Building a Better Environmental Movement Comes to an End with Bill McKibben Lecture
On Friday, April 13th, right before the start of Earth Week, our campus was very lucky to host an extremely distinguished guest: environmental writer and activist Bill McKibben, who came to speak as the final installment of the University YMCA’s Fall 2017 Friday Forum lecture series, Building a Better Environmental Movement. Past lectures featured a diverse variety of activists concerned with a myriad of environmental issues and were all a resounding success, but McKibben’s visit was by far the most anticipated of the series. This was well apparent in the packed room at Ikenberry Commons where the lecture was held, instead of the normal location of Latzer Hall at the YMCA.
McKibben was on his way to Australia to spend six weeks fighting strip mines, but said that he felt it was important to stop here in Illinois to speak. Though public speaking is not his favorite practice, his talk was enrapturing all the same. He certainly did not shy away from the fact that the threat of climate change puts us in a dire environmental position worldwide. In his words, “We can see these changes at the very biggest levels, and at the very smallest levels,” such as the subtle changes in the patterns of ocean currents to ocean reefs. (The Great Barrier Reef is half as alive as it was 18 months ago). All the same, he has hope – he does not believe we are doomed yet, because we know what we need to do.
Specifically, we need to follow the three prongs of 350.org, McKibben’s non-profit dedicated to fighting climate change. First, we must transition to 100% renewable energy as soon as possible. Second, we cannot allow any new fossil fuel projects. And third, we cannot give a penny more to dirty energy – meaning we must divest our finances from fossil fuels. If we don’t take all three of these crucial steps, then we will not be able to return from the damage we are causing to this planet. McKibben was clear that we don’t yet know if we will win this fight, and this makes it different from every other struggle for justice that humans have undertaken.
Thankfully, the struggle for the welfare of the environment is helped immensely by having people like Bill McKibben. Humble as he may be, his lecture proved why he is such an inspirational figure to many and why we continue to strive to save this planet for all future generations.
SSC-UDD Hold a Videoconference
SSC recently had a Skype conference with the sustainability committee from the Universidad del Desarrollo (UDD), located in Chile. This conference gave both sides insights into the operations of both committees, some ideas about current and future plans, and opportunities for partnership. The sustainability committee at UDD is a one-year old organization comprised of ten students. Being such a fresh organization, they have several ideas for future projects as well as enthusiasm to improve current initiatives.
UDD highlighted two successful projects. The first was a recycling project, carried out far and wide throughout the college. This project is completely managed by the committee and they plan to have the student federation take it over in the near future. The second project was hosting a sustainability week, where the committee had several academic and cultural events to get more students involved in sustainability. A part of this week included lecture sessions about sustainable practices from guest speakers. The committee plans to run sustainability week annually, similar to Students for Environmental Concerns Earth Week here at UIUC.
The next project that the committee wants to undertake surrounds energy efficiency. They want to make their campus more sustainable in terms of energy management, starting from one building and then moving to the remaining four on their campus. They hope to setup solar panels that inspire change and reduce carbon emissions. According to the UDD committee, Chile is blessed with an abundance of sunlight, which makes solar energy the cheapest source of power.
There is an opportunity to form an informal partnership between UDD and SSC. SSC can provide guidance on grant writing so the UDD committee can increase their ability to receive grant funding. SSC can also provide advice about project strategies that have worked, or failed, at UIUC. For example, it is important to think about the scalability and longevity of a project. Who will manage the project long-term? What happens to the project when students graduate? On the flip side, UDD can provide valuable suggestions about grassroot efforts and student-led projects. For instance, it is crucial to have a small core group of students who are excited and committed to both designing and implementing student-led projects.
This conference opened doors for several international collaboration opportunities for both universities. In the future, if SSC decides to host a conference, we would love to have UDD representatives either visit UIUC or videoconference to share their journey. UDD plans to have an annual sustainability meeting with other Chilean universities, and SSC could attend these meetings as a guest to tell our story. Beyond conferences, there is potential to collaborate on projects together, such as a collaborative Earth Week event. SSC thanks UDD for a wonderful Skype conference and we look forward to future joint endeavors.
Written by Dhwani Jain
Check Out the Illini Gadget Garage!
Are you prone to breaking your electronic devices? What about just worried about the production of electronic waste on campus in general? In either case, we’ve got good news: there’s a place at UIUC that helps with both problems! The Illini Gadget Garage is a project of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) that collects works with the UI community to repair electronics and small appliances. Unlike a traditional repair shop, customers bring in their devices and work under the guidance of Gadget Garage staff to fix it yourself. This may seem daunting, but by bringing a device to the Gadget Garage, you are not only learning a new skill and saving money, but diverting your device from entering the waste stream.
