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.

Environmental Month: Strong Finish to a ‘Sustainable UConn’ Year

With another busy spring semester now behind us, let’s look back at the sustainability events of April, the last full month of the semester, also known as “Environmental Month” here at UConn and elsewhere across the country.

UConn organized and hosted a series of events throughout April for the second annual installment of Climate Impact Mitigation and Adaptation (CIMA) programming. CIMA 2 adopted a more grassroots, education-oriented approach than its predecessor last year, while strengthening its collaborative and interdisciplinary message.

An Environmental Teach-In highlighted the educational aspect of CIMA 2. Faculty members were asked to dedicate a class period during the week April 15-22 to the theme of climate change, or more broadly, the environment, from the perspective of their discipline. Nearly 40 faculty members signed up, spanning an even greater number of classes. To facilitate classroom instruction and dialogue, organizers filled the CIMA 2 website with pages of reference materials and presentations.

Other events before and after the Teach-In helped reinforce the ideals of CIMA 2. Some of these events, such as the screening of a documentary “The Island President,” at both the Storrs and the Avery Point campuses, were arranged by the CIMA 2 organizing committee, while others were independently planned yet fit perfectly with the schedule and overall theme. These included lectures in the Teale and Coastal Perspectives Series, as well as a return speaking engagement for popular 2012 Teale Speaker, Naomi Oreskes, this time sponsored by the Human Rights Institute. A well-attended Town of Mansfield seminar featured presentations on the effects of climate change by top scientists at the Nature Conservancy, followed by a panel of local officials and experts.

Earth Day Spring Fling drew nearly 2,000 students, colleagues, and friends.

Earth Day Spring Fling on April 18 drew nearly 2,000 students, colleagues, and friends.

UConn’s annual sneaker recycling program combined with a student-organized 'Kicks for Africa' organization (members pictured during the Spring Fling) that will send 1,000 pairs of lightly-used shoes to Uganda.

UConn’s annual sneaker recycling program combined with a student-organized ‘Kicks for Africa’ organization that will send 1,000 pairs of lightly-used shoes to Uganda.

Of course, the annual celebration of Earth Day in the U.S. occurs on April 22, and each spring, UConn turns out its largest environmental outreach festival known as Earth Day Spring Fling. The celebration features a multitude of student groups and campus departments, as well as eco-friendly vendors/exhibitors who set up their displays at tables, tents, and booths along Fairfield Way, in the heart of campus. This year’s Earth Day Spring Fling was held on April 18,and despite the sun and warmth quickly giving way to clouds and a chilly wind, it didn’t deter nearly 2,000 students, colleagues, and friends from visiting with exhibitors or grabbing a quick bite to eat. Dining Services/Local Routes served delicious local food, including vegetarian and vegan options, on reusable dishware to help ensure a low-waste event.

Products supporting sustainability.

Products supporting sustainability.

Posters about environmental initiatives.

Posters about environmental initiatives.

In keeping with the Environmental Month theme, EcoHusky students and the EcoHouse Learning Community sponsored some healthy, outdoor campus activities on successive Sundays in April. Over the past few years, the EcoHusky Student Group has made caretaking of the Hillside Environmental Education Park a biannual activity. The 64-acre conservation area, adjacent to the C-Lot on the North Campus, can get overgrown at times, especially with invasive plants like autumn olive and bittersweet. On April 14, with tools borrowed from Facilities Operations, 15 dedicated EcoHuskies cleared weeds, brush, fallen logs, and branches, and picked up litter. They even discovered a section of boardwalk that had been washed about 100 feet downstream of a wetlands area and returned it to its rightful place.

Ecohusky volunteers reinstalling the boardwalk at the Hillside Environmental Education Park.

EcoHusky volunteers reinstalling the boardwalk at the Hillside Environmental Education Park.

On the following weekends, students found other ways to commune with nature. The annual EcoHusky 5K on April 21 and inaugural UConn Cycles Bike Ride on April 28 gave participants from the UConn community and beyond not only a good workout, but also scenic views of Horsebarn Hill, the Fenton tract of the UConn Forest, and other parts of campus along their designated routes.

LEED Gold-certified McMahon Dining Hall won a first place Power of Change Award for energy efficiency

LEED Gold-certified McMahon Dining Hall won a first place Power of Change Award for energy efficiency.

Last but not least, April began with notification that UConn’s LEED Gold-certified McMahon Dining Hall Renovation project won first place honors for the Most Energy-Efficient Building as part of the Power of Change Awards, which were co-sponsored by a combination of three state agencies and three non-profit organizations. UConn representatives received the award at a ceremony held at the State Capitol on April 9.

April was indeed a strong environmental finish to UConn’s academic year, just as this post is hopefully a strong finish to the bi-monthly Sustainable UConn blog that began late last summer. Thanks to our readers for your interest and comments over the past year.

We’ll transition to a less frequent publication in UConn Today with articles several times a semester in a variety of different formats. Whatever the format, we’ll still focus on UConn’s campus sustainability events, activities, and issues. Until we write again, for the EcoHusky in all of us, remember to “go green and stay blue!”