News in Brief: Meet the New and Improved Freestore

The Office of Sustainability program known as the Freestore has been revamped this semester. The program provides students with the ability to get a range of clothing, shoes, and other small items for free, because its items come solely from the donations of faculty and students. One of the Freestore’s most valuable resources is its ability to provide professional clothing to students for job interviews or other events that would require them to dress up. Professional clothing is often too expensive for students to buy themselves, so the Freestore is able to provide a no cost option to students who otherwise would not be able to afford it.

The Freestore is staffed by student volunteers. After visiting the Freestore, I interviewed Mitchell Beverage, a first year that volunteers for the program. I asked him what he liked most about the Freestore, and how people can help if they do not have anything to donate. Beverage stated that the Freestore is a good resource because it keeps clothes from going to waste and puts them into the hands of those that need them. He also said the people can help simply by spreading the word about the Freestore, or even volunteering their time. Beverage states that people shouldn’t hesitate to donate, but should be aware that you do not have to donate something in order to take items from the Freestore.

You can get involved with the Freestore or donate by contacting the Sustainability Fellow, at sustainability@smcm.edu, or by going to Freestore located next to the Dorchester laundry room Tuesday through Friday.

Sustainability Intern Positions to Continue Next Year

In light of College and State of Maryland budget crises this year, the recently terminated Sustainability Fellow position is not scheduled to be reinstated next year despite considerable campus support.

Begun in 2008 as a one-year fellowship program, the Sustainability Fellow position was designed as the only full-time sustainability office position. The person holding this position would be in charge of organizing and researching sustainability initiatives on campus alongside campus planning and facilities.

However, recent budget deficits led to the position’s suspension last year (held at the time by Lisa Neu ’10), which, according to former Dean of Students Laura Bayless, would allow for the hiring of a new associate in the Office of Financial Aid and a Judicial Affairs Coordinator in the Office of Student Activities. Replacing the fellowship was the Sustainability Internship program, under which three students would work alongside Facilities Planner and Sustainability Coordinator Luke Mowbray throughout the year to expand the College’s sustainability initiatives.

According to Mowbray, the positions will be continued next year, with an intern also working over the summer in preparation for the upcoming academic year.

“The student intern program will be continued for the same reason it was started,” said Mowbray. “As a new program we’ve been figuring out how to be the most efficient with new staff resources.”

Much support has been shown by the College community to restore the Sustainability Fellow position, largely for the same reasons the initial suspension decision was called for appeal to the President’s Council last year by former Student Trustee Danny Ruthenburg-Marshall. While financially more efficient to hire three part-time (10 hours per week) student interns over a full-time Fellow position, the inherent decreased efficiency of the position from a sustainability standpoint is difficult to overlook.

“Overall the student interns were fantastic workers and achieved a great deal,” said Mowbray. “The challenges we had with the new structure had to do with the total number of hours worked by sustainability staff and the inherent scheduling and oversight issues typical of part-time student positions.”

Despite appeals to College President Urgo and the Board of Trustees by a variety of students on campus, including SGA President Mark Snyder, the Sustainability Fellow position remains suspended until further notice, and interns will be hired to continue into the summer and following year.

Sustainability: Combining Art with Science

At a school like St. Mary’s, sustainability is a concept that is emphasized in every sense of the word, from the green buildings to the recycling and composting bins put in place around campus. In many cases, science (e.g., physics or engineering) is combined with art to create something that is not only going to help the environment, but that is also visually appealing.

Starting on Jan. 23rd, and continuing until March 2nd, in an exhibition aptly named Remediate/Re-Vision: Public Artists Engaging in the Environment, 14 artists – including such notable names as Patricia Johanson, Jackie Brookner, and Natalie Jeremijenko – are displaying their work with the environment, from re-constructing and re-shaping wetlands to constructing floating islands. The artists are trained in a variety of fields, from basic drawing and painting to sculpture to architecture. A few artists are also trained in additional fields, including construction, environmental education, and theater.

