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Planning for Climate Change Impacts at GW

Kehan Desousa

Why is it important for GW to plan for resilience to climate change? Resilience refers to the capacity of a community, business, or natural environment to prevent, withstand, respond to, and recover from a disruption, like the impacts of climate change. We know that GW and the DMV region are already experiencing these impacts, which means we need to make sure we're resilient to them.

The District and GW have been experiencing impacts related to climate change for a number of years now, like the 2012 Derecho that flooded the Mount Vernon Campus. In fact, GW's 2017 Climathon focused on "hacking" resilience in the District. Looking forward, the District is going to face increased precipitation, extreme heat, sea level rise, extreme weather, and storm surge, all of which will impact GW students, faculty, and staff.

The number of days above 95 degrees is projected to increase, with frequent warm nights; this means that core body temperatures won't get a chance to reset at night, harming human health. Heavy flash rain events are also projected to rise, causing flooding and run-off pollution from the region's hardscape surfaces. Severe storms (hurricanes and derechos) will be increasingly energized by warmer air and water, threatening flooding and power outages. The District's rivers - which are tidal - contribute to sea level rise and storm surge; tides on the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers have risen 11 inches in the past century already.

While the District government is planning for citywide resilience through Climate Ready DC and the 100 Resilient Cities Resilience Planning, GW is also taking steps to plan for resilience as an institution. In addition to considering the way climate change will impact the District, GW will also consider the global impacts of climate change, which may alter the availability of food, fuel, and other commodities.

GW's resilience planning efforts were originally inspired by a commitment made to Second Nature, a non-profit that convenes colleges and universities around climate change, but have taken on new urgency given the undeniable impacts of climate change. To begin the process, Sustainable GW has hosted two workshops with the sustainability faculty and university staff. These workshops were intended to begin the conversation around resilience as well as to begin honing discussion: what aspects of GW and our urban resilience do we need to focus on?

These ideas will be further distilled and discussed over the next several months, culminating in the development of several concrete, actionable targets that will be incorporated in GW's overall sustainability goals. That way, Sustainable GW can continue to track and advocate for progress towards the broader goal of increasing GW's resilience to climate change impacts.

Sustainable GW plans to continue to convene faculty, students and staff around this topic for the next several months, aiming to release the final Resilience Strategy to the public in early 2020. If you're interested in learning more or participating in GW's resilience planning, please contact kdesousa@gwu.edu.

Welcome back G-Dub Green Hub.

Happy 2019! Here’s to a new year full of tons of opportunities and lots to look forward to at Sustainable GW. This post serves as a reminder that there are so many ways to get involved and we want YOU to contribute as much as you would like.

This space is here for you, and we are more than happy to help you generate published content that you can brag about while applying for jobs/internships/grad school/etc. Interested in making a post? Email us at sustaingw@gwu.edu and we can make it happen! If not, check back soon for more from us coming very soon

Sustainability at GW: Year in Review

So many exciting things have happened at the university in 2018, it’s hard to keep track. Here’s a round-up of sustainability related campus happenings at GW since the beginning of the year.

January:

  • Chef Jose Andres shared his story of making thousands of meals for victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, hosted by GW and Food Policy Action
  • Sustainable GW and Campaign GW announced the official launch of the composting pilot
  • The GroW Garden set up the next semester’s worth of community supported agriculture (CSA), where students can get weekly shares of local produce using GWorld
  • GW cosponsored a talk on “Creating the Paris Path on Climate Change”
  • Bernie Sanders and Bill McKibben came to the university to talk about the future of renewable energy

February:

  • The first collection for the composting pilot occurred in the Mid-Campus Quad, with 80 pounds collected
  • Another group of sustainably-minded students applied to live in the Zero Waste housing affinity
  • Green GW’s annual Valentine’s Day succulent sale took place
  • The 2018 Food Tank Summit occurred with the GW Food Institute
  • Planet Forward hosted a salon with global parties
  • The GroW Garden had their first volunteer hours of the year
  • The $2 million Sustainable Investment Fund was announced

March:

