What is Sustain Champlain?

Sustain Champlain is a campus-wide initiative strives to infuse sustainability concepts and practices across Champlain College by coordinating and promoting best practices within four areas: our institution, academics, operations, and culture.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Going Mindful- Happy Homes

Hello fellow Beavers,

Sorry I’ve been a little AWOL for the past few weeks. Busy times right? I hope your Thanksgiving break has been going swimmingly and that you’ve been keeping up with your mindfulness. The water pressure at our house was fixed a few weeks ago, which thankfully ended a tragic two year bend of dismal pressure. So, I admit I did take a very long first shower. However, the next day was significantly shorter! How has taking shorter showers been going for you?

Now down to business. I told ya’ll I’d be giving you advice to bring home to your parents on how to make their homes more energy efficient during the colder months. And most of these tips can be applied to you apartment owners; those lovely Victorian homes you live with aren’t going to keep themselves efficient. Brrrr.

We live in what will probably be the ‘green’ or ‘energy efficient’ era. By now, most people understand the importance of buying energy efficient products because they save money and the environment. So do a clean sweep of your home and/or apartment and see if you can start there. The easiest place would be to start looking at the lights. See if you have any compact fluorescent light bulbs, the swirly ones, or if you have regular incandescent bulbs. CFLB are more efficient than regular bulbs and can last up to 10x longer. I have one that I got during my junior year of high school and it’s still running strong.

CFLB were a lot pricier a few years ago when they first appeared on shelves. Now, the cost difference between the two is significantly closer. You could point this tidbit of information out to your rents, or you could be an awesome child and buy them some for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, etc. It may seem like a ‘lame gift’, but Mom and Dad will probably appreciate it over the usual cable knit sweater. And after you explain how much money (usually in the hundreds) they can save in a year, they’ll be even more excited. If you don’t have the funds to change all the bulbs, take care of the ones that are used the most. Split the costs if you have siblings. The more the merrier.

It also wouldn’t hurt to assess your dwellings energy usage. If something is plugged in, even if it isn’t in use, it’s still drawing energy from the out. These are called phantom loads (funny name right?), and they will cost you. According to the US Department of Energy “"Houses are complex and require comprehensive solutions," he says, “You should look at a house in a holistic fashion. If you do just one thing you may throw others off. For example, sealing off drafts in an attic may cause humidity buildup in other parts of the house."If you want to find out what appliances are pulling the most, you can use a device called the Kill A Watt. I used one of these during boarding school, and it was actually fun to run around and see what used the most electricity when on and off. A Kill A Watt costs around twenty dollars, however, I know they can be borrowed at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington; you could check out your local library and see if they do the same. What you do is plug in the offending appliance, press the watt button, and wait a few minutes for an accurate read. It’ll spit out a number and then you multiply that by your hourly electric rate (can be found on bills) to see how much it costs per hour to leave it on. You can relay that information onto your parents, or consider buying them an energy efficient version of one of the appliances. See, Christmas shopping is getting easier by the minute, and a new blender from son to mom will go over A LOT better than a new blender from dad to mom…just saying. Don’t believe me? Go watch Father of the Bride; it was fiancĂ© to fiancĂ©, but it’s the same idea.

Now back to phantom loads! Buying energy efficient appliances is a valid fix, but another one is just unplugging the machine itself. It seems simple, but it’s a new habit to break into. If the appliances are around your apartment, stick little Post Its as reminders. Ask your parents if they want the same. Computers, printers, lamps, and other devices you might find in an office space are also pulling phantom loads. This is when a Smart Strip can come in handy. These are similar to regular power strips, but some of the spots to plug in are programmed to sense when a device, like a TV or laptop, isn’t in use and turns them off.

Saving energy is an important step. For us New Englanders, having a house that’s properly heated is a necessity. Any money that can be saved on energy and put towards heat is crucial. Living in a energy efficient and properly heated house means going beyond changing bulbs. Ask your parents if they have had someone come in recently to audit the house. A good auditor will bring in equipment to survey the house and use their own knowledge. Encourage them to look into getting one. According to audit expert Von Schrader, a comprehensive audit is strongly encouraged. “Houses are complex and require comprehensive solutions. You should look at a house in a holistic fashion. If you do just one thing you may set others off. For example, sealing off drafts in an attic may cause humidity buildup in other parts of the house,” he says. To look for an auditor check out Energy Star, Residential Energy Services Network, or the Building Performance Institute. Resist the urge to be frugal; you get what you pay for.

