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What is Environmental Justice?

By Natalie Roach

On the weekend of September 8th, New Haven was brimming with energy. There were events happening throughout the city to foster progress for people and the environment.

The first was a summit presented by the Yale Art Gallery and Artspace, a contemporary art non-profit. This summit, called “Homage: Soil and Site” was seven hours long and drew in some of the national leaders in the environmental movement today—household names like Eddie Bautista and Elizabeth Yeampierre. Oh, you haven’t heard of them? There’s a reason for that. They are self-proclaimed environmental justice advocates, a group that has had little space or power in the environmental movement until recently.

Leticia Colon de Mejias advocated for energy efficiency and justice for Puerto Rico at the rally

Environmental justice, put simply, is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to environmental conditions, regulation, and change. Those on the frontlines of climate change and other forms of environmental degradation are often the most economically and politically repressed. Impoverished island nations facing increased hurricane activity, poor urban communities facing the worst of air pollution, minority communities having little influence over the siting of a landfill in their backyard, and indigenous people facing potential contamination of their rivers by powerful oil companies should be given a seat at the table in discussions of policy and change. After all, they’re the ones who have experience dealing with the problems that we’re trying to solve.

After decades of effort on the part of environmental justice advocates, we are finally reaching a point where all voices are being heard. This was evident at event number two of the September 8th weekend, a rally for “Climate, Jobs, and Justice.” This event was unique in the groups that came together in order to make it happen. There were the typical organizations that are an important presence at environmental rallies in the state, notably the Sierra Club and 350CT, in addition to other groups such as the CT Puerto Rican Alliance. This meant that there was a larger variety of speakers and performances than the typical rally. There was a presentation of an electric car, and there was also a performance by local rappers about police brutality. There was a call to action for protecting CT’s Green Bank, and there was a young Latinx girl who sung about coming together as one. One stop of the rally was to admire a fuel cell, while another was for a local group to speak on issues related to prison reform. Rallies like this give hope for continued collaboration as we strive to create a safe and healthy environment for all people.

The OEP is working on incorporating environmental justice as a focus as well. We recognize the importance of indigenous people to our country and to the environmental movement. Worldwide, they are protectors of 80% of the world’s biodiversity, despite only living on 20% of the world’s land. They hold Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) that is vital to the stewardship of land, and utilized by many, including the US National Park Service. To honor this, we have partnered with Global House to hold a film screening and discussion of Sacred Water: Standing Rock Part 2 on October 3rd about the Standing Rock protests. It’s the kickoff for Indigenous People’s Week, a series of events at UConn that aim to replace Columbus Day with a celebration of indigenous people in our country. Please join us in the Global House Lounge at 5:30pm to learn more about this incredible population of people!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UConn – and Sustainability – Score at This Fall’s Green Game Day

By Natalie Roach

There was something different and exciting about the second home game of UConn’s football season.  For one, it turned out to be UConn’s first win of the season. But more importantly, Husky fans tailgating before the game were greeted by dozens of students in blue and green shirts carrying around trash bags, picking up bottles and cans, and giving out sustainability-themed trinkets.

Who were these students, and why were they at Rentschler Field? EcoHusky members and EcoHouse residents, along with OEP interns, had gotten together for our fall Green Game Day! Each year, the OEP partners with Athletics to educate not only UConn students but also Husky fans from all over Connecticut on the importance of recycling.

Martin Wolek collects cans from Jary Remly, a resident of Storrs. (Lucas Voghell/UConn Photo)

Volunteers walked around the parking lots, interacting with tailgaters while collecting bottles and cans. It was messy work – many shoes were dirtied with mysterious liquids in the process – but that did not dampen the students’ spirit. This year, 2.4 tons of recyclables were collected according to Windsor Sanitation, the most on record from any Green Game Day! Meanwhile, OEP staff and interns stationed at the Green Game Day tent during FanFest quizzed young and old on environmental facts while playing our brand new Plinko game for prizes.

A dedicated EcoHusky member gets his hands (and legs) dirty while digging for recyclables in a dumpster!

