Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In case you ever wonder why school lunch is so bad for you...

...and fast food is so cheap you can just look at what our tax dollars subsidize. People who talk about the personal responsibility of our diets are right. We need to own what we eat and be responsible for it. Maybe we can start with what we subsidize as a nation.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Plastic bottle greenhouse door: Update #3

So we have a door for this plastic bottle greenhouse now (see the explanation video here). Here it is on the ground of the HUB lawn. Monday, I'll be working on sides, crossbars, and the larger frame. Phew!

Look at how many bottles are in that picture alone...about 200-250. All told, we will end up reusing something like 2000 in this project which is somewhere near half of of the daily recycled bottles that Penn State University Park's Office of Physical Plant collects, which is itself just over 1/2 of the total that PSU University Park disposes of every day. This total rough estimate leads me to believe that we could make 600-700 of these 5'x5'x6' gabled plastic bottle greenhouses out of just PSU University Park's recycling. That's a lot of waste.

We met a few parents today who were really into this thing. A few were from the Corl Street Elementary School who had heard about it and thought that it at least looked cool. Moreover, they said that they thought it was a really interesting way for their kids to engage their schooling. They were also quite interested in sharing, and having their kids share, how they are engaging the natural environment at school via the garden, the 3 Rs of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle, and composting. One girl said that she wants one at her school - the Gray Wood's Elementary. That sounds great, but we might need this to be a full-time job with benefits if it gets to that point.

Stay tuned for more.

Pic courtesy of Garrett.

Kid's Earth Day

Come on out and bring kids for a fun and beautiful day. Like the flier says, there are some great activities in store for everyone, including an enactment of Dr. Seuss's The Lorax. We'll be there, putting a portion of the plastic bottle greenhouse together. More pictures will be on the way.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bottle greenhouse update #2

Wow! This thing is incredible and it's taking SOOOO much time. We've cut and washed well over a thousand bottles and have more to go. The frame is still unfinished and won't be for a few days just because the sheer size of the project required more people than we were able to muster. But you know what? We're moving along and we'll keep plugging away for the rest of the semester.

We will post more pictures soon and possible video soon.

To hear a story on some Earth Day activities, listen to this story put together by the Ohio River Radio Consortium that includes two of our members, Garrett Eisenhour and Jason Usdin, as well as people in Indiana and Kentucky.

To see some more of it come alive, come to Kid's Earth Day tomorrow, April, 24th, at the HUB lawn.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Who knew that such malcontents would win Outstanding Student Organization?

We won the Outstanding Student Organization award last night for "Collaboration with other student organizations, faculty, and staff," "Programming a variety of purposeful events, "Positive promotion of mission/purpose of organization to University community," and "Building a sense of community." This is something that shows that if you are motivated, purposeful, a little organized, and full of good information that you can get some recognition. And we are a small group. Who knows what would happen if there were more of us?

I have to say that we owe this, in large part, to Alex for getting the ball rolling on this water bottle thing. She is the queen. This one's for you...even if it's Garrett, Peter, Jared, and Zach in the picture (left to right).

I also want to say that I think it's so cool that we won this award given the range of people in our group. Garrett is in his early 20s and a dad of two. I am in my 30s and a father of 1. We've had an atypical amount of graduate student involvement in the group. And we have a 40+ mom of three girl who comes out and bangs it home when it counts. I love you people.

The bottle house! Update one

Our greenhouse is really in full swing. We have THOUSANDS of bottles that we’ve been washing, cutting, and arraying into lines to form the house’s walls. We’ve done just some starts to fix them to the frame to start and it’s looking promising.

A few things are striking at this point:
1. People are impressed by this idea. Moms have walked by with kids and given us bottles to use.
2. Everyone who we tell that this is going to be used by a school has congratulated us. This is smart. A lot smarter than the intended use of the bottles themselves.
3. Wow! People at Penn State create a lot of waste. I am personally dumbfounded by the sheer volume of bottles we’ve gotten from the Office of Physical Plant’s bar pit. And these are the bottles that have been recycled. For every bottle that we’ve gotten from the recycling here, another one was probably thrown away.
4. This is fun and it’s community-building. We’re meeting people we haven’t met before. A Corl Street School mother and her 14-year-old son came by and helped. We have future teachers. We have passersby. The HUB lawn today has been a commons for people interested in furthering sustainability and education for sustainability.
5. Our group has rerouted something from upstream that would have gone downstream to further commodififcation or ugliness and turned it into something that can be potentially beautiful, useful, and good!

