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Rethinking personal transportation in small towns

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Mitigating climate warming is going to require a dramatic decrease in carbon emission from the transportation sector, through a combination of driving less, using public transportation, and, eventually, switching to electric cars powered by a renewable grid.

There are many urban centers with outstanding public transportation options, but let’s face it— It’s often more difficult to find alternatives to driving in smaller towns and suburbs.

Brunswick, Maine (home to Bowdoin College) is no different than most small towns (population 25,000).  Transportation is one of the largest sources of carbon emissions, and the physical dislocation of residential areas, shopping centers, supermarkets, and hospitals makes it difficult to avoid automobile use.  And roads around here are definitely not bike friendly!

This is starting to change as a result of collaborations across institutions from the local to federal levels.

The town just added a new program called Brunswick Explorer, with a fleet of hybrid electric buses that are wheelchair and bike accessible.  The route takes the buses from major residential areas (especially those serving the elderly) to our local supermarkets, hospitals, and shopping malls.

With the extension of the Amtrak Downeaster from Portland to Brunswick in 2012, folks will also be able to travel to Portland and Boston easily by train, especially during rush hour and winter when travel by roads is either a hassle or dangerous.

The Explorer and Downeaster are certainly no silver bullets, but they accomplish a few important goals:

  • The Explorer allows people in much of downtown Brunswick the opportunity to forego driving for simple, routine tasks, especially during winter when walking and biking are treacherous.
  • The hybrid fleet and high-occupancy vehicles will help reduce emissions.
  • Reliable bus service makes it easier for families (who are able) to downsize from two vehicles to one vehicle, with the added benefit/incentive of saving on gas, repairs, taxes, registration, and inspections.
  • At a cost of $1 per ride or $2 for an all-day pass, the Explorer buses provide an important social service to the elderly and other citizens who may not be able to afford cars.
  • It builds transportation resilience in the community, especially for low-income citizens who may find it increasingly expensive to get around the next time gas prices spike.
  • The Downeaster provides a redundant transportation network, which makes long-distance travel easy when there are unexpected travel delays due to weather, construction, or accidents.  It also has the potential to take many cars off the road for the sizable population that commutes daily between Portland and Brunswick.
  • The Explorer bus program provides a model of community collaboration that may be exportable to other towns.
  • Perhaps most importantly, they help break the mindset and habits of routine personal vehicle use.

These are small steps, indeed, but they have the ingredients to be successful:  alternatives to personal vehicle use that are both cheap and convenient, with substantial community buy in.


Photo courtesy of Bowdoin College

Posted in behavior, campus sustainability, energy, race and class, solutions, sustainability, transportation | 1 Comment »

This week’s good ideas in campus sustainability: 3/29/10

Monday, March 29th, 2010

AASHE is showcasing the new American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) 2009 report, which highlights climate leadership in higher education.

The Report includes highlights from 2009; a list of innovative ways schools are applying their Climate Action Plans to areas such as curriculum, transportation, renewable energy, and partnerships within and outside the campus gates; a description of the impact the Commitment has had on the reduction of carbon emissions; information on the Climate Action Plans that have been submitted; a list of resources available to signatory institutions; and the ACUPCC budget. The ACUPCC, launched in early 2007, is currently comprised of 677 schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia – representing nearly six million students and about one third of the US higher education student population.

Link to story

Link to the ACUPCC report (pdf)


More information:  AASHE bulletin 3/29/10

Posted in campus sustainability, higher education, solutions, sustainability | No Comments »

How much is a ton of CO2?

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

One of the challenges of climate literacy is helping folks visualize fossil fuel emissions and their impacts.

Last year, Bowdoin College completed its emissions inventory and climate action plan.  We discovered that the campus emits a total of 24,000 tons of CO2 equivalents each year.   So how much is that really?

One student decided to help illustrate this by creating an art installation, cordoning off a 27-ft x 27-ft x 27-ft cube in the student center with red ribbon.

Now imagine 24,000 of these cubes emanating from a college campus each year.   That helps show the magnitude of the challenge.


Photo courtesy of Bowdoin College

Posted in behavior, campus sustainability, climate change science, communication and framing, energy, higher education | 1 Comment »

This week’s good ideas in campus sustainability: 3/1/10

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

This week’s showcase features Beloit College, Central College, and Iowa State University.  LEED Platinum is not easy to achieve, and it’s even more impressive with projects this large.

1. Beloit College’s Science Center gets LEED Platinum Nod

“The success of our new science center reflects the phenomenal collaboration of creative architects, talented engineers, professional construction firms and the finest faculty and staff who were, and are, committed to the best outcome for our students,” said Beloit College president Scott Bierman. “We are, of course, thrilled to have gotten LEED platinum status; but even more important is that we have a building that works terrifically well­—as well as any I have ever seen—as an integrated set of learning spaces.”