Among the works presented are television screens, photographs, interviews, and, in a sense, short documentaries. In watching the interviews, any viewer can obtain a more in-depth sense of what the artists’ intentions were when undertaking their respective projects. Patricia Johanson, an artist trained in architecture and public art, used her knowledge of both science and art to design morning-glory-shaped wetlands to treat water by removing organic pollutants and dissolving metals. They also contain water for no longer than 45 days after rainfall and clean runoff from the neighboring parking lot. In Johanson’s view, science and art are parallel in the way they are explored, and one can be incorporated with the other to create an “artistic” way of making the environment a healthier place.

Several of the artists’ works are very similar to Johanson’s: creating something that will help with the water flow, in addition to looking artistic. An artist who was trained in theater, Lorna Jordan, created a large structure that has the form of a miniature watershed, as well as the vague form of a human torso. The structure looks like a type of Amphitheatre and is called the “Terraced Cascade,” in that the terraces direct water, improving the ecology for the desert plants. Yet another artist, Natalie Jeremijenko, placed large red Xs on sidewalks in New York City, building a new type of urban habitat. The purpose of the Xs is to allow storm water to enter the deep soil that is found under the sidewalks and recycle, replenishing soil for trees several yards away.

Many of the artists have collaborated with various corporations and environmental agencies along the way, and a few have collaborated with one another as well, creating joint projects. On Monday, Jan. 30th, from 4:45-6:00 p.m., and on Tuesday, Jan. 31st, at 7:00 p.m., there will be presentations regarding the exhibition, given by art experts from Wave Hill, NY; and Allegheny College. Jennifer McGregor, who will be presenting on Monday, is the director of arts at Wave Hill, NY; and Amara Geffen, also presenting on Monday, is an art professor at Allegheny College and the director of Allegheny’s Arts and Environmental Initiative, as well as director of the college’s Center for Economic and Environmental Development. In addition to presenting on Monday, Professor Geffen will be presenting again on Tuesday.

College’s Sustainability Initiatives Still Going Strong

St. Mary’s touts itself as a green school, and yet some alumni were still wondering why the College has not shown up in any prestigious green school rankings, such as The Princeton Review, Sierra Club’s Cool Schools, or the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS).

Luke Mowbray, the Sustainability Coordinator, says, “There are a number of green reporting agencies, but traditionally we haven’t submitted scores for too many of them.” However, the College has submitted scores to the Princeton Review and the Maryland Green Registry, and it will be expanding its score submissions to AASHE STARS, the most comprehensive green reporting system, within the next year.

In years past, St. Mary’s has garnered enough impressive accolades to prove that the College is indeed working towards its goal of environmental sustainability. It was rated in the 80 percentile of universities in the country in The Princeton Review’s Top Green Schools, and is the only college in Maryland to receive the Maryland Green Leadership Award.

St. Mary’s has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the largest green power purchaser in the Capital Athletic Conference for the past four years, and is the first school in Maryland to be named a sanctuary by the Audubon Society.

In 2008, the College completed an Energy Performance Contract (EPC) worth $2.5 million in energy and water efficiency upgrades, leading to a 16.5 %  reduction in electricity through engineered savings, and a 34% water and sewage reduction.

Additionally, all new construction at the College must be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver certified or equivalent, demonstrating the College’s commitment to make its buildings environmentally responsible.

Mowbray was “surprsised that [St. Mary’s] hadn’t submitted for AASHE STARS,” but extolled the College’s administration for being “very supportive” of these goals. “We do a lot of really good work here, and it would be nice to let the world know.”

Students Begin Sustainability Internship

The Sustainability Fellow position, formerly held by Lisa Neu ’10, has been split into three student internships to be held by two upperclassmen and one first-year student for the academic year.
The decision was announced last semester, when less funding was available for the position due to the recent increase in required staffing positions for the College.

Replacing a full-time Sustainability Fellow with a three-student personnel setup would not only reduce costs to St. Mary’s, but would also offer opportunities for environment-focused students to become more involved in the campus community.