So come on by today and/or Saturday April 24th to the HUB lawn and help us reuse for a better tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Our plastic bottle greenhouse in the works

Since we started this club we've wanted to develop a way that the whole group could help local schools integrate a garden or natural area into their curriculum. We've also been doing so much on the water bottle and sustainable water use issue. So why not combine them?

Let's help teachers, administrators, parents, and students learn about our relationship to the Earth by building a greenhouse out of plastic water bottles? Let's take what was going to be pure waste and turn it into a way to create a growing environment...something that bottle companies never intended and don't care about anyway. And let's see something grow in spite of pollution by reusing bottles, reducing waste, and recycling wood and some other materials. From all of this all involved see the waste cycle before them and the life cycle. Amazing!

Check out the preview video!

Join us on Earth Day, April 22, 2010 on PSU's HUB lawn to help us bring the cycles of life to schools.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Filtering for good

Even though we didn't get the Filter for Good grant for $10,000, Brita and Nalgene sent us a few Brita pitchers and a bunch of reusable bottles because we are doing the kind of work that reduces waste in the long run and, we have to admit, can bring Brita and Nalgene some business by promoting clean, fresh, and filtered water that can be enjoyed with reusable bottles when you are on the go from here to there. I used one of the Nalgene's this morning at the Elkay EZH2O downstairs in Chambers Building at University Park.

No One Left Inside

It's not often that teachers like us can grab onto something a president says and run with it. We want nature to be important? This is part of our climate so here we go. Use it for what it's worth. This is the best we've gotten from a high elected official in a long time:

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Presidential Memorandum -- America's Great Outdoors


SUBJECT: A 21st Century Strategy for America's Great Outdoors

Americans are blessed with a vast and varied natural heritage. From mountains to deserts and from sea to shining sea, America's great outdoors have shaped the rugged independence and sense of community that define the American spirit. Our working landscapes, cultural sites, parks, coasts, wild lands, rivers, and streams are gifts that we have inherited from previous generations. They are the places that offer us refuge from daily demands, renew our spirits, and enhance our fondest
memories, whether they are fishing with a grandchild in a favorite spot, hiking a trail with a friend, or enjoying a family picnic in a neighborhood park. They also are our farms, ranches, and forests -- the working lands that have fed and sustained us for generations. Americans take pride in these places, and share a responsibility to preserve them for our children and grandchildren.

Today, however, we are losing touch with too many of the places and proud traditions that have helped to make America special. Farms, ranches, forests, and other valuable natural resources are disappearing at an alarming rate. Families are spending less time together enjoying their natural surroundings. Despite our conservation efforts, too many of our fields are becoming fragmented, too many of our rivers and streams are becoming polluted, and we are losing our connection to the parks, wild places, and open spaces we grew up with and cherish. Children, especially, are spending less time outside running and playing, fishing and hunting, and connecting to the outdoors just down the street or outside of town.

Across America, communities are uniting to protect the places they love, and developing new approaches to saving and enjoying the outdoors. They are bringing together farmers and ranchers, land trusts, recreation and conservation groups, sportsmen, community park groups, governments and industry, and people from
all over the country to develop new partnerships and innovative programs to protect and restore our outdoors legacy. However, these efforts are often scattered and sometimes insufficient. The Federal Government, the Nation's largest land manager, has a responsibility to engage with these partners to help develop a conservation agenda worthy of the 21st Century. We must look to the private sector and nonprofit organizations, as well as towns, cities, and States, and the people who live and work in them, to identify the places that mean the most to Americans, and leverage the support of the Federal Government to help these community-driven efforts to succeed. Through these partnerships, we will work to connect these outdoor spaces to each other, and to reconnect Americans to them.