  • The GW Environmental & Energy Law Association and the Environmental Law Institute hosted a symposium
  • Nutritionist Debbie Amster came to speak on how to eat a healthy diet in college
  • Campaign GW hosted Earth Hour for the entire university

April:

  • Sustainable GW and The Store hosted a clothing swap to combat the consequences of fast fashion
  • The Planet Forward Annual Summit began, and the Storyfest winner was announced
  • Sustainable GW took part in the Financing Sustainable Cities Initiative
  • The Foggy Bottom Farmers Market reopened for the Spring Season
  • Green GW’s annual Trashion show occurred at the Georgetown Patagonia store
  • The Conscious College Road Tour made its stop at GW
  • GW Dining held an event called “Smoothies for Sustainability”
  • GW Campus Rec and Sustainable GW led an outdoor yoga session
  • An official “campus cleanup” occurred in honor of Earth Day
  • Four environmental film screenings took place
  • The university congregated in Kogan Plaza for the annual Earth Day Fair

May:

  • International Compost Awareness Week occurred, with GW’s compost pilot now averaging over 200 pounds collected per week
  • GW celebrated #BikeToWorkDay
  • GW was recognized as the largest green power user in the Atlantic 10 by the EPA Green Power Partnership
  • The Class of 2018 graduated, some of which had a minor in sustainability
  • The GW Commencement speaker, Marcia McNutt, was an oceanographer and president of the National Academy of Sciences
  • The Green Move-Out program collected and donated over 50,000 pounds of clothes, food and household goods

June:

  • Sustainable GW met the Class of 2022 at Colonial Inauguration
  • The first faculty planting of the summer took place at 2101 F Street, moving the university one step closer to meeting the GW Sustainable Landscape Guidelines
  • Several offices and departments re-certified their status as an official green office in the Green Office Network
  • G Street Park was surveyed and will be used for an upcoming sustainability project

July:

  • Sustainable GW’s first clothing repair workshop took place in collaboration with the Innovation Center
  • GW cheered on the This Is Zero Hour youth climate march on capitol hill

August:

  • Earth Overshoot Day occurred, and GW advocated for the #MoveTheDate initiative
  • GW announced the new dining vendor on the Mount Vernon Campus, SAGE, who focus on local food and other sustainability initiatives
  • Freshman moved in to their housing assignments, which were fitted with brand new recycling and trash signage
  • Sustainability at GW held their Welcome Week Open House to introduce first year students to the green community
  • The composting program expanded collection hours
  • The sustainability blog, G-Dub Green Hub, was officially launched

September:

  • The GroW Garden and Miriam’s Kitchen were featured in the Washington Post and on WTOP Radio
  • Freshman Day of Service took place and GW freshman engaged in the local community on a variety of projects, many of which are directly related to sustainability in DC
  • Many of the sustainability related student organizations hosted a joint info session for first year students, including Green GW, Fossil Free GW, the GroW Garden and GW Animal Advocates
  • GW’s Environmental & Energy Law Program hosted a presentation on sustainability and ecological management
  • A Carbon Pricing Toolkit that GW aided with was released
  • The GW Student Association and The Store hosted a Food Insecurity Town Hall
  • The GW Textile Museum hosted an event centering around the link between fashion and sustainability

October:

  • GW Campus Rec returned with another outdoor yoga session, reminding community members that wellbeing is an important part of sustainability
  • The first ever Green Roundtable occurred, bringing together sustainable student leaders from across the university
  • Student eco-representatives hosted a variety of events, including DIY workshops and a mend-a-thon
  • Sustainable GW announced the 2018 Duke Energy Innovation Fund winners
  • Green GW hosted GW alumni Patrick Realiza to talk about entering the sustainability field after graduation

November:

  • The Sustainable GW Leadership Team held a morning of ‘Coffee and Conversation’ with members of the university community
  • The DC Climathon at GW took place, which was a 24-hour hack-a-thon with the goal of hacking good food access
  • Sustainable GW hosted a Lead On Climate staff retreat
  • Director of Sustainability Research, Robert Orttung, spoke on 900 CHML radio about climate change in the United States

December:

  • The GW Sustainable Scholars Award continued to accept undergraduate research proposals, and will be giving out grants to students and staff
  • The compost program finished its final collections of the year, collecting over 2 tons of compost since the launch in January
  • Sustainable GW is hosting a holiday party and sustainability tour of the university to celebrate a successful year

Thanksgiving is coming up; how do I make sure that mine is green?

