Living Off-the-Grid

blog_off the grid homesLiving in a house “off-the-grid” sounds a bit like Henry David Thoreau’s Life in the Woods. In this ever-increasing age of digital interconnectedness, the thought of not being connected to a central electrical grid is bizarre, and for some, downright impossible to comprehend. However, green homes are not without electricity, nor are they too far removed from the rest of society. Green homes, as defined by JD Lara on, are “dwellings that use resources from the earth in such a way that if you put them back into the surroundings, they wouldn’t cause any harm. Green building is often associated with sustainable architecture, which seeks to minimize the negative impact of buildings on the environment by maximizing energy, space and material efficiency, while minimizing their use so that the needs of future generations won’t be compromised” (

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Green homes do not look that much different from regular homes, except for maybe the obvious photovoltaic (PV) cells on the roof, and many are actually beautiful in a natural, sophisticated way. These homes have multiple features that qualify them as green homes. They use either solar, wind or geothermal power, and they are designed in such a way to take advantage of passive heating and cooling.  According to home-builder and editor Mike Reynolds, “a house with 60 percent of its windows facing south (passive solar) may have its heating requirements reduced by as much as 25 percent for virtually no cost” (

Another feature of green homes is their economical use of water. Greywater, or wastewater from bathing, washing dishes, bathroom sinks, and washing machines, can be used to flush toilets, wash cars, or after being treated, to water plants. Collecting rain water from roofs and gutters is also a good way to make a home green ( Using graywater or collected rain water reduces the demand for fresh clean water for carrying out tasks that don’t necessarily need it.  One can also use drought-tolerant, indigenous plants for landscaping to reduce the impact on the natural environment surrounding one’s home.

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Off-the-grid homeowners have a much stricter energy budget than owners of homes connected to the central electrical grid. Off-grid electricity is more expensive —about $0.50 to $1.00 per kWh ( Although the photovoltaic modules are relatively cheap themselves, batteries and gas-powered generators (or propane-fired generators) are expensive. Those who live off the grid need batteries and generators for when the sun isn’t shining.

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However, during certain sunnier seasons, off-grid homeowners are likely to have an energy surplus. For example, in Vermont, “a 1-kW PV system that produces 48 kWh of electricity in the month of December will produce three times as much electricity (145 kWh) in the month of May. If weather forecasters predict three days of sunny weather in May or June, you can plug in extra hairdryers, do several loads of laundry, and vacuum the house, but during a snowstorm in the middle of December you’ve got to be careful about energy use. That’s when you will be using your broom instead of your vacuum cleaner” ( Alternatives to a PV system include a micro-hydro system or a wind turbine, but by far the most common way to generate off-grid electricity is with a PV system.


For more information:

Find green homes for sale across the US.

For sustainable building materials to build your own green home:

To see more sustainable homes:

Stressed Out Coral Reefs

coral reefsJust like college students, coral reefs can get stressed out too. When coral gets stressed out, it loses its color, a process called coral bleaching.

Healthy coral has a symbiotic relationship with single-celled, microscopic algae called zooxanthellae that live in the coral’s tissue. The algae are their primary source of food and are what give coral its color. If coral get stressed due to environmental factors, the algae leave the coral’s tissue. Without its major source of food, the coral turns white or very pale and is susceptible to disease.

Several environmental factors can be a source of stress for coral including: agricultural runoff and pollution, overexposure to sunlight due to rising global temperatures, and exposure to the air during extremely low tides. However, the leading cause of coral bleaching is changing ocean temperatures due to climate change.

Coral bleaching does not mean the coral is dead. Corals can recover if the bleaching is not severe and can survive if water temperatures return to normal quickly, but if the algae loss is prolonged and the stress continues, the coral will eventually die.

“In 2005, the United States lost half of its coral reefs in the Caribbean in one year due to a massive bleaching event. Comparison of satellite data from the previous 20 years confirmed that thermal stress from the 2005 event was greater than the previous 20 years combined” (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).

Coral bleaching not only has negative effects on the coral itself, but also on the coral reef ecosystems and the organisms that depend on the coral, including humans. Both fish and invertebrates rely on alive and healthy coral for food and shelter. In cases where coral bleaching leads to coral mortality, there can be large shifts in fish populations as a result. These shifts can translate into reduced catches for fishermen going after reef fish species, which in turn leads to impacts on food supply and economic activity in fishing communities who rely on the fish to support their livelihood. Damaged reefs without their vibrant colors and bustling fish schools underpin the reef’s aesthetic appeal necessary for the tourism industry. The resulting loss of revenue from reduced tourist activity can threaten the livelihoods of local communities dependent on the tourism industry. Finally, coral reefs are a valuable source of pharmaceutical compounds. Degraded and dead reefs are less likely to serve as a source for important medicinal resources such as drugs to treat heart disease, cancer, and other illnesses.

