Monday, December 5, 2011

In conclusion...

Its been ten weeks since I started researching the greenliness of Rutgers University. Ten weeks ago I thought I'd discover some vastly differernt things than what I did about the weight of the carbon footprint my school has on this Earth. I thought I'd find that Rutgers was using "going green" as a way to get good PR. I thought I'd discover that Rutgers was using green initiatives like the solar farm to make it seem like they were really trying to reduce their impact on the environment. I suppose I just expected the worst of my school. I know I'm not the only person who felt the same. I figured what kind of institution would Rutgers be if it weren't corrupt and sinister? When I pitched a similar story idea to one of my classes at the start of this semester, pretty much everyone in my class thought the same as me. One boy in particular felt that the initiative by Rutgers to be more environmentally friendly was completely bogus. He basically made fun of the idea of Rutgers really trying to do anything positive for their environment. I'm really happy to have learned the opposite.

So heres what I think. I think that Rutgers has proven that they're making a conscious effort to become a greener university. They're proven this not just to me, but to various organizations in our nation. For example, Andrew Bellina of the U.S. EPA (who signed the MOU with Rutgers) told me in an interview "You know, Rutgers is doing a really great thing. They've set an example for other MOU's that we've signed. They've come the farthest and done the most out of all the MOU agreements we've made. We signed an MOU with the Giants and the Jets for their new stadium. Guess what? We use Rutgers as an example of what they should be doing." According to Michael Kornitas, Rutgers has recieved a Sustainable Endowment from the government, with a B rating in buildings and an A rating in energy conservation.

In the most recent MOU released on November 4, it said "Just as climate change cannot be mitigated by one community acting on its own, these goals can only be accomplished through the cooperation of experts from the natural, social, and political sciences. The Climate and Environmental Change Initiative is therefore a multidisciplinary research, education, and outreach effort that draws from the strengths in many departments at Rutgers and facilities collaboration across a broad range of disciplines from oceanography to sociology and from ecology to economics." Since signing the MOU, Rutgers has saved 136,471 MTCO2e. That is the equivalent to the carbon dioxide emissions of 15,299,473 gallons of gasoline. To put that into perspective, Rutgers has reduced their greenhouse gas emissions to the equivalent of taking 26,759 standard vehicles that drive 12,000 miles each year off of the road permanently.

"Theres always going to be alot more to do," said Antonio Calcado. "We can't spend all the money Rutgers has on greenerness and fix every problem all at once. We do what we can when we can. Thats alot more than other universities can say for themselves." And I really agree. Rutgers is actually DOING something to go green. They're trying as best as they can. They even stopped mowing full fields in order to allow the local flora to grow in. If thats not fundamentally creating a greener environment at Rutgers then I don't know what is. I've got to admit that I'm proud of the things Rutgers has done to go green.

"One thing we really need to work on is student involvement," Kornitas said. In my interview with Kornitas, he stressed that students simply don't know or understand how much of an effort Rutgers is making to go green. "I try to help. I do powerpoints and I try to get students involved. We had that solar decathalon. We made a solar house. I was on the team. Its not enough though for just a few students to be involved here and there. We need a conscientious effort from the entire body of this school, which is our students." There are a number of student groups out there currently working to go green. To name a few, there is the Environmental Society, Food and Water Watch, Energy Service Corps, Waterwatch, Environment N.J., and the Energy Club. These groups make various initiatives inside and outside of the university to make an environmental difference, and in many cases they do. For example, Food and Water Watch sponsored recently an anti-hyrofracking campaign on campus to combat the possibiliy of hydrofracking in the Delaware Water Gap. But to make Rutgers truly sustainable, more than just a few student groups need to get informed and involved.

So thank you, Rutgers, for trying as hard as you do. We're a better, greener place for it.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Recyclemania! and waste at Rutgers

Rutgers placed towards the top in the 2011 Recylemania competiton, claiming first for the Gorilla Prize again this year! While they didn't place in the top 5 for the Grand Championship, they claimed second place in the Per Capita Classic - a narrow loss to Union College. Pretty impessive!

