Sustainability in the Land Down Under: Welcome (virtually) to Canberra!

The ANU Green Office

The ANU Green Office

After 3 days of travel, including two car rides, two flights, and a three hour bus trip – I’ve made it to Canberra, Australia for a six week Sustainability Fellowship sponsored by the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU). At the heart of my exploration while I’m here at Australia National University (ANU) is one seriously pressing institutional sustainability issue: what is so different about us? This line of inquiry is prompted by the reality that too often in international discussions of institutional sustainability, variety in calculation methods, organizational structures, geographic or climate differences and a number of other challenges leave us wringing our hands and delaying action because we can’t seem to nail down how we might make the next sustainability driven leap on our campus. In an effort to dispel some of this inertia, while I’m here in Australia I’ll be working to highlight some of the similarities between ANU and Yale in hopes that by highlighting similarities these international comparison conversations can have some more productive ground to grow on. Although this writing will focus on similarities, to be complete I’ll also highlight issues that may make translation of solutions between settings more difficult. So read on over the next few weeks to learn more about what I find!

To set the stage, it seems only polite to introduce you to my temporary home – the City of Canberra and ANU. Canberra is located three hours south of Sydney, seven hours Northeast of Melbourne and a two hour drive from the coast. It is truly an island of a city in a vast expanse of native woodland and grassland. The area was selected as the Australian capital in 1908 and American Walter Burley Griffin was commissioned to plan the city. Comprised of many distinct neighborhoods, each with unique character and composition, Canberra has the feeling of a much smaller city. Today, the lake that bears Burley Griffin’s name is the centrepiece of an active and outdoorsy capital city which is home to 340,000 Australians.

With 32 tons of greenhouse gasses emitted annually per Australian – one of the highest per capita rates in the world – transportation is a key consideration here in Canberra. As a frequent user of the Farmington Canal Rail Trail in New Haven, I have been overjoyed to see how thickly integrated into transit bicycling is here. The city is full of bicycle trails and bicycle lanes (see a map here). It is a popular commuting choice in this city whose annual precipitation of 24.7 inches and whose average temperature ranges from 40 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (this compared to New Haven’s 52.62 inches of precipitation annually and temperatures from -2 to 98 degrees Fahrenheit) lends itself easily to a bicycling lifestyle. I’ve personally been loving the climate here which feels just like Halloween to me – cool and crisp.

As the national capital, Canberra is a cultural center too – home to the National Museum of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Library and Archives, and of course, ANU. Established by an act of Federal Parliament in 1946, the ANU is the preeminent research university in Australia. The campus is comprised of over 200 buildings and covers 145 hectares in downtown Canberra – a region known as Civic. The campus itself is very green with over 10,000 trees including many endangered species. The university houses seven academic colleges which serve all 14,365 students, however only a small proportion of these students actually live on campus. The student population is quite diverse, with 3,379 international students from 106 countries in attendance.

While here I’ll be working at the ANU Green Office which is the operational counterpart to Yale’s Office of Sustainability. The ANU Green office has been in place for 10 years and thus has almost twice the history of Yale’s Office of Sustainability. The office has a staff of 14 enthusiastic people who have introduced me to the campus and Canberra very graciously. The only issue I’ve taken with them is that so far – their kangaroo spotting advice has left a lot to be desired – but don’t worry, I’m not giving up!

View of Canberra from Mt. Ainslie

View of Canberra from Mt. Ainslie

Also of Note:

Days in Australia without a kangaroo sighting: 11 😦

Terrapass has helped me to offset the 19,474 miles of air travel for my adventure for the low bargain price of $53.52


The Greenest Event of them all, Part 4: Choosing the Right Venue

Looking to green your event? It all comes down to location, location, location. LEED buildings are designed to give occupants assurance that certain energy-saving features are installed, such as user-interface devices that call attention to simple things like turning off unnecessary lighting. However, LEED-certified venues are fare and few between, especially those designed for sporting events. Here are a few tips for conserving energy in the rest of those places.

Managing electricity – set electronic timers, if any. If there are no timers, staff and athletes can be instructed to turn off all lights when not in use and when away at night. This is easier said than done, but especially applicable for summer events, since natural lighting will be more prominent. One way is to place stickers under the light switches in bathrooms and offices reminding guests to hit the switch on their way out. If purchasing or installing appliances for the event, choose those appliances with energy-star (lo-energy) rating and compact fluorescent lighting.