After the energy audits, making the changes to the house can cost thousands of dollars. Just replacing the windows with more efficient ones can be equal to purchasing a used car and not a used 89…if you catch my drift. So why are your parents going to listen to you about possibly spending thousands to retrofit their homes at the urge of a college blogger? True, I don’t have a house I’m spending money on. Or even an apartment for that matter. But I know what it’s like to see my family’s financial means change with the economy. And I can imagine what it’s like trying to heat our house with prices where they are. The weight of the dollar is changing every day. So, ask your parents to use their dollars wisely while everything is ‘kinda’ okay. And now, many states have rebate programs and initiatives that can save you a few thousand dollars. Even if your family doesn’t have the means to update their house right away, encourage them to at least get an audit. Again, if you have siblings, this would be a pretty awesome Christmas gift. Then, they will at least know what they need to fix. Also, check out the Energy Star website for a “Do-It Yourself” home audit check list.

And you apartment owners, there are things you can do as well since you probably can’t retrofit your apartment without involving your landlords. Some tips for you, and everyone, require going back to the ‘small’ things. As hard as it is, try, try, and try to keep the heat down. It needs to remain above a certain temp so the pipes don’t freeze, but don’t stray too far above that number. Instead, layer up when you’re indoors. Go down to the Good Will and buy a few large sweaters that are specifically for house use. Buy a special foam jacket to insulate your water pipes. Seal plastic sheets over your windows and buy one of those draft guards for your doors. So you won’t be able to look outside at all the fresh fallen snow, and the draft guard is suuuuper unattractive, but wouldn’t you rather be warm and less broke. Two more tips: dust off your heaters so they work more efficiently, and move your beds and couches a little further away from the walls because those tend me cooler.

Being more energy efficient isn’t terribly hard. It can be as simple as replacing bulbs and remembering to unplug the toaster after you use it. Saving on heat and making a home and apartment more efficient takes time, effort, and money. However, doing what you can now while the government is still giving incentives is extremely important. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and it may not be the most stress free time to mention this to your family. But don’t be shy. It may seem bossy for the kid to advise the parent on what to do and how to best spend their money. But if you sit down with them to describe the process as best as you can, or even take the time do use the guide to conduct your own mini audit, it’ll show them that you do care about them and the house.

Next Week:

Nissan unveiled the Leaf, a fully electric car, a year ago. Recently, Chevy came out with its own version the Volt. I’ll be looking into the pros and cons of electric vehicles and hypothesizing whether or not they’ll become popular with the public. I’ll also be investigating hybrid vehicles and telling you how to run your car as efficiently as possible if you buying a 30,000+ dollar car isn’t in your near future. Keep on being mindful and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sustain Champlain :: Montreal Edition

A couple of weeks ago, I paid a visit to the Champlain College Montreal Campus, to do a quick sustainability assessment of the Academic Centre. See what the Montreal staff says about the visit at their blog.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Going Mindful- Shorter Showers

According to several Google searches, the average American shower is 10 minutes long. Still, one must take into consideration that men were also included in this survey, and they have a tendency to get in, scrub, and get out. Sorry ladies, but we have a habit of taking pretty long showers. And who could you blame us?! Walk down the aisle of any beauty store and you’ll find oodles and oodles of products marketed towards our demographic. Dry skin- try a nice peach scented exfoliate. Hair feeling dull- lather rinse and repeat, and repeat, and repeat with this coconut shampoo. The list goes on. Most of my girlfriends are well aware of the twenty minute showers they take. I happen to fall in the average American range of ten minutes, and they can’t believe I can do it that fast. However, there is always room for improvement. I decided to break down my typical shower habits.

My average shower (which I take daily) consists of this:
- Washing my hair every other day
- Soaping up
- Washing my face and/or exfoliating (hey, I told you we had a lot of products to chose from)

Overall, I didn’t think I was that bad. But lurking between the essentials were horrible habits I had picked up during my early teen years. This is what I’ve taken notice of. Before I jump into my seemingly efficient 10 minute shower, I have a tendency to turn the water on, go the bathroom, brush my teeth (where I leave the water on…I think I find the sound soothing), test the waters temperature, and finally get into. Of course it isn’t uncommon to need to grab some last minute product from my room. Soon my 10 minute is a 13 minute shower. If there was a god of water conservation he would have already struck me down; lucky for me there is not. I think I picked up these habits during boarding school when it was a mad dash to see who showered in the morning. The smart ones, like moi, marked their territories early with shower caddies and took their time before getting in. But I am not longer in boarding school and those habits needed to change.

The first thing to go was ‘prepping’ the water. It really only takes 5 second for the water to heat up instead of the one to two minutes I was allowing. I also considered things I could do outside of the shower. I don’t need all that water to wash my face; instead I can take care of it in the sink. Shaving there wasn’t that bad either, and it actually delivered a closer shave. Plus I don’t have to pull out any Cirque De Soleil tricks to lift my leg, balance on a wet surface, and wield a 4 blade razor. But just make sure you rinse the sink out well! No one wants to look down and see a white bowl full of leg and pit hair. Yuck.

