I was unable to complete any of the suggested hands on practicum options for a number of reasons. First, I am the manager of the Fordham softball team and spend up to 20 hours a week working with them. I also have an on-campus job that normally takes up my time on the weekends and many weeknights. Finally, I am a member of the Fordham University Band and Orchestra, which holds their rehearsal every Monday and Thursday night from 5:30-6:45. All of the meetings for the various environmental clubs and groups on campus intersect with this time and while I normally would have just dropped my commitment to the band for this semester to complete a practicum, there is a scholarship component to it that I cannot afford to loose.
I’ll begin my practicum with a quick description of Fordham and New York City’s environmental plans. The Environmental Studies program at Fordham Rose Hill is relatively new. However, the university has formal partnerships with the New York Botanical Gardens, the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo, the Bronx River Alliance, and the Environmental Consortium of Colleges and Universities. Therefore, Fordham environmental students have the unique opportunity to be a school in an urban environment but can conduct research and work with all different types of environments during their time at the university. Fordham has pledged to work towards sustainability in everything from buildings to energy and transportation to waste, recycling and minimization. Furthermore, Fordham reflects New York City in the that they both are facing aging infrastructure and a growing population and they must deal with their environmental impact and find a way to work towards a more sustainable environment while at the same time catering to the increasing population and old infrastructure. The University is working with the City of New York and its plan to reduce their carbon footprint 30% by 2017. This is the part of the sustainability plan that my practicum focuses on. I was unable to conduct field research or join any of the campus environmental clubs because of prior commitments but I was able to evaluate myself and my impact on the environment and take steps throughout the semester to make a change and reduce my footprint.
In my self-evaluation, it was reviled that it would take 7.1 planet Earths if everyone lived in the same way that I do. As I stated in my second blog, some of the factors that add to my ecological footprint are beyond my control. I am forced to travel a great deal for softball, both by car and by airplane, and it is this component of my footprint that I am going to have to wait for technological advancements that provide a cleaner way for efficient travel. However, until that day comes I have placed an emphasis and focus on the rest of the components that make up my ecological footprint and have tried to reduce it.
The Fordham University sustainability plan gives 10 simple steps to reducing your carbon footprint and I have used these to help guide me through my day-to-day activities and make sure that I am keeping the environment in mind with everything I do. The 10 simple steps are: switch it off, climate control, wasteful windows, minimize plug load, phantom power, Power down your computer, take the stairs, do only full loads of laundry, shorter showers and switch to efficient LED. I also used the “what if scenarios” provided by The Footprint Network to guide me to make changes in goods I buy and the food I eat.
After our final class I recalculated my carbon footprint and I’m proud to report that I’ve reduced my impact from needing 7.1 Earths to only needing 3.9. I am slightly disheartened that I couldn’t get the number down to only 1 Earth but I also realize that I live in a dependent situation still. I don’t live on my own or in my own house, which would allow me to make modifications and switch over to the green and sustainable technologies. I rely on Fordham and the sustainability plan that they have implemented here at the university and on my mom and grandmother when I am at home. Though I am reliant upon Fordham for shelter and other infrastructural things, I think this shift from home to school has also helped me a great deal in reducing my footprint. Because my first calculation came at the very beginning of the semester I put in information that was true while I was home for the summer vacation, but 3 months later a lot has changed. At home I have less of a choice of what I eat, but since I saw that food made up 14% of my footprint I took on the “what if” scenario proposed by The Footprint Network and cut down my intake of beef from once or twice a week to once every few weeks. I’ve also reduced the amount of poultry I eat to about once every other week. I still use dairy product pretty regularly but the reduction of meat products was enough to reduce my the percent from 14 to 10 percent of my footprint. I don’t do a great job of eating unprocessed foods but I do try to be aware of it if I have the option. I do know that because of Fordham sustainability plan they do buy local food, which is helpful to the reduction of my footprint. In total, I was able to reduce my impact from 21.8 global acres to 17.5 and from emitting 23 tons of Carbon dioxide to 18 tons. These are pretty big reductions in just a 3-month span and only making minor changes, none of which cost any money.