For these reasons, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Establishment.

(a) There is established the America's Great Outdoors Initiative (Initiative), to be led by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and implemented in coordination with the agencies listed in section 2(b) of this memorandum. The Initiative may include the heads of other executive branch departments, agencies, and offices (agencies) as the President may, from time to time, designate.

(b) The goals of the Initiative shall be to:

(i) Reconnect Americans, especially children, to America's rivers and waterways, landscapes of national significance, ranches, farms and forests, great parks,
and coasts and beaches by exploring a variety of efforts, including:

(A) promoting community-based recreation and conservation, including local parks, greenways, beaches, and waterways;

(B) advancing job and volunteer opportunities related to conservation and outdoor recreation; and

(C) supporting existing programs and projects that educate and engage Americans in our history, culture, and natural bounty.

(ii) Build upon State, local, private, and tribal priorities for the conservation of land, water, wildlife, historic, and cultural resources, creating corridors and connectivity across these outdoor spaces, and for enhancing neighborhood parks; and determine how the Federal Government can best advance those priorities through public private partnerships and locally supported conservation strategies.

(iii) Use science-based management practices to restore and protect our lands and waters for future generations.

Sec. 2. Functions. The functions of the Initiative shall include:

(a) Outreach. The Initiative shall conduct listening and learning sessions around the country where land and waters are being conserved and community parks are being established in innovative ways. These sessions should engage the full range of interested groups, including tribal leaders, farmers and ranchers, sportsmen, community park groups, foresters, youth groups, businesspeople, educators, State and local governments, and recreation and conservation groups. Special attention
should be given to bringing young Americans into the conversation. These listening sessions will inform the reports required in subsection (c) of this section.

(b) Interagency Coordination. The following agencies shall work with the Initiative to identify existing resources and align policies and programs to achieve its goals:

(i) the Department of Defense;

(ii) the Department of Commerce;

(iii) the Department of Housing and Urban Development;

(iv) the Department of Health and Human Services;

(v) the Department of Labor;

(vi) the Department of Transportation;

(vii) the Department of Education; and

(viii) the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

(c) Reports. The Initiative shall submit, through the Chair of the CEQ, the following reports to the President:

(i) Report on America's Great Outdoors. By November 15, 2010, the Initiative shall submit a report that includes the following:

(A) a review of successful and promising nonfederal conservation approaches;

(B) an analysis of existing Federal resources and programs that could be used to complement those approaches;

(C) proposed strategies and activities to achieve the goals of the Initiative; and

(D) an action plan to meet the goals of the Initiative.

The report should reflect the constraints in resources available in, and be consistent with, the Federal budget. It should recommend efficient and effective use of existing resources, as well as opportunities to leverage nonfederal public and private resources and nontraditional conservation programs.

(ii) Annual reports. By September 30, 2011, and September 30, 2012, the Initiative shall submit reports on its progress in implementing the action plan developed pursuant to subsection (c)(i)(D) of this section.

Sec. 3. General Provisions.

(a) This memorandum shall be implemented consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of any necessary appropriations.

(b) This memorandum does not create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

(c) The heads of executive departments and agencies shall assist and provide information to the Initiative, consistent with applicable law, as may be necessary to carry out the functions of the Initiative. Each executive department and agency shall bear its own expenses of participating in the Initiative.

(d) Nothing in this memorandum shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect the functions of the Director of the OMB relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.

(e) The Chair of the CEQ is authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.


For some analysis go to DotEarth and see what Andy Revkin has to say.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Frustration with college rankings

If any of you follow the college rankings by U.S. News and World Report and Princeton Review you might also know that environmental report cards are out there now too. But not everyone is happy about them, how they are tabulated, and what the publicity could mean when the methods behind them are unclear, not to mention time consuming for people who have to fill them out.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece in its current issue about it:

Colleges have been subjected to all sorts of ratings, rankings, and grades on their green sensibilities in recent years—and not all of them have been welcome. Sustainability directors increasingly find themselves filling out surveys from organizations like the Sustainable Endowments Institute, Sierra magazine, and the Princeton Review Inc., each with its own twist on questions about energy use, mass transit, water conservation, and so on. The data collection is becoming a real burden, they say.

