Sustainability

INTERNATIONAL STUDENT VOLUNTEER PROGRAM

The International Student Volunteer (ISV) program is the world’s highest rated volunteer program, with over 35,000 student participants in just 15 years. Their mission statement is, “to support sustainable development initiatives around the world through life-changing student volunteers and responsible adventure travel programs designed to positively change our world and to educate, inspire and result in more active global citizens.” I have learned first hand that they accomplish this, and much more.

The program is divided into two parts. During the first two weeks you join a team and work on your sustainability project. I met my team of seven upon arrival in Sydney, Australia and then traveled to our home-stay further north in Newcastle. Here, we worked for one week restoring a national wetland park which was suffering from invasive plant species that disrupted the resting area for thousands of East Asian migratory shorebirds. Without this resting ground, the birds would be forced to continue their flight for several more days, often leading to their death.  We spent this week removing each of the weeds by hand. On our breaks we learned about these birds and their migration pattern. Our evenings involved debriefing the day’s activity and brainstorming ways to further impact this wildlife community.

While we were on this project site, we also learned of a public concern for the damaged break wall surrounding the wetland. Fortunately, we were at the location just two days before a large storm that would have broken the remaining wall and flooded the entire area beyond repair. We filled sand bags and strategically placed them to form a sturdy break wall that would survive this and many other storms in the future.

During our second week, we worked alongside the team for a project known as Stepping Stones, which was developed to repair soil erosion through planting trees. Unfortunately, the project was losing funding and was short staffed. We helped to pick up the slack and planted 840 trees. This picture shows me kneeling in McGully’s Gap, an area that would have been preeminently affected by the soil erosion that had been occurring. They best part about this project was that we were planting a life that would continue to grow and make a lasting impact on this area in Australia. My hope is to one day return and see how the 840 trees that we planted filled the entire land.

During the last two weeks of the trip, I joined a larger group of volunteers who had each been working on their own sustainability project. Together, we toured the east coast of Australia learning about their Aboriginal culture and wildlife conservation. We had the wonderful opportunity to take a course on coral reef biodiversityin which the instructor educated us on the tragedies the Great Barrier Reef was facing. Before heading out to the waters for snorkeling, we became well versed on how to safely interact with the wildlife that existed in the reef.

I would say that this was the most impactful portion of my trip since I was up close to the very wildlife I had spent my four years of college learning how to protect. My major involves strategic policy planning to incentivize people to work together to both meet production needs and the needs of the wildlife I witnessed. This was truly an unimaginable experience. If you are in the ENRE program or simply have the interest to learn more about wildlife and how to protect it, this is the program for you!

 

By Shannon Mora

Organic and Sustainable Agriculture in New Jersey

Throughout the summer of 2015, I worked an internship in sustainable agriculture in my home state of New Jersey. For those who have never truly visited New Jersey, you may have a negative image of my home involving MTV shows, heavy pollution, and concrete. As you will learn through this post, New Jersey is actually a lush, beautiful state over ten thousand farms of all kinds. You will also read about how I learned to apply practical sustainable methods to organic farming by using alternative methods other than pesticides, and how to farm organically. I also learned more about the importance of organic food itself.

Flocktown Farm is a small-scale, organic farm located in Long Valley, NJ. The farm’s scenery is rather stunning, as it sits upon the top of the beautiful Schooleys Mountain surrounded by forest. Flocktown Farm is organized as a CSA (community shared agriculture), which means the farm’s consumers would buy shares of the farm and receive weekly “shares” of the farm’s produce and products. This is a similar concept to how a corporation works with investors who buy “stock” in the company. The CSA model has helped many farms survive and prosper in that the farms would get all their capital at the start of the growing season. This is important to the farm’s survival because the farm would be able to recover from what would usually cripple a farm’s production, such as financial disaster, low quantities of rain, essential equipment getting damaged, storms, pests, etc.

Flocktown farm has no livestock, but solely focuses on growing vegetables along with some fruit and herbs. The different sub-seasons of the summer dictated what we could grow at what time. In the first half of the summer I worked (from June to mid-July), the farm grew kale, baby kale, chard, bok choy, arugula, lettuce heads, peas, micro-greens, scallions, radishes, basil, oregano, leeks, mustard greens, cilantro, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, and more. From mid-July through early-September, you could find potatoes, string beans, corn, tomatoes, watermelons, pumpkins, beets, dill, eggplant, bell or sweet peppers, jalapeno peppers, and more in the farm’s CSA shares or farmers market stand. The farm also prepared its own pickles with cucumbers and herbs they grew on the farm. Flocktown also sells meat and eggs for another local in exchange for the stand selling Flocktown’s produce.

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My essential duties while working this internship involved working as a farmhand. Over the summer I seeded, planted, trans-planted, weeded, harvested, and washed/prepared produce. I would also pack shares for the farm’s CSA members. Every Thursday, we could go to sell the produce at the local town’s farmer’s market where I would help sell the produce directly to consumers. I would also inform customers on the farm itself, along with organic food in general.