According to Joy Scrogum, a Sustainability Specialist at the ISTC, “Electronics involve the investment of many precious minerals and other natural resources, as well as human resources in the form of labor… this makes our perception of them as relatively ‘disposable’ items all the more problematic.” It’s no secret that we have become addicted to our devices and appliances. However, the supplies of the materials we use to make them will not last forever, meaning we cannot continue to throw out electronics when there are pieces inside them that could be used again. Furthermore, once an electronic is in the waste stream, the metals and chemicals inside pose a great threat to the environment and our health through leaching. This makes the reduction of e-waste one of the most pressing components of our waste crisis. As Scrogum highlights, ~3.3 million tons of e-waste are produced in the USA each year, a figure that could drastically decrease if more programs like the Gadget Garage existed, which diverted about 350 pounds of waste in 2017.
There are plenty of ways for students to get involved with the Gadget Garage. First and foremost – bring in your devices the next time they break, don’t toss them! There are also ample opportunities available for volunteering or employment. Please note that you don’t have to be an engineer or a “tech” person to get involved. The Garage also seeks students with marketing, media, education, and technical writing skills in particular, but welcomes anyone that wants to learn and help educate others about the importance of this project!
If you are interested in working with the Illini Gadget Garage to fix your devices, or to volunteer or seek employment, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 2018 Funded Projects!
Check out the projects that the SSC funded for our February 2018 deadline! We are so excited to see these projects develop.
Hives for Beekeeping Club | $3,000
The Beekeeping Club is a new RSO on campus that will be using these project funds to install and maintain two bee hives at the Student Sustainable Farm. Honey produced by the hives will be sold at the SSF’s weekly market on the quad, and the bees will also have a positive effect on the production of crops at the farm.
Pollinator Awareness Signage | $3,000
These funds will go towards the design and installation of educational signs about native plants and pollinators around campus. The signs will be both designed and installed by students, and placed inside and outside of various buildings. Once the signs are installed, the campus will be closer to becoming Bee Campus USA certified, and will meet objectives of the Illinois Climate Action Plan.
Zero Waste Woodshop | $3,500
This project will develop a zero waste woodshop for students in the School of Architecture. In order to decrease the significant amount of waste in the current shop, tools will be purchased that can sort synthetic from natural waste, and students will be educated on how they can reduce their waste in the first place. The natural waste has a number of possible uses, including fuel energy at the SSF, composting material, and construction use.
Off-Grid Solar Kiln | $8,500
This project is being undertaken by the School of Architecture and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. Currently, lumber is dried in energy-intensive industrial kilns, and this project seeks to develop a solar-powered alternative. Solar panels will be installed on a recycled, air-tight shipping container that will become a de-humidifying kiln.
A Rocket in the Making
One of SSC’s funded projects went towards a student group from the Aerospace Engineering Department called the Student Space Systems (SSS). In conversation with Howard Yang, the Technical President for SSS, we found out more about what their organization is all about and what their future plans are. Yang is now a senior at UIUC and has been involved with the organization ever since his freshman year. When asked about what attracted him towards joining SSS, he said, “I liked that it was a small and young organization. There was no predominant hierarchy when I joined; as long as anyone was passionate about what the organization did, they were given responsibility and autonomy.”
SSS was started in 2013 by a group of freshman that saw the lack of an organization dedicated to working on high power rockets. They wanted to build an atmosphere where engineers from various departments could bring together their knowledge and apply it to a real project. Something they want to provide to all of their members are the skills that they would require in actual engineering job positions. SSS has received a great deal from the various engineering departments at UIUC, particularly the Aerospace Engineering department. In the past, SSS has had three major rocket launches, with several other small ones on the side too. The latest of their launches reached a height of 38,000 ft., which was powered using a pre-made solid rocket engine. For their next generation of rockets SSS wishes to develop their own engine, which is where the SSC funding comes in. The SSS Liquid Rocket Engine Project is a student led effort to design, construct, and launch a more sustainable approach to suborbital space travel. The pilot test of their liquid rocket engine will use a waste-free 3D printed rocket combined with a clean burning, liquid methane engine. Funds provided by the SSC cover the cost for 3D printed manufacture of the test material, as well as other supplies and equipment required for testing and construction. Test launches will be carried out this semester and early next fall, followed by the actual launch thereafter.
With companies such as Blue Origin, Spacex and NASA making headlines, there has been increasing interest in rocketry. Even though the US has been pioneering this technology since the 1950’s, there is expansive potential for future engineers in this industry. One of the major challenges for the SSS is that knowledge in this space is very niche and often times it is proprietary or classified. SSS has departmental and student body support, but they wish to connect further with faculty that could potentially provide them with better insights. This project is a fantastic example of how sustainability can be integrated with technology to cater to the needs of human advancement. SSC is excited to see where this project goes and would extend our best wishes to the Student Space Systems.
Get ready for Bill McKibben!
