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December 2012 Sustainability Newsletter

Season's Greenings

Director of Sustainability Chris O'Brien

The conclusion of the semester is an opportune time to look both backwards and forwards. As we anticipate all that we have planned for 2013, we also look back upon 2012 as yet another watershed year in sustainability at American University. Our accomplishments are many:

  • A first-place finish in RecycleMania
  • Our campus Subway became the first plastic bag-free franchise in America
  • The campus arboretum celebrated its tenth anniversary
  • We hosted the ceremonial signing of the Mayor’s College and University Sustainability Pledge (CUSP)
  • AU was honored by APPA’s Sustainability Award and the EPA’s Green Power Leadership Award.

Next semester, we have more to do:

  • Publish our first-ever campus Sustainability Plan
  • Expand organic waste separation campus-wide so we can divert these materials to composting facilities
  • Welcome more university offices and departments into our Green Office (GO!) program

In this issue of The American Dream Is Green, you will find these and more examples of how AU strives to embody our green ambitions. As we prepare to take a well-earned break from campus, let’s give our campus facilities a break too by taking a few moments to unplug our lamps and appliances (energy vampires never rest!), so we can return ready to continue greening the American Dream. If you haven’t had the opportunity to participate in our programs, attend our events, or be involved with sustainability in some way, you have an open invitation in 2013. Our work is impossible without our most renewable resource – the amazing students, faculty, staff, alumni, neighbors, and friends that make AU great. Happy holidays and “Season’s Greenings”!

Chris O’Brien, Director of Sustainability

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Get Ready for the Holiday Energy Break


For the second year, AU’s buildings will be enjoying the same relaxing break as our students, faculty, and staff, as we turn off the lights and cool the temperature while occupants are away from campus. We need your help to make sure our buildings are fresh and ready for the New Year, so before you leave your office, residence hall, or classroom for the break, please take a few minutes to do the following:

  • Make sure all windows are tightly closed
  • If you have control of temperature settings, make sure the temperature is set between 50-55 degrees or is on a “low” setting
  • Unplug all appliances to zap the energy vampires
  • Turn off the lights
  • Call or e-mail 2FIX (ext. 2349; if you are having any problems with the temperature or lighting controls in your space

Thank you for being on the front line of energy conservation, and helping our campus enjoy the same restful break as we do. For a complete list of Holiday Energy Break instructions, click here.

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Annual Energy Competitions Electrify Campus

Energy Competitions

AU’s annual residence hall energy competition, now in its third year, was expanded for the first time to include office, classroom, and laboratory buildings as well. These dual competitions, Do It in the Dark (residence halls) and the Kill A Watt Challenge (academic and administrative buildings), challenged the AU community from November 12th to 30th to reduce their electricity consumption to see who would be crowned champion and earn the ultimate green campus bragging rights -- and reduce they did! Each building sought to reduce its consumption against a comparable period from last year, resulting in:

  • 138,509 kilowatt hours of electricity saved campus-wide
  • 464,435 tons of carbon dioxide kept out of the atmosphere – that’s like taking 44 cars off the road, planting 5,400 young trees, or taking 31 houses off the grid*
  • $15,421 dollars saved

Participants in the competitions were encouraged to take the Pledge to Conserve Energy, which provided five helpful energy-saving tips to propel them to victory, and entered them into a raffle to win a solar messenger bag that uses a solar panel to charge small electronics. Faculty and Staff can still take the pledge online, and enter the raffle, until Friday, December 21st at this link. The competition also brought exciting visitors to campus, with the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (pictured at the top of this newsletter) sharing information about District-wide energy efficiency programs, and Intel Corporation’s Global Director of Energy and Environmental Policy Stephen Harper giving a keynote lecture on energy efficiency in global computing systems. Congratulations to winning Capital Hall (13.6% reduction), and co-champions President's Office Building (35.2% reduction) and Ward Circle Building (34% reduction), for winning their respective competitions. The residents of Capital Hall enjoyed an ice cream party hosted by that hall’s Green Eagle ecoreps on Wednesday, December 5th before taking their final exams. The competitions and many of the events were co-sponsored and received support from the Residence Hall Association, Housing and Dining Programs, SPA’s Center for Environmental Policy, the Green Eagles, and the faculty and staff participating in the Green Office (GO!) program. Click here to see the full competition results on AU’s online energy dashboard.

