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By: Adrian Britt

Understanding how pesticides interact with non-target organisms is a challenge for today’s scientists. There are simply too many variables to be considered for each species that may come into contact with a pesticide once it runs off the intended application site. Thus, regulatory agencies tasked with setting pesticide thresholds rely, in part, on independent studies from the scientific community at large. Our study focused its efforts on a keystone estuarine species, Crassostrea virginica, the native eastern oyster of the Chesapeake Bay. Our lab sought to answer a vital question: How does the broad-spectrum herbicide, atrazine, effect the microbiome of the Chesapeake Bay oyster? Atrazine has already been banned from use within the E.U. because exposures to concentrations as low as 0.1 parts per billion of atrazine in surface water have been shown to adversely affect aquatic animals, causing the male gonads to produce eggs.


For this study, we relied on long-standing evidence that supports the importance of maintaining healthy populations of microbiota for the survival, homeostasis, and complete development of marine mollusks. We chose frequently detected concentrations of the chemical in surface waters to be the focus of our most recently published study, “The Effects of Atrazine on the Microbiome of the Eastern Oyster: Crassostrea virginica”. Relatively little is known about the impact that agricultural activity is having on our fallen oyster population, however, in this study we succeeded in shedding some light onto the enigmatic effects atrazine could be having on the native oyster’s microbial community, which in turn provide essential services for the oyster’s survival.


Through our study, we found that oysters which were exposed to concentrations of atrazine as low as 3µg/L saw a significant loss of key mutualistic microbial species and underwent a subsequent colonization of pathogenic bacteria. We concluded that exposure to atrazine in the Chesapeake Bay may be contributing to a significant shift in the microbiomes of juvenile oysters that reduces overall fitness and impedes natural and artificial repopulation of the oyster species within the Bay. Since the late nineteenth century, the oyster industry – including the catch, sale, shucking, packing and shipping of oysters – has contributed millions of dollars to the region’s economy.  Managing oyster populations by limiting the over-use of toxic substances will ensure that the oyster industry will become a sustainable effort. 


This is the first long term study of how ecologically relevant concentrations of atrazine affect the eastern oyster. Thus the findings this study provided will help to form the foundation for future investigations into the toxicological effects of commonly used pesticides on non-target organisms.   


By Francesca Edralin

While the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change are two scientific crises raising political controversy, the two issues possess another interesting intersection: Could the global response to COVID-19 offer a long-term solution to combat the climate crisis?

Over recent months, stay-at-home orders have led to a temporary plunge in greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, as much of the population stayed home more and traveled less. However, as governments gradually lift social distancing orders, more and more people are leaving their homes and transitioning back to old routines.

Yet, some aspects of the quarantine routine have the potential to translate into long-term lifestyle changes. In particular, teleworking offers a multitude of environmental benefits if continued after the quarantine period. Recent research shows that increased teleworking in communities reduces air pollution and traffic congestion.

In 2018, civil engineer and transportation systems analyst at the University of Illinois-Chicago Ramin Shabanpour published a study on the impacts of teleworking on local air pollution. In his study, Shabanpour identified the current populations in Chicago capable of telework. Then, he calculated what percentage of those populations participated in telework at the time. He found that only 12% of individuals who are capable of telework worked from home to some extent. Using 12% as the base, Shabanpour and his team developed a simulation that modeled a hypothetical “twin city” of Chicago.

“We spent a few years here in Chicago developing a transportation simulation platform which, in a nutshell, is a simulation-based twin city. Using a software known as the POLARIS model, we were able to simulate what we have in the real world,” he said.

Shabanpour and his team kept all data points constant in the simulation, except for the percentage of the population who worked from home which they increased from 12% to 50%. The simulation did not manipulate the frequency that Chicago residents worked from home, only increasing the percentage of teleworkers at the current frequency.

The results proved to Shabanpour and his team how beneficial teleworking can be for the environment.

“We found that we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 0.7% because of an increase in telecommuting. When you talk about impact, this is actually a huge number because if you multiply 0.7% with current greenhouse gas emissions in Chicago, we find that an implementation like this can reduce 500 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per day,” Shabanpour said.