Remember this is an ATHLETIC event, and it is possible to advise guests and athletes to use the stairs when possible, and avoid the elevator or escalator. Walking a flight of stairs is an easy way for athletes to begin to warm up, and getting the blood flowing is a great way to relieve cramping and stiffness in attendees who are sitting during the event.

Heating and Cooling – air conditioning is a key factor for indoor events in the summer and winter, such as swimming, basketball, lacrosse, soccer, wrestling and volleyball. When possible, use fans, which consume far less energy than air-conditioning units. Secondly, ensure your air-conditioning unit has been properly commissioned, which is one of the biggest (and cheapest to fix) sources of wasted energy.

For winter events, check that the venue is adequately weather-proofed. Extra insulation can be easily added by adding weather stripping or caulking to cover gaps in doorways, windows and other openings, which will reduce drafts and thus the heating load.

Lastly, don’t forget to monitor your energy use! This is a critical measure of success for your green-event program. In order to prove to those who are funding the event (not to mention guests and athletes) that you have made a difference, an easy way is to break out the energy bill showing kilowatt hours (kWh) of usage. Critically, it is important to get estimates or actual reports of the standard energy consumption in the venue prior to your event, as you can use this number to see how your savings stack up.

From the World Student Environmental Summit, Part 1

I’m currently writing from the second annual World Student Environmental Summit, this year at the University of Victoria in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.  Here, 50 student delegates from over 25 universities and 15 countries have gathered to discuss the most pressing environmental issues and how we, as students, can take action both in our universities and beyond.  This year, we are focussing on energy and waste, university sustainability, and global response to climate change.

Each day is really packed to the brim with activity! To welcome us, we heard from Mark Stoibel, a former advertising exec who now runs Change Advertising, which helps start-ups brand themselves as green. The theme of the first day was climate and energy, so we heard from Dr. Andrew Weaver and Guy Dauncey, about climate science and energy solutions, respectively.  All of the speakers were, thankfully, extremely engaging and gave us plenty of fodder for discussion.  Personally, I felt that it was difficult to trust someone from the advertising world about the fact that his new clients really wanted to make “meaningful” changes to their businesses, especially when the word greenwashing was never even mentioned.  As for Dauncey, it was really exciting to hear a whole list of possible heating, transportation, and food solutions, but I definitely have concerns about his lack of attention to the new set of externalities that diving into technologies like solar and geothermal could create.

The delegates then spent the afternoon in discussion.  We broke up into three rooms based on theme: create, conserve, and collaborate.  What great discussions! As one of my fellow delegates brought to my attention, even if the discussions were not always purely on topic, there was a distinct lack of negativity.  No one spent the whole time bemoaning climate change.  The focus on potential solutions was really refreshing!

-Julia Meisel, 2010

The Greenest Event of them all, Part 3: Setting the Stage – Accounting for Temporary Energy

Vancouver, English Bay at Sunset

Vancouver, English Bay at Sunset

What’s a big difference between hosting the entire Snowboard World Championships and an event such as the Men’s Parallel GS at the Olympics? If you guessed about 20,000 people, you’re right. While the former might draw 2,000 people in total, one Winter Olympic event will accommodate 10 times as many people on average…and Summer Olympic events are 2-3 times larger still. And all these people require expert planning for a huge increase in energy use – heating, electricity and/or air conditioning – which places a considerable financial and environmental load on the existing generating capacity.

But wait, don’t large stadiums fill this many people all the time? A few NFL arenas routinely accommodate over 80,000 spectators, and many sports boast giant ball parks, yet these stadia are built connected to the power grid and normally don’t require hundreds of propane tanks or diesel generators to operate on a daily basis.

But athletic events which occur occasionally (such as Championships), as well as premier events which overfill their venues, require planning for temporary energy.

Financially, the use of generators is a mixed bag. They allow the event manager flexibility to deploy backup power and heating when and where it is needed, but can be logistically challenging and expensive. And some events require backup power. The consequences of a lighting outage in the middle of the Opening Ceremonies would be a gigantic reputational blow – so much so that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has demanded triple or even quadruple redundancy in some venues.

Environmentally-speaking, it pays to minimize the use of generators as much as possible. Diesel generators in particular are less efficient that the large power plants behind the electrical grid. According to the GHG protocol, it takes 375 liters of diesel to contribute one ton of CO2 equivalent to the atmosphere. And an event such as the Torino Olympics in 2006 burns around 8,000,000 liters of fuel.

