Sustainable UNH

Learning about sustainability through the example of UNH

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Getting Beyond “The Choir”

July 29th, 2014 · No Comments

By Sakib Ahmed, UNHSI Climate Fellow
Bridgeport, Connecticut truly lives up to its name as the “park city.” As one of the smallest cities in the United States with one of the largest ratios of parks-to-developments, it is hard to believe that Bridgeport can get any greener. However, the city has been doing just that, but a different kind of green.

BGreen Bridgeport is the city’s initiative to become more resilient in the face of climate change and encourage green business growth, while reducing the city’s carbon footprint. The Mayor, Bill Finch has run his campaign on transforming Bridgeport into a sustainable city with projects ranging from solar installations, building permeable pavement, expanding parks, and increasing recycling in schools and public facilities.

Although there is so much happening in Bridgeport, hardly any of its residents know about it. This is due to a lack of communication channels within the city. In my first three weeks at Bridgeport, I learned a lot about their initiatives and the difficulties of communicating them to a diverse demographic such as Bridgeport’s.

An effective communications strategy in Bridgeport requires an understanding of the audience and their information streams. As some Bridgeport residents are from lower income households, it is difficult to target them through web campaigns. The older residents prefer print media and one to one interactions.

Unfortunately, an issue that persists in Bridgeport is a lack of alternative forms of communication tools and information streams. Some information about projects cannot be made public due to the nature of the partnership between Bridgeport and private companies. Much of the work that is in-progress has various stakeholders who disagree on whether to publicize their work, due to the fear of revealing their intentions to competitors or facing criticism from the public before the project is completed.

My work has focused largely on authoring articles for their website and crafting fact sheets with graphics about technical papers, as well as creating a marketing campaign for the reopening of Pleasure Beach. I have learned that graphics elicit a positive response from Bridgeport staff. However, it is difficult to gauge the public’s engagement with information that is disseminated through the government; because unlike a private company the government cannot track their profit margins or brand recognition as indicators of a successful communications campaign.

In Bridgeport, only a few communication channels are employed, the most frequent being Web and Email. All other sustainability communications are coordinated through working groups and consultants. Focusing on digital media has brought to light the concern of whether it is greener to go paperless and communicate solely via the web. According to the Institute for Sustainable Communications, digital media may be worse for the environment than print.

I have learned that Sustainability in Bridgeport resonates with the public when it is framed as a way to create jobs and reduce expenditures, as well as improve public health. My primary objective is to highlight the mayor’s accomplishments in areas that are tangible and relevant to the voter’s such as community and culture.

The Image below is a letter I wrote for the Mayor’s office to be published on the Pleasure Beach Pamphlet. It is intended to illicit a sense of cultural history and revitalization of the city for future generations, while also taking a stance on the protection of the environment.


The unique partnerships that the government has formed with green businesses in the city is incredible. An initiative that I am currently working on is the partnership between the Mayor’s Conservation Corps and the solar energy company Posigen. The Conservation Corps is sponsored by the city and its objective is to provide youth an opportunity to be employed in the summer preforming community service activities. The partnership with Posigen will allow the solar company to employ youth to assist in the marketing of Posigen’s solar installations to low income households. These programs are meant to erode the skepticism that many Bridgeport residents have about green technology, while simultaneously preparing youth for jobs in the green sector.

This infographic aims to introduce local residents to the benefits of using solar energy.

This infographic aims to introduce local residents to the benefits of using solar energy.

Written by Jennifer.

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More White Noise, or a Tool with Impact?

July 22nd, 2014 · No Comments

Written by Tegan O’Neill, 2014 Ted Smith Climate Fellow

A few years ago my parents bought a weight machine- one of those home-gym contraptions- and proudly assembled it. Since then, they have moved it around to various corners of the house, where it sits unused like a piece of vaguely ironic contemporary art. Our weight machine is like the many other ‘statement pieces’ you find around peoples’ homes; the sewing machines, exercise bikes, and pop-up trailers that were such a great idea (“and on sale!”) but never got used.

Unfortunately for those in the climate change communications world, it turns out that our tendency to “shelve it” applies to most things.

The advent of web applications and mobile apps that communicate the impacts of climate change has lead to the creation of hundreds of brilliant and useful tools. Online applications such as Sea Level, Global Forest Watch, and Aquifer have incredible potential to inform, change behavior, and reduce risk- but only if they are used.

Sample Interactive Web Tool

Caption: One of the many, many clearinghouses that are available, but difficult to navigate, and too time-consuming and complex to be widely used by producers.