In doing all of this, I learned how to apply sustainable and environmental practices in a practical, direct manner, while getting plenty of exercise! I learned about the harmful effects of pesticides and how over the time the populations of the pests will adapt to resist the pesticides genetically. For instance, a pesticide may eliminate 99% of a population of beetles the first year it is used, but the next year the offspring of the surviving 1% of those beetles will resist the pesticide rendering it useless in the second year of its use. Meanwhile, more sustainable practices such as, “trap-cropping”, crop rotation, etc. are far more effective methods to protect the produce. These methods are far more sustainable too, considering how the chemicals from the pesticides affect the soil and runoff into the local rivers and streams. This should not happen on an organic farm since they don’t allow those substances.  Working at the farm also taught me many organic methods regarding the health of the soil, efficient land use, the use of organic fertilizer, harvesting crops with minimal damage to the ecosystem, and more.

There were a lot of important learning outcomes from working in organic agriculture. One very important notion I’ve observed is that organic farms survive and prosper because there is demand for them! This goes to show how people have a huge demand for food not produced by our current, industrialized food industry. The support and enthusiasm from Flocktown’s shareholders are what makes the farm successful. The community in CSAs, organic farms, or farmers markets is golden, and it is inspiring to see how many people were excited by simply seeing a healthy- looking batch of kale, or a pile of potatoes pulled out of the ground that day. Our customers were happy to know where their food came from. That is why it is extremely important to support our local food growers. Organic produce has better quality and contains far more nutrients because of how it is grown, and we would have far less access to this food without our local farmers. I encourage all readers to support their local farmers to help keep this movement alive.

By John Patrick A. Govan ‘17

Summer of 2015

Introducing an Energy Auditing Tool to the Rhode Island Public Sector

My name is Andrew Hintlian, and I am pursuing a double major in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics and Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island. Participating in this locus of study gave me the opportunity to take part in the yearlong URI Energy Fellows Program through the Extension Outreach Center. Throughout my engagement in this internship, I worked with the Rhode Island Public Energy Partnership (RIPEP) Team. RIPEP was a three-year initiative supported by the Department of Energy (DOE) to achieve an overall energy savings of 20% throughout approximately 100 buildings in Rhode Island’s public sector. I took part in analyzing the energy usage data from about 50 of those municipal, state, school and water facilities.

Building Energy Asset Score (AST)

This past summer, I earned the opportunity to take on a lead role in the program by introducing an auditing tool to four school and municipal departments. The DOE’s Building Energy Asset Score (AST) is a free tool that uses a building’s structural data (lighting, HVAC systems, structural assemblies, etc.) to calculate an energy efficiency score. AST provides energy efficiency scores between 1 and 10, 1 meaning the building uses more energy than it should and 10 meaning it uses less energy than expected. A current and potential score are provided to highlight what the building can achieve from completing suggested projects. As part of the RIPEP initiative, I was tasked with collecting building information for at least 30 public facilities.

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Data Collection Process

To make sure we achieved our goal of collecting data for 30 buildings, we first contacted those municipalities, school districts, and state agencies that showed prior interest in the tool and a high level of engagement in the RI Public Energy Partnership. We received responses from North Kingstown School District (10 buildings), Cranston School District (5 buildings), Warwick Municipality (10 buildings), and the University of Rhode Island Capital Projects (6 buildings). Once we received feedback, I was able to schedule meetings with the community directors to rationalize the best approach in collecting data. We found the best way to collect this data was to start by viewing blueprints and upgrade schedules. If there was any missing information, we would perform on-site visits to attain the remaining building characteristics. The data was then entered into the Tool’s online database to receive scoring and efficiency reports. Once the buildings were scored, we met with customers again to discuss findings. Using the results, we offered recommendations on how to use the tool to identify next steps for energy efficiency investment

Customer Takeaways of AST

The intention of introducing this tool to the Rhode Island public sector was not necessarily to provide building results, but to show the usefulness of the tool. When presenting results, I focused on three takeaways that the customers can achieve from independent use of AST.  One benefit was the creation of a central database of building information. Through consistent use of this tool, the Asset Score compiles building structure and efficiency information into a single location accessible by the building operator with just the click of a button. Another takeaway is the fact that it can be used alongside Energy Star Portfolio Manager (PM) to provide further knowledge of the building. PM is a tool that the RIPEP Team used with our Rhode Island partners to analyze building energy consumption values through examining utility bills. Using the Asset Score alongside ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager Tool can compare how a building could be performing to how it is actually performing. The final takeaway we wanted to achieve was to streamline next steps in energy efficiency project implementation for these partners. By introducing this unique tool to this public sector, they can use its feedback to schedule preliminary energy audits directed by the results, continue using the tool as a resource for planning future projects and updating building structural characteristics, and understand changes in energy consumption over time from collaborative Portfolio Manager reports.

