Thursday, December 3, 2009

Colgate Takes First Swing at RecycleMania

This year, Colgate will compete in our first national RecycleMania competition. Colgate will be ranked in comparison to other participating institutions based on the largest amount of recyclables per capita, the greatest amount of total recyclables, the least amount of trash per capita, and the overall highest recycling rate.

If you are interested in becoming a RecycleManiac, you can contact Colgate's Sustainability Coordinator, John Pumilio (, and I'll add you to the team. We'll meet weekly during the ten weeks of RecycleMania (Jan-Mar) and plan informational events and take action to improve our campus recycling rates!

Paper or Plastic? Neither!

Which is more environmentally friendly: paper bags or plastic bags?

Inherently, you might assume that paper is better because it is made of wood which can be renewable and can breakdown into benign substances. However, material consumption, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions are all higher when we use paper bags instead of plastic bags. We also know that plastic is made from fossil fuels and is a harmful and persistent pollutant to our environment. In short, plastic bags are nasty.

So, what options do we have? Reusable tote bags offer a good option and is a preferred option! This year, every first year Colgate student received a reusable tote with their class logo along with information regarding the environmental benefits of using their totes over disposable plastic bags.

Click here to see a side-by-side life-cycle comparison of different types of bags. You might be surprised by what you see!

Planet better off if Copenhagen fails?

According to Jim Hansen, who heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the world would be better off if the climate talks in Copenhagen fail.

Hansen is fundamentally opposed to carbon trading. He stated that, "the whole approach is so fundamentally wrong that it is better to reassess the situation." Hansen went on to explain, "This is analogous to the issue of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln or the issue of Nazism faced by Winston Churchill," he said. "On those kind of issues you cannot compromise. You can't say let's reduce slavery, let's find a compromise and reduce it 50 percent or reduce it 40 percent."

What do you think? Is a globally binding agreement that focuses on a cap-and-trade system a half measure? Or, is it our best chance to begin the process of actually reducing emissions?

Click here to read the full Reuters article.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A nickel for your empty water bottle?

On November 8, New York joined ten other states in implementing a nickel deposit on bottled water. Like other deposit programs, New Yorkers will pay an extra nickel at the time of purchase and then be redeemed that nickel when the bottle is returned. The hope is that this new program will help to keep many thousands of plastic water bottles out of the landfill. What do you think? Is this a good program?

Read this Marketplace article to find out more.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Student Research Leading Colgate to a “Greener” Future.

Going “green” isn’t always as easy as putting your can in the recycle bin or flipping off a light switch. Often it is hard. Planning for a sustainable future, for example, can be hard.

Think energy!

Last year, Colgate used 31,000,000 kWh of electricity and over 450,000 gallons of expensive and polluting fuel oil to heat our buildings. That’s unsustainable. We all want to use clean, renewable energy, but what energy choices are most viable? Natural gas? Geothermal? Wind? Solar? Expansion of our wood-chip plant? Investigating the economic, environmental, and social feasibility of these (and other) choices is hard work. Luckily, Environmental Studies students have been up to the task.

For many years now, ENST students have completed research projects looking at sustainability on campus and in our local community. In 2008, for example, ENST 480 students investigated alternative energy solutions for Colgate as their capstone projects. Students researched wind energy, biofuels, energy conservation, and willow biomass. While each of these studies contributed valuable knowledge to sustainability at Colgate, one in particular has become reality: willow biomass!

The students who conducted this research detailed the process and overall cost of how to grow and harvest willow on Colgate land to be used as a source of heat energy on campus. Their research not only showed that growing willow is possible but it makes good sense. They recommended an eight-acre experimental plot on Hamilton Street only one-mile from the main campus.

2008 was also the year that students created the sustainability fund with their senior class gift. Part of that class gift was used to finance the willow plot. By every measure, Colgate’s willow plot is a student-led project – being both researched and financed by student determination.

On May 13 of this year, 60,000 willow cuttings were planted for the first time on Colgate property. If successful, this plot will provide Colgate with over 900 tons of renewable biomass energy over a 20-year period. Most importantly, our success on this small plot can help support our local economy. We are trying to show struggling central New York farmers that planting fast growing willow is a viable option. Locally-grown, renewable energy can be a truly sustainable initiative. See video from the Syracuse Post-Standard.