A few weeks ago, I began working with three nonprofits in Montana on the development of a web-based tool to assist producers in Montana who are dealing with the impacts of climate change and water scarcity on their operations. The project will take a heap of money and several years to complete. There is a great deal of excitement about the tool right now, but without care it is possible the finished product might sit in some obscure corner of the internet someday, never to be used. For nonprofits, finding time, funding, and building interest for projects such as the one we are working on takes a gargantuan effort. As a result, spending time and money developing application that isn’t impactful is not an option.

In Montana, our goal is to improve producers’ abilities to adapt to climate change. Currently, the overwhelming number of resources and programs available to farmers and ranchers are spread out over dozens of websites and agencies. Instead of creating new resources or programs, our partners are seeking to consolidate and simplify that information to make it more usable. However, at this stage, we’re faced with question: how do we build a tool that won’t just add to the noise or sit on the shelf?

We start by asking questions, and we do it early.

Common sense tells us that people are only going to use a web application if it is easy to use and benefits them in some way. Whether that benefit is entertainment, increased profit or productivity, etc. depends on the tool and the target audience. Conducting interviews, focus groups, and discussions with producers is helping us figure out what kind of tool they’re most likely to use, and how it should function. We start by asking agriculturalists about the day-to-day challenges they face in their operations, how they’re feeling the impacts of extreme weather and water variability, and what tool they would like to see created. Basic questions like these lead to simple but powerful design decisions. For example, using a question-tree format instead of a traditional search function caters to users who may have a set of issues but not be aware of the underlying problem or what kind of opportunities that fit their needs.

Involving the target audience in development right from the beginning of the project serves two purposes. First, the application produced will make sense to the users because it has been designed with their sensibilities and input in mind. Second, the sense of ownership that is created through co-development will increase the likelihood that producers visit the site and share the tool within their own networks (“hey, I helped build this, it’s actually pretty useful”).

If you’re reading this and thinking ‘isn’t that something that businesses already do when they’re developing something?’ you’re absolutely right. Businesses do it, because they have to make sure the product is worth the investment. Businesses have to know the client, and assure that whatever they’re developing will be consumed. In the nonprofit and academic worlds, however, the desired outcomes aren’t so clear. While universities and nonprofits run dozens and dozens of climate change related databases, clearinghouses and online tools, the number of those that are simple and engaging enough to actually be used is questionable. While this is certainly not true for many organizations, it almost seems as though the goal of some web applications is to help make the organization or developer look good, instead of actually being practically useful, or moving a conversation forward.

Producing a tool that is sophisticated, nuanced, and ‘really cool’ to the researchers involved won’t do any good if it doesn’t engage the target audience. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned throughout this process so far is that impact depends on a good design, and a good design is the result of a lot of listening. I’m certainly looking forward to all of the conversations I’ll have over the rest of the summer. And hopefully, one day, somebody will actually use my family’s weight machine, I will see this tool up and running and, most importantly, it will have an impact.

Written by Jennifer.

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Hottest May. Hottest Year? Temperatures Are Only Going Up From Here!

July 3rd, 2014 · No Comments

Written by Sarah Large, 2014 Lamprey Climate Fellow

“Earth’s climate climate changes. It always has and always will.” This is the opening line of Climate Solution New England’s report “Climate Change in Southern New Hampshire: Past, Present, and Future.” This summer I am exploring the changing climate of each state in New England by analyzing several weather indicators, such as temperature and precipitation, with the intent to provide this information to the people who live in New England so they have a reference to how the climate where they live has changed and will change in the future.

The average temperatures across the Northeast have risen more than 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970 and with the way the United States relies on fossil fuels, temperatures in the Northeast are expected to rise 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by the middle of this century.  This rise in temperature is significant. In the late 14th century the Little Ice Age was caused by the global temperature only dropping by one to two degrees, therefore a rise in the temperature by 3 to 5 degrees will cause significant and noticeable changes. All of the seasons are getting warmer which will and already has had harmful impacts on New England’s economies, towns, and outdoor activities.

The topic of temperature has been discussed often lately. Adam Vaughan, from the Guardian, wrote about this past May being the hottest May on record. What I found the most astonishing from Vaughan’s article was that the majority (13 out of 14) of the warmest years on record have occurred within the 21st century! Surface air temperatures have been getting hotter and the recent years and decades are proof of this.

“How temperatures around the globe departed from average in May 2014, with warmer-than-normal areas in red and colder-than-normal in blue.”  Credit: NOAA

“How temperatures around the globe departed from average in May 2014, with warmer-than-normal areas in red and colder-than-normal in blue.”
Credit: NOAA

Building off of last months record high temperatures, Climate Central’s Andrea Thompson wrote that 2014 could be the warmest year on record.

