Fairfield Now - Fall 2007
The Greening of Fairfield
By Meredith Guinness
|On the academic front, the interdisciplinary Environmental Studies minor is being co-directed by Dr. Tod Osier, associate professor of biology, and Dr. Dina Franceschi, associate professor of economics.|
If you visited campus this past year, you may have thought the University's signature bright red had turned a deep emerald.
In ways big and small, Fairfield has joined a national push for all things environmental, and Earth-friendly campus denizens are finding it very easy being green.
"This was the year it became trendy to be a tree-hugger," says Jim Fitzpatrick, assistant vice president of Student Affairs, with a grin. "The tree-huggers are, all of a sudden, the right ones!"
Maybe not all of a sudden. As Fitzpatrick, who has supported efforts for years, knows, there have always been committed individuals on campus pushing for innovative ways to recycle and conserve. Successful fuel conservation and carpooling efforts and gradual upgrading to energy-efficient light fixtures, plumbing, and dorm micro/fridges began in the 1990s. The University's detailed chemical disposal system predates that.
But something happened in 2006-07 to bring more of these efforts together, creating a true green movement that Fitzpatrick and others expect to be even more prominent in the coming years.
One of the most visible signs of this groundswell is the COGEN project. Early in the year, the University broke ground behind Fairfield Prep on its combined heat and power plant, which produces its own electricity via turbine. Through highly efficient use of clean-burning gas, the plant will provide about 99 percent of the campus' peak load and around 67 percent of the University's fossil fuel energy requirements.
Wait a minute. Fossil fuel? What's environmentally sound about that? The campus' sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide - or SOx and NOx - emissions will be down 96 and 17 percent, respectively, says Ric Taylor, former associate vice president for campus planning and operations. "That's significant. These are leading contributors to acid rain and respiratory problems."
The project hasn't gone unnoticed. Planners at Boston College called Taylor for tips on building their own power generator and a team from a Shelton corporate campus stopped by to tour the facility. Only 40 other colleges in the country use this particular turbine and Fairfield is just the second Jesuit institution to go the self-powered route, Taylor said.
|Sara Murray, architectural design assistant for Campus Operations, goes from meeting to meeting by bicycle whenever she can.|
In addition, Taylor's office has been thinking green when it comes to building planning and maintenance. Opened in 2006, the Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J. Center features energy-efficient equipment and components to reduce environmental impact. Carpet and ceiling tiles, flooring, and structural steel are all made from recycled materials, while windows, up-lighting, and an unusual under-floor air system ensure the Center consumes less energy and creates a healthier environment for staff and visitors. In fact, the University estimates it will save about 15 to 20 percent on energy for the building.
Though still in the planning phases, Campus Operations has high hopes for the new Jesuit residence expected to be built on the hill beyond Bellarmine lawn. Current plans call for geothermal heating and cooling options and the use of recycled material that would give it high marks with Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED), a rating system of the U.S. Green Building Council that promotes responsible building practices. "The building, as it stands now, would be eligible for gold verification, which would be a great step forward," Taylor said.
Of course, one of the largest pieces of the puzzle is recycling. Fairfield has a long history of recycling efforts, making sure everything from cardboard to hazardous chemicals stay out of the trash bin. But 2006-07 marked a major uptick in campus paper recycling, spurred on by the newly created Environmental Steering Committee (ESC) made up of interested staff, faculty, and students. By academic year's end, every campus office had a recycling bin and most buildings had volunteer recycling coordinators to help employees know what to toss - and not toss - in them.
"I don't want to be a garbage picker, but I really care about this," says Donnarumma Hall Recycling Coordinator Charlene Wallace, checking a row of bins outside the building's back door for the odd dirty food container or soda can, both no-nos. Linda Miller, a secretary for the English Department, came out with a pile of cardboard she'd flatten to fit in the proper bin. "She gets a gold star!" says Wallace, a secretary for the religious studies and philosophy departments.
Wallace is one of many environmental standouts. In addition to coordinating recycling in Donnarumma - so successful that the building has a near 0 percent waste stream - she's taken on an Earth-friendly venture that's definitely not for the squeamish. Perched on the edge of her desk is a Worm Factory, a mini-composting kit complete with an extended family of lively red wrigglers who lunch on scraps from Donnarumma dwellers. "I get coffee grounds from Dr. Lane, banana peels from Dr. Patton, pear cores from Dr. Dew," she says. "It's not so much the compost, it's that awareness. That thought 'maybe I could do something different with this' that makes a difference."
