Episode 6: The Path to 100% Renewable Energy: an interview with Bronte Payne of Environment America

Guest:  Bronte Payne, Environment America

Host: Dave Karlsgodt, Principal, Fovea, LLC

Production Assistance:
Tymber P. Felts

Bronte Payne, Clean Energy Advocate, Environment America

Bronte Payne, Clean Energy Advocate, Environment America

We know it’s time to wean ourselves from fossil fuels and invest in a future of renewable energy instead, but that’s easier said than done. This episode, we’ll discuss a recent report that Bronte Payne, campaign director for Environment America’s 100% Renewable Campuses Campaign, co-authored with the Frontier Group. It’s called Renewable Energy 100, The Course to a Carbon-Free Campus and it acts as a blueprint to the future of renewable energy on college campuses and the nation. In the report, Bronte emphasizes how college campuses and students are at the forefront of the fight for renewable energy.

We’ll also discuss an ongoing campaign by Environment America that aims to move colleges and universities to commit to 100% renewable energy and how students, faculty, and staff can get involved with this campaign on their own campuses. Prepare to be inspired by Bronte’s ambition and passion for sustainability that will make you want to get your activist on.


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Episode 5: Exploring the nexus of sustainability and research with My Green Lab

Guest:  Allison Paradise, My Green Lab
Host: Dave Karlsgodt, Principal, Fovea, LLC

Allison Paradise, Executive Director at My Green Lab

Allison Paradise, Executive Director at My Green Lab

In this episode, Dave interviews Allison Paradise, Executive Director at My Green Lab. Allison explains the history of the organization, their recent efforts to get an ENERGY STAR designation for Ultra-low temperature (UTL) freezers, an exciting new nutrition-like labeling program for research products and equipment as well as My Green Lab's broader work promoting sustainable practices in the scientific research community.


Web Resources:

Episode Transcript:

The following is an automated transcription of this episode which will include errors and omissions. You can listen and follow along with the text here:


Transcript Text:

Dave Karlsgodt 0:00

Welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast. In each episode, we'll talk with leading campus professionals, thought leaders, engineers and innovators addressing the unique challenges and opportunities facing higher ed and corporate campuses. Our discussions will range from energy conservation and efficiency to planning and finance, from building science to social science, from energy systems to food systems. We hope you're ready to learn, share and ultimately accelerate your institution towards solutions. I'm your host, Dave Karlsgodt, I'm a principal at Fovea, an energy carbon and business planning firm. In this episode, you will hear my interview with Allison Paradise, who is the executive director at My Green Lab. Allison has chosen to take on an important but often neglected aspect of sustainability. The research lab space, her nonprofit focuses on fundamentally permanently improving the sustainability of scientific research. In our interview, you'll hear more about her recent success and getting an ENERGY STAR designation for all low temperature freezers, an exciting new program to provide nutrition like labeling for laboratory products and equipment, as well as how My Green Lab is helping scientists better align their work with their desire for a more sustainable world. I hope you enjoyed this discussion with Allison Paradise. So Allison, maybe you can start us off by giving us some background on how you came to create the nonprofit migraine lab and how you got interested in sustainability specifically focused on scientific research.

Allison Paradise 1:29

Sure, so thank you so much for having me. It's really it's a pleasure to be here. And to share this story with you. This whole thing actually started back when I was 17. Believe it or not, many, many years ago, I grew up in Connecticut. And I'd gotten an internship at a pharmaceutical company about an hour or so from my parents house. It was the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. And I got up really early in the morning, I drove to work, I felt very grown up because I was commuting with all these commuters, it gets to the lab, they sit me down and say right, you're going to do an experiment today. And I was really feeling very excited because I thought they would have me read or something the first day or maybe shadow somebody, but no, they gave me they gave me a sample of blood. And they said look, what we need to do is we need to separate out all the different cells in this. And we're going to do this experiment called facts, which is stands for lesson Lee activated self sorting. So I get to my bench, I start doing the experiment. And I realized I'm going through a lot of pipe Pat tips, a lot of them. Some of them are hazardous. So I throw them in hazardous waste. But the boxes and a lot of the other tips that I was using, they only touched water, or PBS and I thought, well, I can recycle these. So I'm looking around, I'm trying to find a recycling bin and there's just there isn't one. And I'm like, well, maybe I'm just missing it. Maybe it's not in my little area. Maybe there's a general recycling center, I can bring all this to so I kind of save it all. We go through the whole experiment at the end of the day, and I'm getting ready to go home. And I realized I still haven't found the recycling bin. So I go to the PI, and I say to her, right, so where's the recycling bin and I just have to recycle these and then I can head out. And she's kind of looking at me like, I'm not sure if I should be taking you seriously right now is she is she trying to make a joke? Like her face was just so confused. And I'm looking back at her also so confused, because it seems to be a relatively simple question. I've got a lot of plastic it belongs in the recycling bin. Where is that? And she just looked at me. She goes, we don't we don't recycle here. Everything's incinerated. And I, I couldn't really compute that. I just said, Wait, what? No, no, but this is just plastic. We don't have to. I mean, we don't have to incinerate it. It's totally fine. And she's like, No, we really everything gets incinerated here. And she takes all of this stuff from each takes the beaker that had the pipettes, she takes all the different pipette boxes. And she just chucked them all in the trash. She hands me back the beaker and she's like, this is dirty now please go wash it. And I'm just horrified. My heart is breaking. I can't believe I just threw away that much plastic. I don't think growing up that we were particularly environmentally minded. I think we just, we was just assumed, though, that we would recycle. Because of course you would recycle. And it just makes sense. And so for me to get into that environment, and have that not be an option was really, yeah, well, it didn't feel good at all. So after that, that whole summer. And then basically for the rest of my career working in labs, which was another almost 10, 15 years, I just would take the plastic with me home, anything that I that I thought could be recycled, I would take it home and put it in my home recycling bin, which I subsequently found out is really terrifying for the people who take your home recycling, like you should should not be putting patio boxes in that I just assumed they wouldn't that nobody really looked at it. And it would just be plastic, but actually, sometimes that can be designated as medical waste and, and actually, then all the recycling gets thrown away, which also doesn't make any sense that we would freak out that something might be medical waste, and so we put it in the ground. But that's a whole other story. But anyway, for the longest time, I was just taking things back with me and I had this car full of just plastic from the lab. And and yeah, and then, you know, I kept thinking somebody would do something about this, that, you know, it's it had been 10 years of me working, I did my undergraduate I took a couple years off, I did work when I went to graduate school, nothing, still no recycling whatsoever in the labs, then I worked as a consultant for a few years and still no changes. And I just thought, you know what, this is ridiculous. I mean, really, somebody should do something about this. And, and I thought, you know what, I've been waiting for a long time for somebody to do something about this in nobody has, so I'm going to do something about it. And that's how the nonprofit got started.

Dave Karlsgodt 6:05

It's interesting, because you talk in your story just now about waste. But I know in seeing you at the California higher education sustainability conference recently, you were talking more about energy use and labs, particularly low temperature freezers. So how did you make that switch from waste to energy? Or is that a switch or just an addition?

Allison Paradise 6:25

Yeah, that's a good question. I would say it's an addition, not so much a switch, although although definitely does seem to be the focus of the organization at the moment. We were about two weeks old when I attended my first California higher education sustainability conference, or CHESC, as it's known out here. And, and we were since we were startup nonprofit, we really didn't have a lot of money to attend the conference. So I volunteered. And as a volunteer, I was asked to sit in on a session that was talking about energy consumption on campuses. And I go to this session, and I should, I should actually put the visual for people because it's, it's actually very funny, I had gotten to the volunteer station earlier that day, to get my volunteer t shirt. And I'm not a very large person. So I wanted to make sure I would get a T shirt that would fit and they said, Oh, no, your shift doesn't start till the afternoon. Don't worry about picking up the shirt. Now, come back in the afternoon, we'll definitely have a size small for you. No, no problem. So okay, so I spend the morning walking around talking to vendors. And I come back in the afternoon to get my T shirt. And literally all they have left are like XXLs. I mean, the thing is just massive on I could I was like a dress. And so I'm wearing this huge t shirt where the sleeves are coming down to my elbows, and the bottom of it comes down to like my knees. I look like a kid dressed in their parents clothing. And I'm like, I could have this very small head and this massive t shirt. I go and I sit in on a session where they're talking about saving energy and laboratory buildings. And, and every person keeps talking about how laboratory buildings use, you know, 60%, 50 or 60% of all the energy on campus, but they only occupy 20 or 30% of the space. So it's this very outsized energy consumption, relative to the amount of space that they that they actually take up. But everybody said, we can't do anything about that. Because scientists are very special people. And they're doing highly specialized research. And we don't want to disrupt their research. So instead, we're going to focus all of our efforts on the other 40% or 50%, on our campus, such as offices and dorms, etc. And I'm listening to people keep saying this over and over again. And I like that. No, that's wrong. Of course, you can talk to scientists about energy. I mean, it's not something I'd ever thought of, which is embarrassing to say. And I think most scientists don't think about it in their daily lives. But if you were to mention it to them, I don't think that they would come back to you and say, No, absolutely not. We never want to think about energy efficiency. It's just not something that occurs to them. So after listening to, you know, the three presentations, where they say, we don't want to talk to scientists, and then listening to the question answers where people are saying, Yeah, we also are afraid of talking to our scientists. I just thought we should, I mean, again, we should do something about this. So I raised my hand, and I look absolutely ridiculous. I'm in my volunteer uniform dress shirt. And I say, you know what our nonprofit addresses energy efficiency and laboratories, we work with scientists to reduce energy consumption. It wasn't strictly speaking true at the time, but it felt like something that we could easily do. And so I figured, let's just, we'll just do that. And as soon as the session ended, I had all these people come up to me and give me their business cards, they were so excited, they said, We want to work with you. And I thought, Oh, this is great. Now I just have to work out what it is that we need to do. But it's seemed, you know, it seemed like it was there was a real need to help scientists in this way. And, and as a former scientist, it just felt like it would be relatively simple for us to figure out how to message to them so that they could understand the problem and actually do something to address it. So yeah, I raised my hand. And it was from there that I made connections with a guy at UC Davis, Alan Doyle, who is really kind of the father of the green labs movement. And I met the head of business development for kW engineering at the time, Andy Bayowski. And the three of us got together at the western cooling efficiency center following that conference, and started brainstorming, what can we do to reduce energy consumption in labs and this idea of plug loads and minus 80, or ultra low temperature freezers kept coming up. And that was how we started the Center for Energy Efficient Laboratories as an offshoot of that meeting, and how we kind of went down this path with energy. And I think the reason it seems like we do a lot in energy is just, we got into something that was a lot bigger than I realized it was going to be. And it just kind of engulfed us for a little bit. But it's definitely a part of our message, not the entirety of the nonprofit. And so that's how we ended up getting into the energy space. So completely random. And I still to this day, can't believe anybody took me seriously in that outfit. It was so ridiculous.

Dave Karlsgodt 11:24

Do you still have the T shirt?

Allison Paradise 11:26

Oh, yeah, I definitely have the T shirt. I had to keep the T shirt. It was my lucky shirt. But I can't wear it out in public, it still looks ridiculous on me.

Dave Karlsgodt 11:36


Allison Paradise 11:37

I never really grew into it.

