Greening Your World

by Rezsin Adams

ALBANY, NY Ñ 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 ÒGreening Your World.Ó “

Most people running institutions today have very few or no Õgreen bonesÕ.” 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 Ñ 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 RPIÕs 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 environment.

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