December 2011 Archives

SAGE Advice: All I want for Christmakwanza is to be green

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Update: Ready to recycle your holiday tree? Participating sites across Chicagoland will be open January 7-January 23.

Jingle bells are ringing and somewhere there’s definitely a choir singing about snowmen or famous reindeer or mistletoe or everyone’s favorite jolly Saint from the North Pole. Yes, now that we have successfully gorged on turkey and stuffing, it’s time to bring in the “most wonderful time of the year.” But as you hang the stockings by the chimney or spin the dradle, consider making this holiday season a green one. Try taking our advice between singing carols and we think your festivities will go down in history.

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  • Hosting a holiday party? Whether you’re planning on ringing in 2012 or simply gathering a group to light the menorah, be sure to be mindful of the setting. Incorporate local, organic vegetables into your spread and think about going for chicken or turkey over beef. Poultry options require 85% less water and 75% less fossil fuels* than beef production. Also, remember to go with reusable silverware and plates—your guests deserve the best (and so does the environment)!
  • Hitting the road for the holidays? Before you pack your bags and leave the office, dorm, or your apartment behind, be sure to power down your electronics. Take part in the University’s Power Down by ensuring your lights and computers are off for the holiday season.
  • For those who love to play Santa, think outside the box—literally. Think about buying concert tickets or gift cards to sustainable restaurants (for you Chicagoans, check out this list!), or other gifts that require little or no packaging. If you’re out of ideas or married to the idea of a tangible gift, consider looking into businesses that sell clever gifts made from repurposed materials.
  • Dress your home and your tree in the very best: deck your halls with LED lights, which use 95% less energy than conventional lighting options. You can also save $50 in electricity costs this season if you make the switch.
  • When the eggnog is gone and the ornaments come off your tree, recycle it! Don’t throw it into the fireplace, as burning the bark can contribute to creosote (a toxic preservative) buildup. Instead, recycle the tree for free by bringing it to a Chicagoland park. More details will be announced by the City of Chicago later this month.

Perhaps I am sentimental or old-fashioned, maybe I sound like your grandfather, but remember that ‘tis the season to be jolly—not the season of presents, epic deals, or overindulging on latkes. The holiday season can be an exceptional part of the year, a time to spend with those we value most in our lives and not the stuff we quickly tire of and hoard. So I’m offering this simple thought, for kids from one to ninety-two—as you sip hot chocolate and watch the frightful weather (from indoors, hopefully), remember that this is a time to be merry with the people we love. We wish you and yours a delightful holiday season.

* Rogers, Elizabeth. Shift Your Habit: Save Money, Save the Planet. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2010.

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A new shipment recently arrived for Facilities Services: three 100% electric vehicles to be added to their current fleet. These are the first Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) to come to UChicago’s campus. The cars, pictured above, will be replacing two 100% gasoline-powered trucks and a van.

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The NEVs are made in Minnesota by a company called e-ride. Using American Made parts and labor, they sell two models of vehicles the can be found on many other campuses, as well as in other settings. University of Wisconsin maintains about 40 of these cars in their fleet and just last April, e-ride vehicles made their debut in Antarctica. On our campus, the vehicles will most likely serve one of Facilities’ shops, such as the carpentry or painting shops. In the coming weeks, these shops will be piloting the NEVs, which will inform Facilities’ needs for the next shipment of electric vehicles. One limitation, about which we’re already aware, is that each car can only carry up to 4,200 pounds. Thus, they will be used primarily to transport people and smaller equipment in the shops.

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As they run on only electric charge, the NEVs are rather simple in design. The windows must be hand churned, there is no radio, and the only fluid under the hood is a small container of brake fluid. They charge for approximately eight hours (overnight) and should last about 20-35 miles per charge, depending on conditions and what utilities are used. When accelerating, the NEVs have a good amount of pick up but top off at around 25 mph—perfect for on-campus driving.

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The addition of NEVs to the campus fleet is one of many steps the University is taking to make the campus more sustainable. According to Kevin Austin, the Director of Building Services for Facilities Services, “end users have to invest in and commit to a technology in order for it to survive and evolve over time.” As the University makes this initial commitment to electric transportation, Facilities hopes to continue to invest in similar green technologies.

Published since 1989, National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) Campus Ecology sustainability case study database has become a valuable resource for students, faculty, administrators, community leaders and others interested in the role of colleges and universities in protecting the public health and welfare by reducing waste, pollution, and congestion in their communities.

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The University of Chicago submitted a case study featuring recycles, the free campus bike share program launched in 2009. In addition to community building through the program’s partnership with Blackstone Bicycle Works, recycles encourages the University community to try two-wheeled transportation, whether that’s attending a meeting or class across campus, running errands in the neighborhood, or going for a leisurely spin. The bike share program has been resoundingly successful and over the course of the past several years, UChicago has experienced an increased interest in cycling and commitment to cycling infrastructure, leading to an Honorable Mention designation as a Bicycle Friendly University from the League of American Bicyclists.

The only catalog of its kind, National Wildlife Federation’s campus sustainability case study database is available online. In addition to the 2011 submissions, the database includes more than 600 case studies from campuses across the U.S. spanning more than a decade.