Dave Karlsgodt 11:39

Now, that's an interesting story. It's funny how, you know, just standing up and raising her hand all of a sudden, can send you off in a totally new direction. And I think too often people are too scared to raise their hand so good for you? Well, so. So once you got back, and you know, you had this nonprofit setup, and you had focused on mercury and waste, if I understand it correctly, and then you came back? And how did you switch the structure of your organization to then focus on energy directly? I mean,

Allison Paradise 12:05

um, that's a good question. So actually, it was not that difficult, because we were so new, for me to go back to the board and say, Look, actually, if we want to address sustainability in labs, it has to be holistic, it can't just be looking at waste. And they all agreed with that. So really, we expanded our focus to include all the main pillars of sustainability, and labs, energy, water waste, and green chemistry. And we did that all within the first month of the inception of the organization. And it just made sense, you really want to educate people and, and help them make an impact in their workspace, it really needs to be a comprehensive message. And at the time, we were working on a green lab certification, which we've subsequently launched, and it's been around now for three years. But at that time, we were working on this certification. And so it was a natural fit to just plug in the energy work to plug in the water to add in the green chemistry, so that we kind of came up with a comprehensive guide for laboratory spaces. So actually, yeah, it was not that difficult to to add that in, because we hadn't really done very much, within the first couple of weeks, mostly, it was just setting the groundwork, you know, filling out the paperwork, etc. From there, we had to fund this idea of wanting to look at energy consumption and labs, that was really the next big hurdle. So the the I kind of adding it into our mission and putting it into the vision of the organization, that part was easy. But then how do you actually do something about it. So we had these ideas about us wanting to create rebates for laboratory equipment that in the same way that at your home, you can get a rebate for energy efficient dishwashers, or an energy efficient washing machine or something like that. That was our vision for the Center for Energy Efficient laboratories that it would be a place where we could test products, provide recommendations to people for energy efficient equipment, and then work with utility companies to get rebates. Because we had this idea, but we needed to somehow fund it. And our initial thought was, we would use the same model that had been used previously in California, for the food service industry. So there's something called the food service Technology Center. It's funded by the California utility companies, specifically Pacific Gas and Electric, which is in Northern California, or pg&e. And what they do is they take products, they've been doing this for over 20 years, they take products from the food service industry, they test them, and they look at their energy consumption. And they make sure that they perform the way that they're supposed to perform according to spec. And then they give that information to the utility companies and back to the manufacturer. And the manufacturers can work to improve their energy efficiency. And then also they work with utility companies to develop rebates for the food service industry. So that model really appealed to us because we had a very similar set of circumstances in the lab where we have a lot of laboratory equipment, we don't really know how much energy it uses, we need that information in order to drive the market towards energy efficiency, and testing equipment and providing that information and feedback back to the manufacturers would be very valuable. And in addition, if we could develop rebates for laboratory equipment, that would be to me that would be the holy grail, because scientists are very mindful of the amount of money that they're spending. And it's very difficult to get them to purchase something that's a lot more expensive. But it's also energy efficient. The premium they're willing to pay for energy efficiency is not that high, it might be five or 10%. We needed to get this funded. So we thought the California utility companies would be a natural fit for this, given their work with the food service Technology Center. Andy and I. So Andy from kw, and I went up and down California meeting with utility companies, specifically Pacific Gas and Electric. So Cal Edison or St. Louis and San Diego Gas and Electric sdg&e. And we met with them for I would say at least a year. And the proposal that we gave to them was to start this whole center. So it was a proposal for I don't know, be three quarters, a million dollars, something crazy. And we had said we're going to test certain pieces of equipment that we knew use a lot of energy or kind of anecdotally, we figured they use a lot of energy, including also low temperature freezers or minus 80s autoclave. I think we might have had lasers in there, I can't remember there were a few other pieces of equipment. So after us banging on doors, and basically showing up on invited to people's offices. They said, Okay, look like we're kind of tired of seeing you will fund something, but we're not going to give you three quarters of million dollars, because we don't know who you are, we might be in love was very new. We were at this point, we were maybe six, eight months old, and kW had been around for a while, but they had no real credentials in this particular space. And so the utilities were like, Look, it, we can't just give you this, this isn't a lot of money. Also, they really weren't convinced that the laboratory market was a big enough market for them to get invested into. So restaurants seem pretty obvious, especially in California, there are a lot of them. But laboratories, they're a little bit hidden right there in all different types of market segments. So you've got them in universities, you've got them, obviously, in your biotech and pharmaceutical companies, their labs, and hospitals, their labs in industry. So Apple has a lab, IBM has a lab. I mean, there's all these all these spaces that are considered labs, but that the utility companies would never have broken out in that way. So they break out their markets, by University by academia, biotech, things like that. They don't break them out by research lab spaces. So they said to us, look, if you want us to fund something bigger than what you're going to have to do is demonstrate to us that there's a real market for this number one, and number two, that these spaces use a lot of energy, because it's just not worth it for us otherwise. So that's what we did, they gave us funding to do that. That was our very first study, it was published in 2015. And in that, we demonstrated that there were a lot of labs in the state of California, and they use a lot of energy, which, if you've ever been in a lab, it's very obvious. If you've never been in a lab, I guess was not so obvious. And we extrapolated all of that to the rest of the United States. So that we were able to kind of give a broader picture of, of what it looks like in the whole us. And we found something like 200,000 or more labs across the US. The amount of laboratory space in California, just in the life sciences industry was about 70% of the number of restaurants. So if you added back in what we would have said, you know, in the industrial market, so when I say life science, what I mean is academia, biotech, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals. It doesn't include those spaces like Ron would have, or Intel or Apple or those spaces, we would call those more industrial spaces. You added those back in the amount of square footage of love space in the state of California rivals the amount of square footage of restaurant space. Wow. I mean, it's huge. Yeah, it's a lot of labs. And I don't think California is that unique in that way. I mean, Massachusetts is very similar. And we found that, again, across the country, there's there's a lot of lab space. So when we gave that to the utility companies, they said, okay, right, yeah, now we agree with you, we're still not going to fund you for three quarters a million dollars. So we still don't have an actual center for the so the Center for Energy Efficient laboratories still exists only as a virtual center. But nevertheless, they gave us funding to do the next project, which was to look at also low temperature freezers, because we identified that as part of our market study as being something where there were a lot of them in the state. So we found there about 60,000 utility freezers in the state of California, the pretty conservative estimate. And then if you extrapolate that to the rest of the country, California usually represents about 10% of the country. So there's about 600,000 ish, you LTE freezers across the country. So there's a lot of them, we know that they use a lot of energy, because people had been metering them for a very long time. So each one uses about as much energy as a single family home, which is about 20 kilowatt hours a day. So it's a lot. And we knew that there were energy efficient models that had come out onto the market that were more expensive. So that means there's a solution. And there's an opportunity for rebate. So they just kind of fit all the right criteria. So we started looking at those as our next project. And we used the food service technology centers testing lab, because that existed as a place to test equipment, and they test refrigeration all the time for the food service industry. So it was just a perfect natural fit, we use their lab to do all of our testing for the wealthy freezers. So that's how we've been getting the seal off the ground is project by project using the food service technology centers testing facility, and also using AWS expertise and understanding how laboratory equipment interacts with the ventilation system in order to really provide an accurate picture of how much energy laboratory equipment is really using and what the benefits are for switching to something that's energy efficient.

Dave Karlsgodt 21:24

Okay. Okay, I got a couple of background questions and for you, so one is, you mentioned ultra low temperature freezers, what do they use for in a laboratory, you also mentioned autoclave. So just for, you know, people that are may not be familiar with laboratory spaces, can you just briefly describe what those are?

Allison Paradise 21:39

Absolutely. And thank you for calling me out on that. Sometimes, when you're in it so deep, it's hard to remember, it's hard to keep a perspective, you know, that not everybody knows what these things are. So also the temperature freezers, I grew up calling the minus 80s. And that's because that's the temperature they're set to. So they're tend to be typically set to minus 80 degrees Celsius, we've been calling them ultra low temperature freezers because well, obviously, there's such a very low temperature, but also because we have a movement in our organization and other campuses across the country have this movement to actually not keep them at minus 80. But instead to put them to minus 70. And that's for reasons of trying to save energy. And also, because the compressor doesn't have to work as hard if it's not such a such a low temperature. When I was first starting in lives, these freezers used to be set to minus 70. And then they kind of started creeping down lower and lower. Now, sometimes you see them set to minus 85, sometimes to minus 96, I've seen a few of them. So anyway, that's why they're called ultra low because they're very, very low. And they're colloquially called minus 80s. Because that's tends to be the temperature that they're set around. They use a lot of energy. And they are used in a laboratory space for long term sample storage. So if you have a sample that you need to keep around for more than a week or two, you'll usually put it there. And in particular, things like cell lines, RNA, any sort of tissues, anything to try to spend beds biological, and where you want to try to stop the biological activity. So you're trying to stop it from degrading, that's what those were used for.

Dave Karlsgodt 23:20

Is there anything special about the minus 80 VS minus 70? Is it like turning your amplifier up to 11? What's the why the extra 10 degrees?

Allison Paradise 23:30

You know, there isn't anything special about it. So when they first came out, actually, the very first set of cold storage for labs that was in this vein of being very, very cold, were set to minus 40, because that's as low as the compressors can go. And then when they started adding two compressors, well, then they could go lower, right, they could go to minus 80. Or in some cases, like I said, even lower than that, depending on the refrigerant and the type of compressor. So the original freezers were at minus 40, then they were set to minus 65, or minus two 70. And now they're going lower and lower, but not for any biological reason, there's actually been no studies demonstrating that samples are stored better at minus seven at minus 80 than a minus 70. Or that there's any detriment to samples when they're stored at minus 70, or VS minus 80. So we're in the process of trying to gather some data on all of this. And there is a longevity study occurring now in the UK. But I mean, people are going to want to see this over the course of 20 years. So in the meantime, anytime we have a lab that changes the set point on their freezer, we put their name and the samples that they're storing, and a database on our website, so you can just access that through our website. And it was started by CU Boulder, and Cathy Ramirez Aguilar, who's just phenomenal. She and Alan are just really wonderful, wonderful people in the green labs movement. So yeah, you can check that out. And that's that's how we've been trying to convince people to go to minus 70. because it saves about 40% of the energy. And like I said, the compressor doesn't have to work as hard. And that means the freezer might last a little bit longer and these expensive pieces of equipment, and they're storing valuable samples. So you don't want them to just, you know, up and die.

Dave Karlsgodt 25:07

Okay, but let me stop you there. You said they will save 40% of the energy by saved by changing the 10 degrees. Yeah, Isn't it crazy? 10 degrees. Yeah, that's very crazy. It's like, I suppose like you hear that about a car. I'll give you you know, drive at a certain speed. But then you accelerate more you you burn a lot more gas.

Allison Paradise 25:24

Yeah, it's amazing. I it blew me away. I think we'd always been quoting 20% based on what we'd heard from other people, but then we actually tested it. And for new freezers It was about I think, was 37% on average, savings. Yeah, is unbelievable. And so now I mean, honestly, when we did our report for the multi freezers, we demonstrated that changing the set point of the freezers to minus 82 minus 70 of the 10% of the freezers in the state of California, would save 26 million kilowatt hours a year. That's, that's nuts, right? Like, just this one. simples change, if we could just all agree to go back to as Alan likes to say, go back to the 70s and change everything to 70. Again, yeah, we could save a lot. And our freezers might last a bit longer, it would be really nice.

Dave Karlsgodt 26:14

And you could do that with existing, with existing equipment, you don't necessarily need to buy a new freezer to do that. Or are they kind of preset?

Allison Paradise 26:21

No, no, you can do it with existing equipment, you can just simply change the temperature.

Dave Karlsgodt 26:26

Wow. Okay. Well, that's great. Okay, so your one other question. Um, you also mentioned autoclave, it sounds like you've done most of your work on ultra low temperature freezers, not autoclave or not other some of the other types of equipment. Why, what what are those or why did you choose those over other things?

Allison Paradise 26:41

Okay, so autoclaves are... they're sterilisers, so they're steamed sterilizers. They're used to sterilize equipment. They're used to sterilize media and different types of reagents. And they're also used for hazardous waste. autoclave us a tremendous amount of energy and water, we we've done a lot of metering, UC Riverside actually did an excellent study on autoclave demonstrating the energy and water consumption of a standard autoclave versus an energy efficient and water efficient autoclave. And the results were staggering. But the reason we didn't start with them and other types of equipment are for a couple of reasons. So number one, they're more difficult to test, depending on the type of Article if some of them actually hooked up to the to a, like a chilled water loop or a loop inside of a building. And that makes them relatively challenging to test, especially if you're going to put them into a test facility.