Now, in a recent letter to colleges, the Sustainable Endowments Institute has floated a proposal: How would you like to pay $700 for the pleasure of filling out a survey? That money would help the institute render a grade—it could be an A-minus, or maybe a D-plus—for its highly publicized College Sustainability Report Card.

If you find yourself saying, "No, thanks," you're not alone, as the proposition may come at a bad time. Not only are many colleges watching every penny, but sustainability directors are also suffering from green-ratings fatigue. Just ask administrators at Ithaca College, who recently publicized a letter they wrote to the editors of Sierra magazine, explaining that they would not participate in the "Cool Schools" survey because they found the process too time-consuming, opaque, and of questionable value.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

We are one of several "Green Teams"

Several weeks back we were asked to meet for an interview and perhaps some video. One other student showed up but didn't make the video - he had to leave. But we are one of many trying to reduce our impacts and, by extension, reduce our collective impact. See what we are saying:

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Student Sustainability Statement from Penn State

PSU's first Student Sustainability Summit was held about two weeks ago and we came out with a powerful statement that you can sign here if you are a Penn State student.
1. "We, the students of Penn State, are committed to environmental stewardship and sustainability. We are dedicated to becoming environmentally responsible citizens capable of protecting our natural and human resources, thereby producing a quality of life for future generations that is equal to or better than our own.

2. "Therefore, we call on the University to promote environmental initiatives, social responsibility, and sound economic stewardship in its operations, research, education, and services. We urge the University to identify opportunities for environmental sustainability in academic programs and to establish sustainability outreach programs to educate the college community. We ask that the University considers future generations in practice and policy through increased conservation and efficiency, supporting renewable energy, and reduction of greenhouse gases. Our ingenuity must be coupled with integrity, our research with respect, and our academics with action.

3. "And we call on our fellow students to be a part of the solution. We must work with all members of the Penn State community to reduce our environmental impact, support local and regional initiatives, and participate in the creation of a sustainable community. Our individual actions must reflect our broad commitment to a fair and just tomorrow.

4. "Finally, we call for the establishment of a Student Advisory Council to the Campus Sustainability Office that will encourage the adoption of policies that support the needs of all life, human and non-human. This advisory council will be an interdisciplinary group comprising students, faculty, staff, and administrators dedicated to the development of sound environmental, social, and economic decisions.
Let's get this garden growing!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Bottle stations on the local nightly news and a story in the paper all in one day

Wow. When it rains, it really really pours...from our bottle-filling stations. Check out this piece on local WTAJ TV...
UNIVERSITY PARK, CENTRE COUNTY - Last year, Penn state installed its first water bottle filling station in the HUB Student Union, this year the school has added three more at Chambers Building, the Intramural Building, and Willard Building at University Park.

The university sells $2.7 million worth of bottled water each year, and is one of the first in the nation to offer this high tech thirst quenching technology.

“One of the most needless forms of waste that we have comes from non-reusable disposable plastic water bottles,” Peter Buckland, a PhD candidate at Penn State who helped spearhead the initiative to get the filling stations on campus, said.
...and then this piece in the Centre Daily Times.

“We are using this to investigate water bottle filling stations,” said Lydia Vandenbergh, program coordinator at the campus sustainability office. “We did some testing by the environmental health and safety group to make sure the stations would not be a breeding ground for bacteria.”

A club called 3e-coe, composed of education majors and self-proclaimed Earth lovers, had urged the Office of Sustainability to stop purchasing bottled water to sell on campus.

“The club was great. They were kind of the ones that came to university and said let’s ban water bottles,” said Vandenbergh. “The university spends about $2 million on water bottles in their contract with Pepsi. ... The club came to us with a black-and-white proposal, but we were able to work with them to find what’s the best for Penn State.”

Check out the comments on the CDT page too. Some of those are real keepers.

For the record, I think that Lydia Vandenberg and I should form a band about water. Name ideas?