Archive | Sustainability RSS feed for this archive

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 fueleconomy.gov, 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.

Sources:

Fuel Freedom

U.S. Department of Energy

Originally posted on the Towson Goes Green blog.

Leave a Comment

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!

Leave a Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

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.

Source: http://www.dosomething.org/actnow/tipsandtools/11-facts-about-recycling

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.

Leave a Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

It’s Easy Being Green

by Eric VanLieshout

Fall term is about to commence, and again Towson University is gearing up for another academic year. Towson Goes Green is no exception, preparing TU’s greenest year yet! This year’s theme, “It’s easy being green,” aims to really drive home the truth that sustainability isn’t a deracinating paradigm shift despite its extensive plans for a (gasp!) better world.

Truth be told, self-sustaining buildings and cities envisioned by environmental visionaries seem daunting, if not intimidating, in their creation and implication. Dream big, right? But don’t disparage the present – the here and now.

The new LEED gold certified CLA building is an elegant fusion of technology and nature, not unlike sci-fi eco-future concepts. The technology in the building entails sensors to regulate lighting and Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning (HVAC) needs based on the building’s occupancy at any given time; there are also computer systems installed in classrooms to alleviate waste related to paper and course materials.

Nature works to cut down on the building’s energy consumption via rooftop vegetation, large windows and specially insulated floors, all of which work to regulate the internal climate and lighting. The windows allow the sun to warm and light the building, while the vegetation and floors temper the natural temperature ranges inside the building day and night, summer through winter. Similarly, the West Village Commons is also LEED gold certified and implements the same eco-technologies, and all future buildings will meet, at a minimum, LEED silver standards.  A big effort up-front that will provide immediate as well as long term benefits with only minimal up-keep.

These facilities greatly alleviate TU’s carbon-footprint, which makes the individual efforts of faculty, staff and students even more effective! Towson’s Go Green initiative compliments this efficiency by working hard to make it easy to be green. The RecycAll program employs over 3,500 recycling containers on campus, so you are never hard-pressed to find one; the results speak for themselves with over 8,000 tons of material recycled in 2011.

Trayless Tuesdays conserve the resources required to clean a day’s worth of cafeteria trays, saving not only water, but reducing the amount of cleaning products used by TU. Fun events like RecycleMania and Earth Month provide a fun and social way for faculty, staff and students to get involved in and educated about Towson’s Green Initiative. For the green-thumb in need of a garden, TU tends its own vegetable garden on campus.

October plays host to our annual Sustainability Day, and it’s not just for students. Towson needs everyone to get involved, in any capacity. Begin setting personal recycling goals, or creating a plan to consume less at work or in class. If you are interested in working with Go Green or becoming part of the coordinating effort, check out the Go Green page. Remember, it’s easy being green, unless you are a frog.

Leave a Comment

Energy Paradigms

By Dennis Bohlayer

As a young engineer, I was exposed to a training film on creativity and “thinking outside the box.”  The film introduced the word “paradigm” in the context of how an individual uses his set of experiences, beliefs and values in his perception of how things should be.  The illustration used was the bicycle seat.

At that time, I only knew of one style of bicycle seat—the one piece, full butt-sized version, pictured below, whose design followed that of horse saddles.  This was my paradigm as to how all bicycle seats should look like.  Then the film went on to show a different version of the bicycle seat similar to that shown below: a bicycle seat consisting of two separate pieces, each supporting a single buttock.  Wow, I thought.  Why not?  In fact, the “improved” version made a lot more sense.  And so, I had just experienced a paradigm shift. 

The "classic" bicycle seat (left) and "improved" bicycle seat (right)

We all have our own individual paradigms; we just aren’t cognitively aware of them. 

Likewise, we associate with our job responsibilities here at the university with certain paradigms as to how things should be.  But is it possible that these preconceptions are quite limiting, perhaps formed by our knowledge and experiences of long ago, and need to be challenged?  Are we open to the thought that things don’t always have to remain the same in terms of policies, standards, and the like?  Are paradigm shifts in our work environment possible? 

Consider our campus energy use.  With our real-time electrical metering capability, we have the means to observe our instantaneous electrical demand over time.  Shown below is a typical trend graph of our electrical demand over eight days with its customary pattern of wave crests and troughs. 

Campus Electrical Demand Trend Graph

Note how the weekend days of Saturday and Sunday stand out with their lower electrical demands.  While the crest of the wave (which represents our maximum demand for that particular day) is of interest, it is also the troughs that occur in the 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. timeframe that also deserve our attention.  Why are these troughs so high in the wee hours of the morning?  What is happening at that time of the night that keeps our demand so high?

Well, there are the obvious reasons:  student housing, exterior lighting, housekeeping activities, refrigeration, heating and air conditioning systems, etc.  But if we start digging deeper to understand this usage we may encounter some interesting uses, abuses and misuses, and find some opportunities to reduce energy consumption.

One such opportunity is lighting.  Just a few months ago, we replaced the lighting in our parking garages with much more efficient LED lighting, practicing good energy stewardship.  Each fixture has an occupancy sensor capability that when detecting motion raises the light level from low to high for fifteen minutes before returning back to low again. 

What if the “low” was really “off” so that the parking garages would be dark (and at their most energy conservative state) unless activated by someone or something in motion?  Wouldn’t this make sense?  I think it does…..but I also expect that there are others out there that have their own paradigm which has an opposing view. 

Another example is emergency lighting.  Years ago, it was the practice to separate out certain lighting fixtures as emergency lights wired to a separate emergency power circuit.  These lights could not be turned off at a local switch and hence were “always on.” Recently, a new product emerged, named a Generator Transfer Device (or GTD), that can be installed locally in the light fixture itself that will perform this switching function.  With this device, light fixtures connected to emergency power circuits can actually stay off during unoccupied non-emergency periods.  With the thousands of emergency lights across the campus and their long hours of run-time, a significant saving opportunity exists.  But implementation will only happen if others accepted a paradigm shift with respect to emergency lighting not being always on.

What do you think? I welcome your opinion in the comments section.

Leave a Comment
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.