Eco-Huskies help UConn rise in the ranks
Published: Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 00:08
Thanks to the work of eco-conscious Huskies all throughout campus, UConn was named Sierra Club’s “No. 1 Coolest School” on a list of 2000 eligible colleges.
“To be ranked by the Sierra Club as the greenest school in the nation compared with other large and small public and private colleges and universities is a pretty remarkable distinction,” said Rich Miller, the director of the Office of Environmental Policy at UConn.
Sierra Magazine ranks the top greenest schools, a list on which UConn has been climbing for years.
From administrators to students, eco-consciousness is a trademark of the UConn community. Third semester environmental engineering student Dan Froth reflected on what makes the UConn community so environmentally driven.
“The simple fact of putting more plants around the campus makes people appreciate their environment more,” said the EcoHouse Learning Community member. “President Herbst has done a lot to push forward efforts for a sustainable campus.”
Herbst has led major changes such as reaffirming EPACs (Environmental Policy Advisory Council) Climate Action Plan last year, and other smaller ones, such as approving funding for a permaculture garden outside of Whitney Dining Hall.
The commitment to the climate action plan “really gave the University a boost of momentum and enabled us to pursue many campus sustainability initiatives” said Miller. The plan has reduced thousands of tons greenhouse gas emissions and saved $2 million in energy costs per year. In addition, the new water reclamation facility will conserve up to 500,000 gallons of water per day.
“We (the students) push forward our ideas to the administrators and they are very open to helping us implement them,” said Jessie French, a seventh-semester Environmental Science and Resource Economics double major.
Throughout campus there are many new gardens ranging from the flower designs in Fairfield Circle to the rooftop gardens of Laurel Hall. All of the new buildings are LEED certified. That means that buildings have to earn enough points by the LEED rating system in categories such as water efficiency, materials and resources, and sustainable sites.
“When the older buildings were being built people didn’t care about energy saving techniques,” said Froth. “Now it seems like every semester there’s a new green building being renovated or more environmental classes being offered.”
UConn offers over 600 classes pertaining to the environment, including majors from engineering to education. In addition to classes, the Dodd Center hosts the Teale Lecture Series, which discusses a range of environmental issues and won the Joshua’s Trust Conservation Award in 2007.
There are a range of clubs and student leaders passionate about protecting the environment including EcoGarden, Soil and Water Conservation Society, Forestry and Wildlife, and ConnPIRG.
The EcoHusky student group provides awareness and outreach throughout campus while co-sponsoring events such as Earth Day Spring Fling.
“They have almost single-handedly maintained and cleaned up the 64-acre Hillside Environmental Education Park for the past few years,” said Miller. The park provides students with hiking trails alongside North Campus.
EcoHouse, a learning community, helps students to live a sustainable lifestyle on campus. They participate in various volunteer efforts on- and off-campus and offer an alternative spring break.
“We try to hit the freshmen early, “ said French, EcoHusky President. “We hand out reusable water bottles and other things.”
She explained that the eco-friendly reputation is a self-fulfilling prophecy, “we have such a reputation for being green that we just expect to be more environmentally conscious when we get here.”
“There are a lot of behind-the-scenes changes that most students don’t know about,” said French. “We have our own fuel cell on Depot Campus, a cogen plant that provides fuel for our whole campus, and solar panels on Depot Campus.” These renovations help UConn stand out as greener than other schools. UConn also promotes eco-friendly practices that everyone can achieve such as encouraging people to compost and recycle. EcoHusky plans to work with Girl Scouts this October to expand conservation techniques off-campus as well.
Dining Services have also contributed to a greener campus. In addition to the locally sourced food, they have added two more in-kitchen decomposers to reduce and recycle more of the food waste.
UConn’s efforts have been supported and encouraged by local leaders and officials as well. “The state provides support through public policies and incentive programs,” said Miller. “We wouldn’t have that same support in many southern or Midwestern states.”
Though an honorable title, being the Sierra Club’s No. 1 Coolest School does not mean UConn will relax any of its efforts. The students and faculty are forever trying to tackle environmental issues from every angle.
“We’re examining the feasibility of divesting in fossil fuel industry stocks that may be part of various UConn-owned or affiliated endowments and investment portfolios, including student managed funds,” said Miller.