Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Get Ready for Step It Up!

Kerry Temple, the organizer of this Sunday's Step It Up! rally, sent me the following update. As promised, I'm passing this information along to you:

IUSB: At 3pm Sunday November 4, a group will meet at the Peach Pole in front of the Schurz Library on the IUSB campus and will walk along the St. Joe River to the Jon Hunt Plaza in downtown South Bend, right in front of the Morris Performing Arts Center.

ND/SMC: At 3pm Sunday November 4, a group will meet at the main circle adjacent to the Law School and Alumuni Hall on the Notre Dame campus and will walk to the Jon Hunt Plaza downtown. There will be a police escort for the "Notre Dame/SMC group" because of the number of streets needing to be crossed. The walkers should obey all traffic signals and proceed down Notre Dame Avenue to South Bend Avenue, turning right at Club 23, heading downhill to Colfax, taking Colfax across the bridge to downtown. [Those driving to campus for the walk could park in the bookstore lot and gather at the main circle or meet up with the marchers as they head south along Notre Dame Avenue.]

It would be great if marchers could make their own signs to carry. Choose your own slogan. Keep the Step It Up themes in mind. Let's make sure people know what we're supporting, demonstrating for.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Current TV/Alliance Ecospot Contest Wants Your Vote

I received an email from a contestant who submitted "Plastic Ocean," a public-service announcement to the Current TV/Alliance Ecospot Contest. The purpose of this contest is to create a short video message that will inspire folks to get involved in solving the climate crisis.

This contest has entered the semifinal round - apparently, hundreds of ecospots were submitted, and George Clooney, Cameron Diaz, Orlando Bloom, Rihanna, among other celebrity judges, picked these 23 semifinalists.

So now, it's our turn to select the best ecospot video:

The top four ecospots will be broadcast internationally on Current TV, showcased on MySpace’s Impact Channel and featured in the Alliance’s national campaign.

For the record, I will be casting my vote for "Plastic Ocean," because it's a great PSA and I want to support Manuel Reta, who brought this contest to my attention. Thanks Manuel and good luck! :0)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Building a Sustainable Campus at IU South Bend

I like checking the student-housing camera periodically because it reveals important changes that are occurring on this campus. Most notably, this construction symbolizes a different way of thinking about how our actions impact the environment. Because IU South Bend is taking strides to obtain LEED certification for student housing, that means there's a conscious effort to reduce waste while constructing this site. It also means designing a building with the ideals of sustainability in mind. I commend the administrators at IU South Bend for daring to be great by creating an eco-friendly student residence.

Plans are underway to renovate the Administration Building. Let's encourage the administrators to continue these eco-friendly practices.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Time to Step It Up! Help Spread the Word!

Folks, this is really going to happen! We're going to Step It Up by hosting a rally on Nov. 4th., from 3pm - 5pm. Here's the latest update:

The march from IU South Bend will begin at the Peace Pole located in front of the Schurz Library. We'll continue along the river walk path, crossing the Colfax St. bridge enroute to the Jon Hunt Plaza, which is in front of the Morris Performing Arts Center.

Once we reach the Morris Center, we'll be joined by students, faculty, and staff from Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College, along with the Michiana community, members of local Green
organizations, and government officials. Congressman Joe Donnelly is expected to speak around 4pm. Sociology professor, Mike Keen, will be the speaker for IU South Bend.

You can join the rally beginning at 3 pm on either campus, or you can come hear the speakers in front of the Morris Center.

This is part of a national Step It Up – One Sky movement to combat global warming by calling for a reduction of carbon emissions, a moratorium on new coal-fired plants and the creation of Green jobs and initiatives in hundreds of communities from Florida to Alaska during the same

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sleep Deprived, Thanks to Environmentalism

I'm exhausted. For the last few days, I've been obsessed about writing a research proposal on the study of environmentalism from a cognitive science perspective. It may be an understatement to say that psychological science could offer some insights on how people conceive of environmental degradation and protection. And maybe psychology could provide some problem-solving solutions to this issue, whether it's through science education or through public policymaking. Anyway, because I can't stop thinking about environmentalism and cognition, I didn't go to bed until 4am this morning. Consequently, I can't think straight. But the good news is that now I have a working document to refine. The deadline is Nov. 6th, so there's still time to edit and craft this proposal. Wish me luck!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Crunchy's New Challenge: Keep the Thermostat Low!