2.  Central receives platinum LEED rating for new building

“This special recognition from the USGBC brings great joy to the whole Central College community and reflects continuing success of our pursuit of a sustainable future as a long-term goal adopted by Central’s board of trustees,” said Central College President David Roe. “The achievement was made possible through the concerted efforts of the professionals on Central’s staff led by Mike Lubberden and a large team of amazing corporate partners including Weitz Corporation as our general contractor, RDG Planning and Design, MEP and Associates, and Pella Corporation.”

3. ISU’s King Pavilion first education building in Iowa to earn LEED Platinum certification

Located on the north side of the College of Design building, the $6.6 million, 23,735 gross-square-foot King Pavilion features a central, two-story “forum” surrounded by instructional studios used by all freshmen in the college, as well as sophomores in architecture, landscape architecture and interior design. “We are delighted to have the King Pavilion receive LEED Platinum certification,” said ISU President Gregory Geoffroy. “The King Pavilion stands as a testament to the commitment that Iowa State University has made to becoming a model ‘green’ university, in our daily operations as well as in our teaching, research and outreach programs.”

For more information:  AASHE bulletin 3/1/10

Posted in campus sustainability, energy, higher education, solutions, sustainability | No Comments »

This week’s good ideas in campus sustainability: 12/14/09

Sunday, December 20th, 2009


This week’s showcase includes Worcester Polytechnic University, the Ohio university system, and Unity College.

(1)  WPI’s East Hall Recognized as a Green ‘Teaching Tool’

This is a model for how green construction should be done—use it as a classroom: has awarded Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s (WPI) East Hall the “Judge’s Choice” honor in its “Building as a Teaching Tool” category. East Hall’s design-and-construction process and sustainable features were recognized as “educational opportunities” for the campus community. As a nominee in the “Building as a Teaching Tool” category, East Hall was judged according to the mindfulness of construction materials, energy, and environment; its design as a learning laboratory; student and community involvement; integration into the coursework; and innovation and creativeness.

(2) University System of Ohio Aims to Make State a Green Workforce Leader

Another great example of public-private-university partnerships to promote green jobs and sustainability:

Chancellor Eric D. Fingerhut today formally announced the establishment of an advisory panel to position Ohio as a national green workforce leader. The Ohio Green Pathways Advisory Panel is charged with developing a comprehensive understanding of green workforce demand, building and expanding relationships with green industry leaders, and identifying strategies to create and expand new green opportunities in Ohio.

“Ohio is already ranked in the top five for clean energy job creation, energy efficiency and environmentally friendly production jobs, and is first in the nation for renewable and advanced energy manufacturing,” said Fingerhut, citing a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts. “The Advisory Panel will ensure that the University System of Ohio advances the state’s economy by leading the way in green education and training programs.”

….”Environmental sustainability will be the primary driver of the new economy,” said Keith Dimoff, executive director of the Ohio Environmental Council. “Ohio Green Pathways will position Ohio to provide business with the skilled workforce necessary to harness the power of this evolving force.”

(3)  Finally, a home that gives more than it takes

There is a lot of green building going on around the world, but few projects actually lead all the way to carbon neutrality.  Here’s one example from Unity College (Maine, USA) of a house that generates more energy than it uses.   These kinds of buildings are what the new business as usual model should look like:

Unity House, as it’s called, recently received an LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the highest achievable green building designation. The house also achieved what Bensonwood architect Randall Walter calls a Net Positive effect, which means the house actually gives energy back to the grid. This is done in part with the use of solar panels.

“On a sunny day, the house is building up a credit, to use at night,” Walter said.

These credits add up, saving money and energy, Walter said.

The home uses a combination of photovoltaic solar panels for generating electricity and a separate solar hot water system, along with some tight and high-tech insulation.

….From Oct. 5, 2008 to Oct. 5, 2009, energy use data shows Unity House produced 6,441 kilowatt hours of electricity while using only 6,430 kwh. The data shows that the cumulative months of overcast conditions and unseasonably cold temperatures in the first three seasons of 2009, considerably dampened solar collection, yet the home’s heat and power production and retention still performed well.


For more information:  AASHE Bulletin 12/14/09

Posted in campus sustainability, energy, higher education, solutions | No Comments »

This week’s good ideas in campus sustainability: 12/7/09

Monday, December 7th, 2009


This week, it’s the University of Oklahoma and Florida Gulf Coast University:

(1) Regulators approve ‘OU Spirit’ wind farm plan

This will be one of the largest wind power projects among universities—44 turbines generating 101 Megawatts.  Eventually, the university hopes to supply all of its electricity by wind.  This is exactly what needs to happen throughout the Great Plains.  Hopefully OU will serve as a model for all other states and  schools in the region.  Maybe we won’t need the Pickens Plan if enough people get on board.

(2) Florida College To Create Green Research Center

Another great example of public, private, and university partners coming together to spur technology, education, and green jobs.

As part of its goal to become a center for renewable energy and green technology research and education, Florida Gulf Coast University has joined the John D. Backe Foundation in a collaborative venture to create Florida Gulf Coast University Innovation Hub, a 1.2 million square-foot, state-of-the-art research and development area.