“This offers students a chance for really good career development,” said Facilities Planner and Sustainability Coordinator Luke Mowbray, who will be working directly with the interns in the White House Sustainability Office. “They’ll be working upwards of 36 hours, comparable [to the Sustainability Fellow], and I’m looking forward to it.”

The interns include junior Emily Smith, who has worked with the College since this past summer, senior Nicole Johnson, and first-year Scott Lee. “I’m excited that I was chosen,” said Lee. “The position is usually for upperclassmen.”

The interns will each work 10-15 hours each week, doing work similar to Neu.

The Sustainability Fellow position began in 2008 with two recent graduates working 20 hours each week, followed by Shane Hall ’09 for the 2009-2010 academic year. Neu gained the position last year, also as a recent graduate. “The idea of the program was to hire someone who had just graduated,” said Mowbray.

Mowbray has been Facilities Planner and Sustainability Coordinator since predecessor Christophe Bornand, who left the office two years ago.

Sustainable Practices While Studying Abroad

Sustainability is something that is very important to everyone on St. Mary’s campus but, sadly, our efforts in Maryland pale in comparison to the efforts made to conserve environmental resources here in Ireland.

We have made great progress at St. Mary’s: saving water by not using trays in the dining hall, offering reusable to-go boxes, creating a gray water system, recycling, and composting, among other things.

It may not be fair to compare the efforts of a small college to the efforts of an entire country, but I think we have much to learn from Ireland.

At St. Mary’s, we try to recycle plastic bags by donating our used bags to the campus store.

In Ireland, plastic bags are practically extinct. By charging 22 cents (about $0.30) for every plastic bag, Ireland has decreased the use of plastic bags by nearly 90 percent.

Reusable canvas grocery bags are sold in most stores for about a euro or two, but it is far more common for people to bring a duffle or backpack for their shopping or groceries.

Back in the states, it would seem strange if someone pulled out a duffle bag and started stuffing all their groceries into it, but it is completely normal here.

This practice is especially helpful to me since I have no car and must walk to and from the grocery store.

Another way that the Irish have reduced plastic use is by charging for disposable forks, spoons, and knives.

I was eating a packed lunch with a friend one day on Trinity campus when my friend realized that she had forgotten to bring a fork for her pasta.

We walked into a café similar to the Green Bean on Trinity’s campus in search of a fork.  My friend grabbed a plastic fork and was about to leave the café when an attendant told her that she needed to pay for that.

It was less than a euro, but it definitely encouraged both of us not to forget to bring silverware from home.

The use of public transportation is another thing that is very important to people here in Dublin.

There is a very easy to use bus system with good deals for students and bus stops every three blocks or so.

The Luas (the Irish word for speed) is Dublin’s light rail tram system.

It looks like a futuristic train running through the street and is more convenient than a bus when traveling long distances across the city.

Dublinbikes is Dublin’s bike sharing system. Throughout Dublin, on the side of the street, are small bike depots where one can rent a bike and drop it off at another depot near their final destination.

People of all ages borrow these bikes, and with this system, there is no need to worry about locking one’s bike up or storing it otherwise.

People here also generally drive compact cars, and SUVs and other big cars are definitely frowned upon. Smart Cars are very popular here, especially since they make parallel parking in a city so much easier.

Of course, since Dublin is a city, everything is closer together and there is less of a need to own a car in the first place.

The environmental efforts made here in Dublin are very impressive.  Washington, D.C. led the nation as the first to charge for plastic bags.

Maybe other states will soon follow suit, and the United States will be able to begin to compete with Ireland in terms of sustainability and environmental friendliness.

 

Alums Advise Prospective Farmers

“Farmers should be respected just like doctors and lawyers,” said Meredith Epstein, ‘08, at a presentation she gave with fellow alum Guy Kilpatric, ‘09, on the successes both have found as part of a growing movement of young farmers in the United States.

As part of “Do It in the Dark” Month, the event was sponsored by the Student Environmental Action Coalition, the Campus Community Farm and EcoHouse on Feb. 3.

Though neither comes from an agricultural background, Kilpatric and Epstein became interested in farming at St. Mary’s as members of the Community Garden Club.

