2015 Research Projects

Hands-On Learning About Sustainability

The Boston College campus provides fertile ground for undergraduate exploration into sustainability topics. With a campus that hosts large events such as football games and commencement and supports over 14,000 students and several thousand faculty and staff members, BC confronts issues of waste management, energy use, and water consumption every day. Like many universities and colleges around the country, BC has a sustainability mission: “The University is committed to conserving resources and reducing the impact that its services and activities place on the environment." What better way for Environmental Studies students to learn about the complex issues around sustainability than addressing a particular problem that occurs on their own campus or within the neighboring community? The college campus can also improve its sustainability by tapping into one of their greatest resources – a motivated and intelligent undergraduate community.

Environmental Studies Student Research Projects

Each spring Boston College seniors enrolled in the Environmental Seminar course engage in a semester-long applied research project. Each team of seniors works closely with a campus or community mentor organization to address a specific environmental problem that pertains to that organization. Students are charged with developing a literature review on the topic and using scientific methods to generate results that can be used to develop specific recommendations for the organization. Research teams present their findings in a final paper and poster. We make these publications available on this website with the hopes that the information will be useful to other universities grappling with similar environmental issues. We also want to share with other environmental course instructors an active learning curriculum model that bridges sustainability curriculum in the classroom with sustainability action on the campus and in the community.


Thomas Kraeutler, Alex Krowiack, Daniel Mercurio, Léa Oriol

Preparation by the consumer is one of the most crucial segments of coffee’s entire life cycle, producing 30% of its overall production-­related emissions. Variability in both device technology and consumer behavior greatly affects overall emissions and economic cost. In order to minimize inefficiencies, this study sought to conduct quantitative analysis of coffee maker energy use in addition to qualitative analysis of consumer behavior within the offices and departments of Boston College. Results demonstrated that 75.4% of the energy used is expended while the machines are idle overnight, representing a large opportunity for improvement. Further, survey results suggest that many departments lack proper waste options to minimize post-­production emissions. Based upon these data, it is recommended that departments and offices (1) unplug coffee appliances over night (2) switch from filter drip to single serving technology where economically feasible (3) institute composting options for the coffee ground waste of filter drip machines and (4) adoption of zero­-waste reusable pods for single serving machines. Together, these steps can help to minimize the environmental impact and economic loss currently resulting from coffee production.
Project Paper | Poster


Juliette Denis, Allegra Donadio, Katherine Klein

E-­books are becoming a significant proportion of scholarly literature used for research at academic institutions such as Boston College. For the purpose of this study, we define an E-book as digitally formatted scholarly literature, a category of reading that consists of journals, article collections, and other peer-­reviewed literature that is didactically written and only accessible by membership to a database. The environmental impact of transitioning away from paper books towards electronic readings is not well understood and so developing information on the subject will be useful to BC’s Libraries as they continue to add to their scholarly literature collections for student researching purposes. We found that the majority of environmental waste for both E­-books and paper books originates before the intended audience receives the reading, namely from production. However, paper books contribute significantly more waste during distribution, making them less environmentally sound overall. Generally speaking, if a user accesses more than 33 E­-books on a device, they will have offset the total carbon footprint of their device, thus being more environmentally efficient than reading the book’s print counterpart. We surveyed Boston College students and discovered that most students have utilized E­-books through BC libraries and are in favor of increasing BC’s E-literature collection. We also gathered library data from BC librarians on printing, scanning, and E­-book/E­-reader usage to properly understand student habits. We found that printing numbers have increased in recent years and that students tend to check out paper books from the library more than they do tablets. This might be due to the fact that the BC Libraries house and offer significantly less electronic literature than they do paper books or that there is a lack of awareness of the E­-reading resources available. Faculty also promote the use of hard copy material. We recommend that BC Libraries invest in more E­-books and E­-readers. We also recommend that faculty members inform their students of the environmental implications associated with paper books versus E­-books and promote the use of digital texts and online submission sites rather than hard copies.
Project Paper | Poster