She reported that temperatures have been higher than the average for more than 29 years. May was 1.33 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average for May, and that “each of the past three decades have been warmer than any other decade since 1850.” It’s getting hot, hot, hot. (For a fun little tune…

Throughout my analysis, the rising temperatures and higher amounts of precipitation have been on my mind. New England’s climate is getting warmer and wetter. Summers are hotter, and there is an increase in the number of days with temperatures above 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit.  The amount of precipitation has increased in New England and heavy extreme precipitation events are happening more often.

Will New England be able to adapt to these changes? How should New Englanders adapt to these changes? Who in New England will be impacted by these changes in climate? Will New Englanders be able to continue their favorite seasonal recreation activates?  How do our daily choices feed into these effects? These, among many more, are the questions that swirl around my mind every day as I crunch numbers and analyze the data I have.  I view this summer as being one step forward in my journey to answer these questions, and stumbling across more questions to analyze and answer.

Check out these additional sources for more information:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Mercury Rising: When to Expect the ‘Warmest Day of the Year’.” National Climatic Data Center.

Interactive temperature map of the world. NASA. “Global Temperatures 1880-2009.”


Written by Jennifer.

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Whose issue is climate change?

July 2nd, 2014 · No Comments

By Ruby Woodside, the 2014 Thomas Haas Climate Fellow
Last week, Climate Fellow Sarah Large and I watched the US and Ghana soccer teams face off at a local restaurant. We struck up conversation with a man sitting next to us; he was dropping his daughter off for orientation at UNH. Being a New Englander, as we both are, we found we had much in common and chatted about several topics before mentioning that we work as Climate Fellows at the Sustainability Institute. There was an almost imperceptible change in the mood. “So you believe in all that… ‘global warming’?” He asked us very dubiously. He had his doubts.

Our conversation made me think about framing, in particular how we frame issues of climate change, sustainability, and our food system. Whose issues are these? Last week I attended the 2014 New England Food Summit in Providence, RI. The focus this year was on racial equity and social justice within the food system. There were some very interesting and uncomfortable discussions, as seems to often be the case when talking about race. I was surprised to see people at odds with each other for expressing their views on how racism is, or is not, perceived as a priority in their work. It reminded me that we all need to keep an open mind and be willing to listen to opinions we may disagree with, an especially useful lesson when working in the environmental sector.

I found that climate change was left out of most of our discussions at the Summit, at least explicitly. My project as a Climate Fellow this summer is to look at climate change and the food system, more specifically farms and fisheries. How is climate change affecting food production, and how can farmers adapt? What impacts are ranchers, fishermen, large scale, and small family farms seeing? Are there specific measures being taken to deal with changes? These are the questions I was most interested in talking about. The New England Food Vision sets a goal of 50% of food produced regionally by 2060. We know that climate change is already affecting the region, and will continue to do so in coming decades. So how can we incorporate climate issues into planning for a just and healthy food system?

Climate change and environmentalism have long been perceived as somewhat elitist, and disconnected from the communities that will be most impacted. Big picture framing of these issues can make them more exclusive and difficult to talk about. How does one frame the impacts of climate change in a way that speaks to broad and diverse populations, rather than alienate them? Even when everyone is working towards sustainability and healthy communities, there can be conflicts, as I saw at the Summit. For example, how to ensure affordable healthy food while also ensuring fair prices for farmers and fishermen? A woman I met at the Summit suggested that I read a report called “Everybody’s Movement: Environmental Justice and Climate Change.” The report talks about how both the environmental justice movement and mainstream environmentalists working to mitigate climate change have much to gain from collaborating. I strongly agree.

One reason I love to watch the World Cup, despite not playing or following soccer, is that so many diverse people in so many diverse countries are absolutely fanatical about their soccer teams. Soccer seems like everybody’s sport. Climate change needs to become everybody’s movement. I do hope that in some tiny way, through understanding the tangible and present effects of climate change to local farms and fisheries, my work this summer can help make this issue a bit more accessible.

Written by Jennifer.

→ No CommentsTags: Climate & energy · Food, agriculture, & nutrition

Climate Change Communication in Montana

June 26th, 2014 · No Comments

Written by Raija Bushnell, UNHSI Ted Smith Climate Fellow

How do you communicate about climate change in Montana?  From what I have learned in my three weeks of living here, it is by not saying “climate change.”

