Request for Comment: AASHE STARS 3.0: Procurement & Waste

As part of the development process for the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) 3.0, AASHE is seeking public comment on a Procurement and Waste section slated for inclusion in the new version (projected release is currently fourth quarter of 2023). AASHE encourages feedback from stakeholders who may have relevant expertise or interest in participating. Public comment is open through Oct. 31.

Nearly 1 in 10 US schools now using solar power

Read the full story at The Hill.

Thousands of schools across the U.S. are beginning to make the switch to solar power, generating significant cost savings and helping them meet their hefty energy needs, a new report has found.

Students protest in climate strike demanding UI fossil fuel divestment

Read the full story in the Daily Illini.

Organized by the Students with Environmental Concerns RSO, students converged by Alma Mater at noon on Wednesday as part of a climate strike that aimed to draw attention to the climate crisis and demand that the University divest from its economic holdings in fossil fuels and nonrenewable energy.

Campuses are offering therapy for anxiety over climate change

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

There is a critical need among young people for climate stress counseling services, psychological experts say, especially in university settings. But many therapists and counselors aren’t trained to provide students with this specific type of support, in part because of a lack of research about climate stress as a distinct phenomenon. Still, several universities across the United States are beginning to fill this gap: Some are starting to offer climate stress therapy for students in the form of pilot programs, while others are discussing what might be possible through existing campus counseling services.

Eco-anxiety is commonly used to describe people’s concerns about climate change, but psychologists say it is better to use more general terms such as “climate stress” and “climate distress” — terms that encompass the array of feelings someone may have in response to climate change. Climate stress therapy, experts say, is an effort to validate these emotions, help clients process their responses to climate change and provide coping strategies.

Subsurface Characterization, Monitoring, and Modeling of a Geothermal Exchange Borefield for the Campus Instructional Facility at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Download the document.

This report presents the outcome of research in geothermal energy, specifically geothermal exchange, conducted by geologists, hydrogeologists, and engineers at the Illinois State Geological Survey and Illinois Water Resources Center in partnership with engineering faculty and students in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign (U of I), who are members of the newly-formed Illinois Geothermal Coalition. This effort brought together a multi-disciplinary and multiorganizational team of scientists and engineers who are focused on advancing the application of geothermal energy technologies for district heating and cooling systems that allow energy end users to meet net carbon neutrality, renewable energy, and grid resilience goals.

The research specifically supported the design and operation of a shallow geothermal exchange system for the U of I and its private partners at the Campus Instructional Facility (CIF) that just recently came online in April 2021. As academic campuses aggressively pursue renewable and sustainable energy sources to reduce their carbon footprints and enhance operational resiliency, geothermal energy has increasingly garnered more interest and is considered an uninterruptible source of heating and cooling, offering greater dependability in supplying a constant energy load with the least impact on the energy grid. Geothermal energy is very attractive because of its long-term environmental and economic benefits, especially since heating, cooling, and dehumidification systems in buildings are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG) and are estimated to consume more than 40% of the nation’s electricity.

At the U of I, the administration and students are pursuing an aggressive strategy to obtain a sustainable campus environment and become carbon neutral by eliminating or offsetting GHG emissions as soon as possible, and no later than 2050. At the CIF, the goal is to exceed the per-building metrics proposed in the 2020 Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) by connecting the geothermal exchange system with radiant heating and cooling as part of an energy-efficient design that is expected to save ~2,839 million Btu (MMBtu) of energy per year and reduce GHG emissions by >70% compared to similarsized buildings. Nearly 65% of that energy load (~135 tons of heating and cooling capacity) will be supplied by the geothermal exchange system.

Unlike in western regions of the U.S. where hot fluids and steam in volcanic rocks are used to generate electricity or for direct heating, in the Midwest region geothermal energy systems typically use thermal exchange technologies that take advantage of the thermal energy stored in the Earth’s subsurface (typically within the upper 100–150 m [~330–500 ft]). Using geothermal heat pumps, refrigerant fluid or water is circulated through boreholes allowing heat to be absorbed or released to the ground (e.g., Lund 2002). The geothermal exchange system takes advantage of the constant ground temperature throughout the year below depths of ~10 m (~33 feet). The ground temperature below this depth is not impacted by seasonal changes in atmospheric conditions, and thus ground-based heating and cooling systems run more efficiently. Furthermore, geographic areas such as the U.S. Midwest region have a consistently variable climate (e.g., cold winters and hot summers), which can maximize the benefits offered by utilizing the natural thermal energy from the ground.

