An interview with Dr. Jeanne Gulnick, campus sustainability coordinator
What is Attainable Sustainable?
It's the name for our campus movement toward sustainability. Sustainability is living in a way that we can use natural resources at a rate in which they can be renewed and produce waste in an amount that the environment can assimilate it.
Sustainability looks at the economic bottom line, the environmental bottom line and also the social bottom line. This means that it's not just about the way we live in this country; we influence the rest of the world. Americans use 20 to 40 times the resources that a person in the developing world uses. We even influence the conditions in Bangladesh, for example. The sea level rise there... it's displaced roughly 5 million people.
When were our campus eco-reps established and who are they?
Everything has just begun this fall. Monique Crawford, Ian Harmon, Joe Vining, Schara Kaldro, Amanda Russell, Chris Brandes, Mark Ciccone and Tony Fortin are the eco-reps here.
They've introduced themselves to the halls and are responsible for and have labeled recycling containers where it is possible. They have also been advocating to Don Tanguay for more recycling containers where they're needed. They've hung signs encouraging general energy efficiency, talked to students about shutting off their lights, as well as using Green Seal approved cleaning products.
Saint Joseph's is a member of the Green Campus Consortium. What is that?
The Green Campus Consortium is a group of sustainability coordinators and faculty from numerous campuses. We meet three times a semester and discuss different aspects of campus sustainability. It's a network to share what's working and what's not working.
The eco-reps idea came to me from somebody at UMO (University of Maine at Orono).
What other things are schools doing that we haven't?
Composting. We are starting to figure out something to get that done.
I think that in terms of energy use on campus, we're at the way beginning. I think we're overlit in so many places. For example, when you walk into Alfond Hall in the atrium, which is incredibly bright from the sunlight all day long, there are four lights on.
Bowdoin College has decreased their electricity use over the last year by 17 percent. Ours is steadily increasing each year because we're growing. Despite our growth, I think that we can make tremendous strides towards saving energy.
What are small steps we can do as faculty, staff, students, and alumni right now?
Turning off the lights when you leave your room is a big thing I would love to see.
Also, there are so many computers that are left on 24 hours a day. If we have roughly a thousand computers on campus and we save $50 per computer by people turning their computers off, in a year, that would be $50,000 saved in electricity. It's huge. And a really great feature is that in I.S. they will set your computer to hibernate. So, if you don't touch your computer in 30 minutes, it goes to sleep and uses virtually the same amount of energy as it does off, which can make a big difference.
Another one is carpooling! Faculty and staff here are driving together to make a difference. Sometimes it's just one day a week that they make a commitment to carpool. Not only does this save energy, but it creates a great social network.
Bon Appétit has done a tremendous job in having locally produced foods. However, we all can make better food choices that have much less impact on the environment when we're not eating at Bon Appétit.
Is the college ever going to adopt CFL light bulbs (the spiral ones)?
Oh yeah, definitely! Using CFL light bulbs is only a small piece of the electricity problem because most lighting here is overhead fluorescent lights. However, I would like to have the eco-reps do a light bulb exchange with other students. The CFL bulbs are expensive, but Efficiency Maine gives rebates, so if you change them out, you'll get a payback. We exchanged 50 bulbs last week in the residence halls and intend to do some more!
What are some short-term goals you'd like to achieve with sustainability at Saint Joseph's?
I'd like to see us reduce our energy over the next five years by 20 percent. I'd like to see the proposed new residence halls use some alternative form of energy. Chuck Dawes, our facilities director, went to a sustainability conference at Bowdoin College with me and seemed very interested in using geothermal energy in those new buildings.
What is a carbon footprint?
It is the amount of greenhouse gases that we put into the atmosphere as a result of our day-to-day activities.
What is the carbon footprint of Saint Joseph's College?
I couldn't tell you per person, but my honors Ecology and the Environmental Challenge class is doing a greenhouse gas inventory right now. It's never been done here, but it's a really important first step in decreasing our carbon footprint. About 90 percent of greenhouse gases come from energy, electricity, and heating use. However, when looking at a college's footprint, we have to also look at other angles, such as student gasoline usage.
Are greenhouse gases the same as CO2?
Carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas that is spoken about the most because we have dramatically changed its atmospheric levels due to burning fossil fuels. We also produce methane, N2O and CFCs, which are greenhouse gases.
Do we have any stats about energy use at Saint Joseph's?
No, it just hasn't happened yet. I have just applied for money from the Burnham Charitable Trust to place meters and sub-meters on the residence halls. Being able to monitor the electricity usage per residence hall will be a big first step. Potentially we could have competitions between residence halls to see who could decrease their usage the most. We can't do that right now because we have only one meter that comes into campus.
What's the biggest challenge you're faced with?
It's actually seeing things through to the end, that's the greatest challenge. It becomes difficult because I'm trying to work with students to change behaviors, work with facilities to change lighting and work with faculty to change curriculum. Staying on top of any one of those projects requires a lot of energy.
Are students doing enough?
Some colleges have 100 to 200 students meet once a week to hold a conversation on global climate change. We certainly don't have that sort of movement here. Student Athlete Advisory Committee wants to have a green mission and the Student Environmental Awareness Committee has a green mission. There seem to be more students here who care more than before.
How does Attainable Sustainable tie in to the Saint Joseph's mission statement?
It fits in with one of our core values, justice. It's what sustainability really is all about. They just put solar panels on the Vatican. So the Catholic Church is strongly for environmental sustainability. So are the Sisters of Mercy.
What long-term goals would you like to achieve with sustainability at Saint Joseph's?
I'd like to see our campus become carbon neutral. With all these steps, it's not just about taking the step, it's also about educating the students about what we're doing and why we're doing it. By changing here we could potentially be changing future generations.