To begin broadly, I would like to first acknowledge that the issue of communicating climate change is not unique to Montana. This past spring the Smithsonian Magazine published an article titled “Why Doesn’t Anyone Know How to Talk About Global Warming?” The article discussed how, despite all the information and facts being presented by science, the communication strategy used is unsuccessful in furthering the public’s understanding of climate change, which prevents the buy-in necessary for action. It is a breakdown in understanding the culture of the audience, how to present the facts, and even the general semantics of the subject.

To some of the rural population in Montana and across the U.S., “climate change” and “global warming” are synonymous with the UN’s Agenda 21—a broad government conspiracy and plot for control. However, this doesn’t mean that people are blind to the changes in weather and the extreme weather events that are occurring. To counteract this, scientists and policy makers need to consider utilizing a different lens.

In Montana, that could be water.

Montana is unique in that it contains the headwaters for three continental watersheds: the Columbia River, the Missouri River, and the St. Mary’s river—Montanans and multiple states rely on these headwaters. Within Montana agriculturalists own 95% of the water rights, and unfortunately the legal structure of those rights is best summed up as “use it or lose it.” Further complicating matters is that in a state of a little over 1 million people, urbanization is increasing. This shift results in higher urban demands for water from limited municipal water sources. It also changes political dynamics where an urban population, who has strength in numbers, will begin to have a louder voice and more power to influence water discussions and actions. Mark Twain once said “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over” and in Montana this is becoming increasingly true as all types of Montanans are seeing changes in their water supply and demand.

Montanan agriculturalists are now seeing their growing season start earlier and last longer. Although a longer season can increase production it also means more water is needed. Skiers had a great year where the snowpack in some places was over 130% of the average, but the melting comes earlier and faster which causes flooding problems at the beginning of the season and low water later in the season.

130 ft Snowpack

Beartooth Pass snowpack in 2011. In 2010-2011 the snowmelt came late, but trends have indicated melts are coming earlier. (Source:

Fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts are seeing warmer rivers with low water levels that don’t support fish habitat or their outdoor activities at the end of summer. All this adds up to concern about an issue that, despite disagreement about its causes, finds widespread agreement on the need to adapt and find solutions.

Infographic: Montana Spring

As can be seen on this map, Spring (characterized in this case as the first budding of leaves) is coming earlier in the majority of states. (Source:

In my three weeks that I have been here, it has been interesting to observe how this communication strategy, which uses water as a common ground, is allowing Montanan non-profits, agriculturalists, scientists, and sportsmen alike to come together and begin important discussions that are relatable to all interested parties. More importantly, it represents the possibility of a new strategy that focuses on making climate change communication pertinent to the people that it is affecting the most.

Written by Jennifer.

→ No CommentsTags: Climate & energy · Culture & Sustainability

Push Mute On Your Single Passenger Commute

May 15th, 2014 · No Comments

Written by Jill Barlotta, UNHSI intern

I am just as guilty as the next person for driving my car, with no other passengers, to school. Granted, I do not do this everyday, but I do it on days when I just don’t feel like walking the 5 minutes to the bus stop. Guess what everyone…it is just as far to walk to the bus stop as it is to walk from the farthest reaches of A lot! Sometimes I do the single-passenger commute because I have a meeting far off campus that the buses do not service or it would take me forever to get there using public transportation. Therefore, my need to drive my car alone to campus has become a convenience issue. In this day and age we have so many things at the push of our finger. So I am going to challenge you to “inconvenience” yourself. Walk the 5-10 minutes it takes to get to the bus and enjoy this time away from technology. Take the extra 10 minutes it takes to ride the bus instead of drive yourself to read a book, meet a new person, or simply zone out. Make an exercise goal for yourself to be able to ride your bike from Newmarket or Dover. All these simple ways to get to school lessen your environmental impact on your local community. Do I hear your brain swirling? Maybe you are thinking, how can my commuting choices make a difference? Well let me show you how with some awesome carbon emission calculations.

Every year UNHSI collects information from different departments on campus about how much electricity UNH purchases, how many gallons of fuel the busses use, how much it composts, and lots more. UNH also collects information about commuting. As hopefully many of you know, the UNH transportation Services just completed their transportation survey. If you participated, you are helping UNH collect important information that helps the University track its emissions. This information is then compiled and given to UNHSI so they can put it in the Campus Carbon Calculator (a tool developed by the nonprofit Clean Air-Cool Planet and UNH, which is now managed by UNHSI) and determine how much commuting contributes to the University’s carbon emissions.

