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Momentum increasing for shrinking the campus's carbon footprint

Earth Fest! brought out more than 400 people this year and a camel stuffed with trash.
Earth Fest! brought out more than 400 people this year and a camel stuffed with trash.

On Facebook, Connecticut College's more than 2,200 fans can't get enough of green news. And it's no wonder. This year saw an increased momentum for shrinking the campus's carbon footprint.

For the first time, the College conducted a campus-wide comprehensive environmental sustainability baseline assessment of all aspects of operations at the College. Meanwhile, more than 7 percent of Connecticut College students attended Power Shift 2009, a national conference and rally on Capitol Hill, which brought 12,000 young people to Washington to hold elected officials accountable for rebuilding the economy and reclaiming the future through climate and clean energy initiatives.

Connecticut College made a great showing in this year's national Recyclemania Competition. During the 10-week recycling and waste reduction competition, 4.7 million students and 1.1 million faculty and staff on 510 college and university campuses (covering all 50 states) collectively recycled or composted just over 69.4 million pounds of material. Connecticut College came in 13th nationwide and beat out Tufts University, Amherst, Middlebury, Bowdoin, Colby and Trinity colleges to become first in the New England Small College Athletic Conference with 39.25 pounds of recyclables per person. If recyclables were rice - 40 pounds would be enough to feed 400 people.

A few of the more competitive students accumulated enough trash to create a giant Camel sculpture stuffed entirely with trash that otherwise would have counted against them in the competition.

Sally Zuar '11 and Patrick Wallace '09 - who organized the sculpture-making venture with the campus environmental representatives - are pretty sure it's the first time Connecticut College's noble mascot has appeared in the form of refuse. To get the job done, they broke up into small groups, Wallace said, each taking a leg, a torso or other body part.

"Little by little different groups came up with ideas like cutting up the bottom of a plastic bottle to make the kneecap, or using a big Party Mix container for the head. People would walk by the Larrabee Common Room and then would stop in and help for a while. We had pizza and music, too, so the atmosphere was great," Wallace said.

Drawing on the momentum of a successful Recyclemania, the green-minded of Connecticut College celebrated Earth Day with a month-long celebration that included an eco-minded film, a festival, a conference on water scarcity and even a Green Career Fair. About 1,200 people were served at a "localvore" dinner at Harris Dining Hall held on Earth Day.

Earth Fest! - The main event of Celebration Earth: 2009 - took over Tempel Green April 18. An estimated 400 people came out to celebrate Mother Earth with over 30 table displays, activities for children and adults, music that included folk and a cappella (i.e. the ConnChords and Williams Street Mix), a swing dance demonstration and lesson, an Arboretum native plant sale and local, organic and fair trade food and drink.

Meanwhile, groups across campus took small but notable steps toward increasing sustainability. For instance, the publications department has taken strides to rethink the way campus publications are printed. "There are more paper options now than there were a couple of years ago that are manufactured using biogas or wind energy," said Brandon Mosley, graphic/web designer.

The Office of Events and Catering began using compostable disposable paper cups, plates and utensils last year. "The only plastic we are currently using is when customers request it or we already have it on hand," said Director Merrill Collins.

Custodial staff made the switch across campus to "Green Seal" certified cleaners, a certification that meets stringent environmental standards. A student initiative to switch library copiers to 100 percent post-consumer paper passed muster with the Student Government Association.

Six students working on an independent study erected wind measuring towers on campus to test how much wind is in the area and whether it would be feasible for Connecticut College to use wind as an energy source.

"This has been quite the year - the high energy on campus for environmental initiatives is palpable, and the results speak for themselves. It's gratifying, too, to see the community interest and participation in Earth Fest and other College environmental events. I expect the momentum will continue and build in strength," said Amy Cabaniss, campus environmental coordinator.

June 9, 2009