Coral bleaching is a serious side effect of climate change that has multiple adverse effects on larger communities. From the Time article linked below, “If you think of corals as canaries [in a coal mine], they’re chirping really loudly right now…the ones that are still alive, that is.”



Additional Reading




Mountaintop Removal

Even with new technologies in alternative fuels becoming increasingly available, efficient, and cost-effective, the world’s citizens are more reliable on fossil fuels than ever before. A new form of strip mining has emerged in the Appalachia region of the United States with devastating effects on the surrounding landscape and its people; it is called mountaintop removal.

What it is: “Mountaintop removal is any method of surface coal mining that destroys a mountaintop or ridgeline, whether or not the mined area will be returned to what is legally described as the ‘approximate original contour.’ Methods of mountaintop removal coal mining include, but are not limited to: cross-ridge mining, box-cut method mining, steep slope mining, area mining or mountaintop mining” ( Mountaintop removal takes place mainly in eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, southwestern Virginia, and eastern Tennessee.


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How it’s done: The first step in mountaintop removal mining is clearing trees, vegetation, and topsoil. Oftentimes, coal companies are working fast to stay within a profitable time frame of coal prices, and so the tress are not used for commercial use, but are set ablaze or illegally dumped in valleys. Next, deep holes are dug for explosives. Accessing these Appalachian coal seams can require the removal of 600 feet or more of the mountainside. Blowing up this much mountain is accomplished by using millions of pounds of explosives. Huge machines called draglines, which stand 22 stories high, push the blown apart rock and dirt into nearby streams and valleys. Waterways are contaminated and sometimes buried altogether.


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In the past few decades, over 2,000 miles of streams and headwaters that provide drinking water for millions of Americans have been permanently buried and destroyed. Residents of the areas affected by mountaintop removal will often turn their faucets on and find dirty brown water coming out.

Local communities routinely face devastating floods and adverse health effects. The floods are caused by the level landscape. Where trees and rocks once absorbed and diverted rainwater, now flat lands rush the waters downhill towards residential areas. There is also ample evidence of harmful health effects on the people near these coal mines. “Since 2007, peer-reviewed studies by researchers from more than a dozen universities have concluded that mountaintop removal coal mining contributes to significantly higher rates of birth defects, cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases among individuals living in the region where it occurs” ( Additionally in 2014, “researchers demonstrated that toxic dust from mountaintop removal promotes the growth of lung cancer cells in people living nearby”. This is the first time a direct link has been established rather than a correlation.

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The naturally biodiverse habitats in some the country’s oldest forests have been laid to waste due to this practice. According to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency impact statement on mountaintop removal in Appalachia, “it may take hundreds of years for a forest to re-establish on the mine site.” Many bird species native to Appalachia will no longer be able to inhabit the region due to the lack of mature forests. The fish, which serve as living indicators of water quality, have experienced “habitat degradation, declining populations, and increasing cases of developmental abnormalities in waters downstream of mountaintop removal sites” ( What was once a lush and moist environment ideal for native salamander populations has now been turned into a dry environment uninhabitable by amphibians (who need clean water to survive). The native salamander populations have been found either completely absent or significantly reduced in number, sometimes even replaced by reptiles on reclaimed mine sites who can survive in these drier areas.

Although reclamation efforts of these areas are required by federal law, coal companies often receive waivers from state agencies under the guise that economic development will occur on the newly flattened land. However, most sites receive little more than a spraying of exotic grass seed, and less than 3% of reclaimed mountaintop removal sites are used for economic development.

For several years, the organization Appalachian Voices and their partners pushed for passage of the Clean Water Protection Act, which would have provided a solution to the harmful effects of mountaintop removal. More than 200 congressional allies supported the effort, but it was ultimately unsuccessful due to industry lobbying. Numerous agencies and advocacy groups continue to work in the federal courts to bring the protections of the Clean Water Act to the people, ecological communities, and waters of Appalachia.



For more information:

NPR Podcast: “You Just Don’t Touch That Tap Water Unless Absolutely Necessary”

PBS News Hour: How mountaintop mining affects life and landscape in West Virginia



Earth Week 2018


The week of April 16th, The Office of Sustainability partnered with various other organizations around campus to celebrate Earth Week. Earth Week offered a variety of events, including Campus Garden and compost tours, and workshop and symposium featuring guest artist John Sabraw, and a day-long Earthfest celebration on April 20th, all surrounding the slogan, “Refuse the Straw.”  