In 2011, which is the most recent transportation data available, of the 14, 211 students at UNH, 25% drive a personal vehicle with only them in the car and 10% carpool. The number of students that use their personal vehicle has declined from 47% in the past 15 years and the number that carpool has increased by 4%. This amount of students commuting equals 8.98 trips per week per person, for 30 weeks per year, at an average of 12 miles per trip. Anyone want to guess how many miles this is per year? The answer is 13, 782, 396 miles per year, which amounts for 570,223 gallons of fuel, or you could drive around the world 553 times. This breaks down to 4, 262 miles per day or 176 gallons. You could drive to Los Angeles and still have over 1000 miles to spare! ROAD TRIP!!!!!

Road trip

Student commuting by car emits 1063 kg of CH4 (methane), 355 kg of N2O (Nitrous Oxide), and 5,000,989 kg of CO2. These numbers probably mean nothing to you so lets put them in context. One particle of methane remains in the atmosphere for 12 years and is 20 times better at trapping radiation than CO2. Therefore, its ability to contribute to the heating of the atmosphere is 20 times greater than CO2. N2O particles remain in the atmosphere for 114 years. It heats the atmosphere at a rate of 310 times more than CO2. CO2 has many sinks in the environment such as plants and the ocean. Therefore, it is hard to gauge its atmospheric lifespan. However, there is currently too much CO2 in the atmosphere. The current CO2 level is approximately 400 ppm. It has been identified that a level of 350 ppm is acceptable for systems to remain in balance. Currently, we are adding 2 ppm of CO2 every year. We need to work to reduce this and this is where you can help.

The burning of fossil fuels, i.e. the gas you use in your car emits CH4, N2O, and CO2 into the atmosphere. To make your difference you can make sure that your car has a catalytic converter to reduce the N2O emitted, carpool with friends, take the UNH buses, ride your bike or walk to school. Over the year these daily changes will begin to add up. If you drive 10 miles to school one way, like me, you total 20 miles per day, 100 miles per week and roughly 5 gallons of fuel per week. Over the 30-week academic year this equals 3,000 miles and 150 gallons of fuel. This breaks down to equal 0.2 kg of CH4, 0.1 kg of N2O, and 1,100 kg of CO2. It also amounts to $553 or one month of rent, or 11 pedicures, or 61 6-packs of Smuttynose IPA! You may think that changing your commuting habits won’t make a difference, but remember each bit helps. If each commuter on campus knew how they could reduce their commuting emissions, the 13, 782, 396 miles travelled each year by UNH students to campus and the 570,223 gallons of fuel used could be reduced. So do you accept my challenge to “inconvenience” yourself and seek alternative transportation modes?

Tomorrow, Friday, May 16th, is the annual Seacoast Bike/Walk to Work day No better time to begin; you can start your day off right, and help UNH maintain its “champion” status in this annual event!

Written by Jennifer.

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May 5th, 2014 · 1 Comment

By: Jill Barlotta, Carbon Accounting Intern,  M.S. Candidate TIDES Program

How many of you can tell me what one of those acronyms means? Maybe you can tell me what they all have in common? If not, you’re not alone. Acronyms are plaguing our society making it very hard for people to understand what is going on. This is how I felt when I began interning at the University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute and I had my first meeting with my supervisor. It seemed every other word was an acronym. I was thinking, “Oh no! What am I doing working in a position that requires an acronym dictionary?” Well no worries, after some research and the internet, I was able to decipher the acronym maze that awaited me.

So if you haven’t Googled all these acronyms yet, let me help you out a bit. The common element? They all have to do with calculating and reporting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As defined by the EPA, greenhouse gases are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. Were it not for GHGs’ heat-trapping ability, our planet would not be habitable. However, the problem of climate change is essentially a problem of too much heat-trapping going on; a build-up of too many GHGs in the atmosphere, resulting primarily from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas, etc), is shifting the balance of atmospheric dynamics that have kept the planet hospitable to human and other life for millennia.

Some common GHGs, and ones that are required for GHG reporting (more on this later), are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and fluorinated gases. Fluorinated gases include hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). So now you are probably even more tongue-tied with all these intense sounding chemicals. For the purpose of understanding GHG reporting, lets focus on the three main gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O).

CO2 is the most commonly reported emission because it is the most prevalent (82% of emissions according to EPA) greenhouse gas created by human activity. As noted previously, it is emitted through the burning of fossil fuels or wood products, and the manufacturing of certain products such as cement. Universities are most focused on CO2 since they often emit little of the other GHGs, if any at all.

