Environmental initiatives working towards carbon neutrality

By Cassy Sottile

News Editor

Washington College is doubling down on joining the greener campus conversation. 

Over the next year, the Office of Sustainability will collaborate with other departments to develop new environmentally-friendly projects that will reduce the impact WC has on the local, regional, and global environment. 

“As a campus — and as a larger society — we simply cannot continue with ‘business as usual.’ All of the information we can collect tells us that human activity is warming the planet, and it is my goal to minimize WC’s contributions to that problem,” Director of Sustainability Greg Farley said. 

Impacts of climate change are visible on campus through longer drought periods, episodic deluges of rainfall, hotter summers, and higher water levels in the Chesapeake Bay and Chester River, according to Farley.

To help minimize WC’s contribution, the College has been involved in UCapture, a green-tech platform that funds environmental projects in a school’s name, since last semester. 

UCapture funds carbon offset projects when people shop with over 7,500 participating merchants. 

“Carbon neutrality has to be a driving goal for the College. Right now, the campus has a 2070 target date for carbon neutrality that was set in the early 2000s,” Farley said. “That is much too late — the latest science tells us that we need to start drawing carbon down in the next decade if we’re going to curtail global warming to 2°C.”

Farley hopes to get WC to a state of carbon neutrality by approximately 2030.  

The Office of Sustainability hopes to offset at least as much carbon dioxide as last year. 

 “[We] are trying to reduce the school’s carbon footprint to combat climate change. While we work to reduce the greenhouse gases we produce, we can also get credit for carbon that we remove from the atmosphere,” Farley said. 

UCapture is the only returning green event from last year’s initiatives. 

Farley wanted to bring back the energy conservation competitions amongst the residence halls from last spring. However, because the College is phasing out the usage of Kent Crossing and some dorms are much older than others, the competitions will not be held.

“As we work with FESCO Energy Services — our energy-efficiency partner — we are planning for some heating and air-conditioning improvements in terms of efficiency to some of the campus dorms,” Farley said. 

For the 2019-2020 academic year, Farley and the College are enlarging the green scope and focusing primarily on instituting changes in current departments and buildings, such as the newly opened Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall. 

The Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall is striving to earn Living Building certification. To earn that distinction, it must produce 105% of the energy it uses annually, which it will do through the solar panels lining the roof, according to Farley.

The environmental hall joins the ranks of the modern buildings on campus through its geothermal field, which allows for more sustainable heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning. 

Other buildings that are heated by geothermal fields include the John S. Toll Science Center, Cromwel Hall, Hodson Hall Commons, and Cullen Hall. 

“We will have to measure and verify the building’s performance for a year, but if it works as designed, it should save the College about $19,000 per year,” Farley said. 

The Semans-Griswold Environmental Hall is among Farley’s efforts to reduce campus energy use. 

“Our energy-services partner is bringing about $12 million to campus to help finance upgrades and repairs to our standing equipment with the goal of saving the College money and energy,” Farley said. 

Some classes within the environmental science and studies department will be working with Farley’s efforts to start implementing a greener campus. 

Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Studies Dr. Jill Bible’s class will be waste auditing the campus. The class will examine the contents of trash bags from residence halls and offices, as well as recycling bins to determine how people are using waste streams, according to Bible. 

Student Government Association Environment Secretary senior Sammy Howell is working to install water bottle filling stations across campus. At the time of publication, they have been instituted in all of the academic buildings and will now be placed in the residence hall, as well as outdoors near the Roy G. Kirby Stadium. 

Farley and his team are feverishly working to promote the student-led composting movement and evaluating the technology used for it. 

Director of Dining Services Prince Johnson and the Hodson Dining Hall team are helping to institute more eco-friendly methods in the dining hall. 

“We have eliminated single-use plastic straws and are currently looking for better alternatives for to-go boxes,” Johnson said. 

Last year, Dining Services made the switch from plastic reusable boxes to compostable sugarcane boxes. The change was made due to the number of plastic boxes that were thrown away or left in dorm rooms. 

According to Johnson, plastic reusable containers will return in spring 2020 and will be purchasable via dining dollars. 

Farley hopes to foster an eco-friendly collaborative relationship with Dining Services to promote more plant-based diet options. 

“Vegetarian eating, even one day per week, is one of the best ways for individuals to reduce their carbon impacts,” Farley said. 

Farley and Johnson are also working together on the long-term goal to use food waste from the dining hall in anaerobic digestion, a process during which microorganisms break down organic material to produce natural gas which can be used for heating. 

Currently, the dining hall produces 61 tons of pre-consumer food waste every year and pays to haul it to the regional landfill, according to Johnson. 

Talks with a vendor for this anaerobic digestion initiative began last year, but broke down when the vendor began experiencing internal difficulties. 

“My personal goal is to achieve a 25% reduction in our energy use by 2023. That is not on paper anywhere, but it is the goal that drives me forward,” Farley said. 

Farley, Johnson, and other collaborators hope to make sustainability more visible on campus over the next semester through avenues such as outdoor recycling bins, rain gardens, and positive environmental signage. 

“Working towards a greener campus will help reduce our contributions to environmental problems while simultaneously helping make the campus more resilient to the changes we are experiencing,” Farley said. 

The goal of a greener campus will only be reached with student involvement and consistent, long-term efforts to change end-user behavior, revamp the infrastructure, and increase the efficiency of recycling materials. If any student has ideas for green initiatives, they should reach out to Farley. 

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