I had already taken few minutes off of my shower time and I hadn’t had to resort to any extreme measures. So why are shorter showers so important to Going Mindful? Well, hopefully you know that water is NOT a renewable resource. You wouldn’t be able to tell the way we run through it, though. And to be honest times have changed. I stumbled upon a cool article by an owner of an organic skincare line that only showered three times a week. She explained how even though we’re not farming and getting dirty like we used too we are showering as if we are. Plus, there’s a chance that all these showers are drying out our skin and causing us to need more moisturizers. And she can’t be all that biased or else she’d be pushing more showers so we’d have to buy more of her organic lotions. Hmmm.

Then I thought back to the commercial this summer for the book turned movie Eat, Pray, Love. In the trailer, the main character looks quizzically at the tub that’s filled with only a splash of water. She complains and a little European lady says something like, ‘everything that needs to be cleaned will.’ And it’s true. Do we really need to scrub arduously away at forearms and legs? The only time I’ve ever experience the phenomenon of sweating from my quads was during a Bikram class. Unless you’re daily life is equal to holding poses in a humid 105 degree room, I don’t think that’s an issue for anyone. It’s essential to wash your arm pits, face, and ‘nether-regions’, and that’s pretty much it.
Now I’m not saying you need to convert from being an everyday shower-er to a once a week-er. Everyone’s bodies are a little different, and some people do have an interesting funk them that requires, erm, more shower time. But you’ll never know if you don’t try showering less. There is a good chance that you won’t smell as rancid as you’d think. Ask your roommate to give their honest opinion , if you’re that concerned.

So you like to go to the gym every day? Think back on your normal workouts. Are you honestly that sweaty? You probably don’t need to take a full on shower afterwards. Rub some soap under your pits, pat dry, and go. Yes, it might be a little awkward when a dorm mate catches you in the action, but there are far worse acts to be caught in. Try showering every other day and see how that goes. You heard the school uses low flow shower heads so it’s okay to take more time? That’s one way to look at it, or you can see it as a way to be two times as efficient.

If you’re a 20-minute shower offender, try making a 15-minute playlist of your favorite songs. Every week cut back until you are down to anywhere between 7 and 10 minutes—you can do it! Anyone can benefit from this trick and then you won’t have to countdown the seconds. And if you can, avoid the whole ‘Save Water Shower Together’ method. Even though it sounds like a good idea, it’s pretty weak. You’ll probably end up wasting more water because you and your shower buddy will get ‘distracted’, or you’ll spend so much time rotating who gets the water and who doesn’t. Trust me when I say you’ll only find looks of resentment and impatience on the person who isn’t getting the hot water.

But jokes aside, really look at your shower behaviors and see what you can cut back on. We American’s really love that time and it is part of our culture. But it’s okay to let go a little. I visited France in 2008, the home of notorious shower forgoers, and for a nation that walks pretty much everywhere and rarely showers, they smelt quite wonderful.

To read up on the shower article, go to:


And be thankful the school doesn't use these!

Also, watch out for the Mindful Tip of the Week. It’ll be posted in the e-bulletin that comes out every Monday.

Next week I will be writing about awesome devices and appliances that can lower energy usage and help with the environment. Also, I’ll be talking about simple ways home and apartment owners can save money and still be comfortable during the winter months. You can share these tips with your parents during thanksgiving break, and I bet they’ll be so thankful that you can convince them to buy you an energy efficient power strip ;) Have a great week and keep being mindful!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Going Mindful- Plastic Water Bottle Reduction & Eco-Friendly Coffee Shops

Hello, Fellow Beavers,

You’ve probably heard your parents talk about ‘back in the day’, when they could buy a Coca-Cola for five cents. The cost inflation isn’t the only thing that has changed since then. It used to be that all soft drinks came in glass bottles- you’ve probably seen the throwback styles sold in four packs at local supermarkets. During the 1950’s, plastic water bottles became increasingly popular. What was most concerning was a corporation that backed them called ‘Keep America Beautiful.’ Such a nice sounding name, right? Anyway, Vermont had outlawed disposable containers in 1953 after dairy farmers fought out against people who were throwing the empty containers on the side of their road. The cows, curious cows, were eating the plastic bottles and dying. The plastic bottle industry most likely saw Vermont’s law as something that could unhinge their new product. And suddenly group Keep America Beautiful pops up! They coined the term ‘litter’ and said "Trash only becomes litter when it's been thoughtlessly discarded." Instead of blaming the plastic bottles they blamed ‘careless’ citizens and during the 70’s started the idea of recycling. Now, I’m not saying that people are let off the hook! Even today only 80% of left over containers are properly recycled. However, how it came about was all very seedy. We will probably be stuck with plastic water bottles for many decades, I doubt those will be going away anytime soon, but we can choose to make a difference!