Are you still with me? I know this is a lot and believe me I was a bit bug-eyed my first few days of the internship. Once I began to research the phenomena of reporting, things began to click. Public GHG reporting began in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Government agencies, non-profit organizations (NPOs), and the private sector, asked by the World Resources Institute (WRI), came together to develop the GHG Reporting Protocol. This document provides the standard methodology guidelines that are used by the majority of reporting organizations and calculation tools. This is the methodology used by UNH’s very own reporting tool, the Campus Carbon Calculator (CCC). I am not going to get into methodologies yet. However, I have included the link to the GHG Reporting Protocol if you are interested.

The basics of reporting are gathering data, inputting into the calculator tool, getting results, reporting them to a reporting agency, and creating a reporting inventory document. Two reporting agencies that are tailored to colleges and used by UNH are The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) reporting tool, Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating Systems (STARS); and the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) reporting tool.

You now have the basic understanding of GHG emissions calculation and reporting, the ability to read an acronym and know what it means. I encourage you to do more research on your own and look out for future blogs. We plan on explaining calculating methodologies, the importance of reporting, gathering data, and many more TABs. TABs? What is TAB? TABs stands for totally awesome blog. Sorry–I just felt the need to create my own acronym.

As promised here is the link to the GHG Protocol. It is intended for corporations, but universities and communities have based their methodologies on this model.

Written by Jennifer.

→ 1 CommentTags: Climate & energy · Higher Education

Students write Op-Ed to Foster’s Daily: “Mascott Madness” #SaveGnarlz

April 7th, 2014 · No Comments

SEAC student Katarina Kieleczawa And Peter Wilkinson, SEAC STudent and Sustainability Institute Student Ambassador wrote an op-ed for Foster’s Daily Democrat promoting a National Wildlife Federation they’re bringing to UNH:

“Mascot Madness: UNH’s Wildcats in a Fight for Their Lives”
Written by Jackie.


→ No CommentsTags: Climate & energy · Culture & Sustainability · Higher Education

College is the time to connect with faculty, work towards change

April 3rd, 2014 · 1 Comment

Ann Jolie Steeves
2014: Health Management and Policy: Public Health, EcoGastronomy Dual Major
Student Ambassador to the Sustainability Institute’s Food Systems Task Force

The first class of the UNH Sustainability Institute's Student Ambassadors with Dr. Tom Kelly

Welcome to the University of New Hampshire, a beautiful institution on the coast of a historic state, one hour from the city of Boston, and two hours from the wonderful White Mountains. At UNH, you can explore your passions, meet interesting people, become involved in research, and most importantly, join a community of virtuous humans. I’ve had the privilege of becoming very involved with what our institution has to offer over the past four years and I am truly proud to say that “#IbelieveinUNH”.

It’s been my pleasure to watch this bandwagon of school spirit gain momentum over the past four years. We sure have a lot to be proud of! I think what I like most about UNH is the honest passion so many individuals hold for whatever it may be they are interested in. We have a spirited community of determined individuals who are enthusiastic about changing the world! I am mostly referring to our ambitious student activist community, but the passion goes beyond that. Weather it is Hepcats Ballroom Dancing club, or the UNH Woodsmen Team, the individuals I meet in UNH organizations beam with contentment from their respective passions. Witnessing another person’s passions may not convert you to become as ardent as they are, but it will remind you what life is about. Or, at least it does for me. When I meet someone who is enthralled with their life— whether it’s their academics, student orgs, or work—it reminds me what life is about. I’ve been learning recently about the concept of an “authentic self”—a term to describe figuring out who you are and owning your own personal uniqueness. We have been told to “find our passion” through many venues growing up, but I say this should change to “let your passion find you”. We are fortunate to be in a community of impassioned young people, just get involved with something and you may make a connection to something else. We truly have the potential to change the world! I’ll admit that college has not been all butterflies and rainbows, but as a senior counting down the 40-something days to commencement, I am going to miss this place. So, as the wise old senior undergraduate that I am, I am encouraging everyone to become involved in our greater campus community! Don’t be intimidated by anything or anyone. Our culture loves to tell people to relax and give things time, but NOW IS THE TIME! By the time you wait for the time to be right, the time will be GONE!

