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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis struggles with recycling and energy conservation

Published: September 21, 2012
Section: Features

Despite the perception that Brandeis is environmentally conscious, the university earned only a “B” on the 2011 Campus Sustainability Report Card and a bronze on last year’s STARS (Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment & Rating System). While many here applaud the environmental and recycling initiatives, questions about the effectiveness of those efforts remain. Recycling is very important, but according to Professor Eric Olson (HS), a senior lecturer for the Heller School of Social Policy and Management, it’s not as crucial as energy conservation.
“We could stop the recycling program and focus double down on energy,” says Olson, “and we would have a bigger impact. I wish people were more aware of the actual impacts of running university causes,” he added.
Many large buildings running lights, computers, telephones, heating and air conditioning can contribute to greenhouse gases. A network of underground steam pipes heats the entire university and campus sustainability Energy Manager William Bushey has found leaks in the steam pipes. Over the summer, the school renovated the North Quad pipes, the Castle boilers and the Faculty Club air conditioning to improve heating and cooling efficiency, but there are still many renovations needed.
Recycling opens people’s eyes to the sustainability needs, but additional improvements can come from energy conservation, Olson said.
Alie Sarhanis and Lea Lupkin, who took over for the Sustainability Coordinator Jana Cohen-Rosenthal agree, recognizing that Brandeis has to move away from burning fossil fuels and toward renewable resources. Options include building more solar panels like those on the athletic center and a new solar-thermal system, currently being built in the Charles River.
The solar panels cost $3 million to install, and the solar-thermal project cost $300,000, and that only heats four buildings. “You can’t just suddenly flip a switch and have all that happen immediately,” Lupkin said.
“There’s opportunities everywhere. In every sector there are things that can be done,” Sarahanis added. Brandeis sends all leftover food to the WeCare commercial composting facility in Marlborough Mass., however, Brandeis does not get all of its food from local sources. Buying food from local farmers reduces greenhouse gases because it doesn’t have to travel as far and boosts the local economy. As far as transportation is concerned, Brandeis offers Deis Bikes, the Crystal Shuttle and ZipCars, but students can also take public T buses and the Commuter Rail to reduce their carbon footprint. While Brandeis may have scored mediocre on food and transportation, it struggled with recycling. In one year, Brandeis used 92,490,948 gallons of water, threw out 1209.98 tons into landfills, composted 612.98 tons and only recycled 191.11 tons, according to information on the Brandeis Sustainability website. There are bins all around the school, labeled “single stream recycling,” a new method of recycling in which paper, glass, plastic, cardboard and metal can all go into one bin. In Usdan there is a Green Bean machine where students can recycle bottles for five cents to a Paypal or Whocash account. The university does have resources available for students, but rated poorly in education of its efforts. There are 25 sustainability-focused courses and 48 sustainability-related courses out of a total 1,368 courses offered, scoring 1.83 out of 10 possible points in the STAR report. The Eco-Reps play a big role in getting the message out to students about sustainability. There are 11 total and one in each dorm quad.
According to Flora Wang, the eco rep for North quad, the program puts, “emphasis on going out and doing something.” They organize programs like Give and Go and the Move-in Market to reduce waste, rent out drying racks to students, and “dorm storm” to teach students about turning off lights and appliances when not in use.
They gave out recycling bags to all incoming first-years with LED light bulbs discounted from NSTAR that last for 22 years and are much more energy efficient. They created the Green Room Certification Program and the Green Event Certification to reduce waste at events.
There’s also the SEA, Student Environmental Action Club that has weekly meetings to discuss how to improve sustainability. Lastly, the Brandeis Sustainability Fund (BSF), is a $25,000 per-year fund students can apply to use for different sustainability projects such as the Lucid Dashboard System, solar powered lights, Deis Bikes and the Green Bean recycling machine.