Archive for Good Stuff

Air Quality Index for Minnesota

One of the secondary roles of all GreenCorps members this program year is to inform employees of our host site and the community at large about air quality.  The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) maintains an Air Quality Index (AQI) for the state of MN using data from 11 cities across the state.  The MPCA has this information, broken down into local regions, on their Current Air Quality website which is updated every hour.  These hourly AQI numbers are based on measurements of five pollutants including fine particles, ground-level ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide.

The actual calculation of the index is a rather complex process but the MPCA has that information on their website for those who are interested.  Once the index is calculated (this happens hourly) it is scored on a 5 tier/300 point scale from good (0-50), moderate (51-100), unhealthy for sensitive groups (101-150), unhealthy (151-200), and very unhealthy (201-300).  When the particulate with the highest scored AQI exceeds 101 the MPCA will issue an air quality alert.  You can sign up to be notified by email or text message when an alert is issued by going to  The MPCA also has mobile apps for both Android & iOS devices to view real-time air quality information on the go.  The EPA uses a very similar scale to rate air quality for the entire United States, you can view this information at

You can use this information to make informed decisions about your time spent outside.  Most days in Minnesota fall into the good air quality category meaning that air pollution levels are not expected to cause any negative health impacts to the population.  However, when the air quality falls into the moderate category, it means air pollution levels are elevated and some groups such as people with asthma may experience negative health effects.  If the air quality worsens, high levels of air pollution are expected and can affect a wider range of people.  Some of these groups include those with preexisting cardiovascular or lung disease, older adults, children, and otherwise healthy individuals participating in extended outdoor activity.  Finally when the air quality reaches the unhealthy category, everyone can experience negative side effects.  All groups of people should avoid spending time outside especially near high emitting pollution sources, and everyone should adjust activity levels by rescheduling or reducing the duration or intensity of their activities where possible.

There are a number of factors that can influence air quality in Minnesota.  The most common cause is changing weather patterns that increase rate at which air pollutants are formed in the air.  Fine particle pollution can rise above the good threshold at any time of the year but this happens most often between November and March.  These pollutants are what caused the air quality to fall into the moderate category across much of the state last week.  Ozone pollution tends to be more common on hot sunny days with calm winds.  Ozone pollution is also different than other types of pollutants because it is not directly emitted from a fixed source but rather is formed from a reaction between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds in the air.

One very important thing to remember is that there are many things that you can do to keep the air good in Minnesota.  In your home you can choose environmentally safe paints and cleaning products if at all possible.  Another great day-to-day change you can make is to drive less both for commuting and errands.  If you have a wood burning stove make sure that it meets EPA design specifications and burn only dry, seasoned wood.  You can also reduce your homes energy use and choose Energy Star appliances when purchasing new ones.  Now you know the pollutants, how they are measured, factors that influence daily air quality and most importantly, what you can do to help!

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LSC Launches NEW Green Office Challenge

LSC is launching its NEW Green Office Challenge in 2018!  This core  Minnesota GreenCorps member project aims to provide energy and waste efficiency information and tips to our campus employees while offering a bit of friendly inter-office competition.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Within their office suites, teams will earn points using our online survey.  One representative will complete the Green Office Challenge survey to represent their office suite/team.  The survey takes about 5 minutes to complete (easy-peasy!) and covers current practices for managing energy and waste.
  2. Each team will receive a score, based on a 37 point scale, and will receive a “Sprout”, “Sapling”, or “Leader” rank, and will be represented with a sticker to proudly display in their office.

The Sustainability Council will use the information gathered to target its outreach and innovation efforts for the year, and through 2018, they’ll create additional awards (think, “leading leader”, “most improved”, “best new idea”, “most creative accounting”….).

As of the end of May we have had 13 teams (including our office in the Biology dept.) fill out the survey.  We also have a follow up survey available so we can track the changes that offices are making.  If you would rather complete a paper version of either survey email

Questions or Suggestions:  Contact


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Some extra GREEN this holiday season!