This year’s ENST 480 students are also focusing on sustainability at Colgate. They are researching geothermal energy, green buildings, electronic recycling, vegetable gardens, and developing a campus-wide climate action plan.

And once again, the class gift of 2010 will be going to fund sustainability. Which of these projects will become reality? Stay tuned…

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Colgate's Greenest Videos Contest - The Results!!!

This year was host to Colgate’s First Annual Greenest Videos Contest. Students and employees created and submitted short videos with an environmental theme. The Colgate community then voted for their favorites.

In total, six videos were submitted by Colgate students of all class years. 140 people voted for their favorite videos. The event culminated at Donovan’s Pub on October 22 (on National Teach-In day). About 70 students showed up for the awards ceremony and to watch the videos with fellow students. Everyone who attended received free pizza and a free organic cotton t-shirt. Though the videos ranged greatly in how informative they were, they all got the message across: going green can be easy, fun, and should be addressed on Colgate’s campus.

This contest will hopefully become an annual event. So get your ideas and videos ready for next year’s Greenest Videos Contest!

In the meantime, be sure to check out this year's videos:


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

National Teach-In : The Day of National Engagement

NATIONAL TEACH-IN on global warming solutions

Read post-event article by Sarah Finn in the Colgate Maroon-News.
Read post-event article by Barbara Brooks to learn more about how the event turned out.

Watch this music video on climate change.

When: October 22 from 11:30am to 1:00pm. Food will be available!
Where: 27 Persson

Join a nine-member Colgate panel as we openly discuss issues of climate change.
This open forum will be focused on "350." 350 parts per million (ppm) is the amount of atmospheric carbon many scientists say we need to be at to prevent the worst impacts of global climate change. We are currently over 380 ppm of atmospheric carbon!

Are humans causing this rise in atmospheric carbon? To what degree? What will the impacts be? What (if anything) can we do about it? Should resources be focused on mitigation strategies or on adaptation?

Bring your questions to the forum! The audience is encouraged to participate.

This year's panel will be facilitated by Sustainability Coordinator, John Pumilio. The panelists include faculty members April Baptiste, Jake Brenner, Adam Burnett, Jason Kawall, Tim McCay, Paul Pinet, Bob Turner, and students Shea Frydenlund '10 and Michael Michonski '12.

Student organizers include: Katelyn Ciolino, Laura Isanuk, Lauren Frisch.

Watch the two-minute video produced by the organizers of National Teach-in.

For additional information, check out these websites:

Any questions contact John Pumilio (; ext 6487) for assistance!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why throw away something that will be on the Earth for at least 1,000 years for 5 minutes of convenience?

What is more environmentally friendly: reusable containers (i.e. coffee mugs, food containers, shopping bags) or disposable ones? The answer seems straightforward, but a more detailed analysis reveals the complexity of our choices.

Let's focus on coffee cups as an example. If your number one concern is reducing landfill waste, then reusable ceramic or stainless steel coffee cups is the way to go. If you are concerned about water use, energy use and global warming then the answer is less straightforward. Assuming you wash your mug after every use, ceramic mugs can use more water per use than it takes to manufacture a Styrofoam or paper cup from scratch. Energy use is even more complex. On average, it takes 70 times more energy to produce a ceramic mug than to manufacture a Styrofoam cup. Making a stainless steel mug is even more energy intensive. Furthermore, if you wash your mug in a dishwasher with hot water then the energy disparity is even worse. It is also good to know how your local energy is produced and where it comes from. Cleaning your reusable mug takes energy, so it is important to know if your energy is clean and renewable or fossil fuel based.

Pound-for-pound, making Styrofoam is also energy intensive. However, Styrofoam is very light so you can produce a lot of individual cups with a relatively small amount of energy. Either way, Styrofoam is polystyrene which is petroleum-based and pretty nasty stuff. Once disposed of, Styrofoam can linger and pollute our environment for centuries.

And what about paper cups? Of course, they are made from trees so it is important to know what trees and how they are managed. Additionally, paper products are heavy and the greenhouse gas emissions to transport them are exponentially more than transporting Styrofoam. Finally, if the paper cups are landfilled instead of recycled then they emit methane (a potent greenhouse gas) as they decompose.