*Data from EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalency Calculator

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Green Eagles' Energy Efforts a "Blackout" Success

By Nathan Strauss

Green Eagles on Hike

The Green Eagles enjoy a weekend hike along the C&O Canal that required no electricity

The Green Eagles electrified their efforts in November and December as they strove to help AU residents conserve energy while competing in the 3rd annual Do It in the Dark competition. Armed with “Kill-A-Watt” energy meters, energy conservation pledges, and energy auditing training from the Alliance to Save Energy, our intrepid ecoreps battled energy vampires (appliances that are turned “off” but still suck electricity) and rallied their residence halls to victory. More than 500 resident students took the Pledge to Conserve Energy, which committed them to five energy-saving behaviors including turning off the lights, turning down the temperature, forgoing the elevator, unplugging appliances when not in use, and setting their refrigerators to “low” settings. One lucky pledge-winner won a solar messenger bag to help charge their electronics on the go while totally off the grid.

Nearly every residence hall saw a reduction in its energy use from an equivalent period last year, with the students in Capital Hall, Centennial Hall, and McDowell Hall all reducing their energy use by more than ten percent. Wrapping up the competition, the Green Eagles put their all into a final push for energy conservation with a CFL light-bulb exchange, encouraging students to be smart about their appliances, and not just their usage. Although the competition has ended, the need to save energy has not, so keep saving into the New Year and see your building’s real-time energy consumption info on our year-round online dashboard.

Nathan Strauss is a sophomore journalism major from Glenside, Pennsylvania, and a resident Green Eagle ecorep for McDowell Hall. His greatest sustainability concerns are management of stormwater, public health, and hydrofracking. Click here to learn more about Nathan and the rest of the Green Eagles, and find out who’s helping to green your residence hall.

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GO!-ing the Distance: Green Office Update

Green Office (GO!)

The nearly 40 offices and more than 600 faculty and staff members participating in Green Office (GO!) are well on their way to earning green certification for their work spaces. During November and December the offices are engaged in energy reduction activities, but in October the offices focused on greening their office supplies to support AU’s Sustainable Purchasing and Zero Waste policies. And they made quite an impact:

  • 14 offices shifted a document previously printed on paper to an electronic version
  • 15 GO! offices use only 100% post-consumer recycled paper, ensuring over 1,000 reams of paper per month are seeing a second life
  • 15 offices use only recycled or remanufactured ink cartridges
  • 19 offices have a multi-purpose or shared printer set to print double-sided by default
  • More than 200 computers in GO! offices are set to print double-sided by default
  • More than 300 computers in GO! offices save paper by using ¾” paper margins by default

The Office of Sustainability would like to recognize and congratulate AU Abroad and Facilities Management for achieving high scores in October and being named the Green Office Supplies Champion and Runner-Up, respectively.

Would you like your office or department to join these campus leaders in making a sustainable difference, building community, and meeting AU’s strategic goals? E-mail Josh for more information about joining GO! in the spring semester, and visit the GO! website for more information on the program and currently certified and participating offices.

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Sustainability Fund Supports Campus Projects

Sustainability Fund Committee

The Sustainability Fund Committee From L to R: Stephen Bronskill, Emily Curley, Tiffany Sanchez, Sara Schwartz, Joshua Kaplan, Stephanie DeStefano, Karen Knee, Ian Toller-Clark, Simon Nicholson, Chris O'Brien, and Ryan Gardiner.

AU’s Sustainability Fund awards approximately $5,000 each year in small grants to support campus sustainability projects and research by students, faculty, staff, and alumni. This year’s award winners include both new and continuing projects, and represent the wide range of interests and creativity that the AU community brings to our shared commitment to sustainability.

The 2012-13 funded projects include:

  • Enhancing the AU Community Garden with composting and cooking workshops and hosting speakers from the community, as well as new growing structures for colder seasons. The garden was able to expand to its new location last year with the help of a Sustainability Fund grant. “Receiving the grant for a second year enables us to capitalize on the knowledge and experience of what works and what does not from the first year,” says Community Garden Co-Coordinator Claire Williamson. “We continue to offer a space for students and staff to take advantage of their food and gain knowledge and skills.”
  • A study conducted by MS in Sustainability Management student Aaron Schreiber-Stainthorp, to determine if mushroom mycelium (root systems) have the capability to absorb excess nutrient pollution from stormwater runoff.
  • A pilot program, led by undergraduate student Joe Wisniewski, to create an Adopt-A-Tree program on campus in partnership with the District Department of Transportation that would allow AU students to “adopt” and care for off-campus trees close to campus. Wisniewski is excited for the potential of the program to build community bridges: “I see the Adopt-a-Tree Program bringing together groups that haven't worked together before: AU students, faculty, and staff working together with the district government to give back to the community. By caring for trees, we are making a long-term investment in the community outside of campus.”
  • A study by MS in Sustainability Management student Phil Olive to cultivate healthy and edible King Oyster Mushrooms from growing media sourced from AU’s campus waste stream (old cardboard and coffee grounds, to be exact). “Access to nutritious food is a global and local problem that affects the rich and poor alike. By turning campus outputs into mushroom inputs, I hope to put a dent in our local food problem and educate its members about the potential that mushrooms have to bolster our food security,” says Olive of the educational potential of his fungal pursuits.
  • The AU Beekeeping Society, now a recognized student organization, has received a second year of funding to continue building programming around AU’s apiary (beehives), including new equipment and a planned “bee-cam” monitor to be placed in the Davenport Coffee Lounge that would allow the campus community to get an up-close view of the bees’ daily activities without disturbing the hives.
  • Undergraduate student Samantha Kenney received funding for an outreach campaign to build campus support for a bottle bill in the District of Columbia that would allow plastic bottles and aluminum cans to be exchanged for a five cent fee. Similar programs have been implemented in states such as Maine, Connecticut, Hawaii, Michigan, Iowa, Vermont, Oregon, and Massachusetts, and been successful in increasing recycling rates. Samantha, a first-year student, was inspired by the bottle bill passed in her home state of New York.

