Earth Day Resolutions

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpgAlice and I have been talking about the big and small ways that universities could act to improve the environment, but Earth Day is also about making personal changes to lessen your environmental impact.

So it's fitting that Mike Dunford has issued us an Earth Day challenge:

I'd like you to take a minute or two to come up with three things that you can do to be more environmentally friendly. The first should be something that's small, and easy to do. The second should be more ambitious - something you'll try to do, but might not manage to pull off. The third should be something you can do to improve something you're already doing.

While your mulling your response to Mike's challenge (please share on your blog or in our comments), I'll share the items I've come up with.

Small: Actively work to deplete our extra freezer so that we can turn it off before the summer heat sets in and the electricity usage really jumps up. (It's in our non-climate controlled garage.)

Bigger: Eat vegan for weekday lunches. This idea was inspired by a piece on tonight's ATC about cafeterias banning beef and cheese on Earth Day, because of the environmental impacts of these foods. While going to look for that link for you, I also found an essay on the NPR website arguing that we should VB6: be vegan before 6. While that sounds like an excellent idea, it's probably not doable for me. But making a conscious effort to eat vegan lunches may well be doable, and I can't wait to try. Black bean burritos are my all-time favorite food anyway, so I'll forgo the sour cream and be happy as a clam. And when I get tired of MU's burritos, I'll have to bring a lunch, which will probably force me to be more creatively vegan outside of lunch hours too.

Better: You know I'm a big proponent of double-sided printing, and I'm frustrated by its inaccessibility at MU. When I'm done with single-sided print outs, I sometimes stick them back in my desktop printer or I bring them home for Minnow to color. But I don't do this all of the time, and a lot of perfectly good single-sided paper makes it into my recycle bin. So I'll aim to improve my reuse rate for single-sided printer paper by having a dedicate reuse bin on my desk.

Even if you've missed Earth Day 2009 by the time you see this post, I encourage you to think about the small, bigger, and better things you can do to the be the change you want to see. What will you do?


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Both universities I've attended are located in hot climates. Both love to refrigerate their classrooms to near-cryogenic temperatures. Set the idiot thermostats to 76, save money, help the environment, and stop the students from having to bring sweaters to class when it's 95 degrees outside.

@ matt springer - my building cools outside air to get rid of the humidity, then warms it back up; raising the temperature would actually increase energy consumption. what we really need are retrofitted/re-engineered ac systems... i imagine that the investment would pay for itself in a relatively short period of time, but i'm also not sure i can see a lot of universities spending money on that right now.

my university spends more than $20 million/year on electricity, and in some buildings climate control is 65% to 80% of energy consumption (largely buildings with labs) - given the square footage involved, most buildings are pretty energy inefficient.

so as these renovations are (i can dream) planned, i pledge to ... stop using the space heater in my office and bring in more sweaters and a blanket.

The "vegan before 6" idea is very interesting, and probably manageable for many people, including myself. I've stuck with an entirely vegan diet for up to six months at a stretch, and I found it to be quite difficult. It also made me a social pariah of sorts, in the southern US. But since I bring my lunch to work every day, it would be easy to make it vegan.

My university uses double-sided printing for many of the class syllabi, and one of the schools (dental) has an electronic curriculum. If a dental student wanted to go through the curriculum almost entirely "paper-free", she could do so - the exception would be the exams in the basic science courses. Most students want both the electronic and paper versions of everything, though.

I'm glad you are using the term vegan instead of vegetarian, which consumes animal products and is no different than a non-vegetarian diet that consumes a similar amount of animal products.

We need a new word for people who eat a diet low in animal products. I propose commonsenseavore.

The impact from livestock is spread out across the globe and a few million Americans restricting their animal product intake won't make much of a dent but then again, every dent counts:

The thing we've been thinking of doing is eating less dairy (we're already vegetarian and don't eat eggs, so dairy is our primary "bad" food. when we were dairy free due to allergies, I ate of nutritional yeast on my burritos and used it as a cheese substitute, you should give it a try!

I suggest checking out the book Veganomicon ( it is by far the best vegan cookbook I have seen! these ladies are very creative and make give lots of good recipies with pretty basic foods and do't rely heavily on tofu like most vegan cook books. Laurel's kitches (…) is a great vegetarian cookbook with quite a few vegan recipies and lots of great lunch ideas! Vegan cooking isn't nearly as sustainable when you just replace dairy products with overly processed soy products, it's better to try to find some basic recipies with local and whole foods. let me know if you ever need vegan meal ideas :)

can you tell I've been thinking about this a lot lately? :) I also heard the NPR piece on vegan before 6 and thought it sounded like a great and do-able idea.

now that it's not raining every day, I want to ride my bike to campus again, but the little critter is refusing to ride in the bike cart... she even refused bribes. not really sure how to convince her that it's better for the earth if we ride bikes.

Instead of being vegan before 6, what about instead buying food from local producers? How about not buying those strawberries (from Chile) in January? How about not buying those apples (from Peru) in June? How about instead of buying beef/chicken of unknown origin within the US, instead buy it from a farmer in your own state? How about having your own chickens, if zoning allows? Is it not the high-throughput conventional ("feedlot") practices, reliant on grains, that is the energy expensive part of conventional animal rearing? I would love to see concrete numbers on the energy impact of truly grassfed animals with a limited distribution market.

One thing our unit did (over 5 years ago) was to switch from desktop PCs to Sun Microsystem's SunRays (thin clients). These things are relatively cheap and don't have fans (lower power draw, no heat production) though they do need a server (but hey, we have lots of those anyway). They used to only run unix but we've added a Windows option and, soon, a Mac offering. With VMWare and some fancy new operating system features ("zones"), we are packing more functionality onto one server than ever before. Of course, we didn't get F&A reduction from the administration for our efforts to reduce power consumption.

After reading your printer post I realized the printer in my lab is the double-sided kind... so that was my quick earth day resolution: print double-sided. I'm also working on reading articles on-line, but I'm a note-taker and I end up printing them so I can write on the margins. Hence, my long term habit change will occur when I buy the tablet PC I've been dreaming about and will be able (I hope) to take notes on the .pdf files.

"Instead of being vegan before 6, what about instead buying food from local producers? How about not buying those strawberries (from Chile) in January? How about not buying those apples (from Peru) in June? How about instead of buying beef/chicken of unknown origin within the US, instead buy it from a farmer in your own state?"

I totally agree. people should think about where all their food comes from. Bananas, chocolate, cane sugar, and coffee shouldn't be staples in the American diet, they should be luxuries that we consume on occasion. Eating locally and seasonally is a HUGE challenge for most americans who want the same foods year round.

Here are mine from FairerScience:

Small and easy: Only buying environmentally friendly cleaning products.

More ambitious: Fly less and/or figure out some way to reduce the impact of my flying.

Improve something already doing: I did an ok job hanging clothes out on the line last summer; I'll start doing that earlier this year (like now) and will check the weather before I do laundry.