So, is it more environmentally friendly to use a reusable coffee mug? The answer seems to be yes, but I guess it depends on what part of the environment you are most concerned about. For me, it comes down to one basic question, "why would I throw away something that will be on the Earth for at least 1,000 years for five minutes of convenience?"

With that in mind, I prefer reusable mugs. I lessen the ecological footprint associated with this practice by:
  • keeping and using my mug for many years. I still have my first reusable mug from 1993.
  • washing my mug by hand and in cold water
  • using environmentally-friendly phosphate-free soap
When I must use disposable products, I purchase biodegradable/compostable ones.
What do you prefer? Why? Have other ideas, comments, or tips? Please share them!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ideas? ...Comments? ...Suggestions?

Colgate's journey towards a sustainable future is as exciting as it is challenging. New opportunities abound and sometimes we view old practices in a new light. Idea sharing is invaluable. Do you have ideas or suggestions on ways to advance sustainability at Colgate? Think energy use, recycling, waste minimization, transportation, food and dining services. Do you want to share your thoughts with others? Do you observe practices on campus that are not environmentally friendly? Have suggestions for a better way? Please share your thoughts here!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The words reduce, reuse, recycle easily roll off our tongues. But when was the last time we gave these words some thought?

Consider for a moment that these three words are not equal.

Reduce instructs us to reconsider the stuff we eye and buy, but rarely need. Buying less and experiencing more is a good moto for a healthier planet and a happier you. The average product we consume contains only about 5 percent of the resources and energy that went into manufacturing and transporting it. The other 95 percent is waste. We can do a lot to reduce the waste we produce by reducing unnecessary material possessions. Click here to watch the Story of Stuff: a short video on our consumption behaviors and the impact this has on our environment.

Reuse challenges us to consider creative and sensible options for our unwanted goods besides throwing them in the trash. No matter how unique your unwanted items are, you can usually find them a new home. Use Craig's List or E-Bay. Better yet, donate your items to a local organization such as Heritage Farm in Bouckville, Hope House and the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees in Utica, Worn Again clothing shop in Hamilton, and the Community Action Partnership in Morrisville. Additionally, at the end of every academic year, the COVE will pickup your unwanted items through their Salvage program to donate to local charities. Read more about Salvage and watch this video!

One of the simplest and most important things we can do to protect our environment is to recycle. Recycling preserves precious resources, avoids building new landfills, conserves energy, and reduces water pollution, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. At Colgate, take a moment to place your recyclable items (i.e. glass, plastic containers and bottles, metal cans, paper products, cardboard, and electronic waste) in the correct bin. Do you have a recycle bin at home, in your residence hall, or in your office? Does everyone know where it is? Is it properly labeled and frequently used? If not, then it is time to take action! Be a sustainability champion and spearhead your very own recycling campaign. Not sure where or how to begin? Check out these resources:
Have ideas on how Colgate can save resources? ...reduce landfill waste? ...or increase recycling rates? Please share!

The Colgate Recycling Challenge

Do you know where our trash goes? Hint: it never goes away (as in "throw away"). At Colgate, our trash goes to the county landfill in the Town of Lincoln (less than 20 miles from campus). Last year, as a community, Colgate produced about 2,000,000 lbs of landfill trash. This was responsible for over 880 tons of greenhouse gas emissions and cost us nearly $60,000 in tipping fees. Unfortunately, by a conservative estimate, at least 50 percent of our "trash" is actually recyclable. We are optimistic that we can do a lot better this year! A good place to start is with clearly labeled recycling areas and well-placed bins. So, we need standarized, campus-wide recycling signs that are consistent around campus.

A highly visible recycling program will not only save money and protect our environment, it would also leave a positive impression on visitors and other guests who frequently come to our home.

Please download these signs and use at your next event or in your living area, classroom, or office:
*It is recommended that you print these signs using 11 X 17 recycled paper and laminate them for longevity.