The biggest changes I made in term of reducing my footprint came as a result of following the aforementioned 10 simple steps provided by Fordham’s sustainability plan. Living in an apartment with 6 girls, not everyone is as concerned with as I am. But once I started my practicum I was able to get my roommates involved, which helped tremendously. Before I started this project my roommates and I would leave all the lights on all the time. We would also leave on the television even if there wasn’t anyone in the room watching it. We also started off the year without recycling. All of this changed pretty quickly once I began my practicum. Now, lights are off all day until they’re needed at night and even then we put as few lights on as possible and try to use only our personal lamps, which use more energy efficient bulbs. If we’re all in the same room watching shows on our individual laptops we try to shut them down and decide on one thing to watch on the television together to try and save energy that way. We even try to make dinner together at least once or twice a week so that we don’t use the stove for six separate smaller meals and waste energy. The biggest and most effective change that I’ve implemented in the room is recycling. In an apartment with 6 people, the EPA carbon footprint calculator estimates that we emit 4,932 pounds of carbon dioxide per year before recycling, which is what we were doing at the beginning of the semester. Since implementing a recycling system in our room, which has included everything on the EPA’s list, we have reduced our estimated carbon emissions to 2,895 pounds per year. That is a reduction of 2,037 pounds of carbon dioxide per year just by simply recycling.
I am a pretty big proponent of shallow ecology and I think the results of my practicum prove the point that practical measures can be taken at this very moment that will make a difference. I think the largest obstacle for applying practical policies and methods is the idea of cost, whether real or imagined. At home, I know we would like to use solar panels as our source of energy, but it costs a lot of money that my family doesn’t have to do something like that. At the same time, I bring my laundry home rather than doing it at Fordham because we have an energy efficient washer and dryer. The negative implications of costs, or perceived costs, of becoming environmentally friendly is evident in Fordham’s C+ grade calculated by greenreportcard.com. Endowment transparency and shareholder engagement both received F’s on the report card, while investment priorities only received a C (this is probably linked to the fact that Fordham does hold stock in fossil fuels, which student led environmental clubs are currently trying to urge the school to divest from). Fordham also only received a C for student involvement. I believe there are a lot of improvements that the school can make that wouldn’t cost very much money at all. I would start these changes with making sure that next to every garbage can there are also recycling bins, not just outside the major buildings. Students are lazy, myself included, and if there isn’t a recycling option near or in site materials that could have been and should have been recycled will get thrown away as regular trash. I saw what recycling did to reduce my footprint and I can only imagine what a few more recycling cans around campus would do to reduce the footprint of Fordham as a community. We have a unique opportunity here on a college campus. I think low grade Fordham received in regards to its endowment and shareholder participation comes from the fact that those alumni who are major stakeholders in those financial affairs come from a different generation that doesn’t understand or recognize or take issue with climate change and environmental degradation the way that my generation does. Therefore, I think that Fordham needs to do a better job with getting the students involved. Not every student needs to be an environmental studies major or minor to care about and be able to reduce their impact on the environment. Running programs in the dorms that work with the Bronx River Alliance would be a great way to get the Fordham community working with the surrounding Bronx community, a goal that the university is extremely vocal about. There are small upgrades that can be made to each dorm to make them more environmentally friendly because, although Fordham received an A in green building and an A in climate change and energy I currently live in Walsh hall, which is a 13-story apartment style dormitory and it is in desperate need of some updates. The reason that I give all of this information and background of Fordham is to put my practicum and personal carbon footprint in to context. As good as I did in reducing my footprint, I am not in complete control of my surrounding environment. If Fordham were to take small steps to update its infrastructure and sustainability policies, and if they were to encourage the student body to make the small changes that my roommates and I made, we as a community could take huge strides in reducing our carbon footprint. That is the ultimate lesson that I learned from my practicum; it doesn’t take hundreds or millions of dollars or some huge lifestyle change, it just takes a little bit of effort and accountability to make sure you’re doing all of the small things to make a big impact.
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