“The Typical Day” Ends Tragically

Posted on June 20, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I’m regularly asked by people curious about the campus sustainability profession what it is that I do on a “typical day.” Truthfully and thankfully, there are no typical days. I’ve always been attracted to jobs with a lot of variety, and this is certainly one of them.

If I can make any broad generalizations, perhaps it would be that days in the summer differ from those during the rest of the year simply because most of the students are away from mid-May through mid-August. I trust that many of my counterparts at other schools have no “typical days” either. This is an emerging profession, one that we’re collectively inventing and shaping on-the-fly.

I went in to work this morning with the idea that I would report on some of the day’s events to at least provide a glimpse of the kinds of issues, activities, and decisions that a campus sustainability professional experiences. Little did I know that the day would end tragically. Following is a quick snapshot:

  • As I walk in my building in the morning, I stop in the lobby to review the building’s energy consumption that is displayed on a newly installed flat-panel monitor. The real-time reading shows the building’s actual electrical consumption tracking very closely though slightly higher than its predicted consumption. I make a mental note to press for changing the building’s temperature settings in Monday’s energy meeting to see what sort of energy savings can be realized.
  • The first of the sales communications comes in via email. High-end bamboo products for residential applications. Delete.
  • I check my voice mail. A salesman who saw an article about me in the paper wants me to introduce him to my boss so that he can tell her all about… this is where I delete the message before it’s over.
  • I complete and submit an evaluation form for the Sustainable Operations Summit, an event that will be the subject of my next post.
  • I review and comment on an outline for a summer research project by a Rice student who is helping some of the institutions of the Texas Medical Center (the largest medical complex in the world) to find collaborative recycling solutions.
  • Phone call, sales rep. This time it’s carpet. I refer him to a colleague, who will likely schedule a show-and-tell that I will attend.
  • I review what proves to be the final edited version of our campus cart usage map. I have served as the chair of a committee whose purpose is to reduce the number and usage of electric and gas carts on campus, as well as the conflicts between carts and pedestrians.
  • I complete a compensation survey from the publishers of Sustainability: The Journal of Record, wondering all along whether they are aware of AASHE’s data collection on the subject.
  • I discuss an upcoming meeting of our farmers market with two colleagues, as I am on the board of the market.
  • I review submittals for adhesives for a campus construction project to see if the comply with the LEED criteria for low-VOCs. For some of the products, I am able to find letters on the manufacturers’ web sites stating compliance with LEED. For one product, I call the manufacturer and speak with a customer service representative who is very helpful and emails to me the information that I need.
  • Lunchtime! My wife and I go out for Vietnamese sandwiches ($2.50 each!) at Les Givral’s in Midtown. One of Houston’s simple pleasures is the abundance of inexpensive Vietnamese sandwich shops serving delicious sandwiches on hot, crusty French bread. The banana tapioca cake with coconut milk makes for a pleasing dessert. By midday, the temperature has soared into the upper 90s. I see a colleague on my way back to the office, and we share our thoughts about how it just feels like we’re in for a long, brutal summer.
  • The red light on my phone shows that I have messages. All three are from sales reps. Two are calls that I will follow-up on, while the third sounds like yet another fishing expedition.
  • I use the Energy Star website and the Consumer Reports 2008 Buyers Guide to research options for washing machines, dryers, and refrigerators for one of our construction projects. I prepare a list for the project manager of about 6 recommended clothes washers, plead agnostic on the dryer selection due to their relative similarity in energy consumption, and then offer a general statement that any Energy Star-qualified top-mounted freezer will meet my approval.
  • It’s mid-afternoon, and I suddenly notice that I’m sitting in the dark. My office rarely needs artificial light, thanks to a well-placed skylight. On occasion, I will use an LED tasklight as a supplement. I turn-on the tasklight, but it’s still too dark. Reluctantly, I turn on the overhead lights. I then check the weather radar to see an arc of reds and purples in a band of storms quickly approaching central Houston from the northwest. For the third day in a row, it appears that we’re in for a quick, intense shower.
  • I order 40 books as part of an environmental literacy project that I’m planning for the fall (more about this in a future post).
  • I approve an estimate for what will be our first outdoor recycling bins on campus.
  • I receive an email from an administrator asking questions about carbon offsets. I smile as I think to myself how quickly concepts such as carbon footprints and carbon offsets are making their way into common use.
  • By around 4PM, the weather deteriorates significantly. I worry about my wife, who has just left campus for a hair appointment a few blocks away. I look straight up through the skylight at the rain that is pelting the glass right above me. The lightning is getting frequent, though with my lights on, I miss the full effect.
  • Another sales rep calls. The lead-in is often the same: “I was looking at your web site, and I thought I’d call you to tell you about…” Sales is a tough job, and I sure don’t have the personality for it.
  • I send an email to a colleague requesting a quote for a water conservation project that I’d like to fund with year-end money.
  • I review a list of alternate plants that have been proposed for a green roof on one of our campus construction projects. It seems that a few of the native species that we requested are proving difficult to locate. However, I find myself quietly impressed that the vendor has done some homework and identified appropriate native plantings as substitutes. He’s come to know what we expect.
  • At this point, I become distracted by the sound of the TV in the conference room just down the hall from my office. Usually when that TV is on, either the Rice Owls baseball team are playing a playoff game, or there’s some sort of national or local disaster. I strain to listen, but I can’t make out the words. I visit the CNN web site to see if something unusual has happened. That is, beyond the fact that we live in unusual times to begin with. But there’s no indication of a splashy headline. I listen further, and the commentator sounds local. I open the website for KHOU (our local CBS affiliate), and my heart drops as I read the headline: “Building Collapses at Rice”. I click to watch live streaming video from a helicopter camera, and am shocked to see my building in the foreground, with the adjacent construction site of two dormitory projects in the center of the screen. As if on cue, the commentator announces that for those just joining, a portion of a building under construction on the Rice campus collapsed during a severe thunderstorm, and I watch in disbelief as an injured worker is strapped to a backboard and lifted by a tower crane from the building’s second floor, where several walls collapsed. Then the camera zooms-in on a figure covered in a blue tarp amidst the rubble and twisted rebar. I step down the hall to ask colleagues if everyone has been accounted for, and I can tell by their ashen faces that they’ve all seen the image. The local headlines would soon read “One dead, seven injured in wall collapse at Rice University.”
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One Response to ““The Typical Day” Ends Tragically”

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I’m so sorry for this news Richard. Best of luck in getting through it all.


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    Insights and observations on the campus greening movement, from the perspective of a campus sustainability professional

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