You may remember that the Student Sustainability Committee was a sponsor of the Fall 2017 Friday Forum lectures series at the University YMCA, “Building a Better Environmental Movement.” The series was a resounding success, featuring such speakers as the Indigenous Youth Council that were key organizers in the Standing Rock protests. Normally, the theme of each lecture series lasts only one semester, but we are lucky to be able to hold one last “Building a Better Environmental Movement” lecture on April 13th, featuring a very special speaker – Bill McKibben, environmental writer and co-founder of 350.org!
McKibben has many claims to fame, one being “the nation’s leading environmentalist,” according to the Boston Globe. He began his career as a journalist as climate change first began to receive national attention in the late 1980s, and published his first book, The End of Nature, in 1989. Today, McKibben is best known as an activist and the driving force behind 350.org. Began in 2008, 350 is an international NGO that seeks to encourage both citizens and global leaders to take action against the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and associated global warming. 350 is a reference to the belief of climate scientist James E. Hansen that any concentration above 350 parts per million (ppm) is fundamentally unsafe for human life. (Currently, we are just shy of 410 ppm). Notable campaigns and projects that 350.org has worked on include the Keystone XL pipeline, fossil fuel divestment, and the People’s Climate March.
Bill McKibben’s wealth of experiences as a writer, activist, and environmentalist make him one of the leading voices and experts in climate action today. We are incredibly lucky to be able to host him on our campus, and encourage you to take advantage of the opportunity to hear him speak. The lecture will be held at the Ikenberry Commons Student Dining & Residential Programs Building on April 13th, 2018, at 12 pm – we look forward to seeing you there!
In the meantime, we encourage you to attend the current Friday Forum series at the University YMCA, held each Friday at noon in the YMCA’s Latzer Hall. The current lecture series theme is Art + Activism.
Working towards 100%
As climate change continues to be a hot off the press topic of conversation, humanity relentlessly debates appropriate next steps. Groups, whether grassroots or corporate, are beginning to take responsibility for this cause and work towards bringing about change. One of the commonly known factors causing these adverse effects on the environment is all the pollution that comes from all the non-renewable sources of energy that are used to fulfil maximum energy needs globally. In a world heavily dependent on fossil fuels, some cities are beginning to explore greener futures, by attaining 100% renewable status.
What does one mean when she says that a particular city is 100% renewable? A city becomes 100% renewable when the amount of energy generated from renewable energy sources in the territory, or sourced, equals or exceeds 100% of the annual energy consumed within that territory. Thus, I think it would be safe to say that achieving a 100% renewable target needs to be a combined effort from all the citizens but also needs direction, guidance and enforcement from a political figure. When a city leader proclaims 100% renewable energy, a city’s commitment to crafting a strategy that moves away from fossil fuels. Such a declaration does not need to be accompanied by concrete directions. Rather, it serves as a call to action to motivate local stakeholders, begin a conversation, and build a common vision of the city’s energy future. Next, further steps need to be taken to provide a roadmap to achieve this goal. Detailed and measureable targets need to be set with clearly established policies and budgets. A realistic time frame needs to be laid out keeping in mind that the goal needs to be achieved in the shortest time span possible. It is also important to decide how they want to bring about the transition to renewable energy: whether it is through sectors such as transportation or electricity, through household income levels, or through corporate or municipal levels.
In recent news, Governor Jerry Brown of California announced that the state could achieve the 100% renewable target by 2040. The biggest challenges that he identifies are storage of renewable energy and making the entire electricity grid renewable. The electricity grid is the complex interconnected network that delivers electricity from producers to consumers. For any city trying to achieve stronger dependence on renewable energy sources, this the electricity grid is the biggest hurdle.
What can be done in the Champaign-Urbana community to move towards achieving renewable energy goals? UIUC has already began advancements on the path of carbon neutrality, by implement the Illinois Climate Action Plan. For starters, we need to implement additional renewable energy sources. We see that one section of the Business Instructional Facility runs on solar panels. Another one is the solar farm, which generate 2% of the total energy consumed on campus. We need to implement more projects like this one. But for significant change, politicians, advocates, and students, need to make a collaborative and persuasive effort towards sustained pressure.
Announcing SSC Micro Grants!
The SSC is excited to announce that we have a brand new funding option available! We know that getting funding for a project within the same semester, especially for students, has been a challenge – so we will now be offering Micro Grants as a solution to this issue. These grants are for student-led projects costing up to $500, and after approval the funding will be available within a month.
Applications for Micro Grants can be submitted at any time – they do not adhere to our typical funding cycle schedule. Furthermore, Micro Grant projects will not require the students applying to have a faculty or staff advisor, which will also make it easier for student groups to acquire funding from the SSC. Otherwise, the rules and restrictions for Micro Grants projects are just about the same as those for normal SSC projects. For a full list of these rules and restrictions, more information can be found here.