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2012 Another Banner Year for AU Sustainability

CUSP Signing

President Neil Kerwin signs the CUSP while Mayor Vincent Gray looks on

In 2012, American University’s sustainability efforts soared. Here are just a few of our proudest achievements:

  • On the CUSP: In February, Presidents of the nine colleges and universities in the District of Columbia and DC Mayor Vincent Gray came to the LEED Gold-certified School of International Service Building on AU’s campus to sign the College and University Sustainability Pledge (CUSP). The first agreement of its kind, it commits the higher education sector in the District to publish sustainability plans and report progress toward sustainability goals, helping DC to become the Greenest College Town in America. Click here to read more about the CUSP.
  • Climate Conference: In July, AU hosted prominent sustainability leaders on campus with the annual summit of the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). The ACUPCC, to which AU is a signatory, commits more than 600 colleges and universities nationwide to setting forth plans for achieving carbon neutrality. AU is leading the way with an ambitious plan to achieve this goal by 2020, making our campus an ideal location for the summit. Presidents, provosts, and finance directors from around the country heard from speakers, attended meetings, and braved 100 degree weather to tour AU’s sustainability features. Learn more about the ACUPCC.
  • Awards: AU was recognized by multiple organizations in the past year for its sustainable efforts. APPA, the leading organization for university facilities managers, gave AU its first ever Sustainability Award for facilities. The EPA recognized AU’s commitment to purchasing renewable energy with the Green Power Leadership Award in October. Our grounds were the subject of much praise as well, with our arboretum’s 10th anniversary marked by achieving a Level II Arboretum status from the Morton Register of Arboreta, and being named a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation for the third year in a row. The Princeton Review named AU to its Green Honor Roll for achieving the highest possible green score in its rating system for the second year in a row. 
  • GO! Goes Campus-Wide: AU’s Green Office (GO!) program was made available to the entire campus for the first time this fall after conducting a successful pilot in 2011-12. Nearly 40 offices and departments and more than 600 faculty and staff are working to green their offices and earn a Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum GO! certification this year. Click here to learn more about GO!
  • Earth Week 2012: In April, AU celebrated its largest Earth Week yet with Earth Week 2012: Building A Sustainable U. More than 50 events were attended by more than 1,000 members of the campus community, including a keynote by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, hosted by Kogod’s new MS in Sustainability Management program. Our 2013 Earth Day celebrations are already in the planning stages, so e-mail Josh early if your organization, office, department, or program would like to be involved in one of AU’s largest community events. Click here to learn more about Earth Week at AU.
  • Waste Warriors: National Champions. That’s what Eagles can call after a first-place finish ahead of more than 600 colleges and universities competing in the 2012 RecycleMania waste diversion competition. More zero waste milestones occurred as our campus Subway became the first franchise in the United States to end the use of plastic bags, along with the AU Campus Store and Eagle’s Nest; the Terrace Dining Room introduced reusable to-go containers; and the AU Student Government pledged to no longer use bottled water at its events, including those by the Kennedy Political Union (speakers’ bureau) and Student Union Board (concerts). The RecycleMania victory also precedes a 2013 rollout of entirely new waste collection bins on campus, including separate bins for organic material that will now be sent to composting facilities. Click here to learn more about Zero Waste at AU.

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AU Shuttle Buses Get Biofuel Makeover

By Sara Schwartz

Biodiesel Tank

This storage tank fills AU’s nine shuttle buses with carbon-cutting biodiesel fuel

After 13 years of planning, the green dream of biodiesel buses at American University is now reality, as AU’s entire fleet of nine shuttle buses are set to run on biodiesel. Transportation Manager Alef Worku and his team have been working towards this goal ever since it was first proposed in 1999. The shuttles will start with B5 fuel and gradually transition to B20; the number represents the percent of biofuel used in the biodiesel mixture. Tri-Gas and Oil will deliver the fuel to a thousand gallon storage tank located by the Osborn Building (see picture). “We’ve passed a big hurdle,” says Worku, “which is getting the tank.”