Dave Karlsgodt 27:33

Part of the building rather than something, plug into the wall. Yeah. Okay, that makes sense,

Allison Paradise 27:37

although there are some that you can plug into the wall, but most of them are other kinds of are part of the building. And then the other reason was honestly, with when it came to also low temperature freezers, there had been something called a test method developed, we've been talking a lot about rebates and energy efficiency, but we haven't talked yet about ENERGY STAR in the EPA. And that's another big part of this, right? So it's, it's really helpful if we can get ENERGY STAR certification for laboratory equipment that helps feed into this whole idea of identifying energy efficient equipment, as well as obtaining rebates from the utility companies. So the EPA and Energy Star in order for things to qualify for Energy Star, they have to meet a certain set of guidelines. And those guidelines are created through testing equipment, the test that's done for equipment is something called a test method. And that test method has to be agreed upon by the industry, and ENERGY STAR before you can even move forward with the ENERGY STAR process. So a test method only existed for laboratory refrigeration, as well as for MRIs and CT scanners was the only two pieces of equipment or two product categories, I guess, that the EPA and ENERGY STAR have developed a test method for, which meant that we could take a freezer into our testing lab and test it according to the standard test method and give the results to the EPA and Energy Star, which is exactly what we did, if we were to work with another piece of equipment. And that's going to be our next phase, you know, when we start to work with autoclave and we start to work with no water bath, and lasers and all these other types of pieces of equipment, we're going to have to first develop a test method. And that process can take quite a while. So for in the case of also low temperature freezers, the test method development took about eight years was crazy. And then right and then for us to come in and get the manufacturers to agree to do the testing. And for us to get the funding and all of that that took another almost four years. So it was almost a decade's worth of work, to get Energy Star ratings for you, lt freezers to identify the energy efficient ones, and for us now to possibly hopefully get rebates here in California. So if you look at that process, and you're at a point where the utility can be say, right, we want to fund you to do something. Next, you're not going to pick something that doesn't have a test method to start with. That's why you're the freezer. So I mean, they fit like I said, they fit the bill in so many different ways. They, they use a lot of energy, there are a lot of them, there were energy efficient models, there happened to be this test method, the everybody's kind of excited and interested about them. And they're also really easy to understand. It's a freezer, right? It's I mean, it's just like the freezer in your home. Whereas some of these other pieces of laboratory equipment. autoclave I think are a little bit easier for people to understand because they tend to kind of equate them to being sort of similar to a dishwasher, those esteemed steriliser, but other pieces of laboratory equipment, there are no analogous pieces of equipment in another industry. And so they're also really hard for people to wrap their heads around why they would fund a study like that. So when I think about electron microscopes, for example, that's a very highly specialized piece of equipment, that requires a lot of explanation to get somebody to understand why that's important, how many of them there are, how you can tweak it to make it more energy efficient. It's just a lot more complicated. I think, for people, it's not as intuitive. And so we're trying to go with the easy intuitive things to just get the ball rolling and get the community excited about this idea of energy efficiency in laboratories. And then from there, we can tackle the harder things

Dave Karlsgodt 31:11

Make sense. Well, and I guess it's kind of like, I mean, you would never make an energy efficient drag car or something like that. Right. And for the purposes, limit the amount of energy they use the the there's a performance requirement there, which I'm sure it's true. A lot of lab equipment as well. But okay, if that makes sense. So all right, you mentioned the Energy Star rating. And it sounds like based on your presentation at the California higher education sustainability conference, you guys have worked your way through and the Energy Star rating, is there. Maybe tell us a little more about that. And also, I guess, curious, you mentioned earlier there, like 20 kilowatt hours per freezer per day, which is pretty staggering. I think my house uses about that. here in Seattle, I have electric heat. But what's the difference between an energy efficient freezer and then a non energy efficient freezer, there's like three questions or you can work with.

Allison Paradise 32:02

Okay, so I'll talk let's take the last one first. So the difference between an energy efficient freezer and a standard efficiency freezer is about 12 to 15 kilowatt hours a day. So it's really significant, really, really significant. And I think the most energy efficient, you LTE freezers that I've seen are somewhere in the neighborhood of six to seven kilowatt hours a day. And the ENERGY STAR standard is actually normalize two cubic feet. So it's point five, five kilowatt hours per cubic foot per day, which equals about 11 or 12 kilowatt hours a day for the standard size that we've been talking about. So there's sort of a standard size that when I'm quoting 20 kilowatt hours a day, obviously, they come in different sizes, the most common size is between 26 and 29 cubic feet. And those are the ones that are right around 23, there's there are some that are quite larger, and they use a bit more and some that are smaller, and they use a bit less. But that's that's Canada range. So if we talk about that range, yeah, the savings are really substantial. And Energy Start did issue that specification, that point five, five kilowatt hours per cubic foot per day. And the manufacturers that we've worked with have now been submitting their data to the EPA to get issued the Energy Star rating. And I know that Sterling ultra cold just received their Energy Star rating, which is awesome. And I would imagine that the thermo TSX is not far behind if they haven't already gotten it. So it's really great news, all of those, that information is now available on the EPA website. And now people can actually identify pieces of equipment that are energy efficient, which is really, it's really, it's really great that that's where we finally got it's, it's sucks that it took 10 years. But it's really great that that that's where we're at.

Dave Karlsgodt 33:48

If somebody at a university then would like to buy an Energy Star rated freezer, how would they go about doing that? I mean, not, they're obviously not going to go on Amazon and just buy one. But what, what what does that look like as I know, procurement in laboratory spaces is usually quite different than, you know, say, facility department buying, you know, paper towels with bathrooms or something like that, what does that look like?

Allison Paradise 34:11

Typically, people purchase larger pieces of equipment, you know, capital equipment through manufacturers or vendors. So they either go direct, or sometimes they go through a distributor. So if you want to purchase energy efficient freezer, you would just buy it directly from that manufacturer from the vendor. And they've been advertising quite a bit, the ones that are energy efficient. So I mentioned the sterling and the thermo or two that I know, have I or at least I think by now have their EPA Energy Star rating. And there's a third, I know for sure that's working on getting theirs and possibly a fourth. So those were also all be listed on the ENERGY STAR EPA website. So you can just go there and find them, make some models, and then directly contact those manufacturers. Although it's surprising, you should say Amazon, because Amazon actually is getting into the laboratory supply space. And I wouldn't be surprised if you started seeing these on Amazon pretty soon because I was looking for something the other day, I think it might have been a water bath, I forget what I was looking up, but it came up on it on Amazon. And I was shocked. So you never know, Amazon seems to want to be in everything, you know, so. But for now, for now you can buy them through manufacturers and through vendors. And, and the nice thing is that a lot of campuses also have sustainable procurement guidelines, and sustainable procurement initiatives. So if you're interested in purchasing a freezer, that's energy efficient, even though it might be a little bit more than a standard efficiency unit, I think you'll find a lot of procurement departments will be very supportive of that choice. Whereas sometimes if you go to buy a piece of equipment that's more expensive than another, if your scientists, you know that they will push back pretty hard on that. They'll ask you why are you going with the most expensive one? Why are you going with with the least expensive one, we have a contract, etc, etc, it can be really difficult. It's really nice that the interests now of everybody are kind of aligning to make the process of purchasing something that's sustainable, a little bit easier for everybody. So it's good.

Dave Karlsgodt 36:11

So if I understand it correctly, Allison, though, the typically if you're an principal investigator at a university, and you've got funding from an external source, usually responsible for buying some of your own equipment, and how does that play out with with ultra low temperature freezers be something they would buy, or the university would buy? It sounds like autoclave or baked into the building. So they would probably come with with the space that they would provide. But how does that work?

Allison Paradise 36:34

Yeah, that's a that's a really good point. So one of the challenges in laboratories has been historically, you know, in trying to get people to purchase things that are energy efficient, or just generally sustainable is that the the poi or the lab, they're the ones who purchase the equipment for the space, they would purchase you or the freezer, they would purchase all the other equipment and consumables for this space. But the utility bill are directly paid for by facilities. So although PIs are charged something called overhead. And overhead is a mixture of all of the costs associated with running the lab. So it would be for the energy would be for the water, it would be for the removal of hazardous waste, the custodial staff, everything that goes into kind of keeping the lab running, that's just called overhead. And that's taken out as a percentage of the funding that every lab gets. And that overhead is actually quite high. It's usually 50 or 60%. Some places have a little bit less, but it's it's quite a lot

Dave Karlsgodt 37:35

50% of the of their funding, is that what you mean?

Allison Paradise 37:39

Yeah, exactly. It's not strictly speaking to but without getting into all the nuances of it. More or less, it's about 50 cents of every dollar that gets donated to research or given to research is just taken off the top and goes to paying for to keeping lights on as what we used to call it in the lab. So it goes to paying the utility bills. So anything that you can do, it's kind of again, it's this really nice merging of, of all these different interests that come together. So for labs, if they start if they keep using more and more energy, that overhead costs is going to keep going up and up, which means there's less money that goes directly to research. That's not ideal, and four campuses, right, they don't want their utility bills to creep up and up and up. So if people are buying stuff that's energy efficient, it keeps their their costs down. So it really is a win win for everybody. Even though you've got the split where the pie buys the equipment, but the facilities people pay the utility bill. And the rebate actually helps a bit, I think or we're hoping that the rebate will help a bit to bridge that gap so that the PIs will be incentivized to purchase something that's energy efficient. In spite of the fact they won't directly realize the energy savings from that. It's the facilities group that pays the utility bill that will directly realize energy savings from that. And as a result that what we've seen on a lot of campuses across the country is that facilities will often offer internal incentives to their scientists to purchase energy efficient equipment. So UC San Diego that had a great rebate program that they ran last year, where they were I think they were just flat out giving people energy efficient ultra low temperature freezers, but I think UNH University of New Hampshire, they give a five or $6,000 rebate to their scientists and incentivize them to purchase something that's energy efficient. Most rebates typically fall between two and $3,000 as internal incentives. Again, because the facility side recognizes the savings and food PI's perspective, they're like, well, I just want to buy something that I can afford.

Dave Karlsgodt 39:43

Great. What's the payback look like on those? So you have a you mentioned some savings numbers, but like just in terms of dollars, like how long does it take for the premium of the energy efficient model to pay for itself?

Allison Paradise 39:56

That's a good question. So it's about two to three years, depending on there's a million different factors, because there's so many different types of VLT freezers, but we just did a work paper for the California utility companies. And we're seeing, you know, for the larger ones, it's two to three years. For the smaller ones, it's a little bit longer, maybe three to five years. But nevertheless, it's really, these are pieces of equipment that last 10 to 15 years, especially in academia, they're turned over a little bit more frequently in biotech, but they're usually not less than 10 years. So it's worth it for people.

Dave Karlsgodt 40:30

And is there any issue with the PIs? Do they care about the efficient freezers when performance wise, like I know, I've heard stories, I think from somebody I'm going to talk to in a future podcast about energy efficient use and say like, you know, army bases, where they had these really energy efficient washing machines, but they took all night to wash their clothes. And if they have small break, it was like, it was just impractical for them to wash the clothes. 12 hours, right? So is there? Did you guys care about this? Or is this kind of a non issue for them?

Allison Paradise 41:00

So they do care? I mean, they definitely think they care on multiple fronts. So we did a study demonstrating that that actually, most scientists really would prefer to buy equipment that's energy efficient. So it was something overwhelming, like 70, or 80% of them cared about energy efficiency, but performance, obviously, right? When they're there to do research. So the performance has to be there, it doesn't make any sense for people to be purchasing things that don't meet their standards, because then it the research is compromised. And then what's the point, right, there's no point even having the lab if you're not going to be able to do the research that you want to do. So we tested all of the freezers when we did them to make sure the performance matched what people were expecting. And we found that the energy efficient freezers in some cases performed better. And in some cases, they didn't perform as well. And it just depended on the metric or the parameter that we were looking at. But all of that information we published, and none of the freezers were so far outside of the norm, that I would say, Oh, we definitely should didn't endorse these. And ENERGY STAR was interested in that as well, these energies are also doesn't want to put their logo on something that, quite frankly, doesn't work for the market. And that will be the case for every piece of equipment that we look at will need to make sure that it functions in the way that it needs to for a lab, because to your point, right an energy efficient piece of equipment that takes 12 hours to get to temperature. That's not really practical for the lab, you know, it's just not gonna work.

Dave Karlsgodt 42:29

So it sounds like you've gotten the low temperature freezers through the EPA Energy Star program. So congratulations on that sounds like a pretty major milestone. It sounds like you're working on a rebate program. Is that just for California or for the whole country?

Allison Paradise 42:43

Yeah, good question. So at the moment is just in California, we just submitted the information to the Energy Commission in California, for actually developing a rebate. And now the California Energy Commission has to look that over and approve it. And then once that happens, we should have a it's in the state. And then the plan is to take that information and share it with the rest of the country. And this is a very standard model. So I have mentioned before the food service Technology Center, they work with the California utility companies to develop rebates for the food service industry, and then those are widely adopted across the rest of the country. So this model of having California start a rebate program and then having to be adopted is there's a lot of precedent for that. So we're going to be using that model. We've been in talks with ever source in Massachusetts, and I think they are also planning on doing something very similar. And then we will use the consortium of utility companies that are part of something called the electric power Research Institute, or f3. And get that information out to all of them through that channel. So our hope is really that most parts of the country will have rebates, for your tea freezers by 2019. And again, that will help start this idea of having the rebates for the laboratory market sector. Right now, that just doesn't exist. So if you look at a rebate catalog, you'll see for food service, you'll see for grocery stores, you'll see stuff for hospitals, you'll see all these different market segments broken out, but not laboratories. And I'm really excited to actually start to see that come in, in these rebate catalogs, that it'll be equipment, but also h back and all of these other things that go into laboratory spaces, a whole designated section, just for them. Now, that's great.