Another exciting addition to this Green Game Day event was a recycling PSA video the office created featuring the one and only Jonathan the Husky! In the video, Jonathan teaches you how to recycle by recycling a plastic water bottle himself!  If you haven’t seen it, it is one of the cutest videos you will see all year. It was shown on the Jumbo Tron before the game, and ‘awws’ could be heard throughout the stadium as it played. Check out our Facebook page to see it for yourself!

 

Thanks to our smiling, extremely dedicated, and hardworking volunteers, Green Game Day was a success! A big shout to all who made it possible. We’re looking forward to the next one in February!

Volunteers pose for a picture in high spirits before heading out to volunteer!

 

UConn Hires New Sustainability Program Manager

Patrick McKee has been hired by the OEP to serve as UConn’s Sustainability Program Manager.  Patrick brings with him six years of experience in the sustainability field in both the private and public sectors. Most recently, his three years as the first Sustainability Manager at Eastern Kentucky University resulted in the establishment of a dock-less bike share program, improvements to both recycling and energy management, and the integration of sustainability thinking into university decision making.  During this time he advised up to six student employees per semester, several of whom were also students in the ENV200: The Global Sustainable Future course that he instructed as an adjunct faculty member.

Prior to working at Eastern Kentucky University, Patrick served as a Sustainability Analyst with Legrand, North America at its West Hartford headquarters. While at Legrand, he helped spearhead operations and social sustainability initiatives including a highly successful energy savings competition known as the “Legrand Energy Marathon” and the ”Better Communities” corporate volunteer program.

Patrick has obtained a bachelor of science degree in biology from Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA, and received his master of science degree in environmental science and management from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA.

Patrick will work under the supervision of Rich Miller, OEP Director and will supervise the OEP’s high-achieving intern staff. He is looking forward to the work ahead. “This is a new challenge for me. I’m excited for this opportunity to become a leader at a large university that is already one of the top performers in sustainability. The many available resources and embracing culture at UConn will allow me to take the program to new heights.” said McKee.

Please welcome Patrick to campus by emailing him at patrick.mckee@uconn.edu.

Coffee and Climate Change

UConn@COP23 fellow and OEP intern Wawa Gatheru explains the topic of her poster, power in resistance.

After a frustrating series of snowed-out Wednesdays, the cohort of students who attended COP23 were finally able to host the annual Climate Change cafe, held recently at the Student Union. UConn@COP23 fellows shared their experiences at this year’s U.N. International Climate summit, held in Bonn, Germany.

Students from a wide variety of academic majors visited the event and learned about different aspects of the fight against climate change. Topics covered included the power of art as activism, businesses on the forefront of climate change, feminism within the movement, and the role of sub-national entities in lieu of the federal government.

 

With the advent of the new U.S. administration not supporting the Paris Climate Accords, sub-national entities were a big topic during this year’s trip.

 

“I find the “We Are Still In” movement to be an amazing representation of how our country plans to progress the mitigation of climate change.”

– Erika Shook, Animal Science Major

 

“Hearing that America as a country has not yet completely abandoned the fight against climate change was heartening, and progress can still be made even if its not on a national scale.”

– Matthew McKenna, Environmental Engineering Major

 

“I didn’t stay for very long, but I took out a flyer made by the office of environmental policy all about UConn’s efforts towards sustainability, and found it super interesting. I actually ended up sharing it with friends.”

– Nina Haigis, Accounting Major

 

“I was inspired by seeing this clear intersectionality of fields that are so heavily affected by the detriments of climate change reflected in the posters on exhibition at the Climate Change Café.”

– Luke Anderson, Anthropology/Nutritional Sciences Major

 

“I came to the Climate Change Cafe knowing that I was interested in going on the trip, but after talking to people and viewing the posters that were made I left super excited to apply and confident that the trip would be an experience that would be both fun and super educational.”

– Delaney Meyer, Civil Engineering Major

 

“Talking to the students at the Climate Change Cafe was an engaging and informative experience. You could tell that this trip fostered their passion for the environment, and that participants were inspired to make changes within our own community.”