One of the primary goals of the initiative is to attract businesses and universities with an interest in renewable energy, and spur growth in green jobs, all of which are good for the region, the state and its residents. As more people realize the value of green initiatives and the vital importance of renewable energy, initiatives like the I-Hub and the work that will be conducted at FGCU will play an exciting role in the future growth and prosperity of the region and the state.


For more information:  AASHE Bulletin 12/7/09

Posted in campus sustainability, higher education, sustainability | No Comments »

This week’s good ideas in campus sustainability: 11/30/09

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009


The showcase this week:  Eastern Illinois University and the University of California, Merced.

(1) Honeywell and EIU Bring the Heat with Biomass-Fueled Plant

This is an impressive scaling of biomass energy.  It sounds like it’s about two times the size of the biomass gasification plant at Middlebury.  By displacing 10,000 tons of coal, this will go a long way in helping EIU move towards carbon neutrality (provided that the fuelwood forests are replanted).  However, not everyone is going to be able to do this; otherwise, we’ll end up deforesting all of North America!

Honeywell today announced a $79 million renewable energy and building retrofit program with Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Ill. The program, which combines energy-efficient facility upgrades with one of the largest biomass-fueled heating plants on a university campus, will help EIU address deferred maintenance, improve its infrastructure, and save approximately $140 million in energy and operating costs over the next two decades.

EIU will finance the improvements and use the savings, guaranteed by Honeywell through a 20-year performance contract, to pay for the work. As a result, the program will not place a burden on the university’s budget or require additional taxpayer dollars or student fees.

The upgrades will impact all facilities on the 320-acre campus, and significantly curb the university’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. For example, they will reduce electricity consumption by an estimated 6.2 million kilowatt-hours per year — enough energy to power more than 580 homes annually. Carbon dioxide emissions will also decrease by nearly 20,000 metric tons each year. According to figures from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, this is equivalent to removing more than 3,600 cars from the road.

The focal point of the program is the construction of a new steam plant on the southeast corner of campus that will be driven by two large biomass gasifiers, the first application of this technology in the region. The plant will use wood chips sourced from the local logging industry to generate steam and heat buildings on campus. And it will replace the university’s aging steam plant, which is inconveniently located in the center of campus, consumes more than 10,000 tons of coal per year and requires constant maintenance.

(2) UC Merced Unveils New Solar Power System

This is another ambitious effort.  Hopefully opportunities like this will become commonplace in the next five years as solar panel costs continue to decline.

The University of California, Merced announced today (Nov. 10) the completion of a 1 megawatt solar power system at the campus, marking the university’s inaugural effort to produce clean, renewable energy as the first American research university of the 21st century.

“We are here today to celebrate a remarkable milestone,” said Mary Miller, vice chancellor for administration. “The solar array project exemplifies UC Merced’s founding vision to become an international model for sustainable development and environmental stewardship.”

The system is located on 8.5 acres southeast of the Science & Engineering Building. It consists of 4,900 solar panels that follow the sun’s movement during the day. The system will supply two-thirds of the campus’ electricity on summer days and 20 percent of the campus’ annual electricity needs.

The solar array will provide UC Merced with an abundant source of clean, renewable power. According to conversion formulas provided by The Climate Registry, the system is expected to remove more than 45 million pounds of carbon dioxide over the next 30 years. That is equivalent to the emissions displaced from removing more than 3,600 cars from California’s roads.


For more information: AASHE bulletin 11/30/09

Posted in campus sustainability, higher education, sustainability | 1 Comment »

This week’s good ideas in campus sustainability: 11/23/09

Monday, November 23rd, 2009


Let’s take a look at interesting ideas at the University of Tennessee, the Kresge Foundation, and the University of Notre Dame.


Posted in campus sustainability, higher education | No Comments »

This week’s good ideas in campus sustainability: 11/16/09

Monday, November 16th, 2009


This week’s showcase includes Furman University and Emory University…


Posted in campus sustainability, higher education | No Comments »

A big accomplishment in green design

Saturday, November 14th, 2009


When I taught at Carleton College (Northfield, Minnesota), I watched from across the river as St. Olaf College constructed a new science center.  It is not just another college building; it’s the largest academic facility in the U.S. to receive LEED’s highest rating of platinum.

This past summer, I was back in Minnesota and toured it firsthand.   It’s a great building—very functional but visually stunning.  Congratulations, Oles.  You deserve a lot of credit for setting the bar high.

The real value of this building, in my opinion, is whether St. Olaf can use it as proof of concept for all future construction rather than it becoming the token green building on campus.  That’s when green design becomes a game changer in campus sustainability.


St. Olaf College’s Regents Hall of Natural and Mathematical Sciences has earned platinum certification — the highest rating attainable — from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. The nearly 200,000-square-foot, $63 million building is the largest and most complex academic facility in the nation to earn the prestigious platinum rating.

“Actions speak louder than words,” says St. Olaf President David R. Anderson ’74. “The LEED Platinum designation for Regents Hall demonstrates, once again, St. Olaf’s leadership among American colleges and universities in sustainability practices.”


Photo credit:  Photo courtesy of St. Olaf College

Posted in campus sustainability, higher education, sustainability | No Comments »

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