What the heck is Recyclemania anyway? And what are these prizes? Well according to the Recyclemania organization, "RecycleMania is a friendly competition among college and university recycling programs in North America and Canada. During 8 weeks each spring, schools compete in different categories to see which institution can collect the largest amount of recyclables per capita, the largest amount of total recyclables, the least amount of waste per capita or have the highest recycling rate." There are eight categories: the largest amount of recyclables per capita, the largest total amount of recyclables, the least amount of trash per capita, the highest overall recycling rate, and prizes for the most minimization of paper, cardboard, bottles and cans, and organic food materials. Over ten weeks, universities compete to win one or more of these prizes. Winning the Gorilla Prize meant that Rutgers had the most overall tonnage reduction in combined waste materials (that means all papers, cardboards, bottles, cans, and food waste materials). This award is given regardless of population size, meaning Rutgers competed with schools much smaller or much larger than itself and still won the Gorilla Prize. The Per Capita Classic, which Rutgers placed second in, measures the total amount of collected  and recycled waste materials. Rutgers therefore collected and recycled the second best amount over this ten week competition period.

"Something like 70% of the waste at Rutgers is now being recycled," said Antonio Calcado. Students at Rutgers have likely noticed a change recently in Rutgers trash bins, which is part of the reason Rutgers took second in the Per Capita Classic. These new bins (picture shown below) are part of a new recycling system Rutgers adopted this year.
The system is called "Single Stream Recycling". Rutgers has employed a new company called W.M., who have a unique system of collecting and recycling trash. Students, staff, and visitors at Rutgers can put there trash into just one bin. There is no need to put bottles in one bin and paper in another. Anything and everything recyclable can go into these bins. W.M. sorts through and recycles ALL of the materials. Nothing gets left behind. According to Michael Kornitas, "Everything we waste is used for something else at W.M." Rutgers students have also instituted composting procedures in facilities on campus. "All our organic garbage becomes soil and we're do our best to contribute to making biodiesel," said Calcado.

In the most recent MOU released by the EPA, the total savings of mixed recyclables jumped from 591 to 762 tons of MTCO2e (Metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent) after the switch to W.M.'s Single Stream Recyling System occured. In total, Rutgers has saved 1414 tons of recyclables with this new system. Since the signing of the MOU, Rutgers has recycled over 9,150 tons of recyclables, a total cost savings of $127,480. "We recently adopted a recycled carpeting program," said Kornitas. "Every new carpet that goes in is made of only recycled materials. 100%." According to the MOU, 226 tons MTCO2e of carpeting have been saved with this program - a $1,251 savings for the university. "The LEED silver program gave us the idea and we plan to replace all carpeting with recycled carpeting when the time for new carpeting arises. We're effectively recycling everything we can." In addition to carpeting, Rutgers University recycles ceiling tiles and replaces them with recycled ceiling tiles and they recycle all construction wastes.

"I think the single stream recycling is definitely the project I am most excited about," said Calcado. "Its a real improvement from our past."

Look out, Recyclemania 2012!


Saturday, November 26, 2011

What's the Alternate?

What about all the other alternate energies? Sure, Rutgers has done a bunch about going solar, but there are plenty of other alternate energies to consider! I asked Michael Kornitas, the Energy Conservation Manager and Sustainability Coordinator at Rutgers, about some of these other types of energy and whether or not Rutgers uses them.

I started with the only other alternate energy source besides solar that seems to have had success in recent years: wind. According to Kornitas, it just isn't feasible at the moment for Rutgers to invest in wind energy. "We looked into it. We realized pretty fast that we can't put up windmills any time soon. The technology just isn't all there yet and there isn't really a good location for us at the moment. Maybe in the future if the technology develops better, we can think about it. For now, we're just keeping our ears open for news about wind energy."

Hydro power? "No," Kornitas said. "Hydro energy is definitely not an option at this time. We only have the Raritan and it doesn't flow fast enough for us to even think about harnessing energy from it. There just is no way. We've done plenty to use less water, though. We also updated our storm water standards. New Jersey has some of the strictest standards in the world, but ours are even stricter. We're definitely wasting less water. But for energy? We can't do that yet."