Electric school buses are taking students back to school – bringing cleaner air and lower maintenance costs to school districts across the country

A new EV schoolbus from an all-electric fleet parked beside charging stations at South El Monte High School in California, Aug. 18, 2021. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

by Andrea Marpillero-Colomina, The New School

Each weekday, more than half of the K-12 students in the U.S. – over 25 million pupils – ride a school bus. Until very recently, nearly all of these 500,000 buses ran on diesel fuel.

Nationwide, diesel-powered school buses produce more than 5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. They also generate air pollutants that are harmful to children’s health – especially fine particulates. Studies show that exposure to diesel tailpipe emissions worsens respiratory conditions, decreases lung function and can lead to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

Shifting to cleaner buses is especially important for low-income students. Across the U.S., 60% of low-income students ride the school bus, compared with 45% of other students. School buses often idle their engines while they are loading or unloading, which exposes children directly to exhaust fumes.

I study issues at the intersection of infrastructure, policy and place, including sustainability and equity in transportation. While electrifying school bus fleets requires big investments, I believe the evidence makes clear that it will more than pay off over the long term in health and economic benefits, and I am encouraged to see public and private investments moving in that direction.

Early movers

Decisions about switching from diesel to electric school buses typically lie with cities and school districts, although state governments are getting involved. As of March 2022, 415 school districts or contracted fleet operators had committed to deploy 12,275 electric school buses in a wide range of settings, from large cities to rural counties, across 38 states and lands of two Native American tribes.

California, a longtime leader in clean vehicle policy, acquired its first electric school buses in 2014. Now the state is spending nearly US$70 million to replace more than 200 diesel buses with electric versions to advance its climate and air-quality goals.

Another notable case is Montgomery County, the largest school district in Maryland, which is replacing 326 diesel buses with electric buses by 2025 and building five charging depots. The district serves a diverse population of 160,000 students in 210 schools.

In Virginia, the utility company Dominion Energy announced in 2019 that it would provide 50 electric buses for 16 school districts across the state as one of its initiatives to reduce pollution and promote sustainability. Dominion is paying for infrastructure costs and absorbing the cost difference between a diesel and an electric bus.

The town of Chesapeake, Va., takes delivery of its first electric school buses, funded by the utility Dominion Energy.

The biggest obstacles: Funding and space

As Dominion’s gesture suggests, converting bus fleets isn’t an easy step for many school districts. An electric school bus can cost up to $400,000, two to three times the price of a diesel bus.

But electric buses have lower operating costs, so they save districts an estimated $4,000 to $11,000 per bus per year compared with diesel versions. That can make the costs of electric buses comparable over their lifetimes.

Electric bus motors have about 20 parts, compared with 2,000 in a diesel engine, and require far fewer maintenance steps such as regular fluid changes. And because many of their mechanical systems, such as braking and steering, are similar to those in diesel buses, electric buses are relatively easy to service, especially in districts where both bus types operate.

Charging stations also require money and space, especially in areas where bus routes are long and battery range is a constraint. Most buses now on the market have ranges of about 100 to 120 miles (160-190 kilometers) on a single charge.

In a 2013 study, analysts at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reviewed school bus drive cycles in Colorado, New York and Washington and found that the average school bus was typically in operation for 5.26 hours per day. Driving distance averaged about 32 miles, (50 kilometers), with some buses traveling over 127 miles (200 kilomaters) daily.

School districts need places to charge buses easily and efficiently, especially between morning and afternoon routes. Building this infrastructure, especially as diesel buses continue to operate concurrently with growing electric fleets, can pose a challenge in school districts where space is limited.

Buses as power sources

At the same time, charging infrastructure can make school bus fueling and management more efficient. Today’s managed charging infrastructure allows districts to plug in a bus whenever it is parked at the depot but have the bus charge only when needed. Chargers can be programmed to function at times of day when energy demand is lowest and power is less expensive.

Manufacturers are introducing buses equipped with bidirectional charging capability that can send stored electricity back to the grid when they are not in service. During summer months, when many school buses are not in use and power usage often peaks, utilities soon may be able to call on school districts to make charged buses available to help ease demand load. These buses can also be used as mobile generators during power outages and emergencies.

In a 2022 study, researchers at the University of North Carolina analyzed how the state’s utilities could use school buses with vehicle-to-grid charging to manage peak power demand while taking the buses’ schedules into account. They estimated that a fleet of 14,000 buses could provide about 2.6 gigawatt-hours of electricity to the grid on an average winter weekend day in North Carolina, reducing utilities’ dependence on natural gas and avoiding up to 1,130 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per day.

