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PPPL celebrates 50th Anniversary of Earth Day by recognizing greenest employees

More than 125 staff members at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) virtual celebration of Earth Day on April 22 celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, which focused attention on the need to reduce pollution and become more sustainable, and recognized PPPL staff who are putting sustainable practices into action. 

As a national laboratory with the mission of creating a potentially inexhaustible source of energy with fusion energy, the same energy that powers the sun and the stars, PPPL has long had a very strong commitment to the environment 

PPPL’s recycling rate in fiscal year 2020 is 83 percent, including an office recycling rate of nearly 60 percent. That is far above the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) goal of 50 percent recycling by 2020.

PPPL has been recognized with numerous awards over the years, including four last year from the DOE, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and other organizations.

“At PPPL, we work continuously and diligently in science, we also work to inform and create awareness about sustainable practice in our daily activities,” said Margaret Kevin-King, head of PPPL’s Green Team, which organized the event. “Can we do more? Indeed, we can. Every effort creates a benefit for our community and our planet.”

PPPL debuted an Earth Day video by videographer Elle Starkman about PPPL’s sustainability efforts that shows activities such as the annual grounds clean-up, custodians using biodegradable projects, recycled art projects, etc. PPPL also recognized children and grandchildren of PPPL staff who created Earth Day posters on the theme “Loving Planet Earth.”

Among those honored at the ceremony with “Green Machine” awards was PPPL’s entire Information Technology Department staff for its long record of purchasing green electronics. Craig Ferguson, deputy director for operations, noted that PPPL has received an EPEAT Purchaser award for the past three years for its use of green electronics. In fiscal year 2019, 98 percent of all electronics were certified green electronics.

“I really appreciate everyone’s sustainability efforts and recycling,” said Ferguson, who hosted the ceremony. “We demonstrate our commitment to sustainability and true climate action every day.”

Benefits to environment of working from home

PPPL’s 550 staff members, along with employees all over the U.S. and the world, are also contributing to an unforeseen environmental benefit from working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ferguson said. From March 16, the first day of PPPL’s curtailment of on-site operations, through April 22, the Lab saved the equivalent of 196.4 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That is the equivalent of eliminating energy use for about 23 homes for one year, charging more than 25 million smart phones, or recycling nearly 67 tons of waste.

Among those honored were 22 staff members and students, including Steve Cowley, PPPL director, who often takes a bus to work, nine people who habitually bike to work, 18 people who carpool to work, and another 10 people who take a van to work through the Princeton University Van and Revise Your Ride carpooling. PPPL is funded by the DOE and operated by Princeton University and PPPL staff members and graduate students receive a subsidy to take alternative transportation to work through Princeton’s Revise Your Ride Program. (More information is available here).

Carpooling for 10 years

Among the carpoolers were three employees, Neil Gerrish, Rick Horner, and Mark Hughes, who carpool to work in a University-provided Enterprise Revise Your Ride program van from Bordentown every day saving 10,800 commuting miles. “It’s a great program,” said Gerrish at the virtual ceremony. “Best of all, you get to kick back and relax and not worry about traffic so I would urge you to find out about the program if you’re interested.”

Another group of commuters is Tom Ward and four others (Jeff Bennett, Mark Snyder, Tim Conwell and Sean Rogers), has driven an Enterprise van from Pennsylvania through the program for the past eight years. Together they save 250 commuting miles a day and each saved $2,451 per year in gas and commuting costs. That amounts to a savings of 2,958 gallons of gas per year, the equivalent of 9 tons of waste to the landfill or C02 emissions equivalent to charging nearly 559,000 smart phones.

Andrea Moten, deputy director of Human Resources, was honored for her idea to recycle Keurig coffee cups. Through her efforts, PPPL began collecting Keurig cups in the cafeteria for recycling into building materials and other products.

PPPL also honored nine custodians for their hard work supporting PPPL’s recycling efforts by separating trash, composting, and recycling in the cafeteria. Their efforts contributed to PPPL’s recycling rate, which led to PPPL’s receiving the Environmental Protection Agency’s EPA Region 2 award and the 2018 Federal Green Challenge and Waste Reduction Award. 

The Green Machine awards also honored 20 staff members who habitually take part in PPPL’s annual grounds clean-up.

Three construction managers and project managers were honored for their role in ensuring the vendor in PPPL’s roof project collected and recycled nearly 393 tons of stones for recycling.

Robert Sheneman, head of Environmental Services, noted that the awards represent more than 100 employees, which is nearly a fifth of PPPL’s staff. “I think it’s a tribute to those at the Laboratory who are so dedicated to keeping us sustainable,” he said.

PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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