Capable teleworkers do not need to solely work from home to produce these emission reductions. Shabanpour acknowledges that most teleworkers only work from home a few days per week, and they likely still drive when they telework in order to run errands. The simulation’s results account for the driving needs of teleworkers, because Shabanpour kept the frequency that teleworkers drive to work and run errands in real life constant.

Shabanpour’s study was one of the first to analyze teleworking’s impacts on air pollution and the environment. While he only examines telework patterns in the Chicago metropolitan area, his findings can apply to any area that suffers from air pollution and has a section of the population that is capable of telework.

As a result, Shabanpour has emerged as an advocate for telework. He believes that current efforts to reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions invest in the wrong solutions, instead of cost-efficient solutions like telework programs.

“We just invest billions and billions of funding into building new bridges and infrastructure – let’s start looking at this soft side of transportation. Focusing on these numbers, we can definitely reduce the transportation emissions and congestion that we have at a very low cost, compared to the big infrastructure projects that we have,” Shabanpour said.

As the quarantine period forced many companies to temporarily transition their workforce online, the potential for companies to commit to a long-term telework system makes Shabanpour’s research more relevant now than ever.

In the past, companies have hesitated to allow teleworking. Timothy Golden, a professor and telework researcher at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, finds that companies assume teleworking would decrease employer satisfaction and productivity.

“Because you’re working away from the office, particularly if the rest of the office is still there, that has the potential to make you feel cut off or separated from people,” Golden said.

Golden asserts that hybrid teleworking programs, which allow employees to split their hours between working from home and in the office, alleviate employees’ concerns of feeling isolated from the workplace. He also recommends that managers assess which employees are capable of telework, meaning they can productively complete their tasks at home.

“It’s not an all-or-nothing scenario. It’s not a one-size-fits-all,” Golden said.

Companies who supported teleworking before the pandemic prove that implementing a telework system increases productivity and company savings, in addition to reducing carbon footprints.

Dell, headquartered in Austin, Texas, is one company leading the global movement toward hybrid teleworking programs. Since implementing its “Connected Workplace” program, Dell allows employees to design a work-from-home schedule tailored to their preferences. Dell cuts 136 million travel miles and more than 35,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually through this program, as calculated in their most recent sustainability report.

John Pflueger, the principal environmental strategist at Dell who designed the Connected Workplace program, told Environment+Energy Leader, “We’re pleased with the flexibility it offers our employees and the positive consequences it has on carbon emissions.”

If the environmental impacts do not incentivize companies, perhaps the benefits in finances and productivity will. Dell’s recent sustainability report highlights that it saved $39.5 million from the Connected Workplace program, which allows the company to reduce the amount of office space they pay for and maintain. Dell also hires from a greater applicant pool, with the ability to hire top talent beyond the region of Austin.

“When a company is considering a work-from-home program or telecommuting or remote work, sustainability is probably not the primary reason why. The primary reasons are issues related more to work-life balance and being the sort of employer that the 21st-century employee has come to expect, but we found sustainability-related benefits are an important side effect,” Pflueger said.

Golden is hopeful that this quarantine period will help companies and employees realize the various benefits to teleworking.

“I think this is a defining moment for telework in that it is likely to be much more commonplace after this pandemic. Now that it’s forced on so many people, it’s changing mindsets because teleworking is no longer something that ‘other people do’, it is something that everyone does,” Golden said.

Shabanpour demonstrated the environmental benefits of teleworking scientifically, while companies such as Dell show how teleworking programs foster a more sustainable and cost-efficient workplace. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic showed many companies already have the means for telework, although they may not have taken advantage of it previously.

Perhaps what helps to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases now just may help flatten the curve of greenhouse gas emissions as well.

For over ten years, GW has made steady progress toward its vision for a sustainable university, striving to make a positive impact on the planet and its inhabitants, while equipping students with the skills and knowledge to contribute to a sustainable future. Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing the planet and society, today and in the future. Further, the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the enormous impact humans have on the environment, and the need for more inclusive and equitable structures in our society.

This week, based on recommendations from the Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) Responsibility Task Force of the Board of Trustees, GW has announced a renewed commitment to addressing climate change. The sustainability community at GW has consistently called on the university to take bold action to address climate change due to its impact on the planet and people. The Task Force took input from students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends of GW. These voices are important in the shared governance of our university.

