Sustainability is about ecology, economy and equity.- Ralph Bicknese

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What Do You Call Dangerous Precipitation?

A rain of terror!

That was some very bad Washington weather humor. But with the weaker-than-forecast weather systems that blew through the area last weekend, I couldn’t resist a bit of comic relief.

Worrisome Windstorms

The National Weather Service (NWS) and other meteorologists forecast a couple of systems that were supposed to bring historic rain and wind storms Thursday through the weekend. The second of the storms (a spin-off of typhoon Songda) was forecast to be the larger, more dangerous of the one-two punch systems. Below is the NWS Seattle’s forecast and advisory warning given Thursday before the storm.

Heavy rain did come. A week after the storm, the SEA-TAC airport climate summary recorded total rainfall over 6 inches for the month, over 3 times the average recorded last year for the month of October (3.27). While some of that came from systems that moved through the area after the one-two punch systems, the majority of that precipitation was dropped by the “Stormageddon”.

Coming off of our moderately dry spring and summer, this was one of the first major storms to kick off the rainy season and replenish our watersheds — but not without consequence.




In terms of wind, Western Washington was urged to prepare for potential flooding and winds of up to 60-70 MPH on the coast and 40-60 MPH for some areas of Seattle metro. In reality, the coast received winds between 30-70 MPH and inland areas recorded 30-40 MPH winds with a few 50 MPH gusts. Although the windstorms weren’t as serious for us in Seattle, a couple of rare tornadoes were created in Oregon Friday morning.

Some flooding and landslides were reported in the area and thousands of residents experienced power outages, as trees depleted by summer heat were more vulnerable to snapping under the pressure of their rain-soaked leaves. Luckily, the storm did not develop and veered about 50 miles off the track that models predicted, even as late as Saturday morning. Thus, the magnitude of damage was significantly less than what meteorologists and the media predicted.

Both NWS Seattle and Portland were transparent about faulty forecasting on Facebook and Twitter. Here’s a meteorologist from UW’s take on the aftermath of the storms.

I kept up with the weather systems all weekend on social media and was both intrigued and perplexed by some posts. Here’s a pretty funny meme that was floating around the interwebs after the storm rolled through:

Still, I was surprised to see how upset some were that the storm didn’t impact them more. It seems to me that this weakened storm was a good test of the area’s emergency procedures, coordination, and infrastructure. It also prepared thousands of residents for future disasters.

Emergency Preparedness

So what can you do to ensure safe weathering of the next storm? Here are a few tips:

  • Emergency Kits: these are essential to have at home and in your car in the case of any disaster. Plan for three days of food and water supplies as well as first-aid items, phone chargers, copies of important documents, and personal hygiene items. Here’s a checklist to ensure you’re all stocked up.
  • Make a plan: gather your emergency preparedness supplies and come up with a strategy in the event of power outages, downed trees, or evacuation. Discuss your plan and stay connected with family, friends, neighbors, and community members before, during, and after the event. Be sure to identify an out-of-area contact as well. Here’s an infographic with helpful tips if you find yourself driving in severe weather:

  • Stay informed: keep up to date with the storm’s progression as well as the status of the city’s roads, power lines, and water supply. Here’s a great preparedness website with a list of important windweatherrain and floods, and transit sites.

For students, keep alternative light sources handy (SPU does not allow open-flame candles, however, the jug light idea is pretty cool!).

Although the storms greatly replenished our watersheds, this dangerous precipitation did produce a rain of terror for some trees in our area and especially in Tiffany Loop. For next time, be aware of emergency procedures in on-campus housing or within your neighborhood if you’re off-campus and stay in communication with the people in your life.

Connecting the Missing Link

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This summer I’ve enjoyed running on the Burke Gilman Trail (BGT). Some evenings I’ll use the trail to connect my route from SPU to Gasworks Park; other times I’ll run from yoga in Ballard towards Fremont to get back home. Rain or shine, thousands of cyclists and pedestrians frequent the 19.8-mile trail every day. Extending from Bothell to Ballard, the multi-use trail runs alongside various bodies of water including Lake Washington, Lake Union, the Fremont Cut, Salmon Bay, and Shilshole Bay.


The Burke Gilman trail with various road access and recreational points along the way.

The BGT has been one of the best surprises and most accessible places for me to exercise, although I’ve always felt leery (Leary) about running through the Missing Link. Following those feelings, I decided to do some research on the mile-and-a-half portion and how its completion may affect trail-users at SPU.  Continue reading

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Mottainai: Waste Nothing, Respect All

Have you ever thought about how much waste you generate on a daily basis? If you’ve spent any time in Japan, you may be more aware of your waste habits. Last December, my sister visited the country and got first-hand experience of this. She was struck by Japan’s lack of public trashcans and surprisingly litter-free streets. Some municipalities have over 44 different garbage categories and people often carry around their trash all day to dispose of it properly at home.

Waste is a serious matter in Japan, guided for centuries by the cultural concept of Mottainai

having respect for the resources around you, to not waste these resources and to use them with a sense of gratitude.”

This way of life and disposal makes sense for an island country with limited landfill space. It’s encouraging that affluent, consumer-based countries have created such dynamic cultural waste norms, especially in light of America’s throw-away habits. For food waste alone, it’s estimated that the U.S. tosses 30-40% of its food produced annually, costing about $165 billion and producing almost 34 million tons of waste. Considering that every ton of food wasted creates 3.8 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, the scope of this issue is staggering. What’s more, globally about $1 trillion or one-third of all food produced goes uneaten.