Since graduation, they have spent their time cultivating their careers in sustainable farming.

Most recently, they both served as apprentices at the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In the apprenticeship, they learned more about a growing community of “greenhorns,” a name used to describe young adults who are getting progressively more interested in farming.

They explained that the program also gave them a more scientific background when it came to sustainable farming.

Along with the 700 hours of field work in the farm during the six-month long program, apprentices spent 300 hours in the classroom.

“The most important thing is that there are a lot of people who are willing to reach out to others new to farming,” explained Kilpatric.

Epstein and Kilpatric described other opportunities available, including programs that connect young farmers with others who have become too old to farm their land.

Instead of selling their land and risking development, older farmers can connect with younger farmers and keep the land as an agricultural zone.

“I don’t know if the Career Development Center gives advice on how to be a farmer,” said Kilpatric, but he felt it was important that students know of successful young farmers.

“I am getting a salary comparable to any recent college grad with a degree in biology, economics, political science,” he explained.

Epstein added that it is important for young people to know “it is possible to also be successful” as a farmer, no matter their academic background.

Kilpatric majored in English and writes about farming while Epstein had a student-designed major in environmental studies.

“Farming is a lot more than just digging around in the dirt,” said senior Tess Wier, President of the Campus Community Farm, “so it’s good to see how alum with a liberal arts background were able to apply their education to this very important field.”

“It’s exciting to bring home all the knowledge, the experience, exciting to bring back the excitement,” Epstein said, explaining why she and Kilpatric wanted to speak at St. Mary’s about their farming experiences.

“I just wish there had been some way for me to learn what I learned in Santa Cruz here in a liberal arts setting,” she concluded.

Reusable To-Go Box Pilot Program in Progress

Soon about 400 students will be walking around with their new “eco-oyster shells”, or reusable to-go boxes, as part of the campus initiative to be more sustainable. The reusable boxes will be much more environmentally friendly than the current Styrofoam boxes that students use.

A leader in this initiative, sophomore Becky White said, “[Styrofoam boxes] create a tremendous amount of waste, everyone can see the trashcan overflowing on sunny days.” St. Mary’s goes through about 600 Styrofoam to-go boxes per day, which adds up to about 132,000 boxes per year.

Other colleges have had success with these programs. Facilities Planner and Sustainability Coordinator Luke Mowbray explained that his undergraduate college, Eckerd College, has had success with reusable boxes. Eckerd is one of 116 schools that also have similar programs.

In regards to St. Mary’s, he said, “We didn’t want to do a full implementation program to start with because we just want to feel things out… we decided to go with a pilot program.” During the Spring semester, students who sign up for the program will have the option to use the oyster shells.

This semester is meant to test how the system of the oyster shells works, and to see if any problems need to be fixed.

The start date of the program was moved back to Feb. 4 because of shipping delays. Students who sign up for the program will be able to pick up their oyster shell at the sustainability table in the Great Room.

Instead of a student renting or owning a single oyster shell, students in the program will also be able to get a token card. This token card can then later be exchanged for an oyster shell.

The card acts as a way to identify who is in the program while also making it possible for a student to not always have to have an oyster shell in possession. Bon Appétit will be responsible for cleaning the oyster shells.

For those who might miss being able to easily dispose of their to-go boxes, Mowbray said, “If you don’t like the idea of using a reusable to-go box container then that’s fine, we are not taking away the option of Styrofoam, we are just adding more options.”

While some might like being able to easily throw out their boxes, one student, first-year Danielle Manos said, “I think carrying around a to-go box will be like carrying around a backpack, not that big of a deal.”

White responded by saying, “I think it’s the kind of thing people can get used to pretty quickly, it’s sort of comparable to the tray-less system where people got used to and then didn’t even notice not using trays.”

White hopes for full implementation by next semester. However the program is still in its trial run. As of this writing, 85 spots are still available for interested students. The program is capping the amount of people at 400 and they already have 315.

Manos said, “This is the only Earth we have, we should treat it well.”