– Megan Boyer, Biological Sciences Major

 

UConn@COP23 fellows were inspired by the many powerful art installations they saw while in Germany.

 

UConn@COP23 – Bonn Climate Change Conference

Bonn

Trip Description

COP 23 is the United Nations Climate Change Conference, and will be hosted this year by the small Pacific island state, Fiji, and held in Bonn, Germany from November 6 th to November 17th, 2017. The event will bring together diplomats, business executives, heads of government and other delegates to discuss action on climate change. COP 23 will highlight the voices of countries most vulnerable to climate change, and will focus on action.

In the words of Fiji Prime Minister and Chair of COP 23, Frank Bainimarama, he will be “guiding the deliberations of almost 200 countries as [they] gather in Bonn, Germany, in November to continue to seek a more decisive response on the part of the industrial nations….And to set aside funds to enable developing countries such as Fiji to adapt to the changes to their way of life that have been caused through no fault of [their] own.”1

The University of Connecticut will be providing full funding, excluding meals other than breakfast, for a select group of undergraduate students to travel to Bonn from November 12th – November 18th to attend events associated with the conference. Airfare, housing, and city transportation will be provided. In addition, students will have the opportunity to experience the beautiful city of Bonn, Germany.

Application

The application must be completed and submitted to sarah.munro@uconn.edu by 11:59pm EST on Monday, April 3rd in order to be considered by the Selection Committee for the trip. Only complete applications will be considered. Applicants will be notified of the Committee’s decision via e-mail on Monday, August 18th. Decisions will not be released prior to then.

For more information on past UConn@COPs, click here.

1 http://www.fiji.gov.fj/Media-Center/Speeches/HON-PRIME-MINISTER-BAINIMARAMA-2017-NEW-YEAR-S-MES.aspx

First Ever Carbon-Free UConn Basketball Games!

carbon-free-certificateEvery spring, volunteers from the EcoHusky student group and EcoHouse learning community come together to raise environmental awareness at Basketball Green Game Days. By teaching fans how to recycle, and collecting bottles at the end of the game, volunteers always play an integral role in making these events “green.” This year’s Green Game Days were special because, for the very first time, the Office of Environmental Policy purchased carbon offsets to make the games carbon-free!

Carbon offsets are credits purchased that represent the reduction of an amount of carbon dioxide emissions. In cases such as powering a basketball game, where it is difficult or impossible to reduce associated emissions, a carbon offset can be purchased to fund the reduction of greenhouse gases elsewhere. This is a great tool for organizations that would like to mitigate their carbon impacts, but when it is not feasible for them to do so directly.

twitter-postWe would like to thank all of our volunteers for their time and enthusiasm. With their help, we were able to collect enough bottles to donate $40 to the Campus Sustainability Fund to support more programs and initiatives to raise environmental awareness. We would also like to thank UConn Athletics for their time and effort to promote sustainability. We greatly appreciate the P.A. announcements, video board slides, and social media posts throughout the events. We look forward to working with you at future Green Game Days!

UConn Receives Gold AASHE STARS Rating

stars_logo_3Each year, the Office of Environmental Policy submits campus sustainability data to a variety of surveys to be ranked among the most environmentally sustainable colleges and universities in the United States and even the world. Data collection for these surveys is a vigorous process that involves communication with many departments on campus and analysis of both qualitative and quantitative information. UConn and its peers utilize the AASHE Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), an online self-assessment tool, to organize and input this data each year. From this comprehensive, peer-developed report, snapshots are submitted to surveys such as the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools and the Princeton Review Green Colleges.

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UConn ecologist Mark Urban studies the impact of climate change on biodiversity (UConn Today)

UConn has performed consistently well in the Sierra Club’s Cool Schools survey, which emphasizes climate change, divestment, and energy, and the UI GreenMetric survey, which focuses on green building and greenhouse gas emissions reduction policy. The STARS self-assessment tool is unique in that it employs the Earth Charter definition of sustainability, which encompasses nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace for future generations. As a result, this reporting tool requires that a greater breadth of data be collected.