When I was younger, I used to be adamantly against bottled water. My coaches and friends parents loved supplying games and households with Deer Park Water. Ugh, Ugh, the taste. It was as if you were drinking liquid plastic. Several years later I was introduced to Poland Springs water, which so happens to be from my home state: Maine. Poland Springs was nothing like Deer Park. There was no plastic taste! It wasn’t long before I was shunning most tap water and drinking more exclusive brands like Fuji water (which may have more skeletons in its closet than KAB). I was attracted to waters with added electrolytes, water that was purified, water from aqueducts, water that came in simplistic, yet chic, bottles. I splurged, yes splurged, on brands like Voss. Note: a twelve pack of these 27 oz bottles will set you back $55 dollars! I grumbled when I came to college, with less of mommy and daddy’s money, and had to buy Price Chopper brand water. I knew about Brita & Pur filters, but I’d have to buy at least seven packages of bottle water for it to be cheaper. It wasn’t until this past month that I started to take a look at my water bottle habits.

I work for Sustain Champlain and was given a snazzy water bottle made from stainless steel. I tried putting in my usual mix of one part lemonade and, like, five parts water. It tasted horrible and made the bottle smell pretty bad as well. I placed it on my desk and didn’t touch it for a few days—I still had a few plastic bottles tucked away in the mini fridge. Of course, it wasn’t long before those were gone, and the Sustain Champlain bottle was staring me down. I finally took three minutes out of my day and washed the darn thing. I figured ‘ no more lemonade, just water,’ and our relationship has been amazing. I admit, it took me a few days to get use to it. The aluminum makes cold water even colder, but after awhile it stopped bothering me. I was paranoid that someone would snag it at any opportune moment. At my old boarding school, unclaimed Nalgene’s were fair game. So, I smiled at every table outside of the dining hall, pretended to be interested, and snagged their free stickers to decorate the outside. Now no one is stealing my bottle! And then there was my horrible knack of losing everything; problem solved, the bottle comes with a carabineer that I hook onto my tote. Overall, I was shocked at how stubborn I had been about switching over. I blamed every reason on the bottle instead of looking at my lazy habits and irrational thoughts. Who really complains about ‘too cold’ water?!

There are many water bottles out there for consumers to buy that are eco and body friendly (i.e free of BPA, a chemical in plastics that is thought to cause early puberty, prostate issues, and a slew of other problems. Scientists are still investigating, but why not be safe rather than sorry). As nice as they are, you don’t have to spend $20 on a Sigg water bottle. And I haven’t even gotten to the best part of having your own water bottle. The water is free! Fill up at the dining hall or any fountain.

Now, I promised ya’ll that I’d be going around to Burlington Coffee shops and figuring out if you can drink there and still be mindful. Most coffee shops tend to be environmentally savvy and give deals to customers that bring in their own mugs (bonus: you don’t have to buy their official mug; any mug will do) For those who don’t, most of the places offered containers that were either compostable or recyclable. Here’s the break down.

Lake Champlain Chocolates: They make the most amaaaaaazing hot chocolate!

Cold Drink Cups: Compostable

Hot Drinks: …We weren’t quite able to figure it out!

However, you can bring in your own mug for either hot or cold drink and they’ll fill it!

Starbucks: I admit, I didn’t have high hopes. But, I was wrong!

Cold Drink Cups: Recyclable

Discounts: 10 cents off if you bring in a mug. One regular even brings in a mason jar. Note: the jar gets very hot!

Uncommon Grounds: Also makes wonderful vegan cupcakes.

Cold Drinks: Compostable

Straws: Compostable

Hot Drinks: Not compostable because of the wax lining

Bring in your own mug!

Radio Bean: Haven’t been, but I’ve heard wonderful things.

Hot Drinks: Not compostable because of the wax lining

Discounts: 25 cents off if you bring in your own mug!

Healthy Living Market: I always crave their pomegranate-mango smoothie. If you have a campus special booklet, there is a coupon for a free smoothie

Cold Drinks: Compostable

Now, I hope you’ll go out and procure a reusable container. You’ll be producing less waste, and in my opinion you’ll have a stronger connection to what you’re drinking. This next week I’ll be decreasing my long, luxurious shower time in hopes of lowering my water usage. Of course this is the week it starts to get cold out. See you next Tuesday!

For more information on Keep America Beautiful, BPA, and Fuji Water, click below

KAB: http://www.alternet.org/environment/21651

BPA: http://www.bisphenol-a.org/

Fuji Water: http://motherjones.com/politics/2009/09/fiji-spin-bottle