Cleaner air is likely to pay off in improved student performance. In a 2019 study, researchers found that retrofitting 2,656 diesel buses in Georgia – adding new components to reduce the buses’ emissions – was associated with positive effects on students’ respiratory health, and that districts with retrofitted diesel buses experienced test score gains in English and math. Since even modernized diesel vehicles still generate air pollutants, shifting to electric buses would likely produce even larger increases.

Spreading the benefits

Federal and state agencies are moving to speed up the transition to electric school buses. The American Rescue Plan, enacted in 2021 to provide economic relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, included $7 million in rebates for school districts in underserved communities, Tribal schools and private fleets serving schools that purchase electric buses.

In March 2022 the Environmental Protection Agency awarded funding for 23 electric school bus replacement programs and associated charging infrastructure in 11 states. And New York state’s fiscal 2023 budget includes a nation-leading requirement that all new school bus purchases must be electric starting in July 2027, and that all school buses in service must be zero-emission by 2035. The budget allocates $500 million in potential state funding for school bus electrification as part of a larger environmental bond act, which will be on the ballot in November 2022.

Riding the iconic yellow school bus is a formative experience for millions of kids across the U.S. If more districts make the shift away from diesel, I believe it will become a greener and healthier trip and a step toward the zero-emissions future our nation’s children deserve.

Andrea Marpillero-Colomina, Adjunct Lecturer in Urban Studies, The New School

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

SIU research team wins $1.33M NSF grant to train sustainability-focused geoscientists

An interdisciplinary research team at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is creating a scholarship program aimed at bringing a sustainability mindset together with science and engineering training to target low-income transfer students who will become the next generation of geoscientists. The team members, left to right, include Justin Schoof, Leslie Duram, Ruopu Li, Harvey Henson, and Wendell Williams. (Photo by Russell Bailey)

Source: Southern Illinois University

by Tim Crosby, Southern Illinois University

Sustainability is for everyone, and a Southern Illinois University Carbondale research team is creating a scholarship program aimed at bringing that mindset together with science and engineering training to target low-income transfer students who will become the next generation of geoscientists.

Led by Ruopu Li, associate professor in the School of Earth Systems and Sustainability, the team has secured a $1.33 million grant from the National Science Foundation for a project “Converging Earth Science and Sustainability Education and Experience to Prepare Next-Generation Geoscientists.” Li and the rest of the team will use the grant to fund Earth-Sustainability Scholarships of up to $10,000 each for at least 40 low-income transfer students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in geography and environmental resources, and geology. The students will also receive research-based support services, and may be eligible to develop their own grant-funded sustainability projects.

“It’s an exciting education research experiment that is expected to support four cohorts of sustainability-minded next-generation geoscientists,” Li said. “If successful, this project may be used as a model for earth science education in the U.S. and the rest of the world.”

The program runs for five years, from this coming January to December 2027.

Leadership for the future

Li said a sustainability-minded STEM workforce is vital for the nation as it attempts to strategically develop natural resources, promote economic growth and make informed decisions in a rapidly changing world.

“Our project will develop an educational pipeline to broaden the participation of low-income students by reducing financial pressure and improving learning opportunities and outcomes at SIU,” Li said. “We also hope it will establish an educational prototype that supports academically talented and low-income transfer students to become sustainability-focused earth science degree graduates.”

Geoscientists will need to apply their knowledge and techniques to solve pressing environmental issues by creating and evaluating various options and approaches, Li said.

“Nowadays, sustainability is often promoted as a strong organizing principle for modern education programs,” Li said. “But historically, there has been a disconnect between sustainability and earth science training in our postsecondary education. That prevents future generations from recognizing the important issues and opportunities with sustainable development and responsible use of natural resources.”

Support services for student success

Students in the program not only will receive significant financial aid, but they also will get strong, structured support services including cohort building, leadership development, multilevel mentoring networks, and research and experiential learning. Such an approach requires all students to pursue problem-based research projects under the supervision of a faculty mentor on sustainability capstone projects, for example.

The program also will allow the SIU team to create a mini-grant program for students, with up to 10 awards to cover costs for creative earth science projects in faculty mentors’ labs each year.

A psychological model geared for success

The team also includes co-principal investigators Harvey Henson, associate professor in the School of Education and the School of Earth Systems and Sustainability; Leslie Duram, professor in the School of Earth Systems and Sustainability, Justin Schoof, professor and director in the School of Earth Systems and Sustainability, and Wendell Williams, associate vice chancellor for enrollment management. The STEM Education Research Center assisted with the grant funding.

The researchers will govern the entire approach using the psychological theory of planned behavior, or TPB. Under this theory, which seeks to link beliefs to behaviors, researchers adopt the view that three core components – positive attitude, subjective norms and perceived behavioral control – largely shape an individual’s intentions and actions in pursuing goals. The researchers will use services and activities associated with TPB’s core components to drive students toward graduation.