Before you label your recycling stations and trash areas, it is important to know how recycling works. It is easy. Every area needs three recycle bins:
  1. plastic/glass/metal cans (including all plastics #1-7, all bottles and cans, plastic milk and water jugs, yogurt containers, laundry soap and detergent bottles, plastic cups, and plastic grocery bags)
  2. paper products (including print and copier paper, newspaper, notebook paper, envelopes, magazines, and catalogues)
  3. cardboard (including pizza boxes, cereal boxes, corrugated cardboard, paper bags, and dry food boxes).
See Colgate's Recycling Flyer for more detailed information.
See Madison County's Recycling Guide for comprehensive recycling information in our county.

Notice that it is not necessary to separate glass from plastic from metal cans. This is accomplished at the recycling station. Paper products do need to be separated from plastic/glass/cans. No one will separate paper from bottles and cans and when they are thrown together they all end up in the landfill - a terrible waste of money, energy and precious resources! The same is true if recyclables end up in the trash bin: no one will reach in and pull them out - again, they will end up in the landfill. Therefore, the take home message is to reduce or eliminate contamination (the mixing of recyclables with trash) in our bins all over campus. This is everybody's responsibility!

What do you think? What ideas do you have for improving our recycling rates on campus?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Enter Colgate's Greenest Videos Contest!

Do you want to be more involved on green activities on campus? Do you also want to become one of Colgate’s celebrities? Then enter Colgate’s Greenest Videos Contest – a contest to educate and inspire sustainable living at Colgate.

It’s really easy to participate. Just get together with a group of friends, choose any environmental issue that Colgate students face, and film a video. Videos must be between 30 seconds to four minutes in length.

Possible topic ideas are: turn off the lights, conserve water, recycle, use reusable water bottles, reduce food waste, switch to energy efficient light bulbs, support local/organic food, turn the heat down, print double- sided, and carpool. If you have any other green ideas, we welcome the creativity!

Once submitted, your video can win prizes in any of the four categories – funniest, most informative, most innovative, and “greenest.” And everyone will receive a small prize for participating.

Submit your video between Monday, September 7, to Friday, October 2. Ready to submit your video? Contact Ray Nardelli in ITS for help (ext. 6793). The videos will be posted online on the portal by Monday, October 5. You have until Friday, October 16 to vote for your favority videos. Vote for winners in each of the four categories!

The contest will culminate in a viewing of all the winning videos. On Thursday, October 22, come join us at Donovan’s pub! Bring all your friends to support your video and see what your classmates have made. There will be free pizza and the first 75 students will receive a free organic t-shirt! If you’ve taken Colgate’s sustainability pledge, you will also be entered in a drawing to win a prize! Click here to take the pledge.

Videos can be as simple or as professional as you want. Use your digital camera or borrow a video camera from the IT desk in Case-Geyer library. ITS can help you edit and transfer the video onto a DVD. View our demonstration video here.

More and more, Colgate is making a commitment to sustainability. From the administration, to academic programming, to student groups, Colgate is taking huge strides to advance sustainability. To jump-start some new initiatives and breathe life into some stale ones, Colgate held the 8th Green Summit in February 2009. One of these initiatives was the Environmental Education group, which aims to educate the Colgate community, especially first-year students, about ways to reduce personal ecological footprints. From this think-tank, the video contest was born.

This contest is open to all students, faculty, and staff. Click here for more information and for the official contest rules.

Help educate and inspire the Colgate community to strive for a more sustainable lifestyle!

Want to take even more action? Visit Colgate’s Green Campus Initiative Website for more information. Or, help Colgate compete in America’s Greenest Campus Challenge!

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Yesterday the Government Accountability Office and the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, released a report recommending that bottled water be labeled with the same level of detail as municipal tap water.
The report supports the efforts of Colgate students who for several years now have been advocating the boycott of bottled water on campus. There are three compelling reasons to support the students:

1) Health. Bottled water is less regulated, and possibly less safe than tap water. In the U.S., public water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which requires multiple daily tests for bacteria and makes results available to the public. The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates bottled water, only requires weekly testing and does not share its findings with the EPA or the public. The government report released yesterday noted the FDA has yet to set standards for DEHP, one of several chemicals known as phthalates that are found in many household products, while the EPA limits the presence of phthalates in tap water. Furthermore, polyethylene terephthalate, PET, is a potential human cancer agent that can leach from the plastic into the water under certain conditions.