In the announcement GW renewed its commitment to addressing climate change, including divestment from fossil fuels. The university has committed to not make any new endowment investments in businesses that derive the majority of their revenue from the extraction of fossil fuels, and to eliminate 100 percent of all such investments from its endowment over the next five years.

Divestment is only the beginning of what is necessary. Leading institutions can amplify their efforts to address climate change if we reach back to remove our past, cumulative carbon emissions. As such, in addition to divestment, GW announced a commitment to remove all greenhouse gas emissions it has produced in its nearly 200 year history.

“In order to authentically commit to climate justice, we must look to the past to reclaim the future,” according to Peter Harrison, GW Trustee and Chair of the ESG Task Force. “Our moonshot approach to climate change takes responsibility for not just the university’s current carbon footprint, but also our historical emissions. We hope to inspire GW’s experts, partners, and peers to collaborate and emulate the pathway to historical decarbonization.”

The university will also accelerate plans to achieve carbon neutrality, release a plan for climate resilience for the university’s operations, phase out single use plastics on campus, capture stormwater, provide more outdoor green spaces to improve biodiversity, and convert university operated transportation to zero-emissions vehicles. Additionally, GW will develop a prominent transdisciplinary academic home, such as a Sustainability Institute, and ensure that every GW student has an opportunity for an academic experience that promotes innovative thinking in sustainability.

“Our students understand that their generation will bear the burdens of a changing climate, unless action is taken now,” said Dr. Tara Scully, Director of the Minor in Sustainability. “GW is not only addressing its own footprint, but also educating students to create a sustainable world.”

“Working through Sustainable GW, faculty across campus are developing transdisciplinary research projects to address some of the most complex problems facing society. These projects develop new technologies and also analyze public policy and social science to ensure that the technological solutions are effective,” said Robert Orttung, Director of Research for Sustainable GW.

While the ESG Task Force will now turn to social and governance matters, all three areas are interconnected. The social justice implications of climate change are real: disadvantaged groups suffer the most from environmental degradation.

“By curbing its contribution to climate change, GW intends to lead by example and show how institutions might help reduce the negative impact on populations around the globe,” said Meghan Chapple, Director of GW’s Office of Sustainability. “The comprehensive commitment to climate change was instigated years ago by GW Fossil Free students, now championed by Chair Grace Speights and Trustee Peter Harrison, and guided by faculty experts.”

While the Office of Sustainability will work with the GW community to deliver on these commitments, the progress GW has made in sustainability is due to the tireless efforts of students, faculty and staff across the university. Your contributions will be critical going forward, as well.

To learn more about the details of the announcement, see the resources below:

GW Today Story

ESG Task Force Website

ESG Task Force Report to Board of Trustees

Message from Sustainable GW

Meghan Chapple, Tara Scully, and Robert Orttung speak to the Sustainable GW community regarding recent racist incidents and related protests across the country.
June 2, 2020

Dear Sustainable GW Community,

The events of last week, including the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the hateful action against Christian Cooper in Central Park, are devastating and outrageous, and unfortunately, all too frequent examples of how deeply entrenched racism is in our society. Not only are we horrified by the decades of violence inflicted on Black Americans, but also by the disparate access to resources and higher exposure to risk experienced by the Black community. In addition to the direct violence delivered by people in power, indirect violent acts like the COVID-19 pandemic, pollution in our air and water, and lack of access to healthy food prove those disparities to be deadly.

Sustainable GW rejects racism and inequity in all its forms, including situations where Black people are not, and do not feel, safe in parks and other outdoor spaces. We envision a world with healthy and thriving resource systems for all. That includes doing our part to address the university's impact on the ecological systems that are meant to sustain all of us. We are committed to protecting and enhancing local ecosystems, and we continue to strive for carbon neutrality to reduce our contribution to climate change, which is already having a disproportionate impact on people of color and poor communities around the planet.

The protests in cities across the country, including Washington, D.C., show the pain and anguish felt by so many Americans, and the power of our voices in raising awareness of a racist system. Here at Sustainable GW we are committed to dismantling racism in our own movement and to creating an equitable and inclusive program. This year, Sustainable GW hosted student programs to address environmental justice in Washington, D.C., modified our own practices around hiring to be more inclusive, expanded our courses on environmental justice, and hosted the first sustainability focused session at the GW Diversity Summit, where we learned that we have much more work to do. Today we reaffirm our commitment to engaging the sustainability community in conversations about equity and justice in our movement, especially when those conversations reveal uncomfortable truths.