Lucy Hummer

I sit here writing this post on my last day in the office before the short holiday break. Thanksgiving is just two days away, and so is all of the food and family that comes along with it. Whether or not you stand behind the cultural message and tradition of the holiday, you likely still sit and break bread with relatives back in your hometown. Just like Halloween, this serves as an opportunity to spread sustainable practice to those around you!

Last year I made a vegan casserole for my family and literally no one ate it. While this was a bummer, I found it kind of funny and I ultimately used it to learn a bit of a lesson. First, the idea that Thanksgiving is so rooted in tradition makes it harder to break the ties regarding the types of food that you should eat that day. A whole roasted bird, I am sorry to tell you, is not necessarily the most sustainable choice you can make. The thought of having this day without a turkey, however, can sound completely ridiculous. A lot of the “fun” surrounds getting up early, checking on the oven every hour and somehow being surprised by how long a twenty-pound animal takes to cook. Second, I think that if I didn’t tell my family that it was vegan, they would have tried it. For people that have no experience with or exposure to animal product-free dishes, there is certainly a stigma regarding the flavor/texture/appearance of the food. What I made was really good, if I do say so myself. Their loss!

I am simply speaking from my own experience, and I am sure that there are more open-minded families out there when it comes to trying less traditional Thanksgiving choices. It does not have to be a huge ordeal to be more sustainable! There are some dishes such as gravy or biscuits that can be made without dairy and no one would even be able to tell. But, is vegan synonymous with sustainable? Not necessarily. It IS possible to have meat and dairy products at your table without feeling guilty. If you go for farmers who responsibly raise their animals, you can (usually expensively) find a turkey with a minimal impact on the Earth. It’s super easy to make so many yummy foods that you don’t even miss a turkey, though! And everybody agrees that turkey really isn’t that great anyway, right?

Plus, there are other indicators of sustainability beyond the list of ingredients. Choosing items that are locally grown makes a huge difference. Much of the impact that food has on our environment comes from the shipping and trucking that comes with buying from around the globe. If you buy a good that comes from right outside your city, this massively reduces its footprint. It also always feels really great to know that you are supporting local farmers.

This goes hand in hand with the concept of buying in-season as well. The US grocery marketplace has created the expectation that we should be able to purchase all types of food all throughout the year. If you think about it for just a second, though, does this really make any sense? Strawberries can only be grown for a few months a year, so how come you can buy them all year long? Advanced refrigeration, storing and preserving techniques make the supermarket look fully stocked and colorful at all times. For the best taste and minimum waste of time, energy and food, choose fruits and veggies that are actually harvested in November. (If you’re wondering, this is produce like apples, squash, root vegetables, etc).

Ultimately, the idea of reducing animal products and choosing ingredients that are local and in-season may seem pretty common sense. That being said, why don’t more people actually do it? A lot of families have done their Thanksgiving day in the same way for years. Changing this may seem unappealing, but think of the impact Americans could make via this one minor cultural tradition. According to Google, almost fifty million turkeys are eaten on this day alone each year. If eliminating the bird seems like too far of a stretch, small changes are positive, too! Think of one or two dishes that you could alter just slightly to make them more sustainable. That sounds like a win to me.

Cool People Doing Cool Things: DC Climathon 2018

Lucy Hummer

GW hosted the DC Climathon over this last weekend. I had the opportunity to watch and admire the teams as they developed their ideas throughout the 24-hour event. From 3pm on November 9th to 3pm on November 10th, dozens of community members from throughout the DMV came together to make change regarding issues both within the city and across the globe.

So, what is Climathon? Climathon is a variation on the hack-a-thon. This type of event brings people together from various different fields, areas of study and general interests to “hack” a climate issue. Ideas are brainstormed, teams are formed, and business plans are developed very quickly during a fast-paced, overnight model. Each year, the Climathon has a different theme. This year, the content was centered around food access. Therefore, all of the finalists came up with unique ideas for innovating solutions and supplements geared towards dealing with food insecurity in our urban setting.

