Sustainable UConn

By Rich Miller

How our values about the environment, clean energy, and social responsibility are greening the Husky Blue. Rich Miller is director of the Office of Environmental Policy.

Tapping the Brakes on the Way to the Climate Cliff

My last post to this blog talked about the sprint to the “climate cliff,” and focused on 350.org’s latest advocacy campaign calling for divestment by higher education endowments in fossil fuel industry stocks. However, when I asked my colleagues on the Green Campus listserv whether divestiture had gained momentum on their campuses, I learned that it really hadn’t.

Based on my straw poll, and except for a few student-led campaigns, divestiture hasn’t gained much traction with senior administrators or endowment managers at college campuses across the country. Tiny Unity College in Maine has decided to divest, and their president offered a well-reasoned argument for others to follow suit.

Meanwhile, discussion about a carbon tax has been revived at the federal level. Ireland adopted a carbon tax in 2008 and, according to this article in the NY Times, it has delivered results environmentally – through a steady, three-year, 15 percent reduction in carbon emissions – and economically, by delivering revenue to reduce Ireland’s daunting budget deficit. In turn, the tax has apparently gained the support of all major political parties in Ireland, not just its original Green Party proponents.

Tax policy and divestment advocacy aside, as students return to UConn from the long inter-session and holiday break, some may ask, “How can I reduce my personal carbon footprint?” OEP intern Meredith Hillmon, a fourth-semester Environmental Science major, researched the EU’s recent study about individual behavioral change options for reducing carbon emissions. She summarizes the report below.

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A 2012 European Union (EU) study emphasizes the importance of changing behavior to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Recommendations in the study apply to households and individual consumers, and translate as a carbon-reduction roadmap for UConn students. The report focused on GHG emission reduction potentials ranging from driving hybrid or electric cars, to tele-working, virtual meetings, and adopting a vegetarian diet. While purchasing a more eco-friendly vehicle or teleworking may not be immediate options for UConn students, there are still other ways for the EcoHusky in all of us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

In terms of mobility, the EU highlights the use of more fuel-efficient cars, carpooling, sustainable modes of transportation, and reduced travel distance. Watch for new campus parking fee rates next fall that will provide discounts for students who are ridesharing or commuting in fuel-efficient vehicles. Students can also take advantage of UConn’s car-sharing program, operated by Hertz on Demand. For a low hourly rate, a student can rent one of four Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles (ULEVs) stationed around campus.

Another point emphasized by the EU is the importance of being aware of thermostat and ventilation settings. Whenever possible, students should make the effort to reduce the heat in their dorm (or the air conditioning in their apartment) by one or two degrees, and learn the optimized thermostat and ventilation settings for the best heating and cooling efficiency. Water temperature and length of showers can also significantly impact greenhouse gas emissions. When it comes to reducing your carbon footprint, long, hot showers are discouraged.

Switching to a vegetarian diet, or a reduced animal protein diet, is another behavioral change supported by the EU study. Eating more veggies and less meat can be healthier for you and the environment! Red meats have the largest carbon intensity, whereas vegetables and fruits have the lowest carbon intensity. UConn offers plenty of vegetarian, vegan, and locally-grown produce options throughout campus dining facilities, especially at Whitney Dining Hall, making it easy for students to reduce their carbon footprint through diet.

Behavioral changes can produce considerable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The EU has illustrated and ranked several doable, sustainable options, many of which are available to students at UConn. Each of the following makes a significant impact in the long run. By implementing even one of these behavioral changes, you are already reducing your carbon footprint.

*Based on the comparative analysis in the 2012 EU study of the carbon-mitigation potential, through 2050, of various behavioral change strategies. Food estimates based on commercial farms and fisheries.