Thanks to committed staffers across campus, Fairfield's paper recycling plan is enjoying mammoth results: In March 2006, the University recycled about 2.44 tons of white office paper a month. By March 2007, that figure was up to 10.73 tons, and that's with just a quarter of all campus buildings up and running. "This data shows that our small, incremental recycling program is working," says a pleased Dr. Dina Franceschi, associate professor of economics and co-director of Environmental Studies.
Ask campus administrators why 2006-07 was such a green year at Fairfield and many bring up Dr. Franceschi. Creative and determined, she led the ESC's push for a more coordinated effort. "She got administration, the Student Environmental Association (SEA), and faculty involved," Fitzpatrick says. "It snowballed and continues to grow every day. And the students are much more aware. That can really be the start of things."
|Custodial Services Administrator Edwin Rivera shows some of the green cleaning products his staff has been using since 2003.|
SEA gained both membership and clout in 2006-07, with members joining the ESC and creating environmental research projects, says past president Courtney Siegert '07. SEA also staged its largest and most successful Earth Week, including a dorm recycling contest (Go Dolan!), a "green lunch" of foods from environmentally conscious companies, and a speech by noted biochemist Dr. Veronica Vaida. "While recycling is the main initiative focused on by students," Siegert says, "I think this program will lead to further programs that focus even more on the sustainability of campus, such as reduction of electricity and water uses and other sustainable actions that can be made on an individual level."
Christina McGowan, head reference librarian at the DiMenna-Nyselius Library, noticed a strong student interest in all things environmental this past year. "What's cool is the amount of students who were working on papers about it," she says. In addition, students in a class she team-taught inquired about the amount of paper used in library copiers. The solution? A new printer that offers a double-sided, or "duplex," printing option for a reduced cost.
The pilot printer program was so well received, there are now two available for patrons and a plan to roll out the models in computer labs across campus, says Christopher Dunham, the evening reference librarian and the building's recycling coordinator. Like Wallace, Dunham takes his post seriously and the spent batteries, used CDs, and old toner cartridges in his office attest to his commitment. "I put very little in my trash," he says with a laugh.
Dunham gives the toner cartridges to the University dance team, which recycles them for cash as a fundraiser. He even donates the conical end packaging pieces to a preschool that uses them for sandcastles. Interlibrary loan envelopes are reused countless times and student patrons know to slip behind the main desk for used copy paper for notetaking and scrap paper, he says.
This year the librarians hope to assist students from the new environmental minor program. The Program on the Environment replaces environmental studies, environmental science, and marine science. "We're combining the strengths so they're not focused on different areas," says Dr. Tod Osier, co-director of Environmental Studies and associate professor of biology. Several recently hired professors share a passion for the subject and will contribute to the interdisciplinary program, with straight science courses and related topics, such as American environmental literature, he says.
Taking recycling to a new level, Charlene Wallace, secretary for the religious studies and philosophy departments,
tends to the Worm Factory that sits on the edge of her desk.
"I think it's a great way to integrate the core curriculum," says Dr. Franceschi. "It will give students a way to weave a theme through their core classes."
Students will be key to any successful green efforts. Last year, the ESC created the "From Red to Green" handbook offering resources and tips on how to live green. The University is building an interactive website to maintain the momentum. "We can really use that as a tool to bring the students into this," says Sara Murray, a campus operations design assistant whose University vehicle is - a bicycle.
Custodial Services Administrator Eddie Rivera's ride is a little more powerful, but it's nearly as green. He tools around campus in the University's first hybrid vehicle. Plans are in the works to gradually replace the 125-vehicle University fleet with hybrids. Rivera's also proud that, back in 2003, his custodial staff switched to green cleaning products. "People used to have problems with breathing or asthma or irritation on their hands," he says, "They don't have that anymore."
Environmental awareness and action reaches well beyond the campus gates. The annual beach cleanup is a "great ambassador moment" to the town, Dr. Franceschi says, noting responsible living is very much in line with the Jesuit ideals. "It's always been part of the Jesuit gig," she says. "It's learning to be good stewards of the earth."