While most wooden pallets are reusable, there comes a time when they no longer have the structural integrity to fulfill their purpose. According to GMR, that takes about nine reuses. Once a pallet reaches this stage, there are recycling and refurbishing options. Reclaimable pallets will get fixed then resold and other pallets will get used as surplus wood. As a last stop, exhausted pallets could become mulch or a source of fuel.
Holy Cross participates in wood pallet recycling by contracting with a third party vendor to annually pickup the College’s wooden pallets and recycle them offsite. This action contributes to the College’s 35+ percent diversion rate, which helps keep recyclable and compostable materials out of the landfill and incineration. Reducing the College’s trash production also supports Holy Cross’ carbon commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2040. Watch the video where Bo’s Pallets & Mulch, Inc. demonstrates how they recycling wooden pallets.
Rebecca Beaulieu graduated in 2018 with a degree in English and a minor in Environmental Studies. After graduating, Rebecca participated in a year of Americorps where she taught at a high school in Boston. She is currently the director of communications and youth program organizer at 350 New Hampshire, a non-profit organization advocating for the expansion of reusable energy and an end to the use of fossil fuels. I spoke with Rebecca about how her Holy Cross experience prepared her for her career.
Q: What was your major at HC? How do you think your particular major prepared you for working in the sustainability field?
Majoring in english helped me become a more effective communicator, which has been great because communicating is a large aspect of my job. Minoring in environmental studies provided me with a broader understanding of climate issues and the need for change in how we approach sustainable practices.
Q: In what ways do you think a liberal arts education has benefited you in your career? In what ways has it (if any) impeded you?
Overall, I think a liberal arts education is the best way to become a well-rounded professional upon graduating. I do wish that there was more emphasis on learning about the tangible effects of climate change during my time at Holy Cross, such as the effects of climate change on farming and the economy. I think that integrating more social justice and humanities based information into the curriculum would be beneficial.
Q: How would you define the term “sustainability?” Has your understanding of what sustainability means changed throughout the course of your career?
I think that a liberal arts education has helped me to look at the bigger picture, which is important in sustainability. It is not the consumer’s responsibility to fix climate change through individual action, which is an emerging idea in sustainability that has become more accepted recently.
Q: How do you see sustainability impacting your daily life?
While individual action can only go so far, I still try to do my best to buy less from places like Amazon and watch my utility usage in my apartment. The best thing an individual can really do to positively impact sustainability is support the right policies that make you feel good and watch where your money is being invested (some banks and large corporations support fossil fuels). That’s where I see sustainability most impacting my day to day life.
Interview paraphrased and blog post written by Anne Kiernan ’23.
The College of the Holy Cross is committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2040. Presently, over 60 percent of the College’s carbon footprint comes from heating, which is primarily fueled by natural gas. Renewable natural gas (RNG) and carbon offsets are potential assets in fulfilling this commitment. RNG emits significantly less carbon than traditional natural gas does. This gas is fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas and thus can be used in existing natural gas systems, such as Holy Cross’ physical plant. RNG is essentially biogas (the gaseous product of the decomposition of organic matter) that has been processed to purity standards. RNG can be extracted from landfills, livestock operations, and wastewater treatment plants.
Other colleges and universities are utilizing RNG and carbon offsets in a cost-effective manner to achieve carbon neutrality. My proposed plan of action for Holy Cross is to contract with a major in-state energy or waste management firm to access RNG at a competitive and stable rate. The University of New Hampshire has achieved carbon neutrality by utilizing RNG. UNH partnered with Waste Management to develop a landfill biomethane plant, which now fuels most of the campus. UNH sold renewable energy certificates to finance the capital costs of the project. Similarly, with its own RNG plan, Duke University is approaching carbon neutrality. Duke partnered with Google and Duke Energy to develop a livestock biogas plant.
Meanwhile, Allegheny College and American University have achieved carbon neutrality through carbon offsets, which are voluntary offsite investments made to negate emissions. For Allegheny and American, these measures included investing in responsible trucking, forestry, international energy sustainability, and further insulation on their campuses. To reduce its carbon footprint and as an alternative to converting to RNG, Holy Cross could maintain its traditional natural gas system while increasing its portfolio of carbon offsets.
There are commercial RNG facilities within proximity of the Holy Cross campus. These locations are listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as sellers of biomethane, a form of renewable natural gas. Some Massachusetts locations include Westminster, New Bedford, Haverhill, Hadley, and Rutland. Holy Cross can explore contracting opportunities with these locations individually, or through a major energy or waste management partner.
In accordance with the Jesuit tradition, Holy Cross is committed to active engagement with the world. The Society of Jesuits’ Universal Apostolic Preferences call us to act urgently on today’s environmental crisis, “whole nations and peoples need an ecological conversion if we are to be honest custodians of this wonderful planet.” By reducing its carbon footprint through renewable natural gas and carbon offsets, the College is dedicating itself as an honest custodian of this planet. We gain new strength to care for others and for creation when we replenish our common home.
I see three major steps in reducing the College’s carbon footprint through RNG. First, Holy Cross should continue building efficiency projects to minimize heating demand, and consequently, natural gas usage. Second, the College should contract with a major in-state energy or waste management firm to access RNG at a competitive and stable rate. Finally, Holy Cross should replace conventional natural gas purchases with RNG from a new contract. These measures will lead to significantly reduced carbon emissions, advancing the College’s mission to be carbon neutral by 2040.