For 2010, Vancouver has considered several solutions for reducing generator use. The Games’ urban location and cooperation with BC energy giant BC Hydro has made one solution possible, a decision to install dedicated hi-voltage lines to large temporary venues from various substations within the city. While this may be impractical for other events to replicate, Vancouver has also worked with contractors to minimize the use of generators where possible, from reducing the number of backup heating generators (heating takes less time to be noticed by spectators, as opposed to lighting) to eliminating the need for warm-start generators.

Yet possibly the most important step that Vancouver is taking to reduce fuel consumption is actively tracking and reporting the amount of energy used. In the event-planning industry, it is usually tricky to tease out kilowatt usage from financial receipts – and the financial costs themselves are not always disclosed. Therefore, ensuring contractors and vendors provide energy reports along with the billing is critical to accounting for and reducing the environmental footprint of temporary energy.

The Greenest Event of them all, Part 2: Olympic-sized Offsetting

"Sequester Carbon Here"

"Sequester Carbon Here"

Where did the emissions go?  Part of choosing a sustainable legacy for the Games meant choosing a local offset provider that could support BC and Canada in meeting provincial and nation-wide emission reductions.  Choosing a local provider not only means supporting jobs in the Greater Vancouver basin, but also supporting green technology and energy efficiency projects that are developed and implemented close to home.

As part of the traditional role of Olympic Sponsors, the offsets to the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be donated as value-in-kind to VANOC.  Aside from direct investment from the Government and media broadcast revenue, this type of support is the most critical to Olympic events.  Coca-Cola provides the Games with its beverage needs (now including coffee), GM supports with a hybrid fleet of cars and busses, ACER technology is used by the IT department and staff, and so on. 

Part of the difficulty of committing to donate future offsets for the Games comes down to accurately measuring the footprint.  Offsetters has committed to reducing the direct emissions, and will encourage other sponsors to purchase offsets to cover VANOC’s indirect emissions.  Since the largest portion of carbon emissions has yet to occur (traditional GRI principles are designed to measure current emissions when applied to business) it is unclear exactly how many offsets will be needed.  The 2007-2008 Sustainability Report concluded on 110,000 tCO2e direct and 190,000 tCO2e indirect, although VANOC has continuously undertaken energy efficiency improvements and an updated estimate will be provided in the 2009-2010 Sustainability Report to be released this October.  Moreover, accounting for all emissions means anticipating hard-to-measure numbers such as air travel emissions for accredited visitors and staff, and embodied emissions in the construction of existing venues.  Thirdly, as soon as the Games’ are over, media attention will wane and VANOC will close its doors, making it critical to assign responsibility for reductions to a credible 3rd party. 

Offsetters – the chosen supplier – has plans to develop a portfolio of offsets, where offsets come online and will be retired post-2010.  Ensuring the offset portfolio is spread across multiple projects with varying timelines will mitigate some of the risk inherent in long-term projects.  The certification system will either rely on a BC-based system or the International Gold Standard, which the company supports as equally stringent.  Potential projects might include fuel switching (substituting coal/natural gas for biomass waste) energy curtains (installing better insulation in greenhouses), and ground-source heat pumps (substituting natural gas electricity used in heating).

Excerpt from June 9th article in the Vancouver Sun: “Offsetters becomes an official Olympic supplier by providing Vanoc with offset projects that will reduce at least 110,000 tonnes of carbon emissions…[Offsetters president] Tansey said Offsetters has essentially underwritten 110,000 tonnes of offsets for Vanoc and remains “very confident” it can convince Games sponsors and participants to offset the additional 190,000 tonnes.”

The Greenest Event of them all, Part 1: Olympic News From the Trenches

Hello, and welcome blog readers! This summer I am working with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games (VANOC), located in – you guessed – Vancouver, British Columbia, home to the modest slogan “the best place on earth”. I will be reporting weekly on sustainability issues as they relate to the Olympic Games and large event planning in general, covering topics ranging from carbon emissions and accounting to procurement, energy use, food and waste control, and more.

This first section focuses on the carbon emission profile of the 2010 Games and historical attempts to go “Carbon Neutral” in previous Games.

1992 was the year that introduced the abstract concept “sustainability” to the mainstream modern generation, with the Rio Declaration and new legions of devoted fans focusing on a “triple bottom line” of economic, environmental and social maximization. In 1994 the Lillehammer Games ran with this growing movement and became the first “ecological” Games. Looking back however, environmental planning for a town of 25,000 is far from what would be sustainable for most modest-sized cities, not to mention carbon was left off the table.

