ALBANY, NY — The SPB September veggie lasagna dinner welcomed
Steve Breyman, Director, Ecological, Economic, Values & Policy
Program in the Department of Science & Technology Studies at
RPI as he spoke about “Greening Your World.” "
Most people running institutions today have very few or no
’green bones’." Steve Breyman opened his remarks on greening
institutions by pointing out that greening is beneficial in
at least two ways: in itself it benefits the institution and
the environment and it provides models and pilot projects for
society. But changes do not come easily — a lot of patience
is needed to get things going. Greening not only involves environmental
issues but also self-reliance and local self-sufficiency.
Steve began his mission to green RPI when he noticed a bowl
of apples in a dining-room labeled "New Zealand" and "Washington
State", in spite of RPI’s being in the heart of apple country.
He began a Local Foods Project but found it very difficult to
make significant changes. Five thousand meals are served at
RPI every day. Large corporations provide the food service and
large corporations provide the supplies. There have been a few,
largely symbolic victories. The benefits of using local food
sources are numerous: money spent locally has a big effect on
the local economy; keeping farms operating close to cities limits
suburban sprawl; the environment is helped by reducing the shipping
of food over long distances, thousands of miles, even; supporting
small family-type farms rather than supporting agribusinesses,
especially organic farms, is beneficial to society and certainly
provides more healthful food to consumers.
A more successful project at RPI was the initiation of dealing
with solid waste through recycling and composting. Compost from
institutional food services is used on the RPI grounds (instead
of chemical fertilizer) and RPI now has its first organic flower
bed with native plants and water plants. The next step is to
include composting from coffee machines, individuals eating
bag lunches on campus and the like.
New York State claims that it engages in "green purchasing"
but Steve found that although purchasing agents are willing
to spend the extra money (about 10%) to buy recycled materials,
it has to be made easy for them to locate recycled products.
So Steve and some of his students have searched out recycled
products and provided lists to purchasing agents. It would certainly
be helpful if supply catalogs had special sections listing recycled
products. And how about conserving paper! We use many times
more paper today than we used just a few years ago. There has
to be a way found to stop this enormous waste and drain on the
In the last 15 years or so, Troy has been in bad shape financially
but it has a marketable resource, namely, a reservoir of good
water. So Troy decided to sell water.
This meant that water rates went up about 30%, so that RPI
had to pay many thousands of dollars more for its water. RPI
was persuaded to use the money it would save to hire a person
to work on water conservation on campus. Much has been done:
using recycled water in the cooling units in the laboratories,
using water conserving toilets in the dormitories, for example.
Steve has argued for using porous surfacing materials on parking
lots so that rain water soaks into the ground rather than running
off into the storm drains and into the Hudson. Steve told us
about greenhouse water treatment plants, using natural methods,
similar to wetlands, to clean water for reuse that are in use
in several different localities. (He has suggested using the
football field in the middle of the RPI campus for this purpose
but, so far, he's had no luck.)
Today water is cleaned to drinkable standards but a lot of
water does not have to be cleaned to that level to be used for
many purposes and this would greatly benefit the environment.
A waste stream can become food or raw material for many different
processes. In fact, there are many business opportunities in
this field, in for example, global warming. Water conservation
is a world-wide problem of great and grave proportions.
There are many buildings that are models of "green office buildings."
Wouldn't it be great if New York City rebuilt the recently destroyed
area using these models. Certainly energy conservation is a
must and a critical part of contemporary American life. There
were many projects underway for energy conservation a few years
ago but when tax benefits for energy conservation ended the
conservation projects ended. Wasteful consumption is a 20th
Century invention. Before that, conservation and self-sufficiency
were of primary importance to Americans. Can we revive these
values? Schools want to grow: more money, more students, more
buildings. How about conserving and reusing? This would benefit
the environment worldwide and life in the United States immeasurably.
Printed in the October/November, 2001 Newsletter