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By Liz Bloomhardt

Originally Published December 8, 2011

 

Duke has stepped off the coal train. Nostalgia, however, has us hanging on to the memories, but it’s time to move on. For posterity, let us note the role of coal in the University’s history with a plaque then move on by renaming Coal Pile Drive.

The time is right for this change to happen. First, because the University recently ended its use of coal after more than 80 years as the primary fuel source. Second, because the Duke University Medical Center (DUMC) is currently undergoing a dramatic physical transformation that should and will take center stage of the roadway. Third, because the University has more notable people and accomplishments to celebrate than a coal pile.

To the first point, in the Spring of this year, Duke officially ended its more than 80-year reliance on coal as the primary fuel source for on-campus steam production. Steam is primarily used to heat buildings on campus. Prior to implementation of the Climate Action Plan (CAP) in 2009, coal made up nearly 90 percent of the fuel mix for steam production. At the same time, steam production itself contributed 24 percent of the total emissions of the University.

Since the CAP was implemented, a careful juggling act of steam capacity has taken place. The East Campus Steam Plant, located next to Smith Warehouse, has been renovated and restored to run on natural gas. As a result, the CAP calculates a drop in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of nearly 10 percent compared to baseline estimates. The full measure of actual reductions from the renovations will appear in reporting for 2011, which is not yet available. Presumably, 2011 should prove to be another successful year of reductions in campus GHG emissions.

It’s now time for the West Campus Steam Plant to receive a facelift. The coal pile is now gone, and so is the equipment required to move and burn coal within the facility. In its place, additional natural gas boilers will be installed with fuel oil back-up. The building will also undergo restoration to reveal the original architecture, similar to the award-winning facelift of the East Campus facility. Once in operation, the West Campus Steam Plant will resume primary steam production and the East Campus Steam Plant will serve to compliment that capacity when necessary.

Plant modification is not the only activity happening on Coal Pile Drive these days. The drive is also undergoing a dramatic transformation from back alley to front door. Not more than two years ago, the uninviting river of pavement ran by a small patch of woods, then the actual coal pile on its way to the hospital. For visitors, you may have hardly noticed the coal pile itself. Instead you were more likely to be caught in awe by the tall smoke stacks imposing on the skyline with their harsh industrialism. You might also have been caught, literally, between the tall concrete wall holding back the coal pile and oncoming traffic.

Now, there is a guard stationed under a collapsible tent, with construction cranes and heavy equipment vigorously building out what will be a dramatically transformed part of DUMC. New buildings include the Duke University Cancer Center, the new Duke Medicine Pavilion, a hospital expansion and the new School of Medicine Learning Center. In addition to the new buildings, plans are in place to connect DUMC with a spine of greenways and quadrangles that provide healing natural environments for patients, families and visitors. That spine will run down the old Coal Pile Drive and connect DUMC with the Engineering Quad and the rest of campus. A screen of trees will be planted between this pedestrian way and the renovated steam plant.

With Coal Pile Drive’s defining landmark no longer in place, it seems natural that its name should also be retired from use. According to retired University Architect, John Pearce, he officially bestowed the name on the access road in the 1990s when the Durham Fire Marshal required 911 addresses for all on-campus buildings. Prior to that time it may have been referred to as Coal Pile Drive, but the name was apparently not official as it was a private road.

Regardless of the origin, the moniker is no longer needed for orientation. In addition to being a prime naming opportunity for a potential donor, the new greenway should serve as the foundation for the new name, demanding in its own right the honor of orienting the campus.

Duke no doubt has reason to celebrate the significant milestones on the road to its greener future. Ending its use of coal is one of those milestones, and the renovation and renaming of Coal Pile Drive is a true opportunity to paint the campus landscape in our future vision.

Liz Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in earth and ocean sciences. This is her final column of the semester.

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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published April 8, 2011

The sitting U.S. president was too busy launching a reelection campaign to meet for this column, but I did stop by the Allen Building where the president of Duke University, Richard Brodhead, agreed to let me into his office. What follows is an account of our conversation, edited for clarity and brevity.