Dave Karlsgodt 44:28

Well, okay, so based on this, raising your hand at a conference and saying that you worked on energy, you really didn't and then having that's an amazing story. And yeah, again, congratulations on getting through that all the way to both the EPA Energy Star rating, and hopefully this rebate program. That's awesome. So what's next? I mean, there's a lot of I know, from my own work and doing energy model and buildings on campuses that, especially in lab buildings, ultra low temperature freezers are on the map. I mean, they're a big deal. There's like that thousands of them on each campus, potentially, especially at big research institutions. But the H back system is usually the biggest energy user. So is there is that an area you're going to go into next? Or what's the next technology you hope to tackle?

Allison Paradise 45:13

Yeah, good question. Um, we're probably not going to go anywhere near age back. I mean, I recognize that it is, by far and away, the largest part of the energy consumption in a laboratory building is due to age fact system tonight. And I mean, that's very well documented. And there's a lot of wonderful people who are doing exceptionally good work in that space. In fact, the woman we work with at kW engineering, Alison Farmer, she's like a whiz in that space. She's wonderful. It's just not what our area of expertise is. And I think that there are enough people who can help laboratory buildings, optimize their age HVAC systems, that we don't need to be a part of that, I want us to be doing things where we can really have an impact. And that for us, I think, is on the behavior side of things. So as I mentioned, I'm a former scientists, all of us at migraine lover, former scientists, we really understand how scientists think and how they are, they operate their laboratory space. And we're very focused on educating them on how to be smart in that space. So a lot of behavior change a lot of thinking about, about how and why they do things the way they do. Because, you know, the fact that I could be working in a lab for 10 years, and literally have, it never occurred to me how much energy that space is using, that's kind of terrifying. When I look back on it, I mean, that's almost unbelievable. You know, that, the how blind I was to so many aspects of sustainability in the lab. And so for me, and for our organization, I think that's where we're most excited, is educating people and getting them to open up their eyes, to seeing their environment just a little bit differently, and then in turn, use that to make some real demonstrable changes in their environment. I think that goes a long way, not only in the lab space, but then in other places where people are working or interacting. Because when you suddenly start to see opportunities for energy reduction and waste reduction and water reduction in your work environment, it starts opening up your eyes to opportunities for those for reduction of those things in all other aspects of your life. And so for us, that's where we're most interested in where we think we can have the greatest impact, and let the people who are engineers and who really know about HR systems, let them do that work. And let us do the work with the scientists.

Dave Karlsgodt 47:36

Well, fair enough. Alice, you don't have to take on the HVAC system. You're right. I mean, there are plenty of other organizations and companies out there working on that. If not the HVAC system, then what else? So there's other equipment, there's other fume hoods? Or are you going to go through more equipment, taking it through the Energy Star program? Or?

Allison Paradise 47:55

Well, we're definitely going to be taking more products to the Energy Star process for sure. We finished the also a temperature freezer project and the board president I sat down and really looked at Okay, what's what's our plan of attack for the next project? And how are we going to scale this up, we thought, you know what, it's a great effort to try to get energy star ratings for laboratory equipment, I fully believe that. But it does take a long time, you know, this last one took 10 years or more for the wealthy freezers, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different types of laboratory equipment, and so will all be dead. With very, very long gone, by the time we get Energy Star ratings for all of them. And it just didn't make a lot of sense for us to spend all of our time and effort trying to raise money for for that program. In that way, we just thought there must be a better way to get the information out to people. That is that has the same level of transparency, but takes a lot less time I'm to actually go through and analyze, and doesn't require us to go to the utility companies and beg for funding every year, that only focuses on equipment, right? Energy Star only looks at equipment. So it only looks at things related to energy consumption, which again, is great. But it leaves out consumables, and it leaves out chemicals. And it's a really long process. So we thought you know, what we need to do is if we are going to say to people, look, we want you to make better choices about what you purchase in the lab, we have to have just like I said at the beginning how our nonprofit wants to have this holistic approach to sustainability and not just be focused on one or one thing or another, then we need to have a program that support sustainable procurement, that also is as holistic as possible. So we're launching at the end of the month, kind of beginning of September and eco label called act. And that label has on information about energy consumption of products, as well as water consumption, the impact of manufacturing, the impact the packaging, looking at the end of life of both the packaging and the product. And we hired an independent third party auditor to actually go through and verify all the information from the manufacturer related to all of these different categories. And in the end, what we have is what we're calling a nutrition label for laboratory products. And so this will allow people to make smart choices about what they purchase in the lab by giving them all the information that they need to make those decisions. So if you're interested in energy, and you're looking at something like an autoclave, it'll have a number on how much energy it's using. And that number will be independently verified by an auditor. So maybe it's not as rigorous as the ENERGY STAR test, but at least it's third party verified. And then that way, you can kind of compare it across autoclave, if you care about energy, if you care about the environmental impact of the product as a whole, we total up all of those different categories. And we have something called an environmental impact factor. The lower the number, the better it is for the environment, the higher the number, the worse it is. So we're developing this label to actually try to fill this gap because we saw that again, while the ENERGY STAR process is amazing, and it's wonderful. It's just simply not going to work. If we want to move things forward at the pace that we want them to move forward. So the act label is is our way of fast tracking equipment as well as consumables and chemicals, and working with procurement departments and working with scientists in order to help them make smart choices. And the hope is really that with this label, we can start to drive the market towards energy efficiency and towards sustainability in general in the same way that the Energy Star rating did that for ultra low temperature freezers. So what we found is, when we started that project, there was only really one model that was considered energy efficient, or was certainly only one that was being marketed as being energy efficient. And that actually was going to be a problem because ENERGY STAR does not want to give a rating to just one manufacturer. But it turned out as we started talking about it and telling people we were going through this, this project, lovin hold all these other manufacturers managed to come up with energy efficient models. And so now there are at least three, as I said, possibly four, that will be ENERGY STAR certified this year. So the in the market is just it continues to go in that direction. In fact, someone just sent me an email today about a company in Denmark, that's marketing, they're also a fruit temperature freezer as being energy efficient. I mean, that is a thing now that people are using in their marketing material. And it's something that they care about, that for years ago was just completely absent. So I think we can see that these labels and these programs can help drive the market on their own towards sustainability. And so we're hoping the label does the same thing in a way that's just a little bit faster. So that's our next big kind of program, although we will be working at minus 20 freezers with utility company. So we're still continuing those projects, it's just like I said, it's a bit slower. So we'll do one project with a minus 20 freezers this year with the utility companies, but we hope to have at least 100 products labeled with the ACC label by the end of 20.

Dave Karlsgodt 53:00

Excellent. Well, it's nice to hear, because you're sounds like you're approaching it both from a standards perspective, you know, which is the slower track as well as just getting market information out there. And, you know, for me, it's, as somebody who's worked in, you know, the energy space, especially on campuses, it's always frustrating to hear how much human energy is used to talk about things that are relatively small in the grand scheme of the problem. And laboratories are usually given a pass, like you mentioned up front, and you know, that they do really tend to be the most energy intense spaces, campuses are growing, you know, so we always want more laboratories. Scientists themselves are kind of seen as these, you know, the saviors of humanity, if we're going to solve these, you know, big climate change scale problems, we need scientists to do it. Yet, the work that the scientists are doing themselves is a big contributor to the problem, which often goes unnoticed. So it's, I really appreciate all the work you're doing to kind of bring attention to that, but also, to do it in a way that's productive. And you know, not just shaming, because that's not really going to be a productive way to approach it. So

Allison Paradise 54:06

That was so well articulated.

Dave Karlsgodt 54:08

Oh, thank you.

Allison Paradise 54:09

So Well, yes, exactly. What you said,

Dave Karlsgodt 54:12

I appreciate that. Well, so as we wrap things up, what would you like to leave people with? or How can they get involved? I mean, are you looking for funding? Are you looking for volunteers? Are you looking just for people to take advantage of programs? Or what what's the ask of our listeners here today?

Allison Paradise 54:28

Oh, all of the above. I mean, as a small nonprofit, we're always looking for funding for donations. And we've always be faithful to accept any of those. We all we have volunteer opportunities for people, especially when it comes to helping us out with conferences, which attend quite a few conferences with scientists and our booth tends to be, believe it or not, our booth is actually one of the most popular booths at the scientific meetings that we attend. Last year, we had over 2000 people visit our booth at neuroscience conference, which was almost seven 100 people more than the next closest booth. So we can always use help with that. And we do do quite a bit of data analysis. So always could use help. And certainly by all means, go to our website, check out our programs, the kind of consulting work that we do is at no cost. So reach out to us, we're happy to help in any way that we can.

Dave Karlsgodt 55:20

Perfect. And any closing thoughts?

Allison Paradise 55:22

Sure, the work that we do in the laboratory space, I think is incredibly important, as I think it lays the groundwork for a much larger movement around sustainability. You know, scientists, they are very, very focused on what they do. And they have blinders on really, when it comes to sustainability. And what the work that they're doing has a lot of requirements. So it isn't the case that you can just swap one thing for another, you can't just change out a chemical just because one is more toxic than another one. It just doesn't work that way. What's very interesting to me about this is that this space, I think, is very challenging, that if we can figure out a way to message to people that actually resonates with them and gets them to, to change the way they think about the work that they're doing, and change their behavior, that I think those lessons can be applied more broadly to the general population. And that's really where I see all of this going, is that I hope that in five to 10 years migraine lab is, is obsolete, it's not needed, that everybody's already thinking about this in the laboratory space. And we can take this nonprofit to really address sustainability across the board. And helping people understand that sustainability. It's equated with being a sacrifice and so many ways. And it need not be a sacrifice, because I mean, at least in the lab, it can't be a sacrifice, if you make it if it's a sacrifice, it doesn't work for the research. Like I said, there's no point of people being there. So educating people that sustainability really isn't about sacrifice, it's just about being smart, and really thinking through the consequences of your actions. Not just from an environmental perspective, but also in a lot of cases, especially in the lab from a safety perspective. And actually, generally from an economic perspective. So all of us can take the lessons of what we've been doing here in the lab and apply them more broadly to any area that we work in and looking at energy reduction, or just sustainability more broadly. right in and helping people understand sustainability, not as a sacrifice, not as a three minute shower. Right, which is I think what always everybody talks about, at least out in California, I work in sustainability. Man, I wish I could take a 10 minute shower again, it sucks that I have to take these short showers, right, it's short showers. It's I can't water my lawn. It's a lot of negatives, right? sustainability is always associated with things you can't do. And we're trying to change that to be associated with things that you can do. It's about positive things, not about negative things.

Dave Karlsgodt 57:55

Yeah, final question then would just be are there ways people can get in touch with you directly? How would you like people to contact

Allison Paradise 58:01

Um, probably email is best: allison@mygreenlab.org. And my cell phone number is area code 860-680-3283. And I guess if you're going to use that number, text is always better than a phone call. But by all means, if anybody has any questions, or listening to this, or wants to get involved or wants to learn more, or has some really cool ideas for collaboration, and we're always open to that. I mean, we love to work with people as much as possible. This whole movement doesn't work if we're all working kind of isolated in our own little silos, anything that we can do to collaborate. I'm totally open to like this podcast, which is an awesome collaboration.

Dave Karlsgodt 58:41

Well, I really appreciate the energy that you've brought to the show. And it's so fun to hear the stories of people that have stood up and taken on a topic that nobody else was paying attention to and brought attention to it and actually accomplished it. I mean, bravo. Again, I don't think most people realize how challenging it is to work both with laboratory paces as well as utility companies, which are notoriously difficult. So really impressed with all the work you've done. And thanks again for sharing all this on our show today.

Allison Paradise 59:09

Thank you. Thanks so much for having me. Really appreciate it.

Dave Karlsgodt 59:14

That's it for this episode. As always, you'll find show notes on the website at campusenergypodcast.com. Please keep those show ideas coming and perhaps take a moment to read a review on iTunes to help us get the word out about the show. After a lull this summer. We have a few other episodes in the works and hope to pick up the pace for this fall. Thanks for listening.