Well, Crunchy Chicken has done it again! (She loves creating challenges and getting folks around the country to participate.)This time, 50 bloggers have pledged to keep their thermostats low this winter. I promised to keep my thermostat set to 60 degrees...Brr!!! This will really be a challenge for me because I'm not used to freezing my butt off (after all, I was raised in Georgia, so I'm still acclimating to Indiana's frosty climate).

But I'm optimistic about this challenge. For starters, now I'm motivated to insulate my windows (I remember someone telling me to insulate my windows when I first moved to South Bend, but I never did it- too much work, I thought.) I'm also going to be sure to bundle-up with extra clothing (I'm mastering the art of layering my clothing - trust me, there's no such thing as layering clothes in Georgia!). And I have two puppies who'll keep me warm this winter. Willy, my fluffy bichon frise, is a veritable hot water bottle, so I'll definitely be snuggling with him throughout this challenge. Jack, my miniature schnauzer, is toasty warm, too. :0)

So why keep the thermostat low? Keeping the temp low reduces my dependency on natural gas. This is important for two reasons: First, consuming less natural gas will reduce my carbon footprint - the production of natural gas contributes to global warming. And second, reducing my use of natural gas will lower my gas bill. I'm fairly confident we'll be hearing news reports about people who can't afford to pay their gas bill this winter - although I don't foresee myself being in that predictament, I don't want to pay $200 (or more, who knows!) for heating my duplex each month.

So, if you're in South Bend this winter and you stop by my place, be sure to wear warm clothing - you're gonna need it! :0)

Friday, October 19, 2007

South Bend Steps It UP!

Mark Your Calendars: On Sunday, Nov. 4th, from 3pm to 5pm, IU South Bend, Notre Dame, and Saint Mary's will be rallying to fight global warming. Plans are currently being finalized, but this is what's tentatively scheduled:

Beginning at our respective schools, we're going to march toward downtown South Bend, where we'll all converge to host Step It Up! The exact location for this rally has yet to be finalized - it may be at either Howard Park or the Jon Hunt Plaza in front of the Morris Performing Arts Center - as soon as it's confirmed I'll post an update on the blog. But for now, everyone at IU South Bend will gather at the Peace Pole in front of the Schurz Library and then we'll walk from Northside Blvd to the rally.

Right now, Mayor Steve Luecke has been invited and Congressman Joe Donnelly said he'll be at the rally. The St. Joe Valley Green Party will also participate, and the local Sierra Club group may have a representative to promote the Cool Cities program. Plans are currently underway to invite local "green" business and the Citizens Action Coalition.

So please help by spreading the word. I hope to see you at the Step It UP rally! :0)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Nix Your Unwanted Catalogs

In today's New York Times, I learned about an online service called Catalog Choice, a non-profit organization that helps consumers eliminate unwanted catalogs from the mail. Catalog Choice only been existence since last Wednesday and already 30,246 people have used this free service.

Naturally, I went online to check-out this site. It's really easy to create an account and start nixing those unwanted catalogs! I only get two catalogs: J. Crew and Barrie Pace. The J. Crew catalog I can live without because although I love their clothes, I'm not going to spend a fortune on their products. And I get Barrie Pace because of a former resident who lived in my duplex. I can definitely live without that catalog!

So with Catalog Choice, I can stop placing those catalogs into the recycling bin. Now I won't have to deal with these catalogs anymore. I'm sure trees everywhere are exhaling a sigh of relief!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

We Need LEED

This afternoon I attended a talk about IU South Bend's efforts to obtain LEED certification for the new student housing, which is currently under construction. (It'll be ready Fall 2008.) Right now, it looks like this:

But with a little imagination, it could look something like this:
The Troyer Group, a local architectural firm, is closely working with IU South Bend to obtain LEED certification for student housing. In short, LEED certification ensures that the building was designed and constructed with the concept of sustainability in mind. What that means is that the Troyer Group has to make "green" decisions on site location, water management, energy performance, material use, and indoor environmental quality.

To be sure, getting "LEED certified" entails meeting several criteria, and there are different levels of LEED (certified, silver, gold, and platinum). From what I've gathered, the new building is aimed for the silver level, although that decision will be made once all the paperwork and proper inspections have been completed. So stay tuned for those updates!

One question I've been wondering, though, has more to do with what happens after people start living in this green building. How will the garbage be handled? Will there be a composting area for food waste? Will there be recycling bins available? Will people engage in eco-friendly behaviors once they start living in this eco-friendly residence?

Monday, October 15, 2007

It's Blog Action Day!