We stand in solidarity for a just and equal society. We believe we are better than this, that Black Lives Matter, and that we can build a better university and country going forward.


Meghan Chapple, Director of the Office of Sustainability

Tara Scully, Director of the Minor in Sustainability

Robert Orttung, Research Director for Sustainable GW


Embroidery Tutorial

By Esther Stoppani, Intern with Campaign GW

Hi! I’m Esther, one of the Campaign GW interns. Embroidery is one of my favorite hobbies, and I know that a lot of people want to learn how to do this craft, so I offered to create a little beginner’s guide to embroidery! It’s a lot simpler than people tend to think and is a great way to repurpose old clothes.


-What will you need?

An embroidery hoop

An embroidery needle

Embroidery floss: comes in a variety of colors, it’s the same stuff that comes in a lot of “friendship bracelet” kits

Fabric: which can be pretty much whatever you have on hand, but I would avoid super tightly woven fabric and stretchy materials



-The basics

To get started with embroidery, you only need a few materials.

Your embroidery hoop has two separate pieces. Lay your fabric over the inner loop so that the outer loop can be tightened around it, holding the fabric in place. You want the fabric to be taut, so stay away from stretchy materials like spandex that might warp from stretching.


If you’re working off a pattern or design, use an erasable or water-soluble pen to draw the design on. I would also recommend starting with embroidery floss that is not metallic or sparkly. These types of thread are harder to work with, especially when you’re first starting out.


Regular embroidery floss is typically 6-stranded, so you’ll want to separate out 2-4 strands, depending on how large you want your stitching to be. I almost always use 2 strands and vary my stitch types to change the size. Thread your needle and leave a tail that’s about 2 inches long. On the longer (working) thread, tie a knot at the end of the string. Now you’re all set up to start stitching!


-The simplest stitch

This one is probably the easiest stitch in embroidery. To create a straight stitch, push your needle up through your fabric from underneath. Pull your needle all the way through so the string is taut. Then, push your needle back down through the fabric in a different spot. This creates a small, straight line of stitching. By repeating this process, you can fill in the space between your stitches and create shapes. I use straight stitches mostly for filling in areas of color, because these stitches don’t create as much texture or variety as some of the other stitches.



-Back stitch

This starts out with a single straight stitch. Once you’ve created a single straight stitch, your needle will be back under the fabric. When you bring your needle back up through the fabric, you want to come up one stitch-length from the hole you came through. I usually make my stitches about ¼ inch long, but it depends on the design you’re making. Pull the string taut, then go back down through the hole at the end of the previous stitch to connect the two. These stitches create uniform lines and are great for outlines and letters.



-Stem stitch

A stem stitch is very similar to a back stitch, but instead of coming up one stitch-length from your previous stitch, you will bring your needle up just to the side of the hole you came through. Pull the string taut and push the needle back down one stitch-length away. This will create a staggered line of disconnected single stitches. I don’t typically use this stitch type a lot, but it can be helpful when filling in areas.



-Split stitch

Start again with a single straight stitch. This time, when you bring your needle up through the fabric, do this in the middle of your previous stitch, so that the two threads of the stitch separate around your needle. Pull the string taut. You now have a single stitch with thread coming up through the middle of it. Continue along your line and push the needle back down through the fabric. Repeat. This creates a very textured stitch with little V’s in it. I like to use this stitch for outlines and decorative borders.



-Chain stitch

To start a chain stitch, bring your needle up through the fabric and pull the thread taut. Bring your needle back down through the same hole you just came up through, but don’t pull the thread taut! Leave a loop of thread sticking up from the fabric. One stitch length away, bring your needle back up through the fabric. Take the loop you just created and bring your needle up through it. Now, pull the string taut. This should make the loop get smaller and lay flat. Bring your needle back down through the fabric close to where you brought it up. You can change the shape of the loop, which is now your stitch, by gently pulling the sides. Repeating this stitch will give you a very textured, chain-shaped stitch. I love the way this stitch looks, and it’s pretty simple once you get the hang of it. Doing a single chain stitch is also a fun way of making leaves and petals on floral designs.