Green Devil: Can you describe the process you went through in deciding to sign the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment [in 2007, also signed by nearly 300 other colleges and universities, that set in motion the drafting of Duke’s Climate Action Plan and the commitment to reaching carbon neutrality by 2024]?

Richard Brodhead: You start by asking the question, does this university believe in sustainability? Yes. Do we believe that humans have an impact on the environment? Yes. Do we believe, therefore, that over time humans should alter their behavior so as to show greater respect for the environment? Yes.

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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published January 14, 2011

On Monday, Duke Energy and Progress Energy announced that they would merge in a stock deal worth a reported $13.7 billion. In the process, the two North Carolina-based utilities would create not only the largest electric utility in the country with territory in North and South Carolina, Indiana, Ohio, Florida and Kentucky, but also become a near monopoly in the North Carolina energy market.

Duke Energy already provides Duke University with all of its electrical power and is responsible for a whopping 52 percent of the University’s total campus greenhouse gas emissions, albeit indirectly. To quote from the University’s 2009 Climate Action Plan, “The carbon intensity of these emissions will be impacted by Duke Energy’s plans to reduce their GHG emissions over time.” The carbon intensity of such a large slice of the emissions pie will, by extension, significantly impact the University’s goal of reaching carbon neutrality, and that’s why Duke University cares about the impact of this merger.

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By Liz Bloomhardt

Published December 13, 2010

It has been a little more than one year since the Board of Trustees approved the University’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) at their October 2009 meeting. Since then, it’s been a busy year for the environment, both on and off campus.

Nationally, the spotlight swung to the Gulf of Mexico in late April, coinciding with the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and BP’s Macondo well blew-out, starting a gushing torrent of oil that would not be stemmed for three months. Impacts from the spill are still being felt in the region’s economy and environment, as well as in Washington, D.C. Veteran of the Hill and Director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Tim Profeta explained that the disaster, which should have provided the perfect impetus for action on the comprehensive climate legislation set for debate in the Senate, instead presented as “a perfect mismatch in the legislative vehicle with the situation that was creating the political window [for action].” The climate bill had promised to expand offshore drilling.

While the national carbon approach may be on hold, instead shifting to a debate on more specific policy approaches for the energy and transportation sectors, California’s AB 32, a state based approach to a cap-and-trade system on carbon, survived a ballot referendum and will take effect in the coming year.

Duke is not isolated from this national dialogue. In fact, it is quite the opposite in terms of both academic pursuits and the subsequent contributions to policy development.

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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published November 19, 2010

The old adage says, “You are what you eat.”

In which case, I hope I can soon say “I am Duke.”

What I mean by that, of course, is that having eaten food grown locally and sustainably—by Duke students on Duke land at a Duke farm—then prepared and featured in an eatery on campus, I will be able to say, “I am what I eat, I am Duke.”

This is not a pipe dream, and it all started in a class: Professor Charlotte Clark’s “Food and Energy.” Now holding the title of project manager for the farm, Emily Sloss, a Trinity ’10 public policy major, told me “the idea for the Duke Campus Farm came out of a research project to see if a farm would be feasible, and it was.”

So what started as a class project has turned into a full-fledged effort by several current and recent graduates to start the Duke Campus Farm. The Farm’s mission, according to its website, is to “educate the student body on sustainable farming practices, increase Duke’s sustainability and reconnect our generation with its food.”

Duke is not an agricultural school in the vein of public land grant universities, nor is this endeavor aiming in that direction. But, food is perhaps the most classic of interdisciplinary subjects. It has implications in health, environment, policy, economics, business and technology-related fields. In this sense, it fits the Duke model perfectly.

We each follow our own journey toward food awareness. For some, like Sloss—who comes from a family of farmers in Iowa—it can be inherited. “They are conventional farmers,” she told me. “And it’s important, I realized, that there was some sort of disconnect between their farming practices and how I connected with my food.”