Some more energy tips from our Minnesota GreenCorps desk!

With the holidays upon us there are many things on our minds, not most of which is how to save energy. The good news is that with a little planning and thinking ahead you can reduce energy use.

One topic you might consider is gifting.  With TVs for example, many consumers take the initial cost into account when purchasing but often forget the cost of energy to operate it over the life of the product. The ENERGY STAR website is an excellent place to search for not only TVs but all types of energy efficient household appliances and electronics.

For decorations, you might again look to ENERGY STAR certified products like LED decorative light strings. These lights use 75% less energy than comparable incandescent decorative lights. In addition to their energy saving benefits, decorative lights that meet ENERGY STAR specifications do not have moving parts, filaments, or glass which enhances their durability compared to conventional lights. ENERGY STAR certified lights are also cool to the touch meaning they reduce the risk of starting a fire when compared to conventional lights.

Another thing to keep in mind is not only what lights you use but also how often those lights are on. There are a number of devices and timers to help you control when and how long your lights are on. These devices are also pretty inexpensive which makes them easy to justify, considering the potential energy savings, and you can’t complain about having one less thing to think about!  Also, if you leave your home for the holidays, consider using a lighting timer for home safety.

Finally, a great FREE tip for energy savings, regardless of the season, is to adjust your thermostat. According to Minnesota Energy Resources, you can reduce your energy use by 1-3% for every 1° you lower your thermostat.  This can be especially helpful if you leave your home for a few days. Alternatively, reducing the thermostat while you’re home does not have to mean making your house uncomfortable. Consider lowering your thermostat when entertaining, the human and appliance heat generated from all your day’s activities can offset the reduction in your thermostat temperature!

With these simple changes, you can reduce your energy use and focus on the more important things!

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Holiday Energy Saving Tips

Quick Tips from the LSC GreenCorps Desk:

The beginning of holiday travel season is here and for many people that means travel away from home.  With so much going on during the holidays, saving energy can be an afterthought, but by doing just a few things you can save energy while you’re away from home this holiday season.

Did you know that electronics left plugged in (even when not in use) can still draw power?  The easiest way to combat this is to remember to unplug those electronics before heading out or streamline the process and plug all these devices into a power strip.  You can check your own electronics’ energy use by borrowing a kill-a-watt meter from the LSC Library.

Lighting is one of the major sources of energy for any home.  If you are looking to upgrade to more efficient bulbs but are not sure which ones you need, check out The Right Light App.  This new tool allows you to find out which bulb you need by asking you several easy questions about your existing bulbs or outlets.  Also remember to turn lights off before you leave town!  You can keep a few bulbs on a timer if you don’t want to leave your residence completely dark.

If you are leaving town for the holidays you can reduce your thermostat to about 50 degrees without fear of pipes freezing.  Also making sure that curtains and blinds are drawn can help keep heat inside the house while you are gone.

For more long-term improvements you can contact Ecolibrium3 about the Duluth Energy Efficiency Program which can offer assistance with weatherization related home energy improvement projects.  They can help you decide what improvements you want to make and also help you find any relevant tax credits or subsidies.

By just following these simple tips you can save energy while you are out and about and reduce your energy bill at the same time!

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LSC is a B3 BEST!

LSC brought home the “cedar” in the higher education division of B3’s annual Best of B3 Benchmarking!  WHOA, let’s unpack that jargon suitcase…

What’s B3? Simply put, it means Buildings Benchmark and Beyond (B x 3).  Not helpful?  From the B3 website, 

The B3 tools and programs are designed to help make buildings more energy efficient and sustainable. The B3 programs have been developed for and are required on State-funded projects in Minnesota, however they are easily applied to any project. The B3 Guidelines and the SB 2030 Energy Standard can be applied to new and renovated buildings during design. B3 Benchmarking, B3 Energy Efficient Operations and the B3 Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) can be used to evaluate and improve existing buildings.