-French knot

This stitch is a little trickier, but it’s an important one. To start a French knot, bring your needle up through your fabric. Pull taut. Then, push the tip of the needle back down through the fabric just to the side of where you brought it up. Don’t push the needle all the way through! Instead, tip the needle back up through the fabric a couple millimeters from where you just pushed it down. Again, don’t pull the needle all the way through. At this point, you should have your string sticking up towards you from the fabric, and your needle should be tucked through the fabric so that both ends are above the fabric (the middle is below). Gently take the long loop of thread and wind it around the needle 2-3 times. Pull the thread a bit to get it fairly tight around the needle. Slide these loops down the needle so that they rest next to where it comes up through the fabric. Using your nail to hold the thread in place, gently pull your needle all the way through. Pull taut. You should now have a small knot at the base of the thread where it comes up through the fabric. If the knot is loose, pull the string more and push the knot towards the fabric. To finish off the knot, push your needle back down through the center of the knot. If your knot was a little messy, you can try to tuck any loose parts in during this final step. French knots can be difficult, but find the way to make them that works best for you! I like doing it this way because if you want to make flowers, wrapping the thread around the needle 5-7 times instead will create a longer knot that looks like the petal of a rose. Making several of these and tucking them together is my favorite way to make roses.



-Tying off your stitch

When you want to switch thread colors or are moving to a different area of your fabric and don’t want to waste thread, you tie it off. After you finish your stitches, your needle will be underneath the fabric. Keep the needle and thread on this side of the fabric. Use your needle to tuck your thread under a nearby stitch, and then tie a double knot. You want to make sure the knot is secure before cutting the thread.


Now you know how to make some of the main stitches for embroidery, but what will you do with them?

Finding a pattern online and following it is a great place to start. This way you have instructions and a clear idea of what your design should look like. You can also just stick to practicing the different stitches until you feel comfortable. If you feel good about these stitches, you can try creating your own design or learning new stitches. Embroidery is great for making patches (I like to use felt as my fabric for these), covering up holes or stains in older clothes that you don’t want to throw out, and just adding some personalization to your clothes.


A couple tips and tricks before you go

You can always “undo” your stitches. Whether with a seam ripper or by just pulling the stitches out, your work can be undone if you don’t like how it turns out.

Trim the ends of your threads. All of your threads will end on the backside of your design, and it can be tempting to let it get messy since it won’t be seen. The more loose ends you have, the more likely it is for your floss to get tangled. Avoid this issue entirely by always trimming your strings after tying them off.

Don’t sit next to someone, you might poke them in the eye. When you’re embroidering, you have to pull the thread through with your needle, which means that you’re constantly reaching your arm far out to the side with a needle in your hand. You can probably see where this is going. I’ve poked enough friends to know not to sit too close when I’m working (or at least to have them sit on my left since I’m right-handed).

Always pull gently on the string. Trying to work fast and pulling the thread through quickly will lead to tangles and knots, which get frustrating. It’s a lot easier if you just slow down.

By Francesca Edralin, Student Assistant for the Undergraduate Minor in Sustainability

On Thursday, April 16 Sustainable GW hosted a webinar titled “The Big Reframe: Shifting Your Focus to the Better Things”, led by Ayana Moore of GW Facilities Planning, Construction, and Management. While I was not sure what to expect when I signed up for the session, I was so glad that I ended up tuning in. The session was interactive, engaging, eye-opening, and taught me some valuable lessons on the importance of reframing your perspective during an unprecedented time like this.

No GW student or faculty could have anticipated a pandemic as severe as this. With a student body that is constantly “doing things” in the hustle and bustle of Foggy Bottom, many of us are used to an extremely fast-paced way of life. Walk around campus, and you’ll always find students on their way to their next class, their next club meeting, or their next interview. In such a lively and active environment, the thought of having to lose it all and go home likely never crossed anyone’s mind.

And then of course, the unimaginable happened. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, GW students have been kicked off of their bustling campus, and have been sent home to an environment likely far less exciting. This scenario is unprecedented, unimaginable, and undesired for many. But could there be a silver lining to all of this?

As the stereotypical GW student who thrives off of packing her schedule with e-board meetings, a work study job, five intensive classes, and an internship, “free time” was a foreign concept to me before the pandemic. It certainly took me some time to transition to this stationary way of life, but I’ve been able to make the most of it. I’ve been able to find meaning during these slower and more isolating times.