We are thrilled to be able to increase opportunities for students to take advantage of the sustainability fees they pay, and for sustainability around campus to increase in turn. Micro Grants will also allow the SSC to expand our outreach and remain as one of the top green fund practices in higher education. Be sure to help us spread the word, and if you have an idea for a Micro Grant project, don’t hesitate to apply!
Future of Corporate Sustainability
A recent news article that caught my attention was about a collaborative solar hydrogen electrolysis project between German multi-national company Siemens and Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA). The memorandum is signed to undertake a plan which involves developing a power hydrogen electrolysis facility in the desert plains outside of Dubai. If all goes as planned, the facility will generate enough energy to meet the energy needs of the Emirate. The basic idea is that the electrolysis process will generate hydrogen which will then be used to power fuel-cell vehicles. Other applications of this generated hydrogen would be for re-electrification, transportation, and re-introduction into the gas network. This project is a major step forward in the direction of corporate sustainability for Siemens. Siemens president Joe Kaesar said “This is truly a landmark project for Dubai and the world, and a great step forward in building a secure supply of sustainable energy for the region’s economic development.”
So what exactly is corporate sustainability? It is a new and evolving corporate management paradigm which recognizes that while corporate growth and profitability are important, an organization also needs to pursue societal goals, specifically those relating to sustainable development — environmental protection, social justice and equity, and economic development. There are four keys areas that corporate sustainability address. The first is sustainable development, which balances the need for economics growth with environmental protection and social equity. The second is corporate social responsibility, which explains how corporate managers have an ethical obligation to consider the needs of society. The third is stakeholder theory, which states that the stronger an organizations’ relations with external parties, the easier it will be for the organization to achieve its objectives, and vice versa. And the final one is corporate accountability, which is the organization’s legal and ethical responsibility to provide an account for all the actions that it is held responsible. Over the last few years, several companies have been beginning to take their social and sustainable responsibilities more seriously, which has shed a lot of light on this topic of corporate sustainability.
Another more relatable example of corporate sustainability initiatives would be those recently announced by fast-food giant, McDonald’s. To achieve their goal of 100 percent sustainability, the company announced two new sustainable initiatives. The first of these is ensure that all of their packaging comes from recycled, renewable or certified materials. The second is to ensure that 100 percent of their locations participate in packaging recycling by 2025. Creation and disposal of packaging materials is a major contributor towards greenhouse gas emissions. McDonald’s, having about 60 million daily users per day, can be one of the larger generators of this, so any efforts taken by the corporation to minimize the impact would be greatly beneficial. McDonald’s is setting a great example of renewable packaging methods. It will be exciting to see how corporate sustainability shapes itself in upcoming years, for corporations other than McDonald’s as well.
Reference Article (Siemens and DEWA): https://www.pv-magazine.com/2018/02/14/siemens-to-work-with-dewa-on-dubais-first-solar-hydrogen-electrolysis-plant/
December 2017 Funded Projects!
SSC was able to fund an exciting round of projects for our December 2017 funding cycle! Read below for a preview of sustainable changes soon coming to campus.
Baler for Plastics – Project Conceptualization | $20,000
This project will fund a study for Facilities & Services to begin to acquire a new plastic baler that will allow the University to recycle beyond plastics #1 and #2.
Bevier Hall Occupancy Sensors | $17,500
These funds will purchase occupancy sensors for 25 rooms in Bevier Hall that will allow for more efficient control of the HVAC system. With the sensors, there will no longer be a need to condition unoccupied rooms.
Corncrete | $47,000
This research project seeks to develop a building material from crop residue and corn stalks. If successful, a mobile field station will be built from the material.
Illinois Sustainable Food Project (ISFP) – Pumpkin & Puree Expansion | $139,000
The Illinois Sustainable Food Project, which is working to provide locally-sourced and nutritious food to the UIUC Dining Halls, is looking to expand pumpkin production. These funds will allow the purchase and installation of puree equipment.
Solar Panel Installation at Master Gardener Idea Garden | $56,400
The Idea Garden at the Arboretum does not currently have electricity access, which hinders garden maintenance. The installation of solar panels will allow environmentally friendly electricity in line with the garden’s mission statement.
Sustainable Art and Design Exhibition | $5,000
For this project, students of the School of Art and Design will be organizing an art exhibition for students and the community to answer the question of how artists define sustainability.
Other funded projects include:
Classroom LED Upgrades | $29,500
E2E Paradigm for Food Waste to Biofuel and Biomaterial | $10,000
Freezer Challenge Pilot | $9,900
ISFP – Extrusion Coating Expansion | $248,000
ISFP – Hand Wash Sink Replacement | $10,450
ISFP – Tortilla Expansion | $135,000
Student Sustainable Farm Tractor | $18,250