I now want to focus on the sustainability efforts on our campus. I am disappointed by the lack of student awareness of some of our campus efforts regarding sustainability. I arrived at UNH knowing I would be in the EcoGastronomy dual-major, but I was not sure what else I would find. This past year, I have had the opportunity to be directly involved with the Sustainability Institute through the Student Ambassador program. This program gives four students the chance to have a seat on institutional task forces related to sustainability in the focus areas of culture, climate, biodiversity, and food. These four themes are the pillars of sustainability on campus. I’m proud to be part of an institutional effort to not only recognize such critical issues, but to include and acknowledge perspectives from different stakeholders in our community. The student voice is critical, and strangely enough, is regularly ignored by many institutions.

Becoming an engaged student member of this community was a little intimidating for me. One of the required texts in the Intro to EcoGastronomy course is The Sustainable Learning Community, by Dr. John Aber, Dr. Tom Kelly, and Dr. Bruce Mallory. As a bright-eyed freshman, I was shocked to be reading a published book about the very institution I was attending! And to think that these authors wrote all this about my school?! We discussed the text in my EcoGastronomy course a bit and talked about the implications a public land-grant institution having an endowed institute focused on sustainability. It’s incredible! Similar institutions now exist across the country, but when the Sustainability Institute was founded in 1994, it was extremely unique. Learning of this prominence brought great pride to me and my peers in EcoG. We realized that we were attending a special institution at a noteworthy time of significant cultural shifts to create a more sustainable future. It was intimidating to even think of getting involved! I distinctively remember eating ice cream at the Dairy Bar in the spring of freshman year with two other young women in my EcoGastronomy course. We had been assigned to meet outside of class for a discussion, and chose to do so at the Dairy Bar. I remember sitting outside as a tall figure walked by us… that was Tom Kelly!!! Us freshmen EcoGers were giddy for spotting him! It made our whole day.
My extracurricular college career continued to intersect with Tom’s work. Sophomore year, I became very involved with the Real Food Challenge (RFC) campaign, a national network of college students advocating for “real” food at their institutional dining operations. Turns out Dr. Tom Kelly sits on RFC’s Advisory Committee among esteemed food heros including Michael Pollan, Vandana Shiva, and Anna Lappé. This guy meant business! My respect for Tom only continued to grow.

I knew that Tom was a busy man, but was still naïve enough to think it wouldn’t be too hard to schedule a meeting with him. This proved to be difficult. Long story short, I finally set up a personal meeting with him this past summer to talk about sustainability efforts related to food and the Real Food Challenge campaign. My good friend and fellow organizer, Acacia Kreidermacher, intended on coming to the meeting, but dropped out at the last minute. She admits now that, “I bailed out of that meeting because I was intimidated by him.” I could not cancel this meeting, so I suppressed my anxiety and went into it alone. Tom and I ended up having a lovely stimulating conversation that day. It was then that I realized something very important: people at universities love students. Tom has dedicated his life to working toward institutional sustainability, he wants the students he is working for to respect his work and become involved! I expressed this misconception to Tom, as I wanted him to understand the false notion many students may hold. Tom shared some advice with us what he likes to call, “The Prime Directive”—to take your work seriously but never take yourself seriously. He explained that he shares this sentiment with this coworkers and him and his peers keep each other in check. I think I will live by this sentiment, and share it with others. Since the summer, I have had the pleasure of meeting with Tom in a variety of other settings, and I only have good things to say about his nature. It’s interesting to me how students may be intimidated to make the first move to connect with our campus’s prestigious faculty and staff members. We are at this University to become educated! We must take proactive steps to make the most of our privilege to be educated.

Tom recently joined the Sustainability Institute’s Student Ambassadors for a meeting, where we got to learn even more about him. He shared a lot about his past, and the path of this career that brought him to where he is today. We learned that he studied music in undergrad at the prestigious Berklee College of Music. As an open book, Tom explained his career path to us. After graduating Berklee, Tom worked as an auditor at Tanglewood, where Leonard Bernstein, the famous conductor who wrote the music for West Side Story was there. Working with such an esteemed musician, Tom was shocked at the disrespect between politics and egos at Tanglewood which were clouding Bernstein’s talent. He came to terms with the reality that even if he was incredibly lucky, just maybe would he be able to pursue music as a career. After flirting in the wine industry, Tom grew interested in foreign affairs. He got married, started his family and wound up at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University where he earned his Masters and Doctoral Degrees. Tom spent time living in Mexico City before doing work on the US-Mexican border, where he grew interested in a watershed issue. His thesis on this topic was called, “Sewage Diplomacy: The Political Geography of Cross-border Sewage Flows at San Diego – Tijuana”. Dr. Kelly was fascinated how such a straightforward issue could be so complicated from constructed barriers between political institutions. When I asked if he thought about entering Foreign Service after his time at the Fletcher School, he responded,
“I was (thinking about it), but was overwhelmed with US foreign policy. Emotionally at the time, I felt like it would be too constraining.”

