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Editorial: Green is the new Brown

It's been an exciting year for Brown in the sustainability department. In October, the Herald reported that the University lowered its energy-related carbon emissions by 18 percent since 2007, greatly exceeding its initial goal of a 4-percent-per-year reduction. Last month, President Simmons took Brown's efforts a step further, signing the Sustainable Campus Charter and committing the University not only to environmentally conscious construction and development, but also to sustainability-focused research and education.

Administrative divisions across the University have implemented a host of initiatives aimed at reducing their carbon footprints. Facilities Management has undertaken lighting projects and has switched the central heating plant from number six fuel to cleaner natural gas. The Bursar's Office announced that it will go paperless next month, issuing billing statements exclusively online, and starting next year, the Admission Office will read all applications in electronic form. Dining Services has been donating fry oil to a biodiesel producer and has been composting hundreds of thousands of pounds of food waste. In the past few weeks, the University has announced a task force on bottled water, as well as plans for an inter-dorm energy reduction competition.

The University certainly deserves a pat on the back for taking the lead to turn Brown green. But an institution can only do so much without the participation of its students. Now that the University has stepped up to the plate, it's time for students to do their part.

We talked with Chris Powell, director of sustainable energy and environmental initiatives and the chairperson of the Energy and Environmental Advisory Committee, about what students can do to contribute to a sustainable campus. Here are some of his suggestions:

Report overheated rooms. Powell estimates that heating and ventilation account for about 75 percent of Brown's total energy consumption. Instead of cracking the window open to cool down your dorm, call the Facilities Management Service Response Center at 863-7800.

If you're a science student, practice good lab etiquette. Labs consume more energy than any other buildings on campus. In fact, each fume hood uses more energy than three average homes and produces 60 to 80 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Closing the sash when a fume hood is not in use can decrease energy use by 60 percent.

Ditch the tray in the dining halls. It takes half a gallon of water to wash each tray, not to mention the energy associated with heating that water and the chemicals used to clean the tray. After the V-Dub went trayless in 2008, Dining Services saved 4,800 gallons of water per week. Trayless diners also produce less food waste than their tray-toting counterparts — up to 30 percent less, according to the Yale Daily News on Jan. 26. 

Invest in a reusable container. Little Jo's sells reusable water bottles for $7, and you can buy travel mugs for only $2 at a number of dining locations. In addition to keeping plastic out of landfills and oceans, you'll receive a discount on your morning coffee.

Recycle your paper, cardboard, bottles and cans. The University increased its recycling rate from 33 to 38 percent last year, and this year the goal is 40 percent. This is a classic case of a University sustainability initiative that cannot succeed without student participation.

Turning Brown into a sustainable campus will require action at all levels. The University is already tackling the more technical issues like campus-wide lighting and heating. It's up to us to make an effort with the small things.



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