Well how about this geothermal energy field I've been hearing about? Thats an alternative form. What about that? "Well thats actually pretty cool," Kornitas said. "We just got it up and running through the Business School on Livingston. Its in between Beck and Levins.

Theres going to be a big auditorium also thats using it. The geothermal field basically is heat and steam from below the Earth's crust that we capture. We use it as energy to regulate the heating and cooling the these buildings. We've got more than 300 wells all around this field trapping energy that helps power the Business School and this new auditorium. They are both LEED buildings, by the way. We are going to use it as much as we can." But what about the environmental impacts? "Its totally environmentally friendly. We aren't disturbing anything by having these wells. We don't even need water or anything. It just all comes from inside the Earth. We made sure it was harmless."

Are there any other alternative forms of energy here at Rutgers? "Wanna hear something cool? We have this cogeneration plant. Do you know what that is?" No. "Well, its basically a facility where we can create synthetic energy a the university. Its 13 megawatts. We make our own electricity there. Turbines are working there all the time to create heat. The turbines move with a combination of waste heat from the plant itself and natural gas which generates electricity. We even rent the plant out sometimes, which makes us alot of money." Anything else? "Yeah well theres our energy bill. We buy some of our energy from nuclear sources. Theres alot of nuclear energy in New Jersey. Our energy provider is Hess, like the Hess gas station, and they provide a certain percentage of nuclear energy to us every year."

Will there be more alternate and sustainable sources of energy at Rutgers in the future? "When wind gets there, we'll definitely hop on board. We're always looking for new ways to power the university. We don't want to be unsustainable. When the technology is there, we'll line up at the door to get at it."

Image Credit: Judia Group,r:1,s:0

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Solar Switch

On October 27, 2009, Rutgers University's President Richard McCormick announced the offical opening of the university's newest facility - a farm. There were no clients, customers, farmers, or students lined up at the gates when it opened. It did not produce crops or house cows and pigs. This giant farm has only one job: to harness energy from the sun.

The Livingston solar farm spans across more than 7 acres of the Northeast corner of the campus. More than 7,500 panels are mounted to the ground collecting sunlight. They produce 1.4 megawatts of energy, which accounts for more than $200,000 of the university’s $60 million energy bill. According to Antonio Calcado, the panels currently power roughly ten percent of the Livingston campus.

On November 4, the newest Memorandum of Understanding was released to the public by the EPA. The report shows the university's total carbon reduction and cost savings in the past two years from its current solar operations. According to this report, Rutgers University so far saved 3,115.5 metric tons of carbon and $423,957. This is the equivalent to taking 155 vehicles that drive 12,000 miles each year off of the road!

Image Credit: Rutgers Facilities Website

In the two years that have passed since Rutgers’ first solar farm began operations, the university and the environment benefitted to a noticeable degree. The university consistently reported that there were major savings in energy costs and carbon output. The success of the solar farm inspired Rutgers University to undertake another solar project. “We’re building a solar canopy over a new parking deck that’s going up. It’s being built right now near the new dorms at Livingston,” said Calcado.

“We searched for opportunities like the solar canopy project after how fast we saw the benefits from the solar farm. We’re working toward becoming truly energy efficient,” said Michael Kornitas. The new solar canopy will more than quadruple the size of the solar farm. 32 acres of more than 40,000 solar panels will be constructed over the new parking deck at Livingston, with an annual savings of $1.2 million. The system will generate more than 8 megawatts of energy – enough to power close to 1,000 households each year. “When all is said and done,” Kornitas said, “Livingston campus will be powered by at least 60 percent solar energy.”

The combined cost of the two solar projects is roughly $50 million. Half of the costs of these solar projects were paid for by financial partners and tax incentives. The final cost to Rutgers for both the solar farm and the solar canopy amounts to approximately $25 million.

The university profits from selling Solar Renewable Energy credits, which are certificates of clean energy that are purchased by a number of different electric companies. Combined with the $1.5 million the university saves annually from using solar energy to power Livingston campus, Kornitas expects that after 20 years Rutgers will have profited by more than by close to $30 million after repaying the initial costs of both projects.