Honestly, a lot of it required me to shift my way of thinking. As Ayana Moore emphasized in her webinar, the key is always to reframe how you see your current situation. For me, this meant no longer blaming coronavirus for cutting my sophomore year short and canceling all my April and May plans. Instead, I’ve reframed the situation, accepting that this pandemic is an issue far bigger than myself, and that everyone is pausing their lives for the greater good.

Instead of hustling from one meeting to another, I can take this time to just “be”. No outside pressures, no time crunches - instead I am learning how to enjoy the simpler things in life and emerging as a more grateful and self-aware person. Now that I have much more free time on my hands, I’ve gotten back into old hobbies, like singing and songwriting, as well as taken on new hobbies, like baking and meditating. I’ve also been able to reconnect with my family members, who I felt so distant from when I was back in DC.

In life, things will sometimes be out of your control. This pandemic happens to be one of those things. Yet, reframing is a powerful tool to make the most of this situation - and see light when everyone else sees the darkness. During the webinar, one of the students reframed the situation so beautifully: “We will emerge out of this different and more united.” 

I couldn’t agree more. This is a difficult time for sure, but it is also a shared moment worldwide for learning, reflecting, and reframing. I am confident that once we overcome this chaos, humanity will emerge stronger, more grateful, and more unified than ever before.


Doing Social Science Research in a Disaster

By Dr. Robert Orttung, Research Director for Sustainable GW

Given the on-going COVID-19 crisis and the growing prevalence of hazards in the world, many GW faculty and researchers are launching projects that deal with disasters in various forms. While the pandemic is the most pressing problem at the moment, there is growing concern with fires, hurricanes, earthquakes and the overall effects of climate change. 

Some of the recent initiatives around GW include efforts to study the response to the pandemic in Eurasia, Michael Keidars work to develop new medical equipment, and endeavors to understand how the crisis is affecting the Arctic. Keidar recently  won a NSF RAPID award for his research to decontaminate the environment and to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus.

A key question for social scientists working with human research subjects is how to conduct research in crisis conditions. A couple of recent articles provide some good advice. 

In a recent contribution to Nature, J. C. Gaillard and Lori Peek offer a variety of ways to be sensitive to ethical dilemmas and power imbalances. Their main advice is to be sure that the research efforts keep the interests of the local population as the foremost priority. In proposing a code of conduct for researchers working in crisis conditions, they suggest: 

  1. Having a clear purpose
  2. Respecting local voices
  3. Coordinating locals and outsiders

Another recent article in Disasters by Kathryn Falb et al, offers five practical pieces of advice for Institutional Review Boards (IRB), the organizations on campus that authorize research work with human subjects. The authors offer advice on how to quickly obtain IRB approval for research, address the traumatic experience of participants, deal with difficulties in obtaining meaningful consent, and ensure reviews have sufficient knowledge of the population's needs.

In 2019, the National Academy of Sciences published a report on “Science during Crisis.” The authors argue that “a central, curated clearinghouse for data and scientific information can improve scientific collaboration, speed up analyses, and build public trust.” In other words, we will all benefit if everyone works together. 

Crisis communications play an important role in this effort. There is a lot of incorrect information circulating about the pandemic and leaders need to identify ways to make sure that people have the facts. Evidence from past infectious disease outbreaks shows that simple interventions with correct information do not always work and we need to find more effective solutions

Hopefully careful research will make it possible to provide helpful advice in addressing the challenges posed by the pandemic and other crises our society is currently facing.  

To learn more about GW’s sustainability efforts, visit


A message from Meghan Chapple, Office of Sustainability Director and Co-Director of Sustainable GW:

I hope you are staying safe, and finding some form of peace and wellness in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

We are having a first-hand experience of global change. In the chaos we find confusion and anxiety. We can also find a learning moment to observe, reflect, and come to a deeper understanding.  How will the pandemic experience affect the way society sees the world, and the sustainability of our Earth systems to support human life? What can we learn from this to create a world that embodies the Sustainable Development Goals

Thus far, I have found that the pandemic reminds us of several key sustainability truths:

1)  We are all human, and we are all in this together.
We depend on our planet, and the local and global web of one another for goods, services, and social support. Starting today, let us acknowledge and show respect for these interconnections with one another and the Earth.

