe to have in the atmosphere.  The carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was around 275 parts per million at the beginning of human civilization. That number has steadily risen and is now at 392 parts per million Last summer the CO2 concentration in the arctic hit 400 parts per million, 50 ppm above the safe limit. We need to move our carbon bank account out of the red, and the fact that we can’t even put a cap on current emissions is a cause for concern.

80 percent is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that must be reduced to stay below the threshold of 350 parts per million and below two degrees Celsius. Yes–that number is correct– 80 percent worldwide. Scientists say that this percentage needs to be reduced by 2050. The United States and other countries have managed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in the past few years, but this reduction is offset by the rise in emissions from countries such as China and India.

In total, global emissions increased 3 percent in 2011 and are expected to jump another 2.6 percent in 2012. The ambitious goals set by Towson’s Climate Commitment are not arbitrary; they are consistent with what scientists tell us is necessary to help reverse the effects of global warming.

Why does higher education need to lead the climate change initiative? As autonomous entities that consume large amounts of natural resources, universities can have a great impact on the environment by reducing emissions from their own operations.

However, the efforts of universities to limit their own contributions to pollution are not the only measure that can be taken to positively impact the environment. Colleges can model change for the rest of society and can utilize their pools of resources to reach and educate the public about going green.

From alternative transportation to energy conservation, many options are available at Towson to help you reduce Towson’s environmental footprint. You can begin by liking our Facebook page, which provides updates of events and tips on being sustainable. You can also subscribe to the weekly Go Green Newsletter to receive updates regarding Towson’s sustainability events and programs.

TU’s Go Green website is a great resource that provides information about what TU is doing to go green and provides options that can help you get involved as soon as possible.

Comments Off

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers