College makes moves to reduce carbon emissions

By Chelsea LoCascio
News Editor

On an exceptionally warm day in mid-March, friends approached TCNJ Environmental Club President Eric Mauro and asked him, “Hey, global warming — how do you feel about it?”

As much as Mauro wanted to respond in an equally blasé attitude, his concern for the erratic weather and, subsequently, the environment, hindered him.

“This is just crazy weather,” said Mauro, a senior electrical engineering major. “It’s only going to get worse.”

The likely culprits to charge with these drastic weather changes are global warming and climate change.

Global warming results from the greenhouse effect, in which certain atmospheric gases trap in heat, according to NASA’s Global Climate Change Website. Among these gases is carbon dioxide, which is emitted into the atmosphere during the process of burning fossil fuels, among other means of emission.

With a planet-wide problem like global warming, a college of only 289 acres, according to U.S. News, is a small yet vital cog in the Mother Earth machine.

Like any other large institution, the College emits carbon into the atmosphere, and around 60 percent of it comes from the campus’ electricity, such as heating and air conditioning, according to Political Science Department Chair and Associate Professor Brian Potter. Established when College President R. Barbara Gitenstein signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2007, which promised to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, the Presidents’ Climate Commitment Committee (PC3) is made up of students, faculty and staff from the College, including Potter.

PC3 is tasked with finding innovative initiatives to help reduce the College’s carbon emissions.

“Carbon neutrality is an aspiration,” Potter said. “It’s where an organization or an individual has no net carbon emissions. If you are emitting carbon, you should minimize that and offset that by, say, having a large forested area of trees actually trap carbon and sequester it back into the ground. What the committee has been doing is finding ways where carbon reduction actually goes hand in hand with cost savings. A good example of that would be making the buildings more energy efficient.”

The College has made an effort for new construction to be energy efficient. Director of Energy and Central Utilities Lori Winyard said that the newest buildings to be constructed, such as the Art and Interactive Multimedia, Education and STEM buildings, have a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver status — the third highest-ranking status in efficiency, according to usgbc.org.

While these newer buildings may be energy efficient, the constant construction on campus emits carbon. However, the College plants trees and has other initiatives to try to offset those emissions and make up for the deforestation, according to Director of Buildings and Grounds Ed Gruber.

“With a large amount of construction, a lot of trees are coming down,” Gruber said. “We’re working to replace trees and replace them with even more trees than were there initially… I love trees. I’m an arborist by trade.”

The College plants different types of trees, particularly native species that can endure the area’s climate, according to Gruber. He said that for every tree taken down on campus, he aims to plant a couple in its place.

In addition to planting trees, the College also has a “Knowledge is Power” Initiative that cuts down on expenditures and emissions by preventing unnecessary heat, air conditioning and light use throughout campus, according to an email sent to students, faculty and staff on Monday, March 28, by Associate Vice President for Facilities and Administrative Services Kathy Leverton.

Since the initiative’s inception in December 2005, the College has decreased its light use from 10,571,703 kilowatt-hours to 7,125,159 kilowatt-hours, despite adding a few buildings and parking garages along the way, Winyard said. The initiative saves the College and its students $1.3 million annually, she said.

Despite the effort to save power, anyone strolling through the campus at night would look at the academic buildings and assume professors are burning the midnight oil — and the College’s electric bill.

“You walk around campus on a Friday night when you know no one is in their offices, but all of the offices are lit up. It’s waste,” Potter said. “We don’t have — and other campuses do have — a security team that comes by and locks doors and turn off lights. We don’t have that, but it’s also just individuals not doing that little part. We have a lot of programs and initiatives that we can do, but really a lot of them need consciousness and actions by every member of the campus community to save energy and to be more efficient.”

Screen shot 2016-04-19 at 7.09.14 AM
The 2009 Climate Action Plan details the College’s carbon emissions. (Chelsea LoCascio / News Editor)

Winyard agrees and believes drastic change really comes down to every member of the College being conscientious.

“If you go past a room where someone didn’t turn off the light, pitch in (and turn it off),” Winyard said.

Although everyone can try to pitch in, the wasting of power, whether it be lights or heat, may not always be an individual’s fault, according to Mauro.

“I remember… when I lived on campus, I had my windows open year round because the heat was always at like 90 degrees and (the College) wastes a lot of energy,” Mauro said. “I think part of it is people don’t know that they can just call maintenance, and if it is a problem, they can get it fixed.”

He also mentioned how certain lights in dorms are out of students’ control, such as the lights always on in the hallways of places like Wolfe, Travers and Decker halls.

Although it is not as significant as power use, 20 percent of the College’s carbon emissions comes from transportation to and from campus, according to Potter.

To combat this, Potter recommends TCNJ Rideshare App. The app is meant to help students, faculty and staff at the College carpool.

“On this app, when I enter in my car on my profile… the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has a measure of how much that car produces in carbon emissions per mile,” Potter said. “So if you and I share a ride in my car, you can measure how much your car produces per mile and… then we can figure out how much carbon is not emitted because we’re teaming up in one car instead of two.”

Potter equates it to Uber, except rides through this app are free. Though it emulates Uber, it is still trying to find success on campus and needs a minimal threshold of a few hundred users to become a viable solution to cutting carbon emissions, according to Potter. In the past, other car services have tried, but have found little success at the College. The College hopes to have better success with this program, as well as the one through Enterprise.

“Right now, we have the Enterprise car rental, which I think will only have students use it,” Potter said. “I think it’s underused, so Enterprise might pull it simply because it’s not profitable for them.”

If the current car initiatives are not effective, there may be a push for biking, according to Michael Nordquist, a political science adjunct professor and interim executive director for the Center for Community Engaged Learning and Research.

