Reflecting on the Green Allies Conference

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Posted on March 6, 2019

by Claire Wayner '22

Over intersession in February, I traveled to Gettysburg College to attend an annual conference held by GreenAllies, an organization dedicated to empowering and supporting students to innovate and lead environmental sustainability efforts. The conference brings together students from across the region to meet and attend informational workshops designed to provide inspiration for on-campus projects.

Although the conference was relatively small (only about 100-150 students total), the compact size made it easy for me to chat with people from other institutions, and everyone there was studying in the Pennsylvania/Tri-State area, which allowed for more geographically-specific discussions, such as energy sources common to the Mideast, like natural gas fracking in Pennsylvania or waste-to-energy incineration in Philadelphia and Newark.

The day started off with an exciting activity in which all the attendees broke out into different interest areas, including food, energy, waste, and environmental justice, for small-group discussions related to those topics. Because of some of my work on Princeton’s campus is related to carbon emissions, I decided to join the energy group. During our discussion, we mainly talked about student-led projects to address the issue of energy inefficiency, including energy audits on buildings and lab equipment. For example, we learned about a project at Susquehanna University in which students measured the efficiency of campus fridges before using the data on predicted energy savings to advocate for the purchasing of more efficient fridges, and discussed how thermal cameras can be used to perform energy audits as well as computer programs such as ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager to handle the data.

Another idea raised was an “Energy Working Group,” which is comprised of students interested in improving energy usage on campus and adding renewables to the energy portfolio. Several colleges had also written climate action plans and were in the process of implementing those. In terms of student engagement events and activities that we could try at Princeton related to energy, students suggested smoothie bikes, solar-powered cookouts, and dorm energy competitions.

After the brainstorming session, we divided into different rooms for the first round of workshops. Throughout the day, there were three workshop timeslots. My first workshop was centered around sustainability in Germany, which provided a fascinating perspective on how sustainability there is so successful, in many regards, due to the reinforcement of good habits through consistent education in primary schools. For instance, in Germany, waste disposal is standardized across the country, with four bins used to dispose of waste – paper recycling, plastic/metal recycling, compost, and trash. From a very young age, residents are taught how to use each bin, and thus diversion rates are much higher compared to the United States. This led me to think that perhaps Princeton could enhance its promulgation of green ideas through mandatory sustainability-themed activities during first-year orientation and a mandatory distribution requirement related to sustainability. It was clear to me after attending this session that sustainability needs to be incorporated into some form of education to create a lasting impact.

My next session was centered on energy usage on college campuses and was mostly focused on the PJM energy grid in Pennsylvania, although there were some valuable parallels to draw. The speaker suggested that students partner with administrators to do campus solar mapping activities to identify new places for on-campus solar. He also promoted the use of power purchasing agreements by colleges to promote the growth of local renewable energy while reducing the college’s carbon footprint.

The third and final session which I attended provided tips on how to grow your campus environmental club. Although Princeton doesn’t really have one large “green group,” I thought this session could be useful for expanding EcoReps' outreach. Among the suggestions circulated in the room were the use of a smoothie bike (this was mentioned at least five separate times throughout the day as a successful strategy!), film showings, planting of campus gardens, and partnering with other campus groups (e.g., dance groups, music groups) to create collaborative green-themed events like concerts/performances during Earth Week.

Throughout these sessions, I heard about many other creative projects which students had employed at their universities, from TerraCycle toiletry recycling in their dorm buildings to making tote bags from old shirts. I’m excited to implement some of these ideas on campus both this spring and moving into future semesters. 

Funding for the conference attendance was provided by the High Meadows Foundation Sustainability Fund.