A Plea for Reusable To-Go Boxes

As anyone who has seen the trash cans on the Campus Center patio on a nice day knows, to-go boxes from the Great Room are used frequently at St. Mary’s. In fact, our food services company Bon Appétit estimates that between 800 and 1000 boxes are handed out on any given day during the academic year.

Given that the current boxes are made of Styrofoam, a material that is not recyclable or biodegradable, these boxes account for a significant amount of waste. If we throw out an average of 900 boxes a day, and there are 220 days in the academic year, this suggests that we as a college throw away roughly 198,000 boxes per academic year.

With each unit costing 11 cents, these 198,000 boxes also end up costing us a total of $20,899 a year. As any college student can tell you, this is a very large amount of both money and trash.

Fortunately there is a more environmentally friendly and long term cost efficient alternative: reusable to-go boxes. A group of students from a Math for Social Justice course found that Eco Clamshells may be our best alternative.

Each unit costs $3.14, but if we were to purchase 2,000 (enough for the whole student body) for $6,280 instead of constantly purchasing more Styrofoam, we would save $14,619 in up-front costs. Although reusable to go boxes would require more water and labor for washing, it is unlikely that these costs would amount to more than the amount saved.

In recent months, the level of support for a reusable to-go box program has grown significantly. On October 19, the Student Government Association passed a resolution that supports the implementation of a reusable to-go box program in the Great Room to begin by Spring 2011.

The Student Environmental Action Coalition has collected 380 petition signatures from students and faculty supporting reusable containers and has been working with the Sustainability Committee on research for the program.

In addition, we have a food service company that has been very supportive of past green initiatives in the Great Room. Bon Appetit’s company tag line is “Food services for a sustainable future,” and they have won multiple awards for their socially and environmentally sustainable food. The company has also implemented the use of reusable to-go boxes on other college campuses.

With all of this support going for us, it is clear we must work together to come up with a system that will allow the use of reusable to-go boxes to be just as convenient as the current disposable containers. Do you have any ideas on how we can best implement a reusable to-go box program in the Great Room?

If so, please contact the Sustainability Committee (sustainability@smcm.edu) to help design and implement the best possible program.

Sustainability Brings Out the Bargain-Hunter

On Oct. 20, college campuses all over the nation celebrated Campus Sustainability Day, a day devoted to emphasizing the green initiative on college campuses.

When asked about what makes a college sustainable, Sustainability Fellow Elizabeth “Lisa” Neu, ‘10, said “the college administration, staff, faculty and students all work together to reduce our impact on the environment and promote awareness about environmental issues.”

A sustainability committee, though only four years old, has been hard at work making our school more environmentally friendly.

This year, they put their own spin on Campus Sustainability Day by holding various events during the day, including a viewing of the documentary Tapped, and handed out 50 stainless steel reusable water bottles.

However, the main attraction was the Campus Free Market, where students could drop off their unwanted belongings, as well as pick up other students’ for free.

Even though it was a cold, rainy day, many students came to the event. Besides students offering free goods at the free market, the campus farm also provided free food, and the bike shop provided free bicycle tune-ups.

Sophomore Jocelyn Baltz said, “The free food was really good, and I signed up for the campus farm mailing list. [The free market] was a really cool idea!”

According to senior Chelsea Howard-Foley, the associate sustainability fellow, “The free market decreases the things we buy, and helps us become more sustainable. If we don’t have use for something we have, someone else might.”

“College students are the future,” said Neu. “College is a time full of new ideas and new changes, so why not include green changes too?”

Though developing a truly green, sustainable campus is a long process and doesn’t happen overnight, Neu said there are lots of things students can do to be more environmentally friendly.

For example, Neu said “Use energy wisely…don’t just wash one t-shirt in the machine at a time.” She also suggested composting, using energy-efficient light bulbs, and recycling.

Baltz said “I’m very into recycling, and think it’s a great, easy thing to do to improve sustainability on campus.”

“As college students, we have a lot of privilege and education and it’s our responsibility to do something with that,” Howard-Foley said. “[I]t’s not just about campus sustainability on one day. We need to work towards it year round.”