Rhode Island is the 10th greenest state in the nation, according to the “2018’s Greenest States” report released by financial and data analysis company WalletHub on Tuesday.
The study identified three categories – environmental quality, eco-friendly behaviors and climate change contributions – and weighted them based on 23 relevant metrics, including overall air quality, number of LEED-certified buildings per capita and total greenhouse gas emissions per capita to accrue a point value out of 100 possible points.
Rhode Island’s 66.68 points was enough to earn 10th overall, while Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire ranked 1st, 3rd, 7th and 8th overall respectively. Maine ranked 11th to round out the New England states. West Virginia ranked last overall with an overall score of 25.08.
The Ocean State received high marks in both air quality (20th overall) and water quality (11th overall) but was tied for a not so impressive 45th overall in soil quality.
The state scored very highly in contributing low amounts towards climate change, with the second lowest amount of energy consumption per capita, the 3rd lowest gasoline consumption per capita and the lowest amount of nitrous oxide emissions per capita in the nation.
Lowering consumption of energy isn’t only better for the environment, it has other benefits as well.
“When you lower your energy consumption, you’re lowering costs. The less kilowatt hours you’re using, the less you are paying for,” said James Murphy, sustainability coordinator for Rhode Island College (RIC). “Those savings can then be leveraged to do other projects.”
Murphy said that RIC has initiated several green projects at the college in recent years, including the newly constructed LEED-certified Gage Hall residence building. Additionally, the school is installing LED lighting across the campus and are set to install solar panels on the roof of one of their dining halls, which will generate about $20,000 of electricity per year; money that RIC can reinvest into other initiatives.
“We don’t have to buy that electricity,” he said. “That is a reflection of the state of Rhode Island, but it’s also a reflection of National Grid. I know after a storm or after high winds where people lose electricity they get a bad rap, so to speak, but they’re very cutting edge in terms of the financial incentives that they’re offering schools like RIC.”
Murphy gave the example of a rebate system through Grid that enables you to pay for your electrical bill with the savings you generate through renewable means, such as LED lighting or variable frequency drives, which are used in HVAC systems to efficiently manage heating and cooling buildings.
RIC has also been working with a company out of Portugal that has created a prototypical lighting system that generates 20 percent more electricity than is needed to operate the lights from wind and solar. That excess can be directly sold back into the power grid.
“Using those quick return on investments (ROI) we then have the ability to chase other projects that may have a longer ROI,” Murphy said. “It’s a matter of just being smart as how dollars are spent. There’s an incredible amount of opportunity for businesses, state organizations or institutions. It’s very exciting what’s going on right now in Rhode Island in terms of energy efficiencies.”
Despite the availability of solar and the opportunity for deep-shore wind farms in Rhode Island, the state ranked near the bottom (47th overall) in actual consumption of renewable energy per capita. However Murphy said it would just be a matter of time before Rhode Island climbed upwards in those rankings.
“I think they [renewable energy sources] are here but we’re just scratching the surface,” he said, adding that a low amount of available land for solar farms has hindered their growth but that decreasing cost for their implementation will contribute to their increased use. “Give us a year or two and you’ll see a significant jump in that category.”
On another side of the coin, conservancy in Rhode Island is an important passion for many advocacy groups and the top government officials. Governor Gina Raimondo has made it a goal to get the state to 80 percent below 1990 levels for carbon emissions by 2050, with intermittent goals to be attained along the way. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse sits on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and is often described as one of the leading voices for environmental advocacy at the U.S. Capitol.
“I think we are [pointed in a good direction],” said Mary Baker, director of the environmental studies major at RIC. “The governor and both our senators are committed to protecting the environment, especially the oceans. I think they fight really hard for that...Which is so big for the Ocean State.”
Baker helped start an Environmental Studies major at RIC for the fall semester of 2015, which currently has 57 students majoring in its studies. Baker said the program incorporates both the scientific background needed to understand how humans physically alter the environment, but also studies the political and sociological elements of how humans interact with and are impacted by the environment.
Baker opined that having ready access to a wide variety of natural resources, as are available in Rhode Island, is beneficial to the overall health of its inhabitants.
“I think when you have a quality of life that you like and find restorative and important you want to protect it that much more,” said Baker. “One of the things I know about my half hour commute is I drive by so many ponds and forested areas. By the time I get home the tensions of the day are often released. I think there’s something to that. It’s easy for us to get to nature, which is good for us.”
Baker said this connection to nature, coupled with the fact that many Rhode Islanders grow up in the same place where their families have been located for generations, contributes to a higher number of people caring about preserving their natural resources.
“They have deep ties to the places they’re living,” she said. “I think when you have those strong ties, you care more...I think when you have a quality of life that you like and find restorative and important, you want to protect it that much more.”
While she feels that Rhode Island and its numerous nonprofit (such as Save the Bay and the Audubon Society) and government agencies have showcased a commitment to protecting its natural resources, Baker did admit to being frightened about the direction the country is heading nationally.
“One of the things that seems to be happening is changes are occurring at much more rapid rates than the scientists had predicted...Because they’re changing more quickly, we need to act more quickly,” she said. “And so, to sort of gut clean water protections and migratory bird protections, to have so many people against these protections be actually managing these offices is frightening and concerning. I worry it’s not a four-year setback, but that it could actually set us back decades.”