2)  We need to continue to create structures for equality across societal boundaries. While every human is susceptible to the novel coronavirus, unless we take immediate and creative action, the poor and disenfranchised will experience a more negative impact. Let this situation inspire us each to bring forward courage and creativity to support our fellow humans through our individual actions and our societal structures.

3) Trust, transparency, and connection enable us to work together across boundaries more effectively.  We have seen the disastrous effects of denial of scientific evidence and eroded international and domestic State relationships. With trust, transparency, and connection we can leverage one another’s strengths and resources for the greater good of all.

 4) We need to plan for what we can’t see. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the limits of the old adage “see it to believe it”. Our ability to prepare for global change – sudden like COVID-19 or gradual like climate change – is only limited by our willingness to imagine such scenarios, our courage to envision the world we want to see, and our ability to believe we can create it together.  We need to turn the adage around and “believe it to see it”.

Let’s explore these three abilities.

  • Can you imagine the scenario: a global pandemic in the midst of a natural disaster (flooding, hurricane, forest fires, extreme heat, drought, etc.)?
  • Can you envision a world we want to see: where we acknowledge scientific evidence to prevent the worst impacts of disease and climate change?
  • Can you believe in our collective ability: that we can act as an interconnected society that uses scientific evidence to plan and coordinate ingenuity and resources to address the problem, whether in the health care system or the global ecosystems?

I hope you will join me in using this time of crisis to learn, and to exercise these three abilities. Such practice is going to come in handy in the coming years to prepare for further global change. 

Follow this blog in the coming weeks for a deeper exploration into imagining possible scenarios, envisioning the world we want to see, and believing in our collective ability to create a sustainable future. 

Meghan Chapple
Director, GW Office of Sustainability
Co-Director, Sustainable GW
For more information about sustainability at GW, visit

By Emma West

Do you commute to an internship each day? What’s your go-to off-campus hangout spot? How do you get around when you leave Foggy Bottom?


DC is a very walkable, bike-friendly city, but when it’s 90 degrees outside or you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, you might ditch your bike (or scooter!) in favor of a Lyft, the free Circulator bus, or Metro. There are many ways to get around the city, some better for the environment than others—so let’s take a moment to think about how sustainability plays into your daily transportation habits. 


Metro customers waiting for Pentagon Express shuttle bus – Summer 2019


The transportation sector currently accounts for the largest percentage of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States at about 30%. Now more than ever, low-carbon transportation needs to be a priority as cities and states turn to real solutions to fight climate change. And there's no doubt that climate change is affecting all of us in the DC region. According to the EPA, "The region has warmed by more than two degrees (F) in the last century, hot days and heavy rainstorms are more frequent, and the tidal Potomac is rising about one inch every eight years." (To read more about the impact of climate change on the District, check out this fact sheet.)


But don’t get too discouraged: you can make a difference! The easiest and most impactful choice you can make each day to live a more sustainable lifestyle is to leave your car at home, forget about your ride-hailing app, and, instead, hop on a Capital Bikeshare bike, get some extra exercise by walking, or take Metro.


7000-series train pulling out of NoMa-Gallaudet U station


Did you know that each trip you take on Metrorail produces 40% less CO2 than taking the same trip in a car? Each year, Metro riders avoid emissions equal to 370,000 metric tons of CO2—an amount equivalent to the emissions from 41 million gallons of gasoline. 


And while public transit is already an efficient low-carbon mode of transportation, Metro is committed to making its internal operations even more sustainable. Since 2014, Metro has become approximately 6% more efficient, using less energy and fuel per vehicle mile.


Some exciting initiatives underway include:

  1. Lighting: Upgrading all station and facility lighting to energy-efficient light-emitting diode (LED)
  2. Regenerative Braking: Integrating braking energy recovery into traction power upgrades 
  3. Service Improvements: Investing in modern fare payment technology, developing an electric bus strategy, and strengthening the regional bus network
  4. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED): Designing all new and significantly renovated facilities to meet LEED Platinum standards
  5. Solar: Designating four station parking lots/garage rooftops for renewable energy development that will produce 7–9MW of power


About the Author: Emma West is an alumna of GWU and proud 2017 graduate of the Sustainability minor. Despite always having been passionate about environmental issues, it wasn’t until she landed an internship at Metro through the DC Sustainable Energy Utility that she truly embraced public transit for its role in fighting climate change. Emma works in the Office of Sustainability at Metro, tracking energy data and supporting project managers to quantify and implement energy efficiency projects across the organization. If you, like Emma, never knew Metro had a sustainability office and are interested in internship opportunities, or are just curious about what it is like to work in the transit industry, you can reach out by email at


5G is on its way. The fifth generation cellular network technology is primed to be ridiculously fast - fast enough to change the way you go about your daily life. 