LSC is a state institution, which means we apply these high efficiency standards for most building and renovation projects.  Each year, a team of experts takes a look at projects and identifies the over achievers in a number of categories.  This year, LSC was recognized along with these other fine projects:

Best of B3 Design:
  • City of Mankato Transit Facility
  • DNR Area Office, Glenwood
  • Higher Ground Saint Paul
Best of SB 2030:
  • DNR Area Office, Glenwood
  • Hamline Station Apartments
  • M State – Moorhead Transportation Center: Addition and Renovation
 Best of B3 Indoor Environmental Quality – Classroom
  • Metropolitan State University Jason R. Carter Science Education Center 
  • Minnesota State Normandale Community College Partnership Center
  • University of Minnesota – Herbert M. Hanson Hall
 Best of B3 Benchmarking – Local Government:
  • City of Hutchinson
  • City of La Crescent
  • City of Prior Lake
 Best of B3 Benchmarking – Public Schools:
  • Big Lake Schools
  • Maple Lake Public Schools
  • Wright Technical Center
Best of B3 Benchmarking – State Agency:
  • Department of Natural Resources
  • Department of Correctional Facilities
  • Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board
 Best of B3 Benchmarking – Higher Education:
  • Lake Superior College
  • Minnesota West Community & Technical College – Worthington Campus
 Best of B3 Leadership – Organization:
  • Department of Transportation
  • Minnesota Department of Military Affairs
  • University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

And we won!  Well, technically, we tied with Minnesota West Community and Technical College, which is okay with us, because energy efficiency is a WIN for everyone!

One last tidbit.  How do they decide who wins?  That’s the exciting part!  B3 Benchmarking means we’re all doing just that, benchmarking and tracking our energy and water use data.  Across our almost 400,000 square feet of building space, we achieved an 16% lower than code-based energy use intensity; a 10% reduction from 2015.

Check out the Minnesota State Campus B3 Benchmarking site for monthly updated energy data, because you can’t manage what you don’t measure!

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GreenCorps Update: Vending and Snack Misers Save Energy and Money

Chris has been busy over the last few weeks, designing and implementing an energy savings project focused on our 29 campus vending and snack machines.  This project is a refresh of one we started in 2009, but as machines get changed out and moved, the energy misers are sometimes disconnected or incorrectly installed. Chris’ task was to capture baseline energy use for cold vending and non-refrigerated snack machines, and figure out how to best utilize existing EnergyMisers to save energy and money.

Pay no attention to the man behind the vending machines

First, Chris used two Kill-O-Watt meters, which are available for check out in the LSC Library, to get his energy baseline.  For one week, he captured energy use per machine type (one for snack machines, one for a typical cold vending machine).   Then, he installed and reconnected existing EnergyMisers.  The EnergyMiser is a device with a motion sensor attached to it that can override the vending machine and switch it into a low power mode if it does not sense any motion for 15 minutes.  With misers attached, Chris used the same Kill-O-Watt meters to capture use data for connected machines.

The results are very encouraging.  The drink machine used 31% less energy with a miser attached and the snack machine used 51% less energy with a miser attached.  When these energy savings are translated into dollars (because we like math…and money), the impacts are far reaching.  Using a 6-month average electric rate for LSC (Jan-Jun 2017), Chris calculated the EnergyMiser savings.  He found a savings of $22.56 per snack machine per year and $80.40 per drink machine per year.  Extrapolated across the main campus, LSC’s 24 drink machines and 5 snack machines means the project will save $112.80 annually for the 5 snack machines and $1,929.60 for all 24 drink machines on campus!

Chris will be taking his project “on the road”, assessing the savings potential for the LSC Airport and ERTC campuses.  He is also looking at the energy savings potential for other appliances on campus.  Stay tuned!