Using biodiesel was a radical idea thirteen years ago. As Worku explained, however, after a standard for the fuel was developed, people started accepting it as an alternative fuel source. AU’s first biodiesel vehicle was a smaller maintenance vehicle, and it was quickly apparent that the engine ran well without the unpleasant smell usually associated with diesel engines. The decision then was made to convert the entire fleet to biodiesel. Conveniently, no changes needed to be made to the engines themselves, although engine filters do have to be changed more frequently. This is worth the effort, as the use of B20 fuel will cut 20% of the greenhouse gas emissions from the shuttles, getting closer to AU’s 2020 carbon neutrality pledge.

In addition to the new fuel, three new buses will be arriving in January that release lower emissions due to new technologies. Furthermore, Transportation Management has a policy of “smart schedules,” with the shuttles running on schedules that closely match demand. Even with the new changes, Worku is already looking for new technologies to make transportation at American University more sustainable. “Fifteen years ago biodiesel was a joke compared to today’s reality,” he said, “Hopefully we will eventually have electric buses where we don’t have to run any engine.” For now, however, AU should be proud of the major accomplishment of shifting to a bus fleet entirely run on biodiesel.

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Sustainability Snapshot

Tianjin Delegation on the Quad

In November, the Office of Sustainability conducted a sustainability tour for a delegation of officials from the municipality of Tianjin, China's fourth largest metropolitan area.

Click here for more information on how to schedule a campus sustainability tour for your class, club, office, department, or other group.

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Need a Ride Home for the Holidays?

Forgot to book your ticket home for the holidays? Find a ride with another Eagle with AU’s convenient campus carpooling network, Zimride. Quickly log on to using your Facebook profile (or with your e-mail address), and see who’s offering a ride to your neck of the woods. It’s fun, safe, and convenient. Are you already driving? Find a passenger to split the gas and share the ride – your favorite holiday playlist is optional. You can also optionally open your search to include other local universities, including the University of Maryland and George Mason University.  

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Green Course Spotlight

Sustainability Communication: Navigating a Hot, Flat, and Crowded World

Professor Matt Nisbet

Professor Matthew Nisbet, Ph.D.

Do you need an additional course for the spring that will give you a strong background in interdisciplinary sustainability issues? Check out COMM-589 Sustainability Communication: Navigating a Hot, Flat, and Crowded World. This new course, taught by popular professor and science communication expert Matthew Nisbet, is open to both undergraduate and graduate students in any major. The class meets from 11:45 AM – 2:25 PM on Wednesdays, and will examine communication strategies employed by the scientific community, government agencies, environmental groups, the conservative movement, industry organizations, and journalists to grapple with the greatest sustainability challenges of our times. Students will have the opportunity to turn their analysis papers into blog posts at Enrollees must have a 2.5 GPA or higher, and have junior, senior, or graduate standing. Enrollment is limited to 30 students, so don’t delay! Click here for a full course description, and click here for past student blog posts on

About the Professor: Matthew Nisbet, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Communication and Co-Director of the Center for Social Media at American University. His research investigates the role of communication in policymaking and public affairs, focusing on debates over science, sustainability, and public health. He is the author of more than 50 peer-reviewed studies, book chapters, and monographs; writes and edits the Age of Engagement blog and is a contributing columnist to The Breakthrough. Nisbet has been a Health Policy Investigator at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a Google Science Communication Fellow, and is currently a Shorenstein Fellow in Press, Politics, and Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. In 2011, the editors at the journal Nature recommended Nisbet's research as “essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the climate change debate,” and the New Republic highlighted his work as a “fascinating dissection of the shortcomings of climate activism.” He holds a Ph.D. and M.S. in Communication from Cornell University and an A.B. in Government from Dartmouth College.

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Green the Dream at Home

Cut Your Energy Bill Woes with Cold-Weather Tips

Nest Thermostat

Image from engadget

EPA’s ENERGY STAR program offers some great tips to stay warm and keep your wallet full this winter. The average family spends $1,400 a year on energy bills, with half of that going to heating and cooling. Cleaning your air filter, tightening your ducts, and purchasing efficient appliances can all go a long way. Learn these and more tips by visiting the EPA's website.

Winter Tech Tip: What happens when your thermostat meets the iPhone? The result is the sleek-looking Nest (see picture), a smart-thermostat designed by part of the same team that dreamt up Apple’s seminal device. The Nest “learns” about your energy habits, such as what temperatures you like and when you’re away, and does much of the energy saving work for you by adjusting the temperature, cutting your costs while giving you peace of mind. Easy to install, controllable from your smartphone, and compatible with most home heating and cooling systems, the Nest and other smart-thermostats are a great way to take control of your energy bill while pretending your home is straight out of The Jetsons (flying cars soon to come). Click here to learn more about the Nest.

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