UConn to continue sustainability efforts after IPCC report

FILE - This June 1, 2014, file photo show the coal-fired Plant Scherer in operation in Juliette, Ga. Despite what President Donald Trump says, scientists have long known that what's warming the planet isn't natural. It's us. Climate scientists say Trump was wrong. There are several ways they know that more than 90 percent of climate change is caused by emissions of heat-trapping gases from activities like burning coal and natural gas for electricity, or burning gasoline, diesel and jet fuel for transportation. In other words, humans. (AP Photo/John Amis, File)

The University of Connecticut will continue providing sustainable, environmentally friendly alternatives to numerous facilities on campus after the United Nations released a report on the state of the global environment earlier this month, said Rich Miller, the director of the Office of Environmental Policy at UConn.

The report, authored by members of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said if current greenhouse gas emissions persist, the planet could be in severe danger due to an increase in wildfires, food shortages and a die-off of coral reefs in oceans as early as the year 2040, according to the New York Times.

Miller said UConn is part of the We Are Still In Coalition, which consists of about 3,000 members and includes mayors, governors, businesses and university leaders around the United States. The goal of the group is to continue to pursue carbon emission reduction goals, despite President Trump’s departure from the Paris Agreement.

The agreement was signed in 2016 and unifies numerous countries under the common goal of combating climate change and adapting to its implications, according to the United Nations Climate Change.

“Even though the Trump Administration has chosen to back away from the Paris Agreement, we are not,” Miller said. “We want to reduce these emissions.”

Miller said despite the growing debate over climate change in the United States, Connecticut is on track to effectively reduce its carbon footprint, but the initiative needs to extend further.

“We realize that the political environment is not a good one in this country for some of the things we’d like to do,” Miller said. “But this needs to be a global collaborative effort to make sure we can avoid catastrophic consequences of climate change.”

Miller said the measures on campus are part of efforts with the coalition as well as the overarching goal of the university to reduce its carbon footprint as much as possible.

“We’re constantly installing energy efficiency measures, like LED lighting and controls and sensors for heating, cooling and ventilation systems so that they only run when people are in the rooms,” Miller said.

UConn also has a policy to adhere to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program, which states that all construction projects costing over $5 million on campus will need to be certified as “green buildings,” meaning they take necessary steps to remain energy efficient, Miller said.

“It [LEED certification] sets standards that are used across the country to decide what constitutes a green building,” Miller said. “The new rec center is going to cost over $100 million, so that project will be LEED Gold, which is one of the highest possible levels of efficiency.”

Miller said the university has goals elsewhere to reduce pollution and waste on campus.

“We have a goal by 2020 to retrofit most of the lights on campus, both interior and exterior lighting, to LED which is most efficient,” Miller said. “It’s 40 percent more efficient than fluorescent.”

Other on campus projects include work on steam pipes, which are underground throughout the core campus.

“We’ve been replacing sections of steam pipe around campus for the last three years, with most of the work being done in the summer,” Miller said. “It requires a lot of excavation and they are expensive projects, but in the end they pay off by saving UConn a lot of energy and water that would otherwise be lost when the system is leaking.”

Miller said it is important to encourage students to contribute to environmental friendly efforts as individuals, as well.

“They [students] can walk, they can bike, instead of driving cars. They can park remotely and have a bike available or use UConn Cycle Share to avoid taking a car,” Miller said. “We also have Zipcar, so if they need a ride they don’t need to bring their car to campus.”

Miller also cited diet as an important method to utilize for individuals to live as sustainably possible.

“A lot of students believe that diet is an important aspect of sustainability in terms of buying local fruits and vegetables and eating a more vegetarian or vegan diet,” Miller said. “Meat and dairy products are the most carbon intensive in terms of the carbon emissions that occur in production.”

There have been a wide range of student-run programs on campus that have also contributed to UConn’s efforts in sustainability.

It requires a lot of excavation and they are expensive projects, but in the end they pay off by saving UConn a lot of energy and water that would otherwise be lost when the system is leaking.
— Rich Miller

“We’ve got recycling bags that we’ve distributed in all dormitories on campus this semester, which encourage people to recycle in their dorms,” Miller said.

UConn is also in the midst of the annual EcoMadness program, which is governed heavily by students from 23 dorms on campus and is tracked consistently year after year.

“We have real time metering data from the energy and water use in each of the dorms,” Miller said. “There are volunteer Eco Captains who are in charge of motivating students to use less water and electricity by taking shorter showers, using washing machines for only full loads, turning off lights and other electrical equipment when they leave their room, and so on.”

Miller said UConn attempts to help students develop environmentally responsible habits on campus as they would elsewhere.

“When students come to UConn, we reach out to them,” Miller said. “We try to institutionalize these behaviors and let them know that, if they recycle at home, they can do it here too. A lot of it is about raising awareness and making things like recycling, and energy and water conservation habits, part of the daily routine. Then it just becomes the way you live your life.”

The university has an important role in being a trailblazer for sustainability efforts, Miller added.

“The university as a whole has an important mission in terms of leadership, setting an example and leading by an example for others across the state and country to follow,” Miller said. “The University of Connecticut is all in.”


Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at taylor.harton@uconn.edu.