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When Aden Van Noppen '09 arrived at Brown four years ago, she went to the activities fair and scanned the tables, looking for groups that focused on climate and energy issues. She didn't find much.
"We were shocked. We were all shocked," Van Noppen said.
Van Noppen wasn't the only frustrated freshman. "There was this group at the time called the Brown Environmental Action Network that was relatively dormant," said Zindzi McCormick '09. "They were mostly having potlucks and not doing too much in terms of activism or policy or really engaging at anyone who wasn't already engaged." That soon changed.
During their freshmen year, McCormick and Van Noppen started the emPOWER campaign — within BEAN's structure — in an attempt to commit the University to 25 percent renewable energy. But realizing their goal was too small and thinking BEAN was too limiting, Van Noppen and McCormick headed in a new direction. This new group broke off from BEAN and the latter more or less turned into emPOWER, Van Noppen wrote in an e-mail to the Herald. "We became the biggest, most visible student campaign on campus my sophomore year and now we are the biggest environmental group on campus." In the four years since its creation, emPOWER has helped Brown set ambitious carbon-reduction goals, establish programs to reduce energy use in the surrounding community and create multimillion-dollar projects to increase energy efficiency on campus. It's been one of many initiatives, stemming from both students and the University, to turn Brown a bit more green. "It was crazy the transformation that had happened in these four years," Van Noppen said.  
In addition to emPOWER, other campus groups with environmental aims took root. The Sustainable Food Initiative, which began in spring of 2005, has tried to increase the power of local farmers while decreasing environmental harm caused by agriculture. For example, this past year, the group took on a commitment to Real Food, which helps bring local foods into Brown's dining halls. But SuFI member and Real Food founder David Schwartz '09.5 said Real Food isn't just about a single issue. "It's actually not just about local food. It's not just about organic food. It's not about humanely treated animals. It's not about, you know, nutritious food. It's not about, you know, fairly-traded food. It's not about which one is better than the other," he said. "It's about all of those things." Working with Brown Dining Services and the administration, the Real Food initiative has helped BuDS spend an estimated 10 to 20 percent of their budget on "real" food. EmPOWER and SuFI are just two of the many programs through which students are environmentally involved today.
"Now, there's so much going on that no one can keep track of it," Van Noppen said.
When Van Noppen returned to the activities fair this year, she said she was amazed by how many student groups were tackling climate and energy issues. "That was a moment of like, ‘Wow. Things have really come a long, long way.'"
But they didn't come a long way easily.

‘Institutional inertia' despite ‘nothing but support'
According to McCormick, national press coverage on environmental issues helped raise public awareness during the summer of 2006 — when Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" came out  — which then came back to College Hill. "We were really able to ride that wave when we came back to campus fall of my sophomore year," McCormick said. "We prepared for sort of a big fight, building up a lot of awareness and interest, and we just found — we essentially found nothing but support."
With energy prices rising, the University had a great financial incentive to respond to student demands for more efficient energy use at Brown, according to Vice President for Facilities Management Stephen Maiorisi. Although finding support was easy, making a real impact was more difficult. McCormick said the process of changing University policy and starting programs showed her the complex nature of University politics. "There are tons and tons of questions and unknowns and paths to go down that you only see around the first corner, and there are many, many more in the maze down that road. I think that's sort of what we're figuring out as we go along," she said.
Schwartz said he has also noticed the difficulty in making real changes, given that Brown is a large institution. "While there is definitely some great leadership, it has got a lot of institutional inertia.  People don't like to change the way they do business."