“We’re significantly reducing our carbon footprint at Rutgers,” said Calcado. “We’re really proud of what we’ve been able to do. We don’t plan to stop until we’ve done everything we can to become as sustainable as possible.”

Monday, November 7, 2011

A Q&A with Antonio Calcado

In November, I visited Antonio Calcado at his office on Livingston campus. Calcado is the Vice President of Facilities and Capital planning at Rutgers and I figured he'd be the right guy to ask this question: How green is Rutgers really? After covering the basic and obvious green initiatives that Rutgers has taken, namely the building of a solar farm, the solar canopy project which will begin in the future, and the re-lighting initiative, Calcado enlightened me on some of the finer and subtler details on how Rutgers' green future.

Me: I understand that Rutgers has updated their building standards to include greener criteria. What exactly does this mean?

Calcado: Every new building that goes up at Rutgers will be built to LEED equivalents. We're following a strict set of criteria to ensure that all our buildings meet LEED silver equivalencies. Theres a bunch of different criteria that they made to determine which buildings are actually LEED silver, so we make sure to adhere to all those qualities in every new building we put up.

Me: So what exactly is a LEED silver?

Calcado: Well the LEED rating system is used by contractors who need to build buildings to this standard. Its a certification system to ensure buildings meet a certain green standard. When buildings get evaluated they are rated on basically a gold standard, where platinum is the highest level of rating. We follow all criteria for LEED silver. We don't actually spend the money to get certified. We figure we don't need the paper declaring our buildings LEED silver and that the money we'd need to use to certify the building could be better spent updating other buildings to greener standards.

Me: What are the LEED standards you use when you decide to build another building?

Calcado: Well there are really so many. The guys who handle the actual purchasing and construction of the building would know alot better, but the standards include everything from the lights you put in it to the way it faces the sun. We even consider color a factor. Well, for example, we used these standards to build the new apartments on Livingston. You probably saw the construction on your way here. We literally analyzed what colors to make the building. This way we don't need to use as much heating and cooling to keep the building warm and cold. We're using whites and yellows to ensure the building stays cooler and we're heating it with excess energy from a geothermal energy field that also heats and cools the Rutgers Business Building on campus.

Me: Are you eventually going to make all of the buildings LEED silver at Rutgers?

Calcado: Well certainly every new building that goes up will be LEED silver equivalent or better. We plan to update as much as we can with these older buildings to make them greeneer. Its hard because alot of these buildings are historical and obviously many of them were made before we knew as much as we do about the environmental impacts of a building. We will absolutely do everything we can to make them as sustainable as possible. We're replacing all the old motors and transformers we use to power our buildings with Energy Star appliances. Every one on all four campuses will be replaced. The cost was over one million dollars, but by 2014 we'll be saving more than $300,000 a year. The initial cost will have been paid off by then. We're weatherizing everthing building we can. We've got some older, more difficult buildings to handle, but we're going to weatherize as much as there is to weatherize. We're going to re-light all the buildings, pay attention to storm water standards, use less energy as much as possible. We started a project of high temperature hot water line replacement to insulate all the hot water we're using. We even started a go back to green movement where we only mow 10 percent of the grass in a field and let the rest just grow on its own. The fringes are the only place we mow anymore.

Me: What exactly is the high temperature hot water line replacement project?

Calcado: We have all these deteriorated pipes around the school. As you can imagine the pipes have been around for a long time. Every time you walk past a patch of ground where theres just randomly steam coming up through the surface its from these pipes. They're old and not up to par and we lose so much energy and money on them every year. We are replacing them all over campus. All pipes at Rutgers will be replaced to high temperature insulated pipes. We'll trap the heat we're losing, basically. Its slated to save something like 2,000 tons of CO2 every year.

Me: So basically Rutgers plans to update everything about its buildings to the best of its ability to meet these green standards?

Calcado: Yes. Absolutely.

Me: Is that even possible?

Calcado: Its certainly a time consuming and expensive endeavor. Over time, though, we'll do everyhting we can. I'm sure the updates will never stop. We're committed, though. We're going to do as much as we possibly can as fast as we can.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Rutgers Red Goes Bright Green

"We've audited every single light bulb at Rutgers University, and that includes the light bulbs on Camden and Newark campuses," said Antonio Calcado, the Vice President of Facilities and Capital Planning at Rutgers University.