Overall, the grant will promote research and teaching excellence as it seeks to bring together social science, Earth science and sustainability as an exemplar for a next-generation science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

SIU poised for success

The project directly supports the university’s strategic plan, Imagine 2030, and its pillars for sustainability and research and innovation. Li said it also provides an important collaborative opportunity for faculty.

Schoof said the interdisciplinary nature of the grant will bring added strength to the project.

“It will bridge faculty from the Geography and Environmental Resources and Geology programs in the School of Earth Systems and Sustainability to work together for better Earth science education, while also increasing overall student enrollment,” he said.

U.S. EPA announces Phase 1 winners of Environmental Justice Video Challenge for Students

U.S. EPA recently announced the Phase 1 winners of the Environmental Justice (EJ) Video Challenge for Students. The challenge is intended to enhance communities’ capacity to address environmental and public health inequities. Its goals are to: 

  1. Inspire students at accredited colleges and universities in the United States and its territories to work directly with communities in the identification and characterization of EJ challenges using data and publicly available tools, and
  2. Help communities (including residents and other stakeholders) address EJ challenges and/or vulnerabilities to environmental and public health hazards using data and publicly available tools. 

In Phase 1 of the competition, students created a video to demonstrate innovative approaches to identify and characterize an EJ issue(s) in a select community using data and publicly available tools.

Phase 2 of the challenge will be open to eligible applicants (with at least one student participating from Phase 1 per team) and is expected to launch in September 2022. Phase 2 will focus on enhancing communities’ capacity to address the EJ issue identified in Phase 1. Students will work collaboratively with community-based organizations to develop a strategy that demonstrates effective community engagement and advocacy and/or a proposal to address the EJ issue.

Watch the winning Phase 1 videos.

Toxic chemicals lurk at playgrounds

Read the full story at E&E News.

Concerns about modern playground surfaces were first raised decades ago, when recycled tire crumb rubber became a popular playground surface. The recycled tires often contained lead and other heavy metals, and public health experts were especially concerned that using the bite-sized material on playgrounds could unnecessarily expose small children, particularly toddlers, who are prone to putting objects in their mouths.

Nowadays, many municipalities searching for new playground surfaces know enough to stay away from tire crumb rubber.

But many continue to install what’s called “pour in place” rubber, flat, spongy rubber surfaces that can contain other chemicals of concern, like polyaromatic hydrocarbons, phthalates, and volatile organic compounds. Those more solid rubber surfaces can also contain additives and binders that could harm the health of children, though the exact chemicals vary by manufacturer.

Artificial turf, long-popular on athletic fields, has also been marketed as a playground surface. Some PFAS are used to manufacture the plastic grass blades (Greenwire, Dec. 8, 2021).

Webinar: Trick or Trash: Fostering Circular Economy Participation through Education

Sept. 15, 2022, noon-1 pm
Register here.

It is estimated that each year 600 million pounds of candy are consumed in the United States during the Halloween season. The materials used for candy packaging are notoriously difficult to recycle, with the vast majority ending up in landfills. That’s why Rubicon created Trick or Trash™, an educational program designed to help reduce the waste that accumulates every year around Halloween. Candy wrapper recycling boxes are provided free of charge to schools, universities, small businesses, and nonprofit organizations, providing communities with a fun and easy way to help make Halloween a bit more sustainable!

Each Trick or Trash box helps keep hundreds of candy wrappers out of landfills. But it is the recycling education tied to Trick or Trash—provided by teachers to their students, business owners to their staff and customers, and community leaders to their members—that inspires lifelong commitments to fostering the circular economy and a more sustainable world.

On this webcast you will hear from a panel of Trick or Trash partners that make this program a reality in all 50 states. Rubicon, g2 revolution, and the National Wildlife Federation will discuss their learnings from the front lines of sustainability education: from implementing a program at scale to collaborating across diverse networks and audiences to driving tangible behavior change. The panelists will share their unique insights into “what works” for sustainability education and their ideas for inspiring communities to contribute to and to advocate for a circular economy future.

Moderator:

  • Suz Okie, Director of Design Strategy & Senior Analyst, Circular Economy, GreenBiz Group

Speakers:

  • Katie Kinnear, Director of Engagement Strategy, Rubicon
  • Kristy Jones, Director, Higher Education Programs, National Wildlife Federation
  • Rachael Kroll, National Accounts Manager, g2 revolution LLC

If you can’t tune in live, please register and GreenBiz will email you a link to access the webcast recording and resources, available to you on-demand after the live webcast.