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January 14, 2018

UMass launches energy sustainability workshops

n.campusStudents, faculty and staff gathered in the University of Massachusetts’ Mullins Center on Oct. 7 and 8 to attend the year’s kickoff sustainability workshops, brought to the campus by Johnson Controls, Inc. This effort was created in hopes of gathering people’s ideas on campus in terms of sustainability, which will in time be used to write the University’s Climate Action Plan.

At 11:30 a.m. on Oct. 8, the vicinity was full of chatter as the 30 people in attendance brainstormed on how to improve sustainability at UMass by contributing ideas to the top six needs out of the 55 they had voted were most important. Participants in the discussion placed comments through colored Post-it notes on the different issues displayed on easel paper throughout the room.

The comments included increasing the use of energy from renewable sources, reducing energy usage across all operations on campus, obtaining adequate funding for sustainability projects, reducing the levels of greenhouse gas emissions, maintaining healthy indoor air environments and providing effective occupant training on energy and environment.

Ideas ranged from creating solar panels on campus buildings, to increasing the use of energy from renewable sources, to temperature control and natural ventilation in buildings which would help sustain healthy indoor environments. Other participants mentioned applying for grants to gain funding for projects, as well as growing our own food and removing water bottles from campus to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

“There’s a lot of good discussion going on here,” said UMass sustainability coordinator Josh Stoffel. “It [the workshop] is really bringing us together as a unified group.”

At the end of the exercise, the information gathered was shared throughout the room and then collected for a feedback report that will be delivered to the University within a few weeks.

            The report will then be disseminated to all those who attended. The Environmental Performance Advisory Committee (EPAC), whose job is to evaluate where the campus is in terms of environmental sustainability and to then develop ways in which we can move forward, will work to implement the suggestions the group created in relation to the Climate Action Plan.

            This plan is designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through different projects and initiatives that were received during the workshop.

            The group then moved to discuss the challenges and barriers that will be facing those working to create a more sustainable campus. After a long discussion and input from the majority of the room, a long list was formed illustrating obstacles in lack of funding, people resisting change and ways to keep enthusiasm up about maintaining a healthy environment.  Others suggested realigning the campus mission statement to include sustainability and creating a way for all members involved to remain integrated with each other, regardless of the project they may be involved in.

            This will be possible if there is a creation of an office of sustainability, according to those attending the workshops, which will bring all the different staff, faculty and students together so they can work collaboratively. Those who are researching new green technology or even educating students will be able to come together as one central effort towards the same initiative.

            As a closing activity, participants gave advice to each other on how to keep up their sustainability pact. People shared insights such as paying it forward, leading by example and never hold back to voice your own fears and challenges.

            Susan Personette, director of campus planning, expressed her opinion to the students in the room. 

“You are the reason we are here,” Personette said. “Get organized and use your voice.”

            At around 12:30 p.m., the workshop concluded and a representative from Johnson Controls, Inc., thanked all that attended, stating the report of the day’s efforts would soon be available.

            Stoffel was pleased to say that he thought the day was a huge success.

            “Not only were we able to collect thoughts and perspectives from many stakeholders across campus, but they interacted as well,” Stoffel said. “That’s the key to sustainability. To be able to bring people in groups that have different goals and initiatives to work on the common goal of sustainability.”

            The Student Government Association’s environmental committee Vice Chair Ali Alder also thought the workshop was successful and was surprised by the enthusiasm in the room.  However, she stressed that the ideas covered in the meeting should be followed by concrete actions if sustainability is to be reached on campus.

            “It’s easy to sit around and talk, but this needs to turn into something bigger than discussion,” Alder said. “I don’t feel as though we have accomplished anything yet, it’s just the first step.”

Jessica Sacco can be reached at jsacco@student.umass.edu

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