Rutgers decided when they signed the MOU that they would audit every light bulb and replace every single inefficient bulb with an efficient one. "By the time we're done," Calcado said, "every single light bulb at Rutgers will be the most energy efficient kind out there." By the time they're through, Rutgers will have changed every standard light bulb to low-energy compact LED bulbs. Each room will operate on sensors, so that while a room is not in use, neither will the lights be in use.

According to Michael Kornitas, the Engergy Conservation Manager and Sustainability Coordinator for Rutgers Facilities, the project is expected reduce energy consumption at the university by close to 43 million kilowatt hours annually. "Basically, it translates to us saving roughly 23,333 tons of carbon dioxide every year," Kornitas said.

So far, the re-lighting Rutgers project has been slow going. Rutgers, through the Direct Install Programs from PSE&G and from NJ Clean Energy, converted 31 large scale and 21 small scale buildings at the University to the new lighting standard. According to the MOU, Rutgers has saved only 3,797,699 kwh since first signing the contract, a mere fraction of the 43 million kwh they expect to save when they are through. The total cost to the university for the PSE&G Direct Install Project, so far, came to $5,621,310. PSE&G paid for $4,088,231, leaving the university to pay $1,533,086. "Every year we save $955,638 from this project," said Kornitas. "That means that in 1.6 years, we'll have paid the entire project off. We have every intention of updating every building and facility at Rutgers to meet our new lighting standards. As they money comes, so will the changes."

When analyzing the figures Rutgers submits every six months for the MOU report, the EPA converts all of Rutgers' energy consumption to MTCO2e, or metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. According to the most recent MOU, which was released this November, Rutgers has so far saved 11,520 MTCO2e and $1,567,690 by updating 52 of their buildings to new high efficiency lighting systems. In short, Rutgers has already paid off the cost of the PSE&G Direct Install Programn in savings and they have reduced their green house gas emissions by an equivalent of 2,259 passenger vehicles.

"It's really exciting stuff," said Calcado. "Day by day, we save more and more. Its good news all around."

**Interview: Antonio Calcado (November 07)
***Interview: Michael Kornitas (November 21)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Clean Green Moving Machines

So Rutgers signs this big contract, right? But have they acted on it? Well, it turns out that they have.

In July of 2011, students at Rutgers began riding new buses. Some people were angry about it, namely Academy Bus, Rutgers' old bus service. But the EPA were probably really proud. You see, according to one of the stipulations in the Memorandum of Understanding, Rutgers agreed to take part in the EPA's National Clean Diesel campaign. Academy Bus lost the bid to Rutgers' new bus service, First Transit, who took over operations at the university in July.

The National Clean Diesel Campaign demands that Rutgers "cooperatively promote and implement measures to effectively reduce emissions from vehicles". By switching from Academy Bus to First Transit, Rutgers' was able to meet this standard of the MOU. First Transit provides Rutgers with 50 buses that run on 20% biodiesel fuel. Biodiesel is diesel fuel that has been mixed with an organic substance. It burns cleaner than conventional fuel, and because it is mixed with organic products, such as kitchen wastes, it is also more renewable and cost-efficient than conventional diesel. According to the MOU, "Rutgers University will consider converting kitchen waste to bio-diesel fuel for use on campus."

Another emissions saver that Rutgers adopted recently is the CNG Program. Rutgers has now got six nifty cars and two nifty pickup trucks that operate at it's facilities using compressed natural gas, or CNG. CNG vehicles are much cleaner burning than conventional vehicles. Their emissions are even lower than hybrid cars.
Rutgers has it's own filling stations for these vehicles on campus and plans to expand the program in the future.

Rutgers has also initiated a pilot bike rental program. The program encourages students to rent one of the 150 bikes available at the university at 10$ a month or 25$ for the full semester. The program is designed to reduce emissions from students who would otherwise commute to classes.