Today, the top corner of your phone screen probably says 3G, or 4G LTE, and these are symbols that stand for the different generations of broadcasting technology. 1G, or first generation, gave us the ability to make calls, 2G allowed us to send and receive messages, 3G let us access the internet, and 4G made accessing the internet markedly faster. LTE is a classification used to symbolize signal connection speeds in between 3G and 4G. 

The speeds of these connections are partly measured in something called latency, which  marks the time it takes for information to travel from one area to another. As the fastest widespread broadband, 4G boasts a latency rate of 300 milliseconds. This is remarkable, as the average human reaction times between 200 and 300 milliseconds. At best, human reaction time is only slightly faster than the time it takes for a device to retrieve information from a host on 4G.

5G, on the other hand, as some engineers have stated, will have a reaction time around one millisecond. Almost instantaneous. This is why when 5g reaches peak connectivity and is introduced to the world, it will allow for a new age of technology. Things like self driving cars and augmented reality become not only plausible, but markedly better alternatives to what exists today. A one millisecond delay time means an almost instantaneous reaction to a possible collision in a 5G self-driving vehicle, which would hypothetically reduce the amount of death and injury every year from car accidents substantially. It also means technology like virtual reality will be experienced in near real-time. While all of this promises to alter the way in which we experience the world around us, it also guarantees that many of the devices that we use today will quickly go obsolete. 

In this fast-paced age of technology, the newest and most advanced products seem like a necessity for our everyday lives. As the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports, Americans spent almost 71 billion dollars on telephone and communication technology in 2017, which is five times more than they spent in 2010 even when adjusted for inflation. Technological corporations have been feeding into this ‘newer is better’ model, reducing the lifespan of a device and regularly unveiling newer, more advanced devices and enticing consumers with discounts for upgrades. This sort of mentality is great for profit, but produces a large amount of electronic waste, which is much harder to recycle than plastic or paper. 

Electronic waste can not be simply placed in a recycling bin because the precious metals hidden inside these products can be flammable or radioactive. They must be sent to specialized recycling centers that focus on taking apart technological devices and salvaging parts that can be used in making future electronics. Because of this difficulty, most obsolete technological parts end up incinerated or in landfills.

With the introduction of 5G, this is only going to get worse. As Alana Semeuls of TIME magazine reports, electronics waste is the fastest growing solid waste stream in the world, and it will “turn into a torrent as the world upgrades to 5G”. E-cycling facilities forecast an explosion of the number of devices in the waste stream and are preparing to expand their capacity in order to meet these demands. However, these devices will never reach their facilities if they are not disposed of properly. At this time, more than ever, the GW community should turn its attention to the blue e-waste collection towers located throughout the campus. The university has contracted eAsset Solutions, a recycling center located in Falls Church to pick-up and recycle any technological parts placed in these collection towers, which are pictured below:

E-waste collection tower located in Gelman Library on the second basement level

There are eight collection towers located across the three main GW campuses:

  • Marvin Center (Ground Floor next to elevator)
  • Science and Engineering Hall (1st Floor West)
  • Gelman Library (Basement Level 2).
  • Shenkman Hall (1st Floor Elevators)
  • Thurston Hall (Mail Boxes)
  • West Hall  @ Mount Vernon Campus (Lower Level 1)
  • District House (Level B-1 on H Street side near restrooms)
  • Enterprise Hall @ VSTC (Loading Dock)

Electronic recycling is only a short-term solution, as technological companies rapidly increasing the rate of obsolescence has accelerated the rate of resource depletion to something completely unsustainable and detrimental to our environment. Until companies like Apple and Amazon feel pressure from their consumers to create more long-lasting products, e-waste will continue to pollute nature at an alarming rate. Today, all we can do is dispose of electronics in a smart and safe way in the wake of 5G technology.

...continue reading "The Dark Side of 5G Technology"

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