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Eastern hosts public forum on the environment

Published on February 07, 2024

Eastern hosts public forum on the environment

Environment Panelists
From left to right: State representatives Susan Johnson and Gregg Haddad along with Windham Mayor Tom DeVivo, UConn Professor Ugur Pasaogullari and Windham town council member Dawn Niles

Eastern Connecticut State University students and members of the Windham community gathered at Eastern on Feb. 5 to hear from experts and politicians about environmental issues and climate change impacts in the state. Those with concerns and ideas for sustainable practices spoke directly with the people in charge of implementing policy. 

State Rep. Susan Johnson said the goal of the panel was to understand “where we are and where we want to go, and what we need to do to get there.”  

“Connecticut has a solid waste problem,” said Windham Mayor Tom DeVivo, adding that the state currently ships more than 850,000 tons of waste out of state each year.  

DeVivo called attention to the recent closure of incinerators, calling for new waste-to-energy facilities to be built and for the updating of old incinerators across the state to keep up with the waste produced in Connecticut. He pointed out that innovations in energy technology have helped to lower the environmental impact of such facilities. 

Calling on members of the community, Windham activist Dawn Niles expressed a need for self-awareness within the community. She noted that the people of Windham will help the town, themselves and the environment.  

The effort already done to encourage environmentally friendly practices in the area has resulted in Windham being one of 58 towns that are certified sustainable communities in Connecticut. 

Susan Johnson

Tom DeVivo

Patricia Szczys

Patricia Szczys, executive director for the Institute for Sustainability at Eastern, highlighted the ways the University is encouraging sustainability efforts across campus. Green energy from the two hydrogen fuel cells on campus, the campus thrift shop, food and item collection when students move out, the current composting pilot program and the forthcoming community garden contribute to Eastern’s sustainability efforts, she said. 

Additionally, encouraging sustainability across majors allows students to “bring these skills to their work, home and civic engagements,” said Szczys. 

Ugur Pasaogullari, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Connecticut, explained the steps being taken across the Storrs campus to ensure that the university is carbon neutral by 2030. This includes solar panels, LED lights and a second hydrogen fuel cell. The students and organizations on campus that promote carbon neutrality, he said, hold UConn accountable for meeting expectations.  

Connecticut has a resource that can be useful for increasing hydrogen fuel use across the state: biomass, or organic matter that can then be transformed into low-emissions fuel, explained Pasaogullari. 

These fuel cells are not only cheaper for businesses and universities but also highly efficient. When used for both heat and power, hydrogen fuel cells have an electrical efficiency of up to 85%, compared with the 30% efficiency in conventional combustion-based power plants. 

The potential of hydrogen fuel extends beyond powering large institutions. Pasaogullari noted that hydrogen can replace diesel fuel, allowing trucks that run through Connecticut to have a net-zero carbon impact. 


James Albis, policy advisor for the Connecticut House of Representatives, relayed information on the importance of zero-emission vehicles (EVs). They currently total 10% of car sales in the state, despite incentives for sellers and tax credits for those who buy EVs.  

Audience members raised concerns about the cost of buying an EV, with the cost of living on the rise due to inflation. The prices of many new EVs range from $30,000 to more than $100,000, making it hard for consumers to justify the purchase. 

Instead, those in attendance pushed for companies to be held responsible for reducing plastic and cardboard packaging and for environmentally sustainable public transportation across the state.  

Their questions served as a reminder that British Petroleum was the company responsible for creating and marketing the term “carbon footprint” to place blame on individuals for climate change.  

In a 2017 study, the Carbon Majors Database found that over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide can be traced to 100 companies. Additionally, 20 companies create 55% of the world's single-use plastic waste, while the top 100 polluting companies generate more than 90%, according to a 2018 study by Australia's Minderoo Foundation. 

“It’s not just about the individual,” Szczys said, encouraging lawmakers to use their power to promote sustainability practices within companies.

Written by Marcus Grant