For my turn, I ventured over to the library. The last five years have seen a proliferation in food-related exposés exploring the true nature of our national food systems. I started with “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals,” a book by Micheal Pollon that follows the food chain from “earth to the plate” along an industrial, pastoral and forest food chain. I then moved to the couch to catch a few movies, starting with the documentary film “King Corn,” before venturing into the more recent film “Food, Inc.” (Ah, movies. Sometimes research can be so fun.) I know I haven’t hit it all because each person I talked to in putting this column together has suggested another book or resource to add to my reading list.

Perhaps representative of the recent blossoming of both Duke’s food scene and the larger literary dialogue is Emily McGinty, a sophomore who discovered the same books and more while in high school and has since jumped into the burgeoning Duke food scene as president of the Duke Community Garden. Located next to the Smart Home, the Duke Community Garden was started in Fall of 2008. It is run by undergraduates and attracts its growers mostly from the faculty and staff populations.

A short hop away, the Honey Patch is another garden on campus. Located next to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, the Honey Patch is operated largely by Nicholas School students and the Duke Apiary Club, who make honey on the site as well.

These several existing food- and garden-related groups on campus don’t diminish the role of a farm. They enhance it. Aiming for something the garden groups have had limited success in accomplishing, the Duke Campus Farm aims to partner with Bon Appétit, the food service company that manages the Great Hall and East Union Marketplace, and takes in roughly 30 percent of the food revenue generated on campus. The smaller garden projects have each faced hurdles trying to sell to Bon Appétit—largely liability related—that a dedicated farm can overcome, especially with the backing of administrators.

This is not a new or novel idea for Bon Appétit, which touts a sustainable food philosophy that includes a commitment to a 20 percent minimum allocation of food dollars to locally sourced goods from producers and growers. They have also successfully partnered with campus farms and gardens at other schools. To encourage the idea, a student garden guide is available on their website. It addresses some of the issues that can hinder a healthy relationship, emphasizing planning, communication, customer expectations, pricing and invoicing, all very relevant issues that fall on the business side of agriculture.

With plans to hold workshops and incorporate class lessons with activities on the Farm, the learning opportunities are clear and limitless. This is a win for Duke.

Support the gardens. Learn about your food. Support the farm. Connect.

“You can change the world [and Duke] one bite at a time.” (Food Inc.)

Note: The Duke Campus Farm will be holding its next work day this Saturday, Nov. 20. Get more information and sign up at: http://sites.google.com/sites/dukecampusfarm/.

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By Liz Bloomhardt

Published November 5, 2010

Fuqua Student (FS), you know who you are. You stood at the edge of the parking lot during graduate and professional student Campout with the bottom half of the hamburger bun in your hand and asked me, “Which one does it go in?”

Since this column isn’t actually about being wasted, which you may have been, and since this wasn’t your first time through the waste-free lunch sorting station, I challenged you to figure it out. You paused, looking down at the barrels and the signs, and claimed you didn’t know.

“Go with your gut,” I told you, assuming too much.

You threw that little scrap of bread in the trash.

“Wrong!” I told you. “Try the compost.”

FS, you embody a simple truth: Without me standing there waving my hands at the appropriate barrel, most people get equally flustered when confronted with this seemingly simple choice, or ignore it altogether.

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Authors Note: Editors at the Chronicle changed the title of this column during final editing for the published edition to Wastful, which, unfortunately, changes the delivery. It has been retitled online and in this post as originally submitted.

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By Liz Bloomhardt

Published October 22, 2010

In the seven years since the Board of Trustees adopted the current LEED standard to target a level silver certification on all new construction and renovation projects, the University has registered 27 projects with U.S. Green Building Council for certification. Despite the seemingly large number of registered projects, Duke is not yet getting the full benefit of its LEED commitment.

While “generally” resulting in better buildings from a maintenance and utilities perspective, John Noonan, associate vice president for facilities, informed me in an e-mail that “as we audited past LEED projects, we found a lot of emphasis placed on scoring points, and perhaps less so on focusing the points in areas that impact energy.” Specifically, according to a 2009 study of 20 LEED registered projects on campus, conducted by Nicholas School Masters student Amy Dao, Duke was only awarded an average 28 percent of the total number of energy points, while getting over 50 percent of the available LEED points in all other categories.

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