Campus kicks off ‘monstrous’ Earth Week

Steve Koppes
Associate News DirectorUniversity Communications

The Asian carp will star as the villain of Earth Week 2010 at the University of Chicago, complete with a poster/T-shirt design worthy of a campy 1950s horror movie.

Campus Earth Week events will highlight water-related issues, including the Asian carp, an invasive species of Illinois rivers that threaten to enter Lake Michigan. The poster depicts a giant Asian carp with a double-pronged spear menacing a frightened, nearly prone man.

"They Came From the Canal," screams the accompanying title in large letters. "First, they came for our river. Now they're coming for our lakes."

The design introduces a note of levity to the often-dour tone of environmental conversations, said Ilsa Flanagan, director of the University's Office of Sustainability. "People get overwhelmed, and they think, 'There's nothing I can do that'll make a difference," Flanagan said.

In reality, Flanagan, her associates and a legion of volunteers have assembled a host of potential measures that members of the University community can take to help make a difference. Some of them are particular to Earth Week, such as the sustainable design workshop on "Material Re-use/Functional Art" at Midway Studios on Friday, April 23 (Contact David Wolf for information). Others, like the bike share and recycling programs, are ongoing. And still others, including a model green office and a green office certification program, are in the works.

A campus-wide greenhouse gas inventory is one of the University's most ambitious sustainability initiatives. The inventory is the first step toward implementing a greenhouse gas emission reduction strategy.

Unlike some of its peer institutions, UChicago has included the Medical Center in its inventory even though, as 24-7 operations, the hospitals would find it challenging to significantly reduce their carbon footprints. Nevertheless, there are opportunities to reduce emissions, as revealed in the efforts of Michael Morowitz, assistant professor of surgery and pediatrics, and Mark Lestina, former manager of sustainability, waste and recycling at the Medical Center, to begin measuring the carbon footprint associated with caring for individual patients.

"For a variety of reasons, the delivery of health care has been slow to 'go green' like many other industries," Morowitz said. "If we can accomplish this, we are hopeful that we can identify opportunities to reduce our footprint and simultaneously save health care dollars."

Carbon footprint of an appendectomy

Morowitz and Lestina began the process by studying what happens when children with appendicitis move through the health care system. "We are seeing some obvious targets, such as unnecessary utilization of CT scans, but also some more subtle targets related to the energy requirements for day-to-day operations in the hospital," Morowitz said.

The equipment in operating rooms often remain powered up all the time, said Lestina, who recently left the Medical Center to join the healthcare waste solutions group of Waste Management Inc. "Even in standby mode, there's a tremendous power draw for some of these pieces of equipment when, in reality, they could be turned off."

Drawing more power than the medical equipment, however, are the television sets in the patients' rooms. If the remain on all the time, "it's the equivalent of having a 250-watt light bulb on constantly," Lestina said.

In other campus sustainability news:

  • The Searle Chemistry Laboratory renovation has received LEED Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. "It's hard to make a lab building, which is very energy-intensive, a LEED Gold," Flanagan said. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) provides independent verification that a building meets the highest environmental performance measures. "Every new construction project in the pipeline right now is also registered for LEED certification of some sort," Flanagan said.
  • Single-stream recycling has come to campus, meaning that all recyclable materials may be tossed into the same bins. "People still aren't aware that we do single-stream and why that's important and how that benefits recycling and waste," Flanagan said. Single-stream stickers will appear on recycling bins by Earth Week to help spread awareness. "Some of them still say 'glass only' or 'paper only.' It's confusing, and if it's confusing, people aren't going to do it."
  • SAGE Ambassadors training will begin in April. This training is open to faculty and staff members and students who are interested in serving as sustainability ambassadors, providing peers with suggestions on how they can reduce their environmental impact and accrue economic benefits. For information, contact sustainability program coordinator Colleen Christensen.
  • Energy-efficiency upgrades will begin in June in the Kent Chemical Laboratory, the Social Sciences Research Building and the Henry Crown Field House. A pilot energy conservation program will begin at the same time in at least one of these buildings. The upgrades will be funded from a $2.5 million gift that the sustainability program received last year from University Trustee James Crown and Paula Crown.

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