This year, there were six finalists in the competition. All of these teams, in my opinion, quality as really cool people doing really cool things. It is clear that when bringing together a large group of people in an inspiring environment like this, positive things will come. The two winning teams, District Connect and Last Call (both pictured below), radiate positive energy and a fresh perspective on issues in DC, including food.

The best part is that Climathon connects GW to the broader DC area. Many of the individuals who participated did not have an affiliation with the university. The school largely operated as a medium in which the community could engage with one another more simply.

It is clear to me that everyone who participated in the event is going to make an impact on our city, especially District Connect and Last Call. I know that anyone who is willing to spend the night working in MSPH must be ready and excited to make change!

While the participants in the Climathon have of course manifested many interesting ideas for “hacking” food access, there are many, many more people in DC who are working on this as well. Organizations throughout the DMV and beyond are working every day to solve issues such as the food deserts and inequitable access to cheap and healthy food throughout the 8 Wards of the city. DC Climaton 2018 was a way to see these initiatives, recognize their successes and view how the community can help as well.

Pictured above: The teams of District Connect (left) and Last Call (right) pose with coordinators of the event after learning that they have won.

Interested in hearing the final pitches that earned them the prize? You'll be able to watch them on our Facebook Page coming soon!

The Chesapeake Bay Crisis: Why Should I Care?

Lucy Hummer

“Save the Bay” is a phrase that has become incredibly sensationalized over the last decade or so. But why? What does it really mean? DC is located within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and most of you probably already knew that. However, the definition, scale and ultimate repercussions of this fact are likely unclear. This is a sad truth, but it does not need to be this way forever. We should all care about the bay, and we should all do our part to ~save~ it.

According to our trusty friend dictionary dot com, a watershed is essentially a drainage basin, one which collects precipitation to ultimately flow into a surface water outlet such as a river or bay. Decoded, this just means all of the land where gravity pulls water towards one body as opposed to another. The Chesapeake watershed, then, includes six states and the District, all water ultimately flowing into our great Bay. The ecosystems found within this geographical region are diverse, rich, and beautiful. They are also unfortunately at great risk. Humans have continued to exhaust the resources of the watershed and abuse the Bay to the point of nearly killing it.

The use of the word ‘killing’ is extreme and often used as an alarmist tactic, but in this case it is entirely true. Toxins in water lead to a process called eutrophication, which means the amount of dissolved oxygen decreases over time. Fish, aquatic plants and other creatures then have less air to breathe, and in some cases sections of waterbodies can be literally classified as “dead”.

This matters to you and me for a variety of reasons. Beyond the general, ‘we should all care about our Earth, nature is beautiful, blah blah blah, etc etc etc’, the Bay holds many utilitarian purposes. As the diverse regions of land use around the watershed continue to degrade due to human influence, this leads to many unplanned consequences on the local economy and beyond. Those who live directly on the Chesapeake itself are affected by actions of those hundreds of miles away. I am from central Pennsylvania, nowhere even close to the Bay’s coastline. However, if I decided that I wanted to apply pesticides to my mom’s front lawn back home, within no time those chemicals would end up in the Bay, along with all of my neighbors’, too.

Every decision we make every single day has an ecological consequence, whether it be positive or negative. As we all know, the Earth operates under a series of cycles. I understand that it is not easy to visualize our ultimate impacts on the Earth. How could me choosing not to lay commercial pesticides at my mom’s house and then slapping a Save The Bay bumper sticker on my Kia Soul do anything at all? I see it the same way as I see voting. Everybody gets the whole concept of ‘make sure you go out and vote in elections, even though it seems like your voice doesn’t really have an impact’. I don’t see how this concept is ANY different. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed is a massive resource, one which is taken advantage of and degraded every single day. Especially as college students who live within the watershed, it is important to care. It should matter to you, and it does impact you. Not to be super dramatic, but the Bay is dying and she is beautiful and we must help her.

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Halloween is coming up; how do I make sure that mine is green?

