Sustainability Stewards Honor Supercommuters

Sustainability Stewards Honor Supercommuters

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Holly Harris with trophy

Holly Harris of the department of languages, literature and culture created the trophy for the Wildcat Commuter Challenge.

They came by foot, by bike, by bus. From Durham and Dover and Portsmouth, for four weeks, rain or shine. They are the 10 UNH faculty and staff who won the recent Wildcat Commuter Challenge by choosing an alternative commute for 100 percent of their trips to and from campus. And while the UNH Sustainability Stewards, who organized the challenge, patted these commuters on the back with a $20 Breaking New Grounds gift card, many of them say the rewards are in the commute itself. 

“In the morning, I feel alive in the wake of my ride in, and in the evening my ride helps ease the transition into my nonworking world,” says Kent Chamberlin, a professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering, of his five-plus mile bike ride to UNH. 

For Theresa Garabedian of the Paul College, letting Wildcat Transit do the driving saves gas money and frees up valuable time. “There are so many items on my ‘to-do’ list that I accomplish on my smart phone while leaving the driving up to one of the UNH transportation professionals!” she says. 

And walking the mile to work every day -- “rain, snow, whatever” – means that Stephen Brunet, associate professor of classics, can get by with an older car he inherited from a family member, saving himself an investment in a newer car. 

In addition to Brunet, Chamberlin, and Garabedian, Commuter Challenge winners were Lee Alexander, affiliate research associate professor in the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping; Wendy Harris, administrative assistant in the Paul College; Erin Selner, financial research administrator in the sponsored programs office; Ken Mitchell, information technology; Alex Prusevich, research scientist in the Earth systems research center; Amy Sterndale, communications director of the Carsey Institute; and Pamela Wildes, administrative assistant in the department of molecular, cellular and biomedical sciences. 

Garabedian credits the challenge with inspiring her to “kick it up a notch” and commit to riding Wildcat Transit from the Fox Run Mall, where she parks, five days a week instead of her usual three. The habit is sticking: “I find taking the Wildcat Transit bus super easy and now feel guilty on the few days a month I actually drive to campus,” she says.

Such lasting change is exactly what the Sustainability Stewards, faculty and staff who work to bring sustainability to the grassroots level in their workplaces, hoped to inspire when they launched the second annual challenge, which this year ran from April 17 – May 10.  

“We want the challenge to inspire people to change lifestyles, to shift gears,” says Holly Harris, administrative assistant in the Spanish program and a Sustainability Steward who helped organize the challenge.  

In all, 60 UNH faculty, staff, and graduate students tracked their commutes for the month. With 14 participants, CEPS led the friendly competition between colleges and administrative units, with staff under the vice president for finance and administration coming in second (10 participants) and COLSA and student and academic services tying for third with seven participants. A trophy created by Harris, a sculptor, from recycled bicycle parts and other materials, will spend the year in a case in Kingsbury Hall. 

Abby Pagan-Allis, of the Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, is one of the CEPS commuters who shares her college’s bragging rights. Pagan-Allis lives in Farmington and took advantage of Wildcat Transit’s new route from Rochester, which she uses four days each week. “It’s wonderful,” she says. “It’s very convenient and easy, and I’m doing my part for the earth.” 

Her environmentalist instincts are on the mark: Commuting in single-occupancy vehicles accounts for a whopping 25 percent of UNH’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to UNH’s just-released greenhouse gas inventory (read more here: http://www.unh.edu/news/releases/2013/apr/bp09emissions.cfm). 

To their car-bound colleagues, these commuters offer encouragement to take steps toward an alternative commute. “I continue to be surprised at how addicting the commute can be. That’s why I continue into December when it’s really too cold to be out on a bike,” Chamberlin says. “I’ve found a good thing and I think I’ll stick with it.” 

“The trick is not to stop,” says Brunet. “It’s easy to backslide.”