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LSC Hosts a Minnesota GreenCorps Member for 2017-18

LSC is thrilled to be a Minnesota GreenCorps host site for the 2017-18 service year!  This is the 9th program year for the AmeriCorps affiliate program that is coordinated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).  The program is funded through grants from the federal CNCS, Serve Minnesota, and a combination of state and local in-kind resources.  The goals of MN GreenCorps are to help preserve and protect Minnesota’s environment while training a new generation of environmental professionals.  Not every applicant is chosen.  This year, of the 100 host site and 130 member applications, 40 members were place at 40 local governments, nonprofits, and educational institutions across the state.

The GreenCorps program members serve in 1 of the 7 focus areas: Energy Conservation, Green Transportation, Stormwater, Urban Forestry, Living Green, Local Foods, or Waste Prevention & Recycling.  LSC’s focus is Energy Conservation.

Chris Whaley is our GreenCorps member for the service year.  He will work closely with LSC’s Sustainability Council for 11 months, serving at least 1700 hours.  Chris is a 2013 UMD graduate where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Urban and Regional Studies.  At UMD, he also took classes in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping.  These courses were his gateway to several sustainability focused classes and it sparked a lasting interest in this subject area.

The goal of his placement at LSC specifically is to focus on energy conservation  and implement both short and long term solutions to make the campus more energy efficient.  His first project will include looking at vending machines on campus to assess their energy use and savings potential.  One way we can save energy is through installation of  “vending misers”. These are motion sensors that are mounted to a vending machine and will power down the machine in cycles if the sensor detects no motion for 15 minutes.

A long term goal is to complete an assessment of the entire campus using “Kill-A-Watt” meters to identify redundant and inefficient appliances.  We will also work to better equip our campus users with information about best practices and energy use.  Chris will learn more about our B3 benchmarking and energy tracking efforts, using the data to drive changes and improve overall efficiency for all of our campus locations.  This has the potential for significant reduction in energy use, especially in the winter months.

These goals are not an exhaustive list and will most likely change and evolve throughout the course the year.  We will provide regular updates throughout the year.  Please feel free to drop Chris an email at with comments, concerns, or questions about any of our work plan goals!

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Soft Plastics Recycling Challenge

**UPDATE** WE DID IT!  OUR FINAL PLASTIC COUNT FOR THE 6-MONTH COLLECTION WAS 503 POUNDS!  Our new Trex bench will be here just in time for Duluth Spring!  LSC will continue to collect plastic bags and film, just as we have for over 5 years, we just don’t have to weigh it anymore.

In October, LSC kicked off its Trex Plastic Bag Challenge.  The goals is to collect 500 pounds of plastic refuse in a six-month span (about 40,500 bags).  If we meet that goal, Trex will donate a high-performance composite outdoor bench!

Anyone can bring  bags from home, and drop them in one of our 5 plastic bag collection bins on campus.  There is a bin near each entrance.  March is our final month of the competition collection, and after February’s weigh-in, we know we have about 150 pounds to go (this is more than we’ve collected in any single month, so we need all the help we can get)!

Trex makes premium decking and outdoor furniture from these plastic bags.  The products are made from 95% recycled materials.

What’s a “soft plastic”?

Plastic grocery bags
Plastic retail bags (remove string ties & rigid plastic handles)
Plastic dry-cleaning bags
Plastic cereal bags (must be dry with ALL food residue removed)
Plastic bread bags (must be dry with ALL rood residue removed)
Plastic produce bags (must be dry with ALL food residue removed)
Plastic wrap from paper products (paper towels, etc.)
Plastic salt bags (remove rigid plastic handles)
Plastic zipper bags (remove top closing mechanism)
Plastic stretch/shrink wrap
6-pack holder rings

PLEASE NO plastic bottles, rigid plastic containers or bubble wrap

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NEW Waste signs!

Waste sorting can be hard, and we’re ALWAYS looking for short-cuts!  We’ve designed these BRAND NEW waste signs to make your life easier.  You can print these for your event, hang them in your office area, frame them for your friends, or just use for your own reference.

VERTICAL pages here:

HORIZONTAL pages here:

Still have questions about the “stuff” you’re managing, contact or check out WLSSD’s ultra-helpful disposal guide (seriously easy to use)!

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