Lucy Hummer

At large, Halloween is a very wasteful holiday. Fun, of course, but wasteful. Especially in college, this time of the year tends to be full of several costumes, hundreds of pieces of individually wrapped candies and an abundance of ~aluminum drink cans~. If you’re sustainably minded, events like this can be vaguely troubling. How can I enjoy celebrating this holiday which I love so much without having a massive jump in my product consumption? It does not always seem easy.

To SOME extent, I believe that it is necessary for us to forgive ourselves for creating waste. It’s unfair that we must limit ourselves from enjoying things that we like just because they maybe are not zero-waste or perfectly sustainable. To SOME extent.

Having the mindset of, “other people are out there treating the earth worse than me, if I don’t buy this item with excessive packaging someone will anyway, etc” does not mean that we are allowed to just absolve our guilt and move on. The context of Halloween is a great time to exemplify how we can enjoy October without being crazy un-sustainable.

In the spirit of “Halloweekend”, a lot of folks need several costumes to make it through the spooky season. (I know that I sound like an old person that is just talking about what I think college is like, just ignore it). It is both economically and environmentally sensible to try and make costumes out of items that you already own. This tends to be a minimum-effort, minimum-payoff type of costume, which isn’t always a bad thing. If you have to do a little bit of DIY or crafting, that also works! It takes a little bit more effort than ordering an outfit off of Amazon, but that’s more fun anyways, right?

Generally, if you decide you do have to purchase elements of your costumes, it is best not to buy new. There are many second-hand, vintage and thrift stores in and around DC which are full of hundreds of pieces. Suddenly, the trope that everything at a thrift store is old and dated is a good thing! You can make a head to toe 90s look with no effort and little money by spending just a few seconds in the clothing section. Plus, lots of these stores even have a specific Halloween section with second-hand costumes. I’ve been to at least three vintage stores in the DMV that had dozens of costumes for under $10. An event BETTER option would be trading your own old costumes with friends, because this is obviously free.

When it comes to candy, it is much trickier to reduce waste. That bulk bag of 500 candies from CVS looks tempting to me every time I see it. But if you’re just buying for yourself and your roommates, buying chocolate that doesn’t all come in individual wrappers is a better choice. If you need to go for small candies, choose ones that have recyclable packaging! There aren’t many, but Hershey’s kisses are one example.

If you decided to get a pumpkin for your dorm, get it from a local grower. This is a much better option than grabbing one from the grocery store, especially if you make a day of it and go out of DC to a pumpkin patch or orchard. If you go for a larger sized one, you can eat the pumpkin seeds and compost the rest.

At the end of the day, celebrating Halloween in college is very different than celebrating it in the suburbia that many of us come from. It is not hard to be more sustainable during holidays like this, it just takes a little bit of thought and some inspiration! And of course please recycle your ~aluminum drink cans~. Happy Halloween!

Green Org Spotlight: Green GW

Lucy Hummer

GreenGW is a community-minded organization that focuses on sustainable education and lifestyles. Each month, GreenGW has a different theme, each of which comes from the broad spectrum of interests in which being ‘green’ applies. This could mean anything from conservation to water to environmental justice. GreenGW does this for a variety of reasons. The primary goal is to make sure that they have something through the year that is of interest for everyone. Green meets almost every single week, so there is definitely opportunity to address an extremely broad scope of topics. Ultimately, throughout the academic year, GreenGW is able to provide a catalyst/resources/education/enthusiasm about being environmentally conscious on a variety of scales.

I personally find it very inspiring how many green organizations there are on campus. They all reach a different audience and have a different mission statement, but ultimately all have the same overarching desire to make GW students (and GW at large) a part of a more sustainable institution.

Green operates with two slogans. The first of which is “think global, act local”. This is fairly intuitive, and essentially means how can we as individuals have an impact on the world at large. Green straddles the divide between institutional change and lifestyle change and acknowledges that both are super important! Our second, and favored, slogan is “sustainability is sexy”. This one is obviously more light-hearted and casual, and we really feel like it encompasses the heart of the organization. At the end of the day, Green members just love to hang out with one another and talk about things that we are passionate about and inspire one another.