I’m sure many of us soon-to-be college graduates can relate to this sentiment. We
want to change our world for the better, but feel overwhelmed by today’s realities. Nearing the end of our conversation, I asked Tom about something I think about each day: how does one keep spirits high when faced with so much going against us in the world? There’s no denying the state of the world is overwhelming. Tom responded, “I am still idealistic, and you have got to hold on to it.” Jackie Cullen, the Sustainability Institute’s Program Support Assistant added, “You can’t have your position and not be.” This is one of the biggest take-aways from my experience at here at UNH. We must soak up our time here and spread the optimism we have collected from such distinguished people working toward positive change! If we don’t stay positive and work for a better future, who will?

Join the Sustainability Institute’s Student Ambassadors, Dr. Tom Kelly, and other members of our Sustainable Learning Community for the Inaugural UNH Sustainability Summit, held Tomorrow, Friday, April 4th in MUB Theatre II from 12pm-2pm.

Inaugural UNH Sustainability Summit April 4th

Written by Ann.

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The Culture around Bottled Water

March 17th, 2014 · 1 Comment

Here at UNH, we are privileged enough to be able to turn on the faucet and have clean, safe, drinking water at our disposals. A virtually unlimited amount of water. Then why do we insist on buying case after case of Poland Springs water, or Fiji water. Because that’s what we were ‘brain-washed’ to do. In order to make a bunch of money on something as little, but important, as water, companies such as Nestle decided to bottle it up, slap a picture of a beautiful mountainside stream, and say that it’s cleaner than municipal water. And people ate it up. Why would you want to drink water from the stinky old lake that people are allowed to swim in when you could drink water from an uninhabited mountain far off in the distance. Want to know a secret? Most of the bottled water today actually comes from right from the tap out of that stinky old lake. Yup. You know everyone’s favorite Poland Springs, bottled right in our neighbor Maine? Well Nestle actually extracted so much water that the real Poland Springs is no longer the main source, but rather a bunch of other springs in the area, since its so depleted.*
You’re probably thinking, yeah well the water from the drinking fountain in Huddleston tastes bad so it must be bad for you, right? Wrong. Tap water is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who has much heavier regulations than the Food and Drug Association (FDA) who is in charge of bottled water. The FDA treats bottled water as food, and therefore doesn’t have to conduct certain chemical tests on it, or to maintain truly safe standards. The EPA also requires that municipal water sources are tests a bunch of times a month, while the FDA only tests bottled water sources a few times a year. The only reason Huddleston water tastes so bad is because that building hasn’t been renovated since like 1584.
But buying a huge case of bottles everytime you go home for a weekend is so much more convenient than having to go refill a water bottle. Have you ever sat down and calculated out just how much you’re spending on those bottles? Well a friend of mine that’s also involved with Take Back the Tap (we’ll get into that later) did. And here’s what she came up with.

According to the EPA, tap water is about 2? per 1,000 gallons.

A 24-pack of generic bottled water from Walmart is about $9, and equals around 3.2 gallons.

On campus, a single bottle of Dasani water is about $1.79, at approximately 0.132 gallons.

So for a gallon of each of these different waters, it’ll be around $0.002 for tap, $2.80 for bulk, and $13.56 for individual bottles.

I’m not a math major (environmental geography actually), but I’m pretty sure tap water is way more cost effective. If you need further convincing, my friend did out the math (maybe she’s a math major!) how much it would cost you to drink the recommended 8 glasses of water a day for a whole month; 3? a month for tap, $42 for bulk water, and $203.40 for Dasani water on campus. That’s outrageous! We spend like a billion dollars to go to this awesome school, so why are we spending a bunch more money on water when it could cost us pennies. I bet if we each walked through the Dump parking lot once a month we could find the three pennies it would cost us to drink water. Don’t worry about sending any money this month mom, I found enough in a parking lot!
So I propose that we each reach into that jar of emergency money, grab a twenty, go to the bookstore and buy a $16 UNH Nalgene, then take the remaining $4 and buy yourself something nice from Kurt’s. Cheesy fries anyone? You can also easily get a cheap reusable bottle from Walmart or Target or wherever.

If you want to talk more about this issue, because believe me there’s a lot more here, then why don’t you mark on your calendars March 25. There’s going to be a University Dialogue that day all about the water on campus. It’s going to be wicked cool.

* This short article touches a little on the whole Poland Springs/Nestle dispute, and links to another good article:

Written by naomi.

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