UMass Amherst Sustainable Living Class Becomes Carbon Conscious

The Sustainable Living class from spring 2013 got personal about their environmental impacts last semester.  Through a Service Learning project with four students, Isaiah Cherkas, Nina Hazelton, Sotirios Tsouridis, and Christina Wu, course instructor, Daniel Greenberg worked with students, TAs and faculty to beta-test Earth Deeds, a new online service he is developing to enable groups to measure and manage their environmental impacts.  The class achieved four goals:

  • First, they learned about climate change and estimated their class' carbon footprint.  By prorating UMass' footprint of around 120,000 mT CO2/yr and adding student class-related travel, they came up with a figure of 39.8 mT, almost 1/2mT per student.
  • Second, class participants committed to actions and lifestyle changes that, if accomplished, will prevent approximately 55.9 mT of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.  Popular commitments included washing clothes in cold water, getting off junk mail lists, and properly maintaining their cars and refrigerators.  Co-instructor, Katie Campbell-Nelson especially appreciated this process saying "We can listen to lectures all semester about Global Warming and still do nothing about it.  I found some simple ways of reducing my carbon emissions and they don't cost anything!  In fact, they will save me money in the long run."
  • Third, they completed a teamfunding campaign in order to acknowledge their impact.  They set a goal of $836 using a price of $21/mT, which is based on a U.S. government inter-agency report on what's referred to as the "Social Cost of Carbon."  In the end, they exceeded their goal and raised $876.
  • Finally, the class considered various campus sustainability projects to support and decided to contribute their funds to the Eco-Rep program, which will now have a small budget to create environmental awareness projects on campus. 

Chris Hewes, last year's outgoing Eco-Reps program manager was thrilled to accept this contribution and commented, "I've been looking for ways to expand the Eco-Rep program and give our students ways to get more actively involved.  Now, we'll be able to support our students in longer-term projects they can brainstorm, plan collectively, and put into action.  I can see Eco-Reps building new features in permaculture gardens, cataloguing and re-stickering recycle bins around campus, piloting dorm-based composting, designing signs about local food or transportation, and more. The great thing is we're going to be able to offer funding to six different classes in the fall, each with a team of bright, passionate, and energetic students who are itching to make some positive change on this campus."

Donating funds to a local sustainability program made this process unique and distinguished it from carbon offsetting.  According to Professor Greenberg, "It is important to note that while we measured and contributed funds to acknowledge our CO2 emissions, we did not become 'carbon neutral' because it is impossible to determine precisely how our contribution to the Eco-Rep Program will mitigate emissions.  Rather, we decided to become 'carbon conscious' and do something that had meaning to us and to the UMass community."  

Contact: Daniel Greenberg
Tel: 413-259-1199
Cell: 413-695-3524