Episode 3, Part 2: Krista Hiser, University of Hawaii - Teaching Sustainability Concepts

Dr. Krista Hiser

Dr. Krista Hiser

Guest:  Dr. Krista Hiser, Kapiʻolani Community College, University of Hawai`i System
Host: Dave Karlsgodt, Principal, Fovea, LLC

Part 2 of a two-part series based on a conversation with Dr. Krista Hiser, the interim sustainability curriculum coordinator for the ten campuses of the University of Hawaii system and a professor of Composition and Rhetoric at Kapiʻolani Community College.

Part 1 focuses on Krista’s work to create the S-Designation or Sustainability Designation for college courses in the University of Hawai’i system.

Part 2 picks up where we left off with a deeper dive into how we can teach sustainability concepts without devolving into green rhetoric and without falling victim to green fatigue. 

Web Resources:


Episode Transcript:

The following is an automated transcription of this episode which will include errors and omissions. You can listen and follow along with the text here:


Dave Karlsgodt 0:00

Welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast. And each episode we will talk with leading campus professionals thought leaders, engineers and innovators addressing the unique challenges and opportunities facing higher ed corporate campuses. Our discussions will range from energy conservation and efficiency to planning and finance, from building science to social science, from energy systems to food systems. We hope you are ready to learn, share and ultimately accelerate your institution towards solutions. I'm your host Dave Karlsgodt. I'm a principal at Fovea, an energy, carbon and business planning firm. This episode is the second part of a two part series based on a conversation with Dr. Krista Hiser from Kapi'olani Community College, which is part of the University of Hawaii system. If this is your first time listening to the podcast, I'd recommend going back to the previous episode to hear Krista's full introduction and the broader context for this discussion. This episode picks up where we left off with a deeper dive into how we can teach sustainability concepts with devolving into green rhetoric and without falling victim to green fatigue. I hope you enjoy the second half of my February 2017 conversation with Dr. Krista Hiser, Krista, you've been talking about how to teach students about sustainability. But somewhere along the way, you've also taught professors how they should teach sustainability. And I'm assuming that's a good analogy for the work I'm doing where I have to teach professionals on the operational side. Can you tell me more about that?

Krista Hiser 1:26

I can tell you about the framework that he uses. Peggy Bartlett and Jeff Chase, started doing a training, they have actually developed similar leadership training modules separately. And then they kind of found each other and realized that that they were teaching this sustainability leadership for curriculum. And the same way, I engaged in the in that training. And there were two things that really struck me in the way they were teaching teachers to teach sustainability. Because teachers, we have to do a little bit of unlearning. First, we have to maintain currency in our discipline, which means we have to kind of unlearn some of our own training, graduate school did not prepare me for sustainability. So in a sense, our current faculty, me and you and the people that you work with, you know, we were all educated in one paradigm. And now we're looking at how is this education serving us when we try to solve these problems? And what do we want to change about the way we're educating the next generations? So anyway, what Katie and Jeff did, in their model, two things that were interesting to me. One is that they would use that sense of place, and finding some compassion telling problem issue, right on your campus, or in a very nearby community, it could be an environmental issue, I think the problem that I use, there was saltwater intrusion, some expert from the area presents this problem. And then faculty engage with that problem through their disciplinary lens. So let's say the problem was saltwater intrusion into an aquifer or something like that. If I was an art teacher, or an artist, how would I engage with that? If I'm a communications professor, what is my role in that problem? If I'm a geologist, if I'm a doctor or nurse, if I'm teaching math, what's the math of that? You know, so really engaging faculty, not from their personal values, like I was talking about before, but engaging them from their disciplinary brain, engaging them as experts in their training in their disciplines, and then they start talking about it. And then they start to unlock the problem, and they start to learn from each other, they start having an interdisciplinary conversation, that is, for the most part, impossible to have, on most college campuses.

Dave Karlsgodt 4:29

Interesting. So basically, you're using the professors in their area of expertise to go solve some other problems as a way of teaching them about sustainability.

Krista Hiser 4:38

Yes, yes. Exactly. Exactly.

Dave Karlsgodt 4:42

Yeah, cuz, well, my experience, a lot of times when I interact with faculty, and our work is they're the people that come in and poke holes. And we're talking about, you know, it's it's not necessarily I guess, that's the critical thinking, as opposed to the systems thinking, creative thinking. But if you can invite them in, I suppose that might be a totally different experience, where they're solving the problem, rather than telling you why you did it wrong.

Krista Hiser 5:03

Yes, invite them in and engage them from their discipline. Interesting. The other thing that Peggy and Jeff did in this AASHE training, that was really different from most other trainings that I've been to, it's going to sound like a little thing. But it has really stuck with me the way they did this. And that is that as part of this training, is a two three day Institute. And every day, you would have to go out, and the instructions were to go sit by a tree, not to have your laptop, not to start lesson planning, but to just sit by a tree and just sit there. And it sounds, it sounds silly, but it's not something as professionals that we ever do, and just creating that little bit of space, in this professional development experience. It has kind of a magical impact.

Dave Karlsgodt 6:11

Do then professors end up using the same concept in their courses? How does that play out? Or is it just a matter of that's the way they need to learn?

Krista Hiser 6:19

They can, I'm involved with something called the leap program, it's they're working on sustainability mindset. And the components of sustainability mindset in this work include systems intelligence, and environmental literacy, emotional intelligence, and what they call a spiritual intelligence, which could be just that, you know, contemplative moment contemplative moment, there's something kind of missing in our educational system, when we don't include that reflective, quiet moment of stillness, it,

Dave Karlsgodt 7:08

so you've just given me an interesting visual, and the next meeting with the facilities, folks I'm going to have, I'm going to make everybody go sit by a tree and see. But I could imagine it could actually be powerful, I need to think about how to pull that off. But anyway

Krista Hiser 7:25

I encourage you actually to think about that, it creates a different tone for the types of meetings that I engage in, you know, we like to come into a conference room with our agenda. And, you know, we just start running through the topics. And you know, I dare you to start that meeting, with just a moment of silence, or 30 seconds of silence, you know, three deep breaths.

Dave Karlsgodt 7:57

Yeah, that's good. I, I accept the challenge, have to find the right opportunity for it. And I'll tell you how it goes. All right, I wanted to bring up the work of least sharp out of Harvard, who I know our mutual friend, Matt has done some work with her. And he's the one that introduced me to you are new to me. And she talks about the concept of the dual operating system of you, you're familiar with that?

Krista Hiser 8:20

Yeah, the dual operating system is just an awesome articulation of what a college campus is like, because a college campus is, is extremely hierarchical. And everybody knows exactly where they are on the org chart and within the hierarchy. And what leads sharp is saying is that rather than being frustrated with that hierarchy, which she calls the command control system, rather than being frustrated, that we learn how to leverage its power, the power of command control, so is that a decision can be made, a policy can be written, purchasing, procedures can be crafted, and decided, you know, at the top of the hierarchy, and then they create change. So it's a very powerful being the command control system. And then the other piece, the new piece, the piece where where I get engaged and get excited, is the dual operating system. And if you see her diagram is like the dual operating system is, is like pulling out a little cluster of people. So let's say you want to change energy behavior on campus, you want people to turn off the lights, the dual operating system knows how to pull out the right people for that task, right. So you get, obviously your energy man manager, and your engineer, and maybe your janitor, and maybe a communications professor and a graphic designer who's going to make signs, you know, you know who the people are in your organization, and you know, how to activate them to complete this task. You know, they come together, they work on this thing, then they go back to what they normally do, right?

Dave Karlsgodt 10:30

Yeah, when I was introduced to the concept, a lot of light bulbs went off for me, because I had been experiencing the frustration of, you know, trying to get the large hierarchy system to work. But working in, in the work we're doing, we're, a lot of times it's climate action planning, or an energy master planning or something like that, where you're trying to say, How can we change the future trajectory of what's going on. And by its nature, it's change. And so I really liked her model of how the describing it and why it was heart and how, you know, like you were talking about earlier, have these giant leaps that if you can get the right person to make the right decision at the right time, and give them an idea that's been, I think she uses the term de risked, which I like a lot that you can, all of a sudden make a breakthrough were before you weren't able to. The other concept that I really liked from her was the concept of the calls that the squiggle, which is, you know, we tell these linear stories about how things get done. And, you know, you'll read about them in the alumni magazine, but you don't necessarily see all of the pain and agony that went into getting to that point. So I really appreciate it that

Krista Hiser 11:42

the school,

Dave Karlsgodt 11:43

the squiggle, yeah,

Krista Hiser 11:44

Peggy and Jeff, wrote a book called sustainability on campus. And was interesting about that the first book was all narratives of campus change, telling the story of those squiggles, really, then they wrote a second volume, and asked if I want to contribute something. And at the time, the most innovative program that I could think of, on our campus at a couple any community college was a professional development program that we had designed around communities of practice theory, and around adult learning theory, which is called Andrew God, gee, if adult wants to learn something, you want to get better at something, adults will seek out other people who either want to learn the same thing or maybe know a little bit more about it, and say, Oh, hey, can you help me get better at this thing. And a pair or trio or small group will form and they'll work together, they'll teach each other they form a community of practice, until they accomplish a specific task, or until they reach their mutual goal for sharing learning. This is how adults learn, they learn together they learn in community, and so that communities of practice theory, I think, is another aspect of the dual operating system, you know, a community of practice can come together around campus sustainability issues, and address them and work together to to help them move. And then they dissolve. You know, it's not the same as being on a committee or a task force, or another like assignment that can just go on and on forever. It's not your job forever. It's about energizing a particular node on the organism, organizational network in order to do something very specific.

Dave Karlsgodt 13:49

Interesting. So it's like a bunch of jazz musicians getting together for a jam session, but they're not necessarily going on tour together.

Krista Hiser 13:55

Exactly. That's great. That's a great metaphor.

Dave Karlsgodt 13:58

Excellent. Well, after my deep breath, or my moment of silence, and my next meeting, we're going to break out into trios and quartets. And All right, well, I've heard to that you have even new term in Hawaiian. Now, I remember seeing this in one of your earlier webinars. Can you explain that? I thought that was a great story, huh?

Krista Hiser 14:21

Yes, in we are really seeking to learn about indigenous wisdom. There's a lot of talk about the role of indigenous wisdom, especially. Especially now. A lot of people are following like, Standing Rock and talking about indigenous wisdom and this meeting of wisdoms. So our university president actually brought together several groups from across our whole university system. And it was our STEM faculty are some of our Hawaiian studies faculty, the sustainability people, and the Polynesian Voyaging Society. And he kind of brought us together, he said, he said, You're all talking kind of about the same theme, you know, can you can you get on the same page? And that was really a pivotal conversation for me in really thinking about how are we on the same page. So it was that this meeting, that this new word in the Hawaiian lexicon was presented. So Hawaiian is a living language. And occasionally, I understand it's rather rare, but occasionally, they create or coin a new word in the lexicon. So in Hawaiian culture, that was no word for sustainability. Because sustainability was integrated into the culture, as Matt Lynch was sometimes put it in ancient Hawaii, you were sustainable, or you were dead, because you were on an island. And no Costco and no food was coming. So. So there was no word for this, the social structures around environmental management were deeply embedded in Hawaiian culture embedded in their the spiritual culture. So there was no need for a word like sustainability, but the Hawaiian lexicon committee, now they say, it is very important that we distinguish what is sustainable and what is not. And so the word that they presented at this meeting, the word is Mo, mobile, and mobile is created by combining two words. One is, well being, and all is the perpetuation. So the word model translates into the perpetuation of our well being.

Dave Karlsgodt 17:12

Yeah, I thought that was interesting, because its sustainability really has a connotation of being not quite dead. You're barely alive, like you're sustaining yourself, but you're not really thriving. So the situation is that I like of well being I like that.

Krista Hiser 17:27

It really changes the the tenor of the conversations that you have. Sustainability can be an uncomfortable conversation, but who doesn't want to perpetuate our well being. And so it's a wonderful word. I haven't heard it a lot in common parlance in Hawaii. But we definitely use it in the UH Office of Sustainability, and find out a really inspiring word that that gives us a really important kind of common common goal and mission model.

Dave Karlsgodt 18:07

know, it's interesting how much language does influence the way we think about things. When I first started working in this area, it was about mitigating carbon. Somewhere along the way, I learned the term decarbonisation, which I don't think used to be used, but like that a lot better. And then I was taking some courses through Columbia continuing courses with Jeffrey Sachs and he uses the term deep decarbonisation, when you kind of really goes for it, you know, it's like a full transformation. But it's more of a process as opposed to just mitigation, which is like getting rid of this bestest from your building or something like that. So it's cool that you have a committee that can create new language, you know, new words, it's like an anti Orwellian committee or something like that, instead of alternative facts you get.