UConn achieved a strong Gold Rating on its STARS submission. Although STARS does not publish rankings, of the 230+ schools with current STARS 2.0 ratings, UConn had the second highest score! Our university will be recognized in AASHE’s 2016 Sustainable Campus Index as a Top Performer for our Vendor Code of Conduct and commitment to research, as well as for the high-impact initiative of sending eighteen students, faculty, and staff members to the United Nations’ annual climate change summit, COP21 last December. Click here to access previous Sustainable Campus Indexes.

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A group of UConn students, faculty, and staff at the UN Conference on Climate Change

As stated on their website, “AASHE’s mission statement is to inspire and catalyze higher education to lead the global sustainability transformation.” AASHE has encouraged universities to give significance to all aspects of sustainability beyond those directly related to the environment, including ethical principles such as human rights and economic justice. This falls directly in line with UConn’s mission statement, which highlights the health and well-being of citizens through the enhancement of social, economic, cultural, and natural environments in and beyond Connecticut.

UConn Ranked Top 10 Cool School for 5th Consecutive Year

sierra-logoThe Sierra Club has just released its 10th annual Cool Schools ranking, and for the 5th consecutive year, UConn has maintained its position in the top 10! Accompanied by only one other university in this accomplishment, UConn has demonstrated incredible consistency and growth not only in environmental sustainability on campus, but in tracking and compiling data in a wide range of areas. The survey includes a variety of categories which encompass all aspects of sustainability in a university setting; UConn’s strengths included the water, waste, food, academics, innovation, planning, and purchasing sections.

Recent changes to the survey’s organization and weighting resulted in a noticeable shift in the members included in the top 10; many strong schools from previous years fell in rank, while new ones arrived. Significant weight was given to the fossil fuel divestment section, a factor that hurt many schools, including UConn. Nevertheless, our consistency can be attributed to our ability to score strongly in such a large number of sections, requiring the collective efforts of a variety of staff and faculty on campus, including Facilities Operation, Community Outreach, Dining Services, Transportation, Procurement Services, and Planning, Design and Construction.

UConn’s #9 ranking in the Sierra Club’s Cool School survey, as well as #2 position in the 2015 UI GreenMetric World Ranking and recent acceptance of the CT DEEP GreenCircle Award, all elevate the university’s visibility locally and at the international scale, while shedding light on our strong commitment to protecting our environment and creating a more sustainable campus for years to come.

UConn Ranked #1 Rural Campus and #2 Overall in UI GreenMetric World Ranking

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Overall Ranking 2015

Among 407 participating universities from 65 countries, UConn has been ranked #2 in the 2015 UI GreenMetric Ranking of World Universities, and has maintained its #1 ranking among those with rural campuses. UI GreenMetric is an annual sustainability survey focusing on a combination of indicators including setting and infrastructure, energy and climate change, waste management, water, transportation, and education. With a total score of 7,156, UConn ranked highest among its peers in energy and climate change, with strong scores in the education and setting and infrastructure categories, as well. The energy and climate change section is weighed most heavily in the ranking, as it encompasses a wide range of indicators including green building, greenhouse gas emissions reduction policy, and climate change adaptation and mitigation. It is also important to note that this was the first year that the GreenMetric survey included a carbon footprint evaluation as part of its criteria.

Nearly 50 more schools participated in 2015 than in 2014, yet UConn still succeeded in moving up in ranking from #7 to #2. This we attribute to a variety of efforts and accomplishments. As a signatory of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), recently renamed Second Nature’s Carbon Commitment, UConn made a promise to aim for carbon neutrality by 2050. Thereafter, all decisions regarding campus projects have been made with greenhouse gas emissions in mind, outlined in our Climate Action Plan. Apart from the presence of a wide range of sustainability initiatives at UConn, we attribute much of our success in the ranking to the diligence and cooperation of those involved in obtaining and compiling all of the data and information into concise, yet comprehensive, responses.