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Today, 15,861 bloggers worldwide are posting their thoughts and concerns about the environment, sustainability, and climate change. I can imagine thousands of people giving their .02-cents about various environmental issues today, which is fabulous.

But today I decided to go down memory lane and reflect upon my experience hosting BagFest. In just four hours, folks in my community donated 72,571 plastic bags for recycling, which filled up half of a Wal-Mart semi-truck.

That's me captured in a spontaneous moment of acting silly inside the truck. I remember being somewhat awestruck when I saw those bags getting ready to be hauled for recycling - We actually did this - Unbelievable! It's beautiful to remember how everyone worked together to help make BagFest a successful event.

But I certainly didn't plan this event just for me to act silly in front a pile of plastic bags! And six-months later, I'm chairing the recycling committee and working on research projects that investigate the relationship between cognition and environmentalism. Why do this? Am I some kind of sado-masochist? No, I think not.

There's perhaps several reasons why I'm passionate about protecting the environment, but the bottom line is this: There is more to life than just thinking about me (my career, my relationships, my future). I remember years ago feeling quite depressed about getting a job right out of graduate school. In trying to console me, a good friend of mine said that life is much bigger than this (i.e., the state of affairs I was experiencing at that time) - and she was right. Her words, in some circuitous fashion, have led me on an journey to explore just how large, complex, and magnificient this world really is and how someone as small and insignificant as me could find her place in this world.

Friday, October 12, 2007

BYOC: Bring Your Own Cup!

Okay, I'll admit it: I'm pooped from thinking about this Styrofoam vs. bio-cup issue. I hadn't realized what a *hot* topic this has turned out to be, and quite frankly, I need to read published research reports on this topic (i.e., recyclability of Styrofoam, potential health risks, leaching rates, and so on). Of course, this is in addition to me writing three grant proposals that are due in Nov, Dec, and Jan. And this is in addition to me grading...oh, dear...I'm wiped out at the moment!

But one thing I learned this week was that IU South Bend allows folks to bring their own cups and mugs for filling-up their favorite beverage at the SAC and Grille. (The SAC and Grille are the on-campus dining facilities at IU South Bend.) I heard this from Steve Rose himself - he's the Director of Dining Services - so you have his blessing to bring your own cup.

So while we continue to contemplate this Styrofoam issue, please do your part by bringing your own cup with you when dining at IU South Bend. Remember, we're trying to reduce waste on campus, and every little bit helps. BYOC!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It's Time to Organize!

Amidst the sea of grading statistics exams, cognitive exams, and student papers, I'm also trying to quickly learn about Styrofoam issues (Radical Garbage Man, you are a GEM! Thanks for sending those links!), the Greendisk program, and the logistics of composting food/yard waste on campus. I'm also coordinating with the Facilities Committee on green issues; I figure it's better to collaborate and build a unified voice surrounding these issues rather than work on these issues in a disjointed and fragmented manner.

So it's time to get organized. Next week, I'm meeting with a colleague to write a letter to Dining Services. The purpose of this letter is to publicly raise the issue of using Styrofoam on campus and to offer alternative solutions to this problem. After this letter has been drafted, I will ask students, faculty, and staff for their support by signing this letter.

But why write a letter?

As I reflected upon my meeting with Steve Rose this week, I realized something. In passing, Steve said that about four people have approached him about using Styrofoam on campus. As I thought about that comment, it occurred to me that it's easy to dismiss four people's suggestions. And another thing: The Recycling Committee receives several emails about how Dining Services should be improved. Those emails are not sent to Steve, so he's not getting those messages. So there's a disconnect here. And that's why it's time get organized--we can't afford to wait indefinitely for price decreases on bio-plastics. We've got to be pro-active to instil these changes and first, these ideas need to be heard, not deflected on an individual basis.

So, as you can imagine, there's a lot of behind-the-scenes activities going on at this time. To be sure, this is a labor of love: Taking action to make positive changes is labor intensive and time consuming. And it's worth it.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Money, Money, Money...Money!

Today I met with Steve Rose, the Director of Dining Services at IU South Bend. We discussed the possibility of switching from using Styrofoam products to biodegradable products. In short, this transition will involve a step-by-step process. Well, that's not quite true. From what I gathered from today's meeting, there's really only one step involved: money. According to Steve, biodegradable products cost twice as much as the Styrofoam. So until those prices fall, which is unlikely to happen in the near future, IU South Bend will continue to purchase Styrofoam goods.