2) Environment. Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year. However, the U.S.'s recycling rate for plastic is only 23 percent, which means 38 billion plastic water bottles - more than $1 billion worth of plastic - are contaminating our environment each year. Chris Jordan's famous photos (below) put our consumption rates in perspective.

3) Cost. Tap water on average costs $0.002 per gallon whereas bottled water ranges front $0.89 to $8.26 per gallon. In total, the bottled water industry was worth $16 billion last year.

Next time you host an event on campus consider the health impacts, the environmental impacts, and the unnecessary expense of purchasing bottled water. Advise guests to bring their own refillable bottle or mug. With a little creativity we can all do the right thing and elimate the purchase and use of bottled water on campus.

Monday, July 6, 2009

America's Greenest Campus Competition

Ever wonder what your personal carbon footprint is? Well, Climate Culture has a nifty little online calculator to help you estimate it in about 5 to 10 minutes. It's not perfect science but it'll make you think about a few things and offer suggestions on how you can reduce your footprint.

Oh, did I mention that this is also part of a national competition with cash prizes! While we will not be able to compete with the huge universities signing up 100s or even 1,000s of people we can win the greatest per capita reduction. The Leaderboard will keep track of where we are relative to other schools.

Everyone knows that Colgate has great competitive spirit. Well, I guess it's time to prove it again! It's the right cause to get involved with.

So, here is what you can do: 1) sign up; 2) calculate your carbon footprint; 3) commit to activities that will reduce your footprint; and 4) invite all your colleagues and classmates to sign up. All faculty, staff, and students with a e-mail are eligible (alumni should be soon). It's that simple.

I'm thinking faculty and staff are more committed than Colgate students and it is time you humbled them. :-)

By the time students return in late August, we can have many, many dozens of Colgate employees signed up. Then, if students want to win, they'll have to play catch-up - big time!

Click here to get started.

See your impact on global warming in your customized world, find the best ways to reduce your impact, deck out your avatar, and play a new game, Scrubble, against your friends. Saving the planet has never been so easy, fun and rewarding!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

House Passes Historic Climate Bill

It was close, but on June 25 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a landmark bill that promises to fundamentally change the way we produce and consume energy. In a nutshell, the American Clean Energy and Security Act would put a price on greenhouse gas emissions by forcing major emitters to purchase permits through a national cap-and-trade system. Over time, the cap would be ratcheted down making it prohibitively expensive for major emitters to continue operating well above the cap. For these reasons, the cap-and-trade system is expected to catalyze a shift from carbon intensive fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy supplies. More specifically, the bill mandates that America must cut 2005 level emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and by 83 percent by 2050.

Because energy touches every aspect of our lives, everything could change. While the visionaries offer many different scenarios, it is safe to say that lighting, the design of our homes, cars, agriculture, the way urban centers are designed, building materials, and the way material goods are manufactured are just a few of the things that could be radically different.

As our energy economy undertakes this mammoth transition, each of us will be impacted. According to a recent congressional study, the bill would result in an estimated $175 annual increase for every American household. This is a modest price to pay since most experts agree that the cost of doing nothing will exact a much greater economic, geopolitical, and environmental toll now and every year into the future.

Fortunately, Colgate is better off than most as we prepare for the new energy economy. Over 70 percent of our heating needs are met through locally produced renewable wood-chips and 84 percent of our electricity comes from non-carbon emitting and relatively cheap hydroelectricity. Unfortunately, Colgate still burns over 400,000 gallons fuel oil annually to meet the remaining 30 percent of our heating needs. This results in the release of over 5,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We also rely heavily on ground and air travel to meet our business and educational missions. The cost of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel are all expected to increase under a new cap-and-trade system. Therefore, it is in our best interest to consider mitigation strategies that reduce our consumption of these fuels.

Next up the bill must make it through the Senate where it is sure to be altered and possibly even killed. However, no matter what happens in the short-term one reality seems increasingly likely: soon enough greenhouse gas emissions will be regulated at the federal level. It would be wise for Colgate to aggressively pursue a carbon neutral energy future with this scenario in mind.