Krista Hiser 18:52

Awesome. I like that term, decarbonisation have also seen a lot more use of the term resilience or system inability and resilience. And with resilience, you have adaptive resilience, you know, not just how do we bounce back from a storm event or something like that. But how do we prepare for it in a way that we adapt and do things differently? And maybe even do things better?

Dave Karlsgodt 19:20

Right, yeah, some more of the Dutch version of dealing with flooding rather than the giant sea wall version of dealing with flooding?

Krista Hiser 19:28

Yeah, exactly. Good.

Dave Karlsgodt 19:31

So Krista, where are you going next with this work? I mean, what's your next big project?

Krista Hiser 19:36

Well, we're going to continue talking with faculty and formalizing these s designation courses, we identified as our baseline measure 206 courses across the University of Hawaii system. That means that there are 206 more that we just haven't engaged with. And that whole process is starting to really have its own life and its own energy, because its faculty talking to each other about how they're teaching and what they're teaching. So I'm going to, you know, continue engaging and and managing that process. And then in my personal work, I'm really excited about replicating the focus group study that I did with students. And I learned so much from just sitting down with groups of students, and getting them to talk about environmental issues and their future, and what they were learning and what they knew about it, and how they felt about it, and how it affected and impacted their future. So we're going to go out and do another round of focus group study, with students across the system. The original study that I did was in 2012. The students what I was talking to them about is like, what do they think about sustainability? how engaged are they with sustainability? And then what are their actual personal practices? This again, that cognitive dissonance came out again, sort of one category of students would say that they were interested in sustainability, oh, yeah, I really care about the environment. But when it came down to it, they really weren't interested in changing their transportation or the way they eat or the way they fly. They would say one thing, but not really do it. And that's another kind of manifestation of that cognitive dissonance we've been talking about. Another category of student, we called the students with the sustainability habitus. These are the students that define their identity around sustainability. They're the president of the ecology club, they wear clothing made out of bamboo, they carry chopstick kit, or refillable mug, water bottle, you know, activists kind of students who different find their identity around sustainability. Unfortunately, there's actually in in the study that I did, there were fewer, maybe fewer of the students than we think they're just very visible those students with the sustainability habitus, by far, the most common category of students, when they were talking about they, they said, these comments that really, really got my attention. And I called this category, karmic retribution. And what these students was, were saying, they would say things like, Well, you know, nature's going to do what nature's going to do? Well, I suppose we've got it coming, you know, this kind of really defeatist feeling, and this sense that somehow we would deserve it, because of what we had done as humans, because of what we had wrought upon the environment, that that there would be this karmic retribution from nature. And she's coming to get us,

Dave Karlsgodt 23:09

it's almost like a medieval reaction to the plague or something that's interesting.

Krista Hiser 23:12

It was a very profound sense that I got from multiple focus groups of students. So I'm very interested to see if, if that sense of karmic retribution is still out there. So if you think about a generation of leaders coming up with the sense of karmic retribution, and almost this self loathing, that's very concerning, and a little bit scary. Honestly, I see that even with my own daughter, she's 10. And her school does a lot of sustainability education. She knows about climate change. She's very savvy, and she's very engaged. But she'll say things like, you know, she's, she's, she'll even start to cry, just a mom, all the people are so bad, we have to shut down the factories, we have to save the plants and all this and she'll get, she'll get very upset, and she doesn't, she's not making the connection, that that we are part of those factories, that we are driving a car, that the food we're eating is created by the system that is causing the environmental impacts that she's lamenting,

Dave Karlsgodt 24:30

it's almost like the guilt without their responsibility.

Krista Hiser 24:33

I'm kind of this is this is what Timothy Martin calls dark ecology, the complexity of the fact that like, if I go out and I start my car, I'm contributing to climate change. But not at that moment, that that ignition, my trip to the grocery store did not cause climate change. And yet, as a member of my broader species, I am causing climate change. So we are causing it but not directly causing it. Timothy Martin calls that dark ecology. So it's a similar effect. And I'm just really interested in in where that goes. And if that exists, just dark ecology or sense of karmic retribution. How does that inform what what we do next?

Dave Karlsgodt 25:27

Yeah. Do you have any ideas on how to address that, because that seems like that does seem very dangerous. I know, my daughter went to a, it was like a tree planting organization. And she went, and they basically half of it was planting trees, and half of it was learning about how to talk about climate change. But the learning to talk about climate change was all about telling the story from a kid's perspective about how Florida is going to be underwater, and that the polar bears are tied, it was really bleak. And she was really young. And by the end of the day, I mean, come domination over just being really tired. After living through a day of just this really Doomsday kind of scenario. I mean, she she totally broke down, we just had to go home. And I didn't feel good to me, either. I didn't like kind of the approach they were taking. I think they had their heart in the right place. But it you know, it kind of went off the rails. Yeah. What do you do about that?

Krista Hiser 26:19

Well, well, coming back to like my own classroom and teaching communication, and particularly climate change, communication and rhetoric. There's some really interesting work around that right now. I actually tell my students not to use pictures of children, like do not use the pesos of like, Oh, do it for the children. You know, pathos is a term from rhetoric. For when you you call upon the audience's needs or concerns or fears, you know, you engage them in through pathos. I tell them no children, no polar bears. And I said, no green rhetoric, can we cannot engage in this green rhetoric, we have to talk about facts. You know, you have to use real facts, even just talking about climate change impacts is too, there's too much room, especially right now, there's too much room inside of that, rather than talking about climate change impacts. Talk about something very specific, like four feet of sea level rise, you know, you need to find out the facts, and what are we really talking about? What are the facts? The other kind of interesting work around climate change? communication is how, how can you talk about climate change without talking about climate change? Right, that's where it's really at. So for example, I have my students do this activity, where I said, Okay, what's the change you'd like to see on campus. And when one student had had a great idea, I said, he said, You know, people sit out in the parking lot with their, with their engines idling, and I wonder how much carbon they're producing. By doing that for 20 minutes sitting in their car running the air conditioning. So well, that'd be a great thing to change. So then I asked my students to imagine going out into the parking lot with signs that say, No, idling your car, save the planet, stop idling your car, you are causing climate change, you know, I asked them to imagine the look of horror on their faces. They're like, Oh, my God, Dr. Hiser, you're not going to make us do that. Like they thought that I was right,

Dave Karlsgodt 28:38

already sweaty from taking out the recycle.

Krista Hiser 28:41

That was 20 years ago. So then we work backwards on this on this idea. There's how to use about how to do this how to talk about climate change, without talking about climate change, using specific facts, using a identical Bible sort of spokesperson telling a story, and not using climate change, as in, in what you're talking about. So we went through this whole exercise and revise the statement. And so then instead of, you know, marching with signs, stop idling your car, we came up with this article, with the student Congress president saying, you know, hi, when I first moved here, can you believe I didn't know anybody, and I used to sit in my car, waiting for my class to begin, then I realized that I could study at the Study Center, and my grades went up, and I made friends and got elected student council president, you know, so we really turned it around into a positive reason why you would do something else, instead of not doing the thing that you should stop doing, making it positive to do the thing that you can could do instead,

Dave Karlsgodt 30:01

got it. So instead of shaming people, you just make that whole behavior irrelevant. It just doesn't even matter. Yes, transportation is kind of going through a transformation like that. You can just take Uber and if Uber was run by an electric vehicle, for example, it doesn't you don't deal with enough to drive and you're doing it not because you care about gas, you're doing it or emissions, you're doing it because it's more convenient. Right. And yeah,

Krista Hiser 30:23

and and it's cool, right? Yeah. So I think that's where it's at, I think that this personal incremental change, I certainly can't say that it's, you know, not important for me to bring a tote bag to the grocery store or for me to, you know, recycle at home. Those personal choices are, they do have impact, and they are important. But that's not where we should be meeting students right now, that whole every little bit, you can make a difference, the lower x message, it's, um, it's really they're not working.

Dave Karlsgodt 31:00

It's kind of shallow and yeah, frustrating.

Krista Hiser 31:03

It's not working, because it's not working, right, they still don't really see it. If you're carrying a water bottle around, and the campus is still selling bottles of cold water in plastic bottles, then the incremental change has not affected. You know what I mean? It comes back to that cognitive dissonance. So the behavior has to then be reflected back in the broader system, whether it's a campus or the community or the country or, you know, global policies, that loop has to come back?

Dave Karlsgodt 31:40

Well, it's really great. I give me a lot to think about here. And this has been a fascinating conversation, I think, for anybody that's working in these areas of sustainability, or I'm going to call it thrive ability or mellow from now on. All right. This has been a lot to think about any final thoughts as we close up this episode.

Krista Hiser 32:01

I think what stands out for me about this conversation, is I'm in a position where I'm talking with really, really, really smart people all day long about these issues of sustainability, thrive ability, the perpetuation of well being, and how are institutions in our work, college campuses? How do we navigate this change and prepare students for an uncertain future? And we are, we're like levers, you know, between some generational points. And you know, we're teaching things that we weren't taught, we're educating in a way that we weren't educated. So we're really like a transitional type of work right now. And if the work works, then we don't need sustainability. If we do a good job, then we don't need to have sustainability designated courses or degrees in sustainability. If we do a good job, then we make it through this change. So I think that just as a closing thought, how do we survive and thrive in change? You know, we have to, I think, making connections with each other, and and people outside of the work that you normally do, you know, like on campuses, when the faculty engage with the facilities director, that's really, really helpful. And then what is the nature of that engagement? If people can talk about, you know, what got you interested in this talk about that aha moment? Or have a shared experience of reflection? Or really connect about where they're coming from? And what their expertise is? What do they have to create tribute to the problem, you know, the more we connect with each other, it becomes more exciting. And we can go from those, you know, little incremental baby steps, and just believe that those leaps will happen. If we keep working together.

Dave Karlsgodt 34:18

That's a great place to end. I like that. We all need more hope in this world, I think. So where can we learn more about the specific work, you're doing just websites or other resources you want to point our listeners to,

Krista Hiser 34:33

and we have a lot of great resources on our University of Hawaii systems sustainability page, which is www.hawaii.edu, backslash sustainability. And if you can cruise around there, there's some specifics, we actually have an implementation handbook for our s designation program, we're really happy to share that with other colleges and also learn from how other colleges are engaging with curricular transformation. We also have up there some PowerPoints, presentations from some of our faculty, who really talk with us about what do we need to understand about climate change impacts in Hawaii, food security impacts in Hawaii, and those are under programs on our website. And then another website that I contribute to is called teaching two big questions. And it's all spelled out teaching two big questions. dot wordpress. com. And this website is from a national grant project that was part of with six community colleges engaging with the big question. And the big question was, how do we build our commitment to diverse, healthy, equitable and sustainable communities? So you know, that really is the big question. This really is the big work. So that website, teaching two big questions has different colleges talking about these issues in their own geographic place, and how they're creating curriculum around around those big questions.

Dave Karlsgodt 36:11

Excellent. Well, we will get all of those listed in our show notes so that people can link to them straight from there.

Krista Hiser 36:17

I'll also give you a list of the five or six books that I might have mentioned. And there's so much there's so much out there, there's so much interesting research and scholarship and thinking going on. And I'd be happy to share a few few of the things I'm reading right now.

Dave Karlsgodt 36:34

That would be great. I'll be sure to put all of that into the show notes. Well, Krista, I really want to thank you again, for being on the show today. This has been fascinating conversation. I feel like I've been on quite the journey today.

Krista Hiser 36:46

And I really enjoyed talking with you. And thank you so much for the work that you're doing. And anybody that listens to a podcast like this. I think part of it is just like, it's so cool that other people are interested in, you know, in really thinking deeply about what it is that we're doing here with campus sustainability.

Dave Karlsgodt 37:08

Excellent. Well, thanks again.

Krista Hiser 37:10

Thank you.

Dave Karlsgodt 37:12

That's it for this episode. As always, you can learn more the show notes and the podcast website at campusenergypodcast.com. Please let us know what you think by sending us an email. Our email address is feedback@campusenergypodcast.com. Catch you next time.

Episode 3, Part 1: Krista Hiser, University of Hawaii System - Sustainability Designation for College Courses

Dr. Krista Hiser

Dr. Krista Hiser

Guest:  Dr. Krista Hiser, Kapiʻolani Community College, University of Hawai`i System
Host: Dave Karlsgodt, Principal, Fovea, LLC

Part one of a two-part series based on a conversation with Dr. Krista Hiser, the interim sustainability curriculum coordinator for the ten campuses of the University of Hawaii system and a professor of Composition and Rhetoric at Kapiʻolani Community College.