Collin Fedor, James Newhouse, Kelly Rethmeyer, Salvatore D’Amico

Electric Vehicles (EVs) are an emerging technology with the potential to replace conventional vehicles while reducing the amount of carbon emissions in the atmosphere. The City of Newton, Massachusetts is a city of nearly 88,000 people that is interested in becoming more eco-friendly. This report outlines ways in which the City can achieve this goal through the promotion of EVs. Using survey data, spatial analysis, and best practices research, we identify opportunities for Newton to improve electric vehicle infrastructure and promote adoption of EVs among its residents. The study determined that lack of knowledge and awareness of EVs is the major reason why EV adoption is low in Newton. It found that public charging stations are desirable by EV owners and non­owners alike, and can contribute significantly in educating the populace. The City must balance policies that promote rapid adoption in the short term with policies that plan for future widespread adoption in the future. This report makes clear that providing infrastructure for EVs should be a priority for the City moving into the future.
Project Paper | Poster


Hannah Chambless, Anthony Frascotti, Claire Hodson, Gracie Villa

In the field of window frames, windows made out of Polyvinyl chloride (also known as PVC) have become a viable market alternative to the more traditional models made out of wood or aluminum. Despite the market incentives to purchasing vinyl windows, customers are often unaware of the negative externalities that pervade the lifecycle of PVC­based products. As PVC is a carcinogen in its gaseous form (known as VCM), producing and manufacturing vinyl windows has a long history of negative health and environmental effects. Although in many places adequate recycling infrastructure exists for PVC­ a substance that is 100% recyclable­ the PVC industry is beleaguered by cases of improperly disposed products. In this paper we analyze the lifecycle of the PVC window. Specifically we discuss the production of polyvinyl chloride, the manufacturing and distribution of vinyl windows, and their ultimate disposal or recycling throughout New England via Oxy Vinyls Canada Manufacturing Plant, Harvey Manufacturing Plant, and Boston Building Resources (BBR).
Project Paper | Poster


Jessica Zuban, Marguerite Lally

Our project aimed to study how Ashoka U Changemaker Campuses are encouraging innovative, student­led projects related to environmental sustainability on campus and in the larger community. Currently, there are 30 Changemaker Campuses recognized by Ashoka U. We examined what these universities are doing in the realm of sustainable innovation, defined below, by benchmarking their success against one another. Boston College can learn from these other Changemaker universities and develop more extensive programs that promote sustainable innovation on its own campus. It is our hope that in the future Boston College (BC) can:

  • Empower a change leader focused on sustainable innovation,
  • Thread the concept of sustainable innovation into the mission of BC,
  • Create cross­-departmental faculty and student collaboration,
  • Foster a culture of Changemaking.

A list of our specific recommendations along with a timeline and budget for their implementation can be found in our conclusion. Our recommendations draw on the patterns of success we found while benchmarking innovative approaches to sustainability at Ashoka U Changemaker universities.
Project Paper | Poster


Jillian Boylan, Alexander Hernandez, Jillian Marshall, Michael Martina

Under the Clean Water Act (CWA) National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), any entity that discharges effluent into waterways (via point source) must apply for a NPDES permit. The EPA’s enforcement of the CWA protects our nation’s water quality and prevents habitat destruction; however, NPDES permits are costly for businesses. One way that businesses can bypass the NPDES permitting process is to discharge into publicly­owned treatment works (POTWs) that are certified to treat the chemicals in effluent and discharge through the single POTW NPDES permit. However, businesses must pre­treat their effluent in order to reduce the pollution to a level that can be effectively controlled and discharged by the POTW. In the current system (using Easthampton, MA as a case study and as depicted in graphic 1), the pretreatment requirement is often costly for businesses and, subsequently, can discourage industrial expansion to new locations.
Project Paper | Poster A | Poster B


Kate Brennan, Alex Nicoll

In a place like Boston College, one would assume that they are doing all that they can to maintain the health of their faculty as well as minimize the cost of running such an enormous enterprise. But with such a large campus as well as the scattering of departments across this campus, it is unsurprising that some of the smaller items fall through the cracks of awareness. We set out to research one of these forgotten items: water coolers. Through a survey to faculty on their water consumption, calculation of energy consumption, and discussion on water quality we came to the conclusion that BC should consider transitioning to filtered tap water coolers over the traditional free­standing water coolers. Regardless of the feasibility of this recommendation, our most important finding is that it is time BC centralize its information of these water coolers.
Project Paper | Poster