“We’re trying to encourage biking as much as possible,” Nordquist said. “It’s something like 50 percent of students live within two miles, but 70 or 80 percent of them drive by themselves, so there’s a real market there for people to be able to bike to campus.

“But we don’t necessarily have the infrastructure for biking on campus…, enough bike racks, weather-protected storage or bike paths on campus. So there’s a couple of places that there’s a real opportunity for growth,” he said.

In addition to insufficient bike infrastructure, Nordquist believes recycling at the College is not something that is running as smoothly as it should.

“We recycle on campus, but obviously there’s lots of criticism of that and what that looks like and what people think actually gets recycled and what doesn’t,” Nordquist said. “I see both sides of that in that we don’t have the most straight-forward recycling rules on campus. If you contaminate anything — if there’s non-recyclable goods mixed in with recyclable stuff — the entire thing goes out because it’s not going to be sorted (at the College), so it’s tough on that front.”

The College has a single-stream recycling program in which different materials can be recycled together and sorted later when they arrive at the facility, since the College does not have the staff to sort, according to Director of Risk Management, Occupational Safety and Environmental Services Brian Webb.

However, there is some campus-wide confusion on what can actually be recycled.

For instance, an annoyed Mauro said he watches his fellow students or the College’s staff and faculty as they try to recycle contaminated pizza boxes in recycling bins or wax-covered coffee cups in the Library Café.

“I don’t think recycling is that big of an issue when you look at the overall picture of environmental issues,” Mauro said. “But on campus, it just seems a little negligent… It’s a gateway to bigger issues.”

When it comes to the mountain of paper coffee cups piled up in the Library Café recycling bins, Sodexo has made an effort to reduce this waste by giving those with carte blanche meal plans a free, reusable coffee cup, according to Dining Services Registered Dietician Aliz Holzmann.

As of right now, the improper recycling on campus is not crucial — just another pet peeve for environmental enthusiasts. The College has not yet been notified of too much contamination in the recycling, which would be a violation in its contract with the recycling facility. Because the College has never breached this, the school has never found out what percentage of trash is tolerated or beyond the acceptable limit, according to Gruber.

Although it may not be a problem yet, the College still takes the recycling seriously.

Environmental Programs Specialist Amanda Radosti acts as the College’s recycling coordinator by educating students, faculty and staff about properly recycling by ensuring that recycling brochures, pamphlets and fliers are available at staff orientations or when freshmen move into their dorm rooms.

She has also helped put together the single-stream recycling sticker found on recycling bins. The sticker shows a water bottle, cardboard box, newspaper and soda can going into a recycling bin — a simple indication of the materials that can be recycled, according to Radosti.

On-campus recycling is single stream. (Kim Iannarone / Photo Editor)
On-campus recycling is single stream. (Kim Iannarone / Photo Editor)

However, some students believe the sticker does not accurately fulfill its purpose.

“Personally, when I look at it, and I would expect when most people look at it, they’re just like, ‘Oh, it’s just a picture of what recycling is. It’s not telling us what we can recycle because it’s just a picture,’” senior elementary education and Spanish double major Lea Fulscado said. “If it said, ‘Recycle these things here,’ it would make a difference to me. But… it just looks like a cute graphic rather than instructions.”

Fulscado said that although the College does not effectively communicate its recycling policies to the students, the students should also already know how to recycle.

What may be lacking from the student body is proper education. Luckily, the College has recently come up with some solutions for those seeking answers — one of them being the environmental studies minor, coordinated by sociology Professor Diane Bates, and the environmental sustainability education minor, coordinated by elementary and early childhood education Assistant Professor Lauren Madden.

Both minors are new with only a handful of students currently pursuing each. According to Madden, she and Bates worked together to develop their respective minors.

The environmental studies minor incorporates a mixture of hard science and social science courses since the key to helping the environment is a combination of understanding the science behind it and acting accordingly, Bates said.

“Scientists know the threat behind (climate change) and question why we don’t respond to science,” Bates said. “The answer is that it’s a social issue. We’re set on our own cultural norms… and we push (the responsibility) onto someone else.”

The environmental sustainability education minor is primarily geared toward education majors, but is open to anyone interested in incorporating teaching others how to be environmentally friendly into their profession, Madden said.

“The goal is to help grow green children,” Madden said. “Adults are responsible for every single problem in the world.”

With all of these ways to help the environment at the College, it is safe to say that the College recognizes the side effects of global warming and climate change that are evident through the recent changes in the weather.

Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000, according to NASA’s Global Climate Change Website.

Students, staff and faculty can help the environment through conscientious acts. (Infographic courtesy of Surbhi Chawla)
Students, staff and faculty can help the environment through conscientious acts. (Infographic courtesy of Surbhi Chawla)

“The idea that we are having 70 degree weather consistently (the week of Monday, March 7,) is really going to screw up broader weather patterns, agriculture, water supply, essentially everything we rely on to live. Yes, it concerns me,” Nordquist said. “It concerns me that we had one significant snowstorm this past winter and it was a blizzard and then it was 50 degrees two days later (and) most of the snow was gone. It concerns me that it was just released the other day that it was the warmest winter on record ever in North America.”

Mauro agrees and thinks that the people who are still in denial about climate change and global warming, and their effects, need to wake up.

“I don’t think we’re all going to go up in flames within the next year or two, but it’s definitely something we need to be concerned about,” Mauro said. “It might not affect us too much, but other countries, like (those in the) Pacific Islands, you can see the changes there.

“There’s facts, there’s science backing it. There’s plenty of documentaries actually showing physical changes,” he continued. “I don’t think that it’s as much of a problem in a college campus, but if people are still denying climate change — I can see them denying the (human) impacts — but if they are still denying that it exists, it’s kind of a problem.”