Part 1 focuses on Krista’s work to create the S-Designation or Sustainability Designation for college courses in the University of Hawai’i system.

Part 2 picks up where we left off with a deeper dive into how we can teach sustainability concepts without devolving into green rhetoric and without falling victim to green fatigue. 

Web Resources:


Episode Transcript:

The following is an automated transcription of this episode which will include errors and omissions. You can listen and follow along with the text here:


Dave Karlsgodt 0:04

Welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast. In each episode we will talk with leading campus professionals, thought leaders, engineers and innovators addressing the challenges and opportunities facing higher ed corporate campuses. Our discussions will range from energy conservation and efficiency to planning and finance, from building science to social science, from energy systems to food systems. We hope you are ready to learn, share and ultimately accelerate your institution towards solutions. I'm your host, Dave Karlsgodt. I'm a principal at Fovea, an energy, carbon and business planning firm. Today's guest is Dr. Krista Hiser. Krista is the interim sustainability curriculum coordinator for the 10 campuses of the University of Hawaii system. In this role, her work is to benchmark existing sustainability focused courses and to facilitate interdisciplinary dialogue and professional development opportunities for faculty as they update and transform their courses. She's a thought leader and helping to rethink how we teach sustainability in our higher ed institutions. She is also a professor of composition and rhetoric at Kapi'olani Community College, which is part of the University of Hawaii system. I recorded a fascinating conversation with Krista that weaved through a myriad of topic areas, I have to admit, we got a bit carried away and far exceeded my own arbitrary time limit for a respectable podcast episode. I decided that rather than edit out entire sections of our discussion, I've split this episode into a two part series. Part One mainly focuses on Krista's work to create the S designation or sustainability designation for college courses in the University of Hawaii system. It also explores more generally how to effectively teach students, faculty and professionals about sustainability. Part Two dives a bit deeper taking on the role of language, how we can teach sustainable concepts without using green rhetoric. And we even get to learn a new word recently created in the Hawaiian language. I hope you enjoy this two part series with Dr. Krista Hiser. Krista, welcome to the campus energy and sustainability podcast.

Krista Hiser 2:07

Thank you, Aloha, so happy to be with you.

Dave Karlsgodt 2:09

So Krista, if I have this right, you are first a teacher as a professor of composition and rhetoric. But somewhere along the way you decided teaching wasn't quite enough of a challenge for you. Because now you're teaching the teachers how to teach. Perhaps you can start us off with a little background on how you ended up in that position.

Krista Hiser 2:26

So I've taught English composition and rhetoric since about 2000. And my entry into sustainability was two things happened to me, around 2000 2001. One was a book by Derek Owens called composition and sustainability. And what that book did was look at the fact that every student in the United States takes a course, like English 100, and therefore, it's an intersection point where students can look at some of the environmental issues that they might not otherwise cross paths with, in their general education curriculum. So I was reading that book and thinking about that in my teaching. And then I had this moment, I was just jogging in my neighborhood, and I crossed over a little stream. And there was something about the wind and the trees and the stream running underneath me. And I just had this moment, this, this world moment, where I kind of understood the complexity and immensity of some of these environmental issues. And that, you know, it was a real thing that I was going to deal with my kids were going to deal with, and that we needed to be teaching with. And this moment is called an ethical transformative moment in the the literature on transformative learning, Jack Meza row. And you know, people can change just like that. You just have this like, aha moment, you realize something, you see something clearly, and it changes your direction. And so this moment, this ethical moment of transformation, changed my direction, in my work, and in my teaching, and I literally went home and started writing different lesson plans and started doing different research and, you know, directing my work in a different way. What's interesting about this is that when you talk to business leaders, higher education leaders, teachers, you talk to people about sustainability and environmental awareness, and they will describe that moment, it's some describe like an awakening, some people have an illness, or something that changes their mindset. And it is, it's something that happens to people, so happened to me, and probably to you, that's probably how you got into the work you're doing, as well. And that's the moment ever since that's the moment that I've been wanting to create for students, because if they can have that type of aha moment in their learning, then it will change their direction.

Dave Karlsgodt 5:32

Krista, thanks for that introduction. And I think you're right. I think most of us have a moment like that in our own career. But it sounds like you've moved beyond just teaching sustainability to your own students and have now gone on to integrate these concepts into other courses in your institution. Tell us more about this as designation or sustainability designation?

Krista Hiser 5:51

Yeah, well, let me tell you where the S designation project came from. So in my own class, I was teaching the developmental composition at the time course called English 22. And the first thing I did was make my students start a campus recycling program. So they had to form a little company. And we made bins that were recycled big barrels that had bleach in them. And we painted them, we were alohar, and flowers, and started campus recycling programs. So one, let's just recall that in 2001, we did not have a campus recycling program. And now look at what's going on, you know, all the campuses that you visit, so 2001, there was no recycling programs. So my students put these bins out. And then they had to get the recyclables to a big dumpster, the special dumpster that the city and county with them come and pick up. And this was the beginning of Hawaii's statewide recycling center program. So my students, they didn't like doing this, they did not like collecting recycles, hauling them across campus dirty, it was sweaty, it was irritating. And they really did not want to be doing this type of work. But what was interesting about it is that it put them in direct, direct contact with behavior and behavior change, you know, with their own behavior, and then watching someone, you know, throw their lunch into the recycling container, or throw their soda bottle into the garbage can, you know, just watching that it really brought up a lot of interesting critical thinking issues, and, you know, wicked problems. And that's what really got me into it. Because we want to teach critical thinking. If you spend any time thinking about recycling, you're going to run into a wicked problem, and you're going to start engaging in critical thinking. So then I took students to the landfill, we have a waste to waste to energy facility. And, you know, recycling is probably a whole nother podcast topic that we could do. But it started to just unpack this huge issue of, of waste and materials and consumption, and the wicked problems. And so I really got into it that way. So really engaging with those issues, started taking other classes to the landfill and the H power facility. And then started talking with other teachers about the waste issue about some of our food security issues in Hawaii, and started saying, Well, you know, are you teaching this? How does this? What does this look like in your discipline? So it started out as informal conversations. And then in 2008, we had the first sort of system wide meeting. So there were, you know, a few writing teachers like me, some computer teachers, some scientists, natural resource people, of course. And you know, we were just started talking, what is sustainability? How does it change the way we teach? And what do we have in common in terms of how we're trying to teach this? And how can students find the sections? So that's really what the S designation project then is about is like, okay, teachers are teaching this. But if a student has an interest in sustainability, how can they find these classes in the curriculum, right, because the university is organized in this, like 19th century, disciplinary structure, geography, biology, botany, you know, humanities, and sustainability is, is embedded everywhere in the curriculum. And then students show up and say they, they say, Oh, I'm interested in sustainability. And, and they don't know where to find it, because they're coming from a different framework than, than that the Academy is, is organized. So then the next thing that happened was the Association for the Advancement of sustainability in higher education. So a group called AASHE was formed around that time, and they came out with a rating system called STARS. And I thought for sure University of Hawaii system would want to do the stars rating system. And a lot of stars, I'm sure you have interacted with stars in your work. A lot of STARS' work is about, you know, often operations side of things, how energy efficient are your buildings, water, use that kind of thing. And then this little piece of it is about curriculum. How are you teaching sustainability, climate change? How do these issues come into your classroom? Not just in what you're teaching, but in how you're teaching that? And how do we even know, really what's happening in the classroom. So I thought we would become a star school. And so I started studying the stars criteria. I kind of combine those with our conversation. And we said, you know, this is what a sustainability course looks like. And that was the origin of the project.

Dave Karlsgodt 11:44

Yeah, fascinating. You kind of took it from a needed opportunity to have my students have critical thinking. So I might as well throw them into sustainability, because it's really hard, rather than although I guess it did have a Genesis in your own passion. That's interesting. selfishly, I want to ask, you know, I'm sure there are people that are interested in how you got the S designation into your curriculum and the mechanics of that. But since I am on most of the work I do is on the operational side of the house of four universities, I guess I'm a little more interested in thinking about how do you go about teaching these concepts? Because I think that's something I might be able to glean some tricks from, in my work, I end up in a position of educating people on the operational side of the business. I run into roadblocks all the time, like, how do you talk about this? How do you bring up these topics without people's eyes glazing over or just hitting barriers left and right, because it is hard?

Krista Hiser 12:41

Right. Well, one of the first things I did was talk with students, I did a dissertation study, called students as stakeholders in the curriculum. And I did focus groups with students. And I asked them, you know, it's funny how you said that, because because I, if I asked students, Oh, are you interested in sustainability? Sometimes they would be like, what, what are you talking about? But if I can, if you come around sort of through a different direction, and start asking them about climate change, and invasive species and biodiversity and some of these other other issues, then they are very become very engaged in those things. So I was asking them, are your teachers teaching this? And how are they teaching it? And at first, they would say, you know, oh, no, it's not, we don't learn that in class. But then they would say, oh, except for, you know, when the teacher starts talking about water bottles, and water rights, and dishonor, you know, trying to buy water rights and sell water and things like that. And it turns out that faculty who are engaged will, you know, they'll teach they're values, they'll teach these issues, because they're thinking about them. And they're really smart people. So the sustainability curriculum would be coming in as a sidebar. And literally, that was the same in textbooks, right textbooks would have around that time, you know, a chapter on sustainability or a sidebar about, you know, plastic and the environment, something like that. And what this s designation does is take sustainability out of the sidebar, and really transform the curriculum. So having that conversation with students was really important. And then continuing that conversation with faculty. So faculty with talk about what's called cognitive dissonance. This is where operations comes in for you, it was really important to continue talking to faculty about teaching sustained ability, because what they would say is things like if they're in the classroom, and they teach about the importance of, you know, local food and keeping, keeping the local economy, things like that. And then if the students go across the Great Lawn to the cafeteria, and they find bananas from Mexico, in the cafeteria, or they look at why the healthy food is so much more expensive than, you know, the less healthy food issues like that. The teachers were telling me that frustrated them, and that the students, you know, we get one thing in the classroom, and then one thing in the cafeteria, just as an example. And that that found that very interesting. That's actually a psychological phenomena, called cognitive dissonance. cognitive dissonance is when a person holds two contradictory ideas at one time, and it's very uncomfortable. We do it all the time. But this application of the concept is a little different, because we're looking at a campus ecosystem. And the classroom is one part of the ecosystem. And the facilities are another part of it. And they have to resonate with each other. Yeah, so if the students are learning one thing in the classroom, and they don't see it, when they step out into a different part of their college experience, then it creates this cognitive dissonance, and it's uncomfortable, and it almost negates what they just learned. know,

Dave Karlsgodt 16:39

it's interesting, I have run into a lot of frustration in my own work, because I will, will interact with sustainability departments A lot of times, and part of their role is to help the operational side of the house, you know, become, you know, quote, unquote, greener. But a lot of their work has to do more with engaging students. And the way that you see that play out again, and again, and again, is, at least you know, sort of in the in the shallow sense is, you know, what do I do about water bottles on campus? Or what do I do about, you know, we should have a garden on on our campus, not really realizing that the scale of that compared to what the cafeteria serving is, is dwarfed. And, for me, I guess I run into a lot of cognitive dissonance when I, when I hear things like that, because I just it frustrates me because I don't, I guess I kind of feel it doesn't really matter, when the campus energy system is so much larger, so much of a bigger problem.

Krista Hiser 17:30

Right? Right. It might be interesting, if we talked instead about cognitive dissonance, what if we looked at the the potential for cognitive resonance, I may have just invented that term cognitive.

Dave Karlsgodt 17:47

I like it, you heard it here first.

Krista Hiser 17:48

Yeah, this is that whole, what we talked about in sustainability, the Living Learning Lab, concept of college campuses, and the way they are, you know, like, can be like a small town or an ecosystem. If a student learns it, in a classroom, experiences it on campus, sees, sees it in action in their community, a lot of students sustainability values come, of course, from their home, and from their community, from what they see at the grocery store, and so forth. So they're all interconnected, we need to think about all the places that a student interacts. The classroom, the campus, and their community are all really important sites, which is why it's important for faculty to also be engaged in the community, through programs like service learning, or just through their own, you know, engaged citizenship,

Dave Karlsgodt 18:52

I want to come back to something you mentioned earlier, because you said something about teachers bringing it up in class, I remember having experiences like that on my own college, I had an English teacher that would rant and rave, I think it was about traffic patterns, or something like that. And I used to get so frustrated, because I had nothing to do with the English course I was taking at the time. But I remember she was very passionate, and she took a good chunk of our class time to talk about whatever that was. Tell me more about that. Because it seems like you've run into that situation as well.