This semester (Fall 2018), we meet on Monday nights, usually at 7pm. However, Green often has special events and cosponsored programming that happens at different times! Upcoming in October, for example, we are working with other GW orgs, DC Fair Food and even someone from the UN Association on different cool things (check our Facebook page or sign up for our weekly email newsletter if you want to come join). Looking ahead, we have other exciting annual events in the works as well. A succulent sale around Valentine’s Day, Conscious College Road Tour, field trips and our Trashion Show are just a few. Next week is Fall Break, and Indigenous Peoples’ Day falls on our usual meeting day. That means our next meeting is October 15th! We’ll be having a general body meeting in District House 205 at 7, and we’ll be talking about climate change communication, etc. Come out if that’s up your alley!

Picture This! #1

Lucy Hummer

I thought it was only right to feature the above photo as the first image in this 'picture this' series. It is representative of a significant progression on campus, specifically towards sustainable landscaping here at GW. Landscaping, particularly at a university, is something which tends to have a flair for the traditional. Brightly colored plants, rich density and variety, and little flowers lining the edges of the quad. However, this is almost never the best choice when it comes to sustainability. While some flowers may be beautiful and nice to look at, they may come paired with a few problems. If they are not native to the region (meaning that they would not naturally grow here), the bees and other insects would likely be unable to pollinate them! They also may need to be replanted every season, which is wasteful. Additionally, they may not absorb a lot of rainwater during a storm, which is critical in a place like DC where there is a limited amount of permeable ground and a risk of flooding.

The great thing, though, is that GW has developed Sustainable Landscape Guidelines. They are, then, working towards making the campus not only beautiful but also more environmentally conscious. These signs around campus are indicative of progress, showing that the grounds team is working on meeting the guidelines. Keep your eye out for new landscapes all around GW. These signs mean sustainability is being integrated into our city campus. Interested in reading the Guidelines? You can find them here.

 

Sustainable Universities in the Modern World

Lucy Hummer

In mid-2017, President Trump announced that the United States was no longer going to be participating in the Paris Agreement, which was an accord focusing on climate change mitigation. This agreement, signed by 194 states and the European Union, is the first step taken by an international body to officially work towards combatting the changing climate and its effects on both individuals and the world at large. This goal is most commonly placed within the context of rising temperatures, with the established objective that the global temperature should not increase more than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.

As the United States is of course one of the top tier contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, it is extremely heartbreaking that the President has chosen not to comply with this critically important agreement. There is so much at stake, it is hard to image that somebody, or a group of people, could comfortably make a decision such as this at such a critical point in environmental history. Regardless, we must more forward and adapt to the situation which we are presented. How can we do the best we can to adapt to and mitigate the effects of our changing climate, even when our own government is working against us?

A movement called We Are Still In (WASI) has begun among individual businesses, universities, cities and even states, with the intention that these groups can continue to comply with the Paris Agreement, regardless of Trump’s decision. There is an Opportunity Agenda which lists 10 high-impact ways which these groups can work to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, making it as easy as possible for these individual groups to work towards mitigating their effects on our environment. GW is a signatory to WASI, and is actively working towards achieving many of these 10 opportunities.

The number 1 opportunity listed is “doubling down on renewable energy”. As GW is 50% solar powered, I can brag and say that we are a shining example of a university which is taking great leaps towards our renewable future, at least within the context of our own energy use. We, of course, are not perfect, but are continuing to focus on opportunity number 1. (If you want to know more about the Capital Partners Solar Project, it’s super cool and there’s lot of information on the website). There are also goals targeted at terrestrial carbon sequestration (the fancy way of saying plant plants) and retrofitting buildings (the fancy way of saying improve energy efficiency). Again, GW is working hard towards both of these as well.

When we think about environmentalism, we tend to be either incredibly zoomed in or incredibly zoomed out. By this I mean we either think about ourselves as an individual or ourselves as a member of the world as a whole. Everything in between tends to be neglected, and we forget about all of the groups, cultures and societies that exist in between 1 person and 7 billion. A university is a perfect example of one of those groups that exists in this middle ground. Institutions such as GW have an amazing opportunity to make a huge impact on the world for the in between, in terms of advocacy, research, investments and anything else. Universities like GW will allow for movements such as WASI for the Paris Accord to push forwards, regardless of the state of the federal government.

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