More and more students are helping drive efforts to make the campus a greener place to live and learn. “Students have stepped up to move the College forward with regard to working toward a sustainable community,” says Arthur Kney, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. “It has been a united effort among faculty, staff, and administration, with the students acting as the thread bringing us all together.”
The College’s progress in sustainability initiatives is reflected in a grade of B from the Sustainable Endowments Institute in its Green Report Card for 2011, an annual assessment of sustainability in campus operations and endowment practices. The grade has improved from D-minus in the 2008 report card (see “College Makes Dramatic Strides” in this issue). Kney praises leaders like Jennifer Bell ’11 and Emily Clark ’12 for mobilizing their peers in environmental efforts.
Bell, who graduated in May as a geology major, was president of Lafayette Environmental Awareness and Protection (LEAP) and vice president of the Society of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (SEES). She and David Brandes, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, were awarded a $5,000 grant by the Clinton Global Initiative University to establish a two-acre organic community garden at Metzgar Fields. The idea for the garden grew from another project, in which LEAP and SEES students, advised by Kney, created a pilot food-waste composting program in collaboration with College staff and administration.
Bell also was instrumental in securing a $41,000 grant from the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to purchase Earth Tubs for the composting project. Food waste and compostable packaging and dinnerware products are collected from dining facilities, run through a water extractor, and then combined with wood chips and mulch hay in the composting units. The Earth Tubs have the capacity to reduce the College’s food waste by 1,000 pounds a day and provide enough compost to fertilize the community garden and campus flower beds. The project is also supported by a $68,000 grant from the Ludwick Family Foundation.
“The garden project wouldn’t have started without the composting program,” Bell says. “We realized we were going to have all this compost and nowhere to use it. We talked about how great it would be to start a garden and produce organic food.” The Sustainable Energy Fund, headquartered in the Lehigh Valley, awarded the College a grant to install a three-kilowatt solar array to power equipment for the garden.
“A college should be an example of environmental responsibility, leading the way with innovative ideas and technology,” Bell says.
“There has been a shift to a green mindset among students, faculty, and administration that has made these changes possible. I am so happy to be part of a community that supports such innovation and environmental causes. Students are committed and passionate about making Lafayette as sustainable as possible, and the administration has been wonderfully supportive of our efforts.”
It’s critical that students are realistic in their ideas for environmental improvements and work with the administration to bring about change in a practical way, says George Xiques, manager of sustainability and environmental planning.
“Our students fully support the use of cleaner energy while realizing that the costs of renewable resources require research and technological improvements before we make substitutions on a large scale,” he says. “It speaks volumes about Lafayette that even though the economy has affected not only us but the country as a whole, our sustainability efforts have been efficiently executed and supported at the same levels as prior to the economic downturn.”
For her part, Clark, a former president and a current board member of SEES, is inspired by what the College has accomplished and optimistic about the future. A civil engineering major, her current passion is trying to implement a sustainable food loop on campus, in which vegetables are grown in the community garden and served in dining facilities, the food waste is composted, and the compost is applied to the garden.
In April, Clark, SEES president Brian Peacock ’12, and other students made a presentation on the food-loop project in phase two of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s P3 (People, Prosperity, and the Planet) student design competition, held during the annual National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. One of 55 student projects showcased, Lafayette’s initiative was aided by $10,000 in funding from the EPA awarded in the first phase of the competition. (This spring, Peacock was among 80 students nationwide to receive a Morris K. Udall Scholarship recognizing commitment to a career in the environment, leadership potential, and academic achievement.)
“This project has really opened my eyes about where everything comes from and where it goes. You go to the grocery store and you have no idea,” Clark says, adding, “Anyone can get involved, regardless of your major. A significant portion of the College is committed to sustainability efforts. Student involvement has been strong, and new students are consistently participating.”
Greg Miller ’13 joined LEAP as soon as he stepped on campus, helping with cleanup efforts along the Bushkill Creek and handing out compact fluorescent light bulbs in residence halls. This year he was president of TREEhouse, a special-interest living group in Keefe Hall whose residents focus on recycling, energy-efficiency, conservation, and generating as little waste as possible.
TREE stands for The Real Environmental Experience. Miller says, “We want to create a culture where residents feel comfortable keeping sustainable habits and influencing others to follow their lead. We try to spread the word about preservation of the ecosystem to the rest of the campus, while also improving on our own inefficient practices.”
This year, the 18 members combined activism with fun, screening environmental documentaries, building bird houses for the organic garden, and connecting with the CAFE (Cooking and Food Enthusiasts) floor, another special-interest group, to cook a dinner using only locally grown food.
“I especially enjoy that the floor tends to attract outgoing and interesting people, so the group I lived with is very exciting,” says Bryan McAtee ’11, a geology major and TREEhouse vice president. “There’s plenty of encouragement and camaraderie when it comes to living in a more sustainable way.”
Next year, Miller, a neuroscience major, hopes to brew a new Lafayette-Lehigh rivalry.
“I’m the head of LEAP’s Carbon Committee, where we take strides to raise awareness about and address Lafayette’s carbon emissions,” he says.
“We are planning a competition between Lafayette and Lehigh students during Earth Week, which will pit students against each other to see who can be more sustainable. We have a responsibility to do what we can to protect the world we live in.”