Krista Hiser 19:23

Well, teachers are people, and they will teach their values. They, whatever it is that they're passionate about, if they're a vegetarian, or a bike activist, a lot of the sustainability activism has been faculty driven. And those faculty will, it will bubble out of them in the way that they're teaching on the topic of the campus as a Living Learning Lab, right, so the faculty will say that whatever is being taught in the classroom, needs to be the student, if the students can experience it, then on campus, then they get that cognitive resonance. And that was maybe driving a lot of the work and campus operations. And what the research on sustainability in higher education some of the studies are saying is that the effort and energy on the operation side is actually beginning to exceed or surpass the change and transformation in the classroom, some of the classroom stuff is maybe it's just less visible. And that's what we are hope trying to do with this sustainability designation is again, make those classes more visible to students, and more visible to other faculty so that opportunities for interdisciplinary dialogue are created. What's interesting is that there is so much energy on the facilities and operation side with like energy goals and things like that. So you could actually have like, kind of the reverse impact. If students are seeing water conservation practices or energy, renewable energy, and they're not hearing about that in the classroom, then that's also a lost opportunity.

Dave Karlsgodt 21:26

Oh, that's interesting. So you're basically saying that, while you might think that what's being taught in the ivory tower, which is usually way out in front, or kind of the idealistic approach to things, you would think that they're teaching sustainability concepts that I had that like, way out ahead of facilities, but what you're saying is, facilities since they are in a lot of higher education institutions are pushing efforts like that. Yeah, they may be driving the education, not the other way around

Krista Hiser 21:52

I have seen some studies to that effect. Yes. Interesting. It's, it's a very interesting time. process can be very uncomfortable for faculty who, you know, have to look at what they're teaching, and, and what it means to students, and how they fit in with this whole s designation. Sometimes it can be a bit uncomfortable for faculty, it can be uncomfortable also, for facilities, managers, and administrators, sometimes it feels like there's different goals, sometimes competing goals, what is the direction we're going in? And I think the reason it feels uncomfortable is because it's change, change is difficult. What we're experiencing with sustainability in general, is really a paradigm shift. And this is a term that, you know, we we kind of use a lot paradigm shift. But what a paradigm shift really is, is a change in the fundamental knowledge, fundamental, shared common knowledge, like going from thinking the earth is flat to understanding that the earth is round, that is a paradigm shift. It's a change in scientific principle. And this is what's happening right now is a shift in, you know, the nature of life and our interaction with natural resources. The understanding that those resources are finite, is a change in how we think I looked up paradigm shift on Wikipedia. And I thought it was really interesting that somebody had added in there a one of those visual games an optical illusion, and it was a picture of a rabbit, or a duck. Depending on how you see it, you know, you kind of look at it one way, and it looks like a rabbit. Another way it looks like a duck. And this picture was representing what a paradigm shift feels like. And that that rabbit duck image is, is something I think about. Now, it when we look at Campus sustainability, we look at it one way and it looks like a rabbit. And then all of a sudden, you see it again, and it looks like a duck. And that change can happen. It's it's very, very uncomfortable. It's like, No, no, no, no, no, no, yes. And then the change can just happen like, all of a sudden, very quickly. And that's kind of where we're at right now, in the University of Hawaii system. I've been, you know, engaged in these conversations for 10 years, and they fell hard, they felt sticky, they're challenging, people would put energy in and then they get burnt out. A lot of false starts. And all of a sudden is the energy is different. And you know, it's we're starting to understand it.

Dave Karlsgodt 24:57

We had an experience like that with one of our clients, a large research institution in the Midwest, when we've been working with them over the course of a couple of years looking at different scenarios and how they could get off of coal. And at the time, it seemed pretty aspirational for them to actually pull it off. But it was interesting to see at a certain point, as the ideas percolated through the organization, and became kind of the ideas of the president and other key staff, it felt like overnight that they were able to make a transformational change. I think what was most striking to me was how wrong most of those early forecasts had been. I mean, everybody was predicting it would take him a really long time. And the only person that was even close to predicting how rapidly it would happen was a sustainability director. And even she underestimated where they eventually ended up. So it was a lot of fun to see that. But I, I guess it coming back to the term you used a second ago, you said the word cognitive dissonance. You've said that a few times that I, I guess I'd like to dig into that a little bit more. I know, a lot of the work we do, we will see people with goals, like a carbon neutrality goal of a certain year or something like that. But But along with that, they'll have these other goals that are things like, we're going to build more science buildings, or we're going to, you know, add more students or, you know, we're going to build, build, build and grow, grow, grow, but we're going to do it in a green way. And you know, a lot of term I always say to people is you can't grow your way to neutrality. But maybe he could. How, how should I think about that in this context? I mean, that's what do we do about cognitive dissonance?

Krista Hiser 26:28

Yes. Right. It's like one part of the organization, thinking one way like the sustainability department, or however it's organized, thinking one way, and then another part of campus thinking another way, it's interesting when campuses make these really big, aspirational goals, like we have a state goal to be for you h to be net zero by 2035. It's very aspirational for a leader to say that. And then, you know, the people whose job it is to make those changes, they're placed in that cognitive dissonance, suddenly, it's like, but, but how do we do that? Where does where do you even start, you know, and you'd begin with baseline measures. And we presented last week to the Board of regions. And we have an Energy Manager and his slide showed the the chart the line from where the campus was right now, in terms of renewable energy, and how it was going to get to 100%. net zero by 2035. And the, the line from 1.44%, 100% was of you have to start somewhere. But then you also have to trust that the change can be not just step wise, but jump wise, you know, it's like baby step, baby step, baby step, leap. And we have to trust that those leaps are going to happen if we keep going on baby steps.

Dave Karlsgodt 28:21

Yeah, they, we hear that term, incremental ism, which again, you can't really do baby steps all the way there, there has to be a giant leap somewhere the way? Yeah, I see that a lot. And it is it usually it's helpful when they have a goal like that, because at least it gets people thinking and talking. And I suppose the cognitive dissonance is part of the learning process, I suppose it's not necessarily a bad thing. It's or, or is it? You know, or is it just something we need to recognize?

Krista Hiser 28:47

cognitive dissonance is definitely something to recognize. It's something that happens to us all the time. And that discomfort causes us to, you know, examine our thought our thinking and our actions in a new way, when it becomes a bad thing is when there's a conflict between the thinking and the demonstrated environment. You know, it's very difficult, staying connected with sustainability and change and renewable energy. When it looks like business as usual, you know, when the media is still, you know, encouraging consumerism, and the mall is all lit up, and everybody's driving around, and it doesn't look like we're heading toward a climate crisis, it doesn't look like it, it looks like everything is fine as business as usual. And that's where I think cognitive dissonance where we can if we can address those experiences, so that students can interact with change, instead of just thinking and learning about change, when they begin to see it. That's what accelerates those those leaps. Not just in their, in their mind in that transformative learning. But in your campus projects and meeting those aspirational goals.

Dave Karlsgodt 30:34

Let's talk about the students then. So there's this concept of teaching students about sustainability. And I'm I mean that that's great, let's do that. Because in 10, or 20, or 30 years when they're running the world, will be really happy that they know these concepts. But, you know, in my day to day world, I'm placed in a position where I need to teach people that are already professionals in place about sustainability, because they're the ones that are actually making the decisions to buy the assets that we're going to be stuck with for the next 10 or 20 or 30 years. So I mean, how should I think about that?

Krista Hiser 31:03

Yeah, well, in some ways, you and I have the same job, because I'm talking with faculty about how they teach. And that is, that is one conversation. What What, what we do know a little bit about is how to teach sustainability with students. And I can tell you a couple of things that I've changed about my own teaching. Sure. One, one is that in talking with students, they'll describe, like being on a roller coaster with sustainability. If they're seeing, you know, film, like films like bag it, or, you know, any of these kind of eco attainment films, if they see that in one class, and then they're researching that, that problem or issue, and then they go to another class, and they might see the same film, and research that problem or issue. You know, we have to think about what they're learning in their other classes, and how it's going to resonate with what they're learning in our class, we have to work together to create some coherence in how we teach sustainability. Because if we don't, the risk is sometimes it's called Green fatigue. You know, if you get students all worked up about something, and then nothing happens, and then you get them all worked up and concerned again, and nothing happens, then they, they they tune out, they tune out from the real learning that is possible there. So what I did in my own teaching, I've been teaching environmental issues for almost 20 years. And I've read so many papers about polar bears floating on icebergs, and I just did not feel that these papers were sincere. I felt students were writing what they thought I wanted them to write. And they weren't really thinking through the issues. So instead of teaching the problem, so I used to send students out to you know, research and environmental issue. And then we'd write a research paper. We no longer start by teaching the problems, we start by engaging with the solutions, engaging with the solutions, kind of Prime's the mindset to become engaged in the problem, right, you want to become empowered and hopeful before you start doing the research, not vice versa. Maybe that sounds like a simple thing. But I really always am encouraging people to stop teaching problems teach the solution first.

Dave Karlsgodt 34:00

Now, I think we've kind of experienced that in our own work too. Because if we only if we just went in and talk to clients about how bad their issues are, I don't think we would get very far, the only reason we're there is because they want help figuring out the solutions. And if we can bring a message that there are some, we have a lot better chance of success than if we don't. So that totally makes sense to me.

Krista Hiser 34:19

So that's one thing. And another thing that I've learned a lot about from faculty is about the power of place. And of course, we're teaching in Hawaii, where we have an incredible host culture and incredible environment. Incredible degree of environmental impacts with biodiversity and all kinds of things going on here. The most powerful teacher we have is really the place itself is is nature itself, almost, if you teach in a classroom from a book, then it's easy to remain distant from from the information to detach from it. But if you're teaching from a grounded sense of place, it's got tremendous impact. And that's something that faculty talk about a lot.

Dave Karlsgodt 35:19

But it's interesting, you say that I remember my own experience when I grew up in Montana, where I could go fishing out my front door. And you know, it was right in the mountains as a kid. And then I went to school in Texas, and I remember how big of a shock it was just to not have the mountains right around me. And I never really realized how much appreciated that until I was moved away from it. And now that I've kids growing up in the city, we do our best to get them outside as much as possible. But you see a lot of their friends that they just have no connection whatsoever. It's just a it's a foreign experience to me, but I'm starting to understand a little better.

Krista Hiser 35:54

Yeah, well, you probably know about nature Deficit Disorder order. And it's a very real thing. If we're, if we're not connected to nature, we can't, we can't defend what we don't know what we don't what we don't love what we don't appreciate. So a lot of curriculum building does start there. Interesting, what I've learned about teaching sustainability, sustainability curriculum. And this is what I've learned from talking with faculty who are doing it, as well as from some other research on sustainability and higher education. And my own focus group research with students, it kind of boils down to a few guidelines, one is just not teaching from the problems teaching from the solutions being engaged and involved in real world solutions. The second is that idea of sense of place and being grounded in place, you know, the specific, whether it's Montana, where you're from, or here and Hawaii being grounded in place. The other thing that that comes up a lot is the importance of big picture thinking, systems thinking or creative thinking. One of our faculty actually designed a course around creative thinking. And it's actually something that you can learn, it can be practiced and developed, creative thinking. The university we are programmed to teach, you know, critical thinking. And that's actually the opposite of systems thinking critical thinking is taking things apart, systems thinking is putting them together, creative thinking is how to see problems in a new light. So teaching those kind of big picture thinking skills. And then the other skill that is most important, it's on all the workforce, future workforce skills. The most important is a communication, and both interpersonal and interpersonal. So the ability to talk with people engage people and become a change a change agent, you know, how to talk with people about climate change, or behavior change is, you know, right up there in the important skills for sustainability curriculum.

Dave Karlsgodt 38:26

Interesting. So we can't just have more engineering courses to work our way out of this.

Krista Hiser 38:32

No, it's it's, it is a much more interdisciplinary and even trans disciplinary endeavor. And, yeah, it's not just engineers, and we need different kinds of engineers.

Unknown Speaker 38:49

That's it for this episode. We hope you enjoyed part one of our two part series with Dr. Krista Hiser. As always, you can learn more the show notes and the podcast website at campusenergypodcast.com. Please let us know what you think by sending us an email. Our email address is feedback@campusenergypodcast.com. Catch you next time.