The Clean Diesel Campaign also asks that Rutgers promote an anti-idling policy. Rutgers encourages faculty, staff, students, and it's transportation services (including First Transit) not to idle. They did so with a no idling policy, requiring that vehicles not remain on for more than 90 seconds while parked.

While certainly there are more stipulations that Rutgers can meet to adhere to the Clean Diesel Campaign, it seems that they have wasted no time in the past two years adopting the changes suggested in the MOU by the EPA.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Five Year Plan to Make U Green!

In my last post, I mentioned that Rutgers signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Rutgers on November 3rd of 2009. That sounds really great, you know? Rutgers signed a contract to be more green. But I got to thinking. What does Rutgers have to gain from signing a five-year-long contract with the U.S. EPA? Why commit themselves to going green?

Rutgers must have known that an undertaking like this would be costly. Green appliances, green technology, etc. etc. They probably considered that maybe not everyone would like the changes they made or will make in the five year contract. And what's the benefit for Rutgers? They wouldn't take on a goal so massive for no reason, right? What does the university (and its students) get for agreeing to be greener five years from now (besides some good PR)?

Well, according to Andrew Bellina, the Senior Policy Advisor at the EPA of the memorandum with Rutgers, the university doesn't get anything at all but advice. The EPA gives the university some tips, and it's up to Rutgers to act on them or not.

In an interview, I asked Bellina to answer some of the questions I just asked you, reader. He said that while there are no direct and tangible benefits of signing the MOU, meaning Rutgers isn't paying the EPA to help them become green and the EPA doesn't give the university anything besides advice, the sustained benefits socially, economically, and most of all environmentally from having greener campuses are the goal here.

Heres how it works. Some analysts from the EPA come to Rutgers and assess for free the greenliness of the university in a number of areas. They call them "campaigns" or "programs" and they are formulated by the EPA to minimize as much as possible the carbon footprint the university has on the Earth. They include The National Clean Diesel Campaign, The Clean Construction USA campaign, Transportation and Commuter Programs, The EPA Waste Wise Program and Recycling Achievements, the LEED Silver program, a cleaner cleaning products campaign, an Energy Efficient Equipment and Energy Star Program, an Alternative Energy Program, new storm water and turf management practices, new industrial material reuse practices, and aPest Management program.

EPA analysts come to the univeristy and leave behind a set of instructions. Rutgers can choose whether or not they want to abide by those instruction. According to Bellina, "We provide a baseline assessment of energy output. They determine the base load of where energy generation occurs. The assessments help determine how to reduce this output and how energy generation and use can be done more efficiently." Six months pass and Rutgers submits a report to the EPA, and analysts at the EPA can then determine a total carbon footprint of the university. Another six months go by, and the univesity reports again. This way, the EPA keeps ontop of the accomplishments Rutgers has made and can encourage them to take more steps to reducing their footprint on the Earth.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Rutgers, are you really going green?

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, pledged to its students and to the public that it would become a green university. On November 3, 2009, Rutgers University signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and partnered with the United States Environmental Protection Agency in order to do just that. In the years following the signing of the MOU, the university says they have taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint. They’ve announced plans to reduce energy consumption and to increase energy efficiency. They’ve installed solar panels around their campuses, including a solar panel “farm” on Livingston Campus in New Brunswick designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. They’ve begun a five-year Facilities Energy Conservation Program they claim “will reduce energy consumption by 42,500,000 kWh”. They’ve announced plans to reduce waste, to recycle, and to in general improve the “greenliness” of the university as a whole.

But is all this stuff effective? Is it working? Has Rutgers University really gone green? In the three years following Rutgers’ promise to become an environmental example for universities and cities across the world, has Rutgers really reduced its heavy footprint on our environment?

My name is Gabrielle Flora. I am a student at Rutgers University studying Environmental Journalism through the School of Biological and Environmental Sciences in New Brunswick. My major focus and my background in environmental sciences make me alert to the environmental news that Rutgers releases. I’m an interested and concerned citizen of Rutgers, New Brunswick, and I want to know how well Rutgers has done at going green.

It is my goal in this blog to answer the question I ask to Rutgers University: R U Green, Rutgers?


***Image Credit: Zazzle Designs