Tons of change

Nonetheless, environmentally-minded change has developed over the last four years.
The Energy and Environmental Advisory Committee — a group of three faculty, four students and five staff — was created in the fall of 2006 to advise Facilities Management on how to save money, energy and the environment. The EEAC, of which Van Noppen is a member, created Community Carbon Use Reduction at Brown — a $350,000 fund for student projects which reduce carbon in the surrounding community. Six of the 25 student groups that applied for funds received them, according to the January 2009 Facilities Management's Sustainability Progress Report. One of the recipients, Project 20/20, has used its money to replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs in South Providence, lowering residents' utility bills and decreasing energy consumption. EmPOWER calls initiatives like Project 20/20 "carbon offsets" — ways Brown can offset its own carbon footprint by decreasing emissions in the community. "This idea of doing community carbon offsets is, as far as we could tell, totally new," McCormick said.
Student ideas were not just important in off-campus green projects. With full support of faculty and staff, students have pushed Facilities Management to reduce Brown's own carbon footprint, Maiorisi said. Last year, the EEAC passed a policy that promised to lower the University's greenhouse gas emissions by 42 percent of its 2007 levels in 12 years. Facilities Management expected a 4-percent reduction in emissions from 2008 to 2011. In the first year, Facilities Management surpassed its goal and reduced the University's carbon footprint by 7.7 percent — from over 72,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions to 67,403 tons.
Facilities Management enacted many strategies to reach the EEAC's standards. With help from a $10-million loan approved by the Corporation, the department was able to begin a number of campus projects, according to Maiorisi. Facilities Management spent $2 million making campus light fixtures more efficient. They also replaced 1,400 steam traps in campus buildings to increase the efficiency of heating systems, the Sustainability Progress Report stated.
The University's Central Heating Plant, which mostly uses oil, will burn at least 30 percent natural gas from 2008 through 2020 to decrease carbon emissions. Even in this economy, Facilities Management has decided not to back down from its commitment to reduce emissions. With a $10 million loan already approved, Maiorisi said the department's green projects will continue. In fact, most of the projects will save the University money within five to eight years, according to Maiorisi. For example, he said the $2 million light fixtures project is already saving the University $450,000 per year. The steam trap replacements are saving Brown an additional $300,000 each year, according the Sustainability Progress Report. But Facilities Management is not the only department responding to environmental concerns.

Real change
Brown Dining Services was a step ahead of most environmental efforts when they started its Community Harvest program in 2002. BuDS has continued to run and expand the program, which aims to bring local farmers' products to students' plates.  In addition to using products grown locally, the Sharpe Refectory also recycles its left
overs — approximately 600 tons of them, according to the Sustainability Progress Report. During the non-growing season, BuDS sends some of this food to "After the Harvest," a program that gives leftover food to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. Other leftovers are used as compost and animal feed at local farms.
"We have developed relationships with different local farmers over time that are actually coming to fruition now," said BuDS Director Gretchen Willis.
In addition to serving the farmers' food in dining halls, BuDS hosts the Farmers' Market on Wriston Quadrangle, where local farmers sell their food in front of the Ratty. Community Harvest has "been an incredible thing," Schwartz said. Schwartz said SuFI wants 20 percent of BuDS's budget committed to what the group defines as "real" food within five years.  The biggest obstacle in the way of that goal is money. According to Willis, "real" food is generally more expensive than most food BuDS buys. She said BuDS will begin an audit this summer that will go into next year to see how much money they would have if they added no new initiatives. 
But Willis said BuDS's environmentally-minded programs are an essential part of the department. "I don't think it's something we will ever back away from."

‘Campus climate' and its future
But McCormick said the biggest change in her time at Brown has been far less tangible. The "campus climate around environmental issues, that's what's changed most over the last four years," she said. Van Noppen said students are more educated on environmental issues now. "Often times we would have to explain to people why this was important" in the initial stages of emPOWER's first campaign, Van Noppen said. "That's not something we really have to do any more."
Today, environmental groups are all over campus, approaching climate, energy and food concerns from different perspectives. Van Noppen, McCormick and Schwartz all agreed that the next challenge for Brown's environmental movement is to leave its footprint on the University by uniting and making permanent these different groups. Van Noppen said that if she had four more years on campus, she "would focus on doing things to really institutionalize this stuff at Brown." Schwartz added, "I'd love to see this ‘real' food initiative get institutionalized." In an effort to make environmental work a permanent part of Brown, Van Noppen and McCormick have begun working to create an Institute for Climate and Energy. With so many separate groups and movements at Brown, Van Noppen said it is important to integrate them all under one hub that includes classes, research and student groups. Schwartz said SuFI and its Real Food initiative may someday be a part of ICE, if the institute comes to fruition. According to Schwartz, one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions come from the food and agriculture business, so he said he would expect that emPOWER and SuFI may be under the same umbrella organization some day.
Ultimately, McCormick said she hopes this sort of hub could have a physical space, but she recognizes that there are extra difficulties in obtaining one.
"Anything that costs Brown money is not attractive, in particular right now," she said. But, "with the new administration in Washington, there is going to be more and more science and research funding focused on environmental issues," she added.
If ICE does form, it will be after McCormick, Van Noppen and Schwartz have passed through the Van Wickle gates for the second time.
Van Noppen said she is looking forward to seeing the progress Brown may make in the coming years.
"I hope that the student support continues to grow and that the sophistication of the way students are acting and thinking on these issues continues to grow," she said. "And I have no doubt — at all — that that's going to happen. So it's sort of a shame to be leaving."


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