As a social systems and humanities elective for the Sustainability Dual Major, I took the class EREC 444: New Pirates of the Caribbean during my sophomore year. This class, with it’s interesting title, is centered around Caribbean tourism. There were a variety of topics ranging from island life to the economy, government, climate, and sustainability of the islands. Aside form learning about interesting ecohotels and their movement to reduce the environmental impacts of traveling, I learned other valuable information about the people living in the Caribbean.
Throughout the semester we were required to read current electronic copies of the Virgin Islands Daily News. This newspaper featured stories about the islands of St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas, and Tortola. The paper typically reported on politics, sports, and the opinions of locals. However, at the time I was taking the class, hurricanes were causing havoc throughout the Caribbean. This shifted the local news to the devastation of the islands. For weeks, the only thing the paper could publish, if they were able to write anything at all, was locations of shelters, food and water, or attempts to locate missing people. From these articles, along with photos and stories from the professor’s experiences on these islands, I increased my awareness of the way people in other parts of the world live and the struggles they face.
The Virgin Islands Daily News
The knowledge I gained in EREC 444 is something that I now consider when thinking about the role of sustainability in design decisions for things like climate change resilience. It is not only small islands that need to account for intensified storms, surges, and sea level rise, but any coastal area. In CEE 620: Fundamental Aspects of Environmental Engineering, a required course for my primary major, wastewater and drinking water facilities are designed with regulations that consider the updated flood elevations. This is to help ensure that people will have access to clean drinking water and that wastewater continues to be directed away from the people to be treated. The sanitation issues that occur when these facilities are comprised were identified in the case of the Caribbean Islands hurricane devastation.
To finish the electives I need for the Sustainability Dual Major, I am currently enrolled in two engineering design classes related to sustainability. Both CEE 719: Green Building Design and CEE 706: Environmental Life Cycle Assessment will provide me with a better understanding of what is required to effectively design for this everchanging world.
In Green Building Design, I am learning about more considerations that need to be made in terms of sustainability. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system, commonly known as LEED, is the primary foundation for the design specifics. This class provides detailed information about location, transport, water efficiency, energy, resources, and indoor environmental quality. These are all things to contemplate during the design process to work toward creating a sustainable building and ensuring the building users are safe and satisfied. With this knowledge, and skills such as completing calculations and drafting construction drawings, I am improving my ability to identify sustainable solutions and how they might be implemented.
As part of completing a life cycle assessment, I am learning in CEE 706 that it is important to include an analysis of the product or process from cradle to grave. This allows for a full examination of the sustainability of that product or process. The initial stage, the cradle, such as the acquisition of raw materials, is one of the many components of the entire process. The involved materials, energy, water and the emissions generated are analyzed. Using a functional unit, these amounts can be compared to an alternative products or design. In order to produce an LCA of value, software and databases must be used due to the amount of data required. This class is focusing on how to utilize SimaPro to do this for not only the first step, but for all the components in the process like manufacturing, transport, use, and disposal. Knowledge of this software will be useful in making decisions related to sustainable designs.
SimaPro LCA Software
With the completion of the sustainability degree, I hope to have the skills and knowledge in designing solutions to the environmental problems we face in our world today, while also maintaining social responsibility and a well-functioning economy. These classes and the B Corporation capstone project will provide me with the competency to do so.
During the Fall of 2018 I spent my semester half way across the world in Newcastle, Australia. This up and coming city was home to beautiful beaches and to my surprise, many sustainability initiatives. The community was promoting sustainability with a ban on plastic bags, a myriad of parks and green space, and beachside cafes with reusable coffee cups to borrow.
Reusable coffee cups at a beachside cafe in Newcastle, Australia.
I attended the University of Newcastle where I had the opportunity to take two classes related to sustainability: Sustainable Energy in the Australian Setting and Sustainable Engineering Practices. I have an interest in renewable energy but had not previously taken any classes related to energy at UNH. In Sustainable Energy in the Australian Setting I received a general overview of the different types of energy that are currently being used in Australia, and the future of alternative, renewable energy sources.
This class was structured unlike any other class I have had before. The professor had calculated how much energy was used per day per person in Australia and centered the rest of the lectures on how the 200 kWh/day/person demand was supplied. The class was modeled on a text book free and available to all called Sustainable Energy - Without Hot Air. The energy types were thought about in terms of two stacks : a red stack and a green stack. The red stack represented the current nonrenewable sources of energy, while the green stack consisted of differing quantities of renewable energies that could replace them.
Red and Green Energy Stacks (Source: Weller, S, 2018, ENGG 1600 Lec 5 Wind and Wave online course materials. Semester 2, 2018 University of Newcastle.)
As one of the primary semester long assignments, I was tasked with finding relevant news, articles, and academic journals and responding to them with blog posts. This gave me an opportunity to learn about how people perceived sustainability in Australia and compare it to the U.S. As the final project for this class, I chose to investigate how Australian homes could become more energy efficient. I found that the methods for increasing efficiency were similar to that of the U.S. but key differences were due to the variation between the Australian and U.S. climates. Different temperatures and weather patterns require buildings in some regions of the U.S. to be heavily insulated, while many buildings in Australia lack insulation all together.
This course allowed my Sustainability Dual Major to extend beyond the classroom walls of UNH and explore these concepts on a global level. This class, and my experience studying abroad in general, allowed me to speak with and hear from students from around the world. This deepened my understanding of more than just sustainability in Australia, but globally too. If it hadn’t been for the flexibility of the SDM program I would not have had the opportunity to study abroad.