Although I learned about the relative cost differences associated to using Styrofoam vs. biodegradable plastic, I couldn't obtain the absolute prices. I really would like to know how much money it costs to order Styrofoam vs. 'bio-plastic'. If I knew those actual price estimates, then I could find out whether it's possible to do business with a company that would offer us a good deal on bio-plastics.

So, what do we do? At this time, the likelihood of making this switch is slim-to-none. And I wonder how many students and faculty would raise a demand for this switch. According to Steve, IU South Bend consumes so many disposable products because we're a commuter campus. Of course, there's no evidence to confirm or deny this claim; it's merely speculation at this point. But I'm curious to know how many students and faculty would be willing to use bio-plastic, even if that meant paying more money for these products.

Another alternative would be to provide a financial incentive (i.e., discount) to individuals who bring their reusable mugs and containers for on-campus dining. And I was also thinking of incorporating additional recycling bins for Styrofoam. Steve said that it's possible to have these recycling bins, but that it would be difficult for people to separate their trash from the Styrofoam container. He suggested that the Recycling Committee could have a booth in the dining hall to educate people on how to properly dispose of their used Styrofoam.

So that's what happened this afternoon. I'll report back to the Recycling Committee next month and see where we go from here. Until then, I'll keep brainstorming some ideas on how to curb our Styrofoam habit.

Oh! And before I forget: I also mentioned the possibility of composting the bio-plastic. (This was based on Radical Garbage Man's brilliant suggestion from last week's comment. Thanks RGM!!) Unfortunately, that idea kinda fell flat on its head. I learned that I would first have to discuss this with Facilities, find a location on campus to deal with the compost, and maintain it. As I listened to the logistics of actually implementing this program, I realized that this was a moot issue for two reasons: 1) IU South Bend isn't going to order any bio-plastics for now, and 2) dining services generates little food waste. So while I genuinely like this idea, I think it'll have to be tabled until the possibility of buying bio-plastics becomes more probable.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Does IUSB Actually Recycle?

Adam recently left a comment asking me whether or not IUSB actually recycles their recyclables. Adam, thanks for contacting me about this issue! (I figured I'd post this information here instead of replying in a comment. Hopefully, more people will read this message and the rumor will be quelled once and for all.)

So the issue regards the use of clear vs. opaque plastic liners for recycling. HIMCO, the company that handles both our waste and recyclables, prefers that IUSB use clear liners. But long story short, the recyclable ARE indeed being recycled, even though we use opaque liners. Michael Prater, the Director of Facilities (and also a member of the Recycling Committee), has directly observed the recyclables being transported for recycling at HIMCO, which is located in Elkhart.

The reason why it's okay for IUSB to use opaque plastic liners is because the sorting process actually takes place on-site at HIMCO.

Last February, I made a trip to HIMCO to see this recycling business for myself. I must say, it was quite an eye-opening experience! For starters, as I approached the facility, I noticed three flags: The company flag, the U.S. flag, and the Mexico flag. As part of the tour, I was allowed to enter the sorting area, which was located in a brick building about 3-stories high. Upon reaching the top of the metal stairs, I entered a long and narrow room. As soon as my tour guide opened the door, I heard Mexican music blaring. And then I saw this room, which was divided in half by a conveyor belt that carried the recyclables to this part of the facility. Flanked on each side of the conveyor belt were six people: three Mexican women and three Mexican men. And those folks were standing next to these really big chutes. So their job was to pick through the recyclables and sort them accordingly. For instance, I watched this guy select all the milk jugs and aluminum cans and place those items into their respective chutes for recycling.

It really was a sight to see. I had no idea what to expect from that experience! Anyway, if you're interested in taking a tour of this facility, please let me know and I'll be happy to make these arrangements for you! Also, the Recycling Committee is always seeking student members--please let me know if you would like to join us and help make IUSB a greener campus! :0)

I'm No Spring Chicken

Well, it's official: I'm 30 years old! My birthday was actually last Thursday and I decided to celebrate my birthday by not doing any work! So now that means I'm paying for those days off (tons of emails, grading essay papers and homework, podcasting, creating exams for my cognitive and statistics courses, grant writing with a looming deadline, and so on).

So I guess this means I'm no spring chicken, anymore. Lesson learned!! :0)

Anyway, I figured I'd explain myself to you guys for not blogging these past few days. But rest assured: This old girl (ahem, that's me) will be back on track starting tomorrow. First things first, though: a good night's sleep!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

There's a New Sheriff in Town...