Due to these realities, we conduct an audit to track SPU’s waste contribution. This year with the implementation of a campus-wide compost program, it was a lengthier collection and recording process. Over the course of May, we analyzed about 820 cubic yards or 310,535 lbs. of waste: 26% garbage, 61% recyclables, and 13% compostables.  Continue reading

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The Commute

Almost half of SPU’s student body commutes to campus. Have you ever wondered how all of that time getting to and from campus contributes to overall student wellness and SPU’s environmental footprint? Over the last few months, we’ve collected a bit of data to find out.

In terms of happiness, studies connect commuting to lower rates of well-being, physical exercise, political activity, and life satisfaction as well as higher levels of emotional and relational stress. At the same time, some studies have found that the happiest commuters are those who walk, cycle, or take the train to work. In addition to increasing happiness, fewer greenhouse gas emissions are emitted into the environment by commuters who are able to take advantage of these options. If you’re a commuter unable to walk or cycle, consider carpooling or taking public transportation even a few times throughout the year to decrease your eco-footprint – every bit helps. Additionally, be sure to check out the resources offered by SPU’s wellness initiative! 

As far as environmental footprint goes, commuting mileage has a bigger institutional impact than one might think. In 2011, faculty and staff commuting made up 6% and student commuting accounted for 23% of our total Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions.  To continue our efforts in effectively measuring and lowering SPU’s GHG emissions, we conduct an annual Student Commute Survey. Continue reading

Graduating to a Green Lifestyle (in 5 easy steps)

While there are difficulties to being sustainable in college as a student, there will still be challenges when I graduate in a few days! There have been posts about how to be green while a student, but the choices graduates make are just as important. Here are a few things I plan to change once I graduate.seattle-farmers-market-john-ong-flickr

Food Choices: For me, food choices are the majority of my budget besides rent, so making sustainable choices around food is a huge part of my life. Particularly the packaging of the food I buy is what I notice in my trash can. Zero waste tip number one from Lauren Singer is evaluate what your garbage is, and for me it’s filmy plastic that usually was wrapped around some sort of food. In taking her advice I would like to switch to buying less packaged food. The reason I haven’t done this already had been due to my limited time for cooking, so premade food has been my go to. Hopefully with no homework I’ll have some time to cook whole foods that don’t come in packages. Another sustainable option in choosing foods is looking to support organic growing practices and local produce to reduce pesticides in water systems and emissions from transporting produce long distances. Hopefully I’ll save some money making these choices too! Continue reading

Sustainability & Film: Just Eat It

Food waste is at it again, and this movie shines the spotlight on how America has its work cut out. Just Eat It is a film about food lovers, food waste, and how far some are willing to go to help reduce edible food ending up in the landfills. Food waste is not only contributing to food insecurity, but also to wasted water and land use in growing the food as well.JustEatITimage

If you haven’t seen the other few posts related to food waste, check them out for more information! You can also check out this film if you’re in the Seattle area. There are many showings of it across Seattle and viewing is free so you can learn more about how food waste is happening right under our noses.

If you’d like some positive information though about an organization that saves food, you can learn from and volunteer with Seattle Food Rescue! They recover small amounts of food from local businesses that would usually go to waste and deliver them to low income residents of Seattle. The best part? They do it via bike to prevent further carbon emissions.

Food rescue or recovery is one way to ensure food feeds people and not compost bins!

COP21 -The Paris Talks Resolution

COP21 –The Paris Talks Resolution

As a follow up to my previous post announcing the COP21 or SIF15 Climate Change talks happening in Paris, I’m going to look at some of the outcomes and highlights following the conference.

The conference ended on December 12th after additional days being added for continued negotiation. There has been an agreement drafted and signed by 195 countries to reduce climate change, with specific plans outlined in that document.

The conference included over 75 speakers and included the Sustainable Innovation Forum, which was the largest business event that engaged NGO’s, individuals, and investors to be a part of the climate change around the world, in a positive way. Speeches given provided examples of ways that businesses can see profits from being energy efficient or creating zero-carbon alternatives to current products adding to carbon emissions.

Many people had a lot to say about the agreement and how they think it will have impacts for our future. The majority seem to say that it was monumental for an international agreement to be reached around the growing issue of climate change. Yale Climate Connections compiled some of the earliest thoughts on the results of the conference just days after it had concluded.cop21-unfccc-paris-agreement-1550x804

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions put together some bullet points to help sum up the conclusion of the agreement:

  • The goal to limit global temperature increase well below 2 degrees Celsius
  • Commit all countries to reporting progress on their emissions regularly
  • Establish and reaffirm binding commitments to make “nationally determined contributions”, and resubmit these contributions every five years
  • Extending a mechanism to address loss and damage from climate change, which won’t require liability or compensation
  • Require parties engaging in international emissions trading to avoid double counting

Today, countries are signing the agreement in honor of Earth day in New York. This is a monumental occasion and I think one of the best ways to honor the earth we live on. Over 130 countries have agreed to sign the agreement, initiating their process towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change, specifically the 2 degree target.

Additionally, from the “Why not?” speech given by the UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, the hope is that developing countries could skip the steps of the developed nations and go straight to low-carbon and low-impact transport solutions. The focus of his speech is really how private sector businesses can make a huge impact on how the future of emissions changes.

It is an exciting day in history, so celebrate the Earth today and the rest of your days!