It wasn’t until 2000 that Sydney, in a brilliant contribution to modern vocabulary, unveiled the “Green Games” strategy, which, among other things, focused on a low-carbon profile. Now that carbon had become a measurable factor, host countries quickly followed to compete. Salt Lake promised a carbon neutral Games in 2002, although a questionable tree-planting initiative left many wondering about the validity of the “offsets”. Four years later, Turin broke ground with Italy’s first comprehensive Strategic Environmental Assessment. Although Turin reported that its carbon mitigation and reduction strategy was a success, no post-Games validation of this claim has appeared. And the simple lack of reporting for Beijing last summer made many question if carbon had become reduced to a token consideration. (Note, however, Beijing dealt with many other pressing environmental concerns.)

These were the challenges Vancouver and London faced when bidding to host the first “Sustainable Games” in 2010 and 2012, a title that encompasses both social and environmental legacies, and recognizes the necessity of independent verification and comprehensive pre and post-event planning. For Vancouver, this means tracking VANOC’s carbon footprint from Day 1 – winning the bid in 2003 – until the Games are finished in March 2010.

How much carbon is there? The David Suzuki Foundation, a Canada-based consultancy, estimated a carbon footprint of 300,000 tonnes CO2e for the Vancouver Games (this compares to 500,000 tonnes CO2e for Salt Lake and 3,500,000 tonnes CO2e for London), which will be partially mitigated by increased efficiency, reductions in energy use, and purchases of carbon offsets.

As with everything new, the move towards a unified carbon standard is slow. While most analysts now use “greenhouse gas scope” measurements – and in fact London will be tracking emissions based on GHG Scope 1, 2, and 3 – Vancouver has classified emissions as Direct and Indirect. These loosely correspond to Scope 1 and 2 for Direct and Scope 3 for Indirect. Additionally, emissions from infrastructure construction in Vancouver – construction which unlike London is managed by a separate corporation – are outside either Direct or Indirect classifications.

The most notable aspect of VANOC’s carbon reduction plan, however, is the commitment to purchase verified, secure carbon offsets that will be transparent and verifiable by third parties and the general public. On June 3rd, VANOC announced a first-ever sponsorship agreement with Offsetters, a BC-based corporation which will provide official carbon offsets to the Olympic Games and Olympic Games Sponsors.

This new relationship brings many questions. Having an offset sponsor for other sponsors is similar to asking McDonald’s be the official Happy Meal® supplier not just to the Games themselves, but to GM, GE and Coca-Cola as well. The coming weeks will see the questions surrounding sponsorship and branding rights ironed out in legal agreements. For now, however, Vancouver 2010 looks set to make new inroads in sustainability.

Eco-Friendly Mother’s Day Gifts

Show your love for your mother and Mother Earth with these eco-friendly Mother’s Day Gifts:


1) Organic Flowers: Send a traditional Mother’s Day bouquet made with organic and eco-certified flowers. Ask your local florist for organic options, or shop online at places like Organic Bouquet.


2) Charitable Donation: Make a donation in your mother’s name to an environmental NGO or a charity such as “Save the Children”.


3) Origins Gift Set: Pamper Mom with Origins lotion, body scrub, or a gift set. Origins products are made with plants, organic ingredients, and 100% natural essential oils. Origins is committed to environmental practices and uses renewable resources, wind energy and recycled materials as much as possible. Before May 5th, enter “FF” at checkout and receive 25% off .


4) Eco-friendly Jewelry: Give your mother eco-friendly jewelry from the online boutique Jaszy’s Jewelry, which uses Fair Trade and recycled resources and donates a portion of its proceeds to environmental organizations.


5) Adopt-an-Animal: For $25, your kids can “adopt” one of 90 animals in honor of Mom. Proceeds support WWF’s conservation activities around the world.


6) Envirosax: Give your mom Envirosax and make it even easier for her to live green. These stylish, extremely compactable shopping bags can fit into even the tiniest of purses, and are super convenient for last-minute shopping trips. From April 24 – May 5, purchase any pouch (set of 5 bags) and receive a Retro Kitchen pouch ($28.50 value) free.


7) La Chamba Cookware: Support fair-trade practices and give your mother high-quality, all-natural clay cookware handmade in Colombia. To locate a retailer near you, email La Vida Verde Inc.


8) Paddywax Candles: Introduce your candle-loving mother to Paddywax’s Eco Collection. These high-quality soy candles are packaged using soy-based inks, hemp twine, and FSC-certified recycled paper.