Okay, so I'm not the new Sheriff in town, but yours truly is now Chair of the Recycling Committee at IU South Bend. I'm happy to take on this role. One challenge this year is to increase our visibility on campus. That means making announcements, writing articles about our recycling efforts in the school newspapers, and updating our ancient webpage.

Another challenge will be addressing the use of Styrofoam on the campus. The challenge will be to use alternative products (i.e., biodegradable plates), which may be more expensive. I'm meeting with the Director of Dining Services about this issue. Hopefully, we'll be able to work together to make IU South Bend more eco-friendly.

And of course, there are other issues that merit our attention: cartridge recycling, the Green Disc Program (a program to recycling e-waste--and that means not shipping this waste to China or India, but actually recycling these products properly!), getting more recycling bins for IT, and confirming the recycling efforts taking place at the new student apartments.

As with most projects, there's a lot of behind-the-scenes activities that must be organized and executed. It's too much for one person to handle by their lonesome. But thank goodness, the recycling committee includes a team of faculty, staff, and students. Provided we work together, I'm confident we'll be able to reach and achieve our goals.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

It's Not Fauxcycling, It's Recycling

Originally uploaded by mverges
Well, it took me about a week of playing phone tag, but I finally got the scoop on Martin's plastic-bag recycling program. Here's the short answer: They're indeed recycling plastic bags.

Right now, Martin's has a pilot program at one of the area stores here in South Bend. So far, they've managed to create one bale of bags (~1200 plastic bags). Commercial Waste picks up the bags and then ships them out-of-state (i.e., Ohio) for recycling.

When I spoke to the store manager last week, he said that Waste Management was picking up the bags. To an uninformed consumer, his response sounds legit. But I've been cursed with plastic-bag knowledge, so I knew this was inaccurate information. (Waste Management doesn't accept plastic bags for recycling.) And given our recent conversation about fauxcycling, I thought it would be wise to obtain accurate information about this program. I'd hate for someone to be misinformed about this pilot program and wrongly conclude this may be another case of fauxcycling.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Beth Reflects on Tess' Trash Challenge

Beth from Fake Plastic Fish was interviewed by Tess Vigeland on NPR's Marketplace regarding her participation with Tess' Trash Challenge.

Well, I'm glad I listened to the interview. I didn't know I could compost my paper plates and napkins. Those suckers will be relocated to my compost bin and deducted from my trash-collection spreadsheet. Sweet!! :0)

Thanks for the tips, Beth!!

Well, It Certainly Looks Like Garbage...

So today's my last day of participating in Tess's Trash Challenge. Woo Hoo!! I must say, I've been obsessed about how much trash I've accumulated this past week. I learned that while it was easy for me to produce less garbage when I was doing my usual routine (get up, go to work, come home, play with pups), it was exceedingly difficult for me to produce less waste when I was in a social situation (going to a friend's house, dining at a restaurant, going out for a hot chocolate or tea afterwards).

Overall, I think I did okay (though my data are at work, and of course, my camera was at home today, so I can't provide you with all the details at the moment--I've chalked this up to being a Monday!). One area for improvement, though, is for me to *remember* to bring a container for my leftovers when I go out to eat. And I was thinking that I should request a mug (or bring my own travel mug) when I go to a cafe, too. I thought of this when my friend Len and I went out for hot chocolate on Saturday night. But then two thoughts immediately followed: 1) I would've had to have ordered a medium or large-sized hot chocolate in order to use the cafe's mug (and I ordered a small) and 2) I didn't want to violate this social norm while I was out socializing with my friend. So as you can see, I successfully rationalized my way out of engaging in this eco-friendly behavior. As penance for this gross inaction, I've decided to hang onto my styrofoam cup and container for next Spring's IUSB Styrofoam Recycling Drive.

And really, this is only an approximation of how much trash I actually generated this week. I'm sure more trash was produced on my behalf when I went out to eat, for example. Case in point, last night my friend Dan and I went out to dinner. After eating our meal and having dessert at a nearby cafe, we inadvertantly walked behind the restaurant en route to the parking lot. The timing was perfect; employees were taking out the trash. "You see, this is what I was talking about earlier," Dan said. He was referring to all the indirect trash that's generated throughout the process of consumption. Indeed, we were walking through the underbelly of this Italian restaurant. Bags upon bags of trash were thrown into the dumpsters.

So, I must say, my eyes have been opened a bit more, thanks to this exercise. I'm glad I did this, and I would recommend you trying it for yourself. If you think you can't handle doing this for a week, then try doing it for 2-3 days. I promise you'll think about your trash (and your behavior) with a different perspective!