Working on RIPEP has helped to shape me professionally, and enhanced my familiarity with entry into the energy workforce. I knew I made the right choice with the Energy Fellows program as I got to partake in work that not only interested me, but challenged me to a large extent. I’ve also become more confident with my leadership and professional communications skills from my constant involvement around the office, work meetings, energy tabling events and trainings. My hope for the future of AST project implementation is that this program will help Rhode Island achieve a more sustainable future through improved energy awareness.

by: Andrew Hintlian

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics & Marine Affairs Double Major

December 11th, 2015

Educating Rhode Islanders about Sustainable Energy

Since January 2014 I have been an Energy Fellow at the University of Rhode Island Outreach Center. This year I worked on the Sustainable Energy Outreach and Education Team, developing ways to teach the community outside of URI about energy topics such as efficiency, conservation, and renewables. We worked to serve as a teacher to the public and provide resources about energy to those who are not able to attend the university. We did this through a series of workshops available to Rhode Island residents where they could learn the “who, what, why, and how” of sustainable energy. These included a Home Energy School, a Renewable Energy School, and two residential efficiency workshops in South Kingstown and Warwick as part of the EPA Climate Showcase Communities grant.

We designed these educational programs by working backwards and first identifying outreach objectives. First, we wanted to provide people with research-based, factual knowledge about energy basics and what is happening on the federal, state, and individual levels. Most importantly, we hoped to facilitate a behavior change in Rhode Islanders to adopt sustainable energy habits, advocate for progressive energy policy, and be confident, informed energy decision makers. If successful, in the long run we will see a reduction in CO2 emissions and a diverse array of energy sources.

This fellowship has allowed me to grow professionally as well as personally. I have gained vast knowledge about the energy system and Rhode Island’s leadership in a sustainable energy future. I have also gained invaluable professional skills and a newfound confidence that has translated into my everyday life. Working in outreach and education has also inspired me to add a minor field of study to my major in Environmental Economics. In the spring I will begin my Public Relations minor in order to achieve the most effective means of communicating energy to the public.

I feel very strongly that the energy industry is where I would like to further my career. I enjoyed this internship so much that I reapplied to be a 2015 fellow, and was accepted as the Team Leader of Energy Education. This promotion will provide me with leadership skills, and more importantly allow my voice to be better heard in educating Rhode Islanders about sustainable energy behaviors.

By: Angela Tuoni

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics

Public Relations Minor

December 22nd, 2014

Green Team Power

This past semester I had the privilege of interning in the URI Office of Sustainability with Marsha Garcia, the Campus Sustainability Officer. My main focus was the Green Team Program, a program developed a couple of years ago to help campus staff and faculty members “green” their offices. The Green Team Program is a stepping-stone for getting faculty and staff involved in sustainable behavior and possibly leading to their officers being certified as Green Offices. This simultaneously helps the campus move toward achieving goals drawn out in the URI Strategic Plan for Campus Sustainability and the URI Climate Action Plan.

During this semester, I presented the Green Team Program to prospective members and was also able to experience performing the sustainability audits on a few offices. Each interaction with Green Team members was insightful – their perspectives and suggestions helped improve the Green Team Program.

Some challenges of implementing the Green Team Program are unawareness of the program or even of the Sustainability Office, lack of interest, and time constraints. By acknowledging these challenges, we hope to find better strategies for getting people involved in the Green Team Program. I addressed one of our major challenges, unawareness, with a short email blast that consisted of only a few sentences to grab people’s attention and a picture of one of our posters with a link to our website. We also placed posters about the Green Team Program around different buildings throughout the campus. A short time later, an office registered to start a Green Team. Even if there is just one response, it gives us hope that this strategy is effective.

Another accomplishment is that URI has been honored once again in the Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges. URI has been honored since 2010 and has the highest “green university score” of all Rhode Island universities!

Here is a list of my responsibilities as a Sustainability Coordinator Intern:

  • Update the URI sustainability website
  • Recruit Green Teams from different offices
  • Check in with current Green Teams
  • Write Green Thinker profiles on students, staff, faculty
  • Post to Facebook and Twitter
  • Create weekly office tips
  • Develop monthly newsletters
  • Write an article about a Green Team
  • Conduct Green Office certification reviews
  • Develop campaign strategies
  • Research and analysis

Overall this was an amazing experience and I would recommend this to anyone who is passionate about the environment and sustainability. Although challenges may arise, seeing these projects through is very rewarding. I am very grateful for the opportunity and think this internship will help me tremendously in the path towards my environmental career goals.

 

by Annie Ratanasim ’16

Master of Public Administration, concentration in Green Markets and Sustainability

May 7th, 2014