On Monday, the Office of Sustainability sold raffle tickets for a chance to win the dress “Halimeda,” which is Greek for “Thinking of the sea.” The dress was made for Earth Week’s Shades of Green/Sustainability at GCSU; and it was made primarily of repurposed plastics, shells, netting, fabric, and driftwood. The dress represents the outstanding pollution of the ocean with plastic and other trash and how that destroys aquatic life and ecosystems. Additionally, Monday through Wednesday, the Office of Sustainability offered tours of the Campus Garden and the compost sites. The composting initiative is relatively new to campus, and takes post-consumer food waste from the MAX and transforms it into usable compost, much of which goes to the Campus Garden. Mostly operated by the Gardening Club, the Campus Garden grows a variety of produce for faculty, students, and staff to enjoy.

On Thursday, The Sustainability Fee Program and Shades of Green hosted environmentalist and artist John Sabraw from Ohio State University. Sabraw is known for his unique work of cleaning acid mine drainage from streams and using the iron oxide found in the drainage to create pigments. Sabraw works to bridge the gap between artists and scientists in what he calls the “Synergy of Curiosity.” Working together, Sabraw shows how collaboration can help towards making our world a sustainable one. During the afternoon, students were able to learn how the pigment is created and had the opportunity to work on a collaborative mural where they could add to the piece in whichever way they chose to. Afterward, Sabraw held a symposium detailing his life’s journey, how he ended up working with the industry that he does, how his industry operates, and what potential it has for the future.

To wrap up Earth Week, the Office of Sustainability, Physics Club, WGUR, Shelter Buddies, Creative Arts Alliance, Student Museum Association, Salamander Springs, GA Power, Gardening Club, and Environmental Science Club all came together to host Earthfest on April 20th. Earlier on in the morning and afternoon, Earthfest offered arts and crafts, such as tie-dye and bracelet-making. Followed by yoga with Hannah Onians, and a full line-up of live music, including Colin Pennington, Ron Harris, Jammin’ Jimmy James, Madi Nunley, and Habersham Sounds.

Earth Week was a huge success, and we hope that this event will inspire the faculty, staff, and students to be more sustainable in their daily lives and help save our Earth.

RecycleMania Wrap Up

     The eight-week period of RecycleMania has finally come to a close. Schools from all over the nation are tallying their recycling totals and comparing their ranks on the RecycleMania leaderboard. Here’s how Georgia College stacked up:

Total Diversion: 18.826%, rank 138/170

Diversion in 2017: 7.816%, rank 186/194


Per Capita Recycling: 6.046 pounds per capita, rank 164/228

Per Capita Recycling in 2017: 4.304 pounds per person, rank 214/248


Total Recycling: 50,574 pounds, rank 165/229

Total Recycling in 2017: 32,554 pounds, rank 177/215


Waste Minimization: 34.862 pounds per capita, rank 57/179

Waste Minimization in 2017: N/A

    All in all, Georgia College has increased its total diversion rate by 11.01%, and increased its total recycling by 18,020 pounds. The campus has seen a significant improvement over the results of last year; and we would like to thank all students, staff, and faculty who participated in this event! Georgia College is working continuously to promote green efforts around campus and encourage a more sustainable way of living, and RecycleMania has provided an engine with which to involve the entire campus in green efforts. We hope to see recycling efforts and campus involvement continue to grow in the future with the momentum gained through this year’s RecycleMania.

     As RecycleMania comes to a close, the Office of Sustainability prepares to kick off the 2018 Georgia College Earth Week beginning April 16th. This week will feature a myriad of events designed to incorporate students with sustainability efforts. Activities include garden and compost tours, the Symposium, and Earthfest. The Office of Sustainability would like to encourage all members of the Georgia College community to participate in these events and get involved with the sustainability efforts on campus now!

Halfway Through RecycleMania

     Four weeks in, RecycleMania rages on; and we are halfway through the season. Each competing college continues to vie for the top spot and contribute to a healthier Earth in the process. We have tracked our recycling rates from the beginning of the event alongside 141 other schools, and Georgia College began its first week in the season boasting a diversion rate of 34.12% and a recycling rate of 33.3%. These numbers have diminished over the course of the event to where they currently stand at 20.07% and 11.8%, respectively. While these numbers may not seem that impressive, by this time just last year, Georgia College had a recycling rate of only 7.5%. In addition, this year, Georgia College is recording and reporting the amount of food waste which is composted, which helps increase our total diversion rate. Georgia College currently stands at rank 110 out of 141 for our total diversion efforts.

     Georgia College has recycled a grand total of 28,245 pounds of material and composted 3,089 pounds of food waste by this point in the competition and stands at 3.67 pounds of material per person on the campus. At this time last year, the campus had only recycled 17,820 pounds of material: a difference of 10,425 pounds between this season and the last!

     Currently, Georgia College also claims a waste minimization ratio of 20.26 pounds per person. This statistic makes its debut for Georgia College in the 2018 season and will serve as a benchmark for the rest of the season as well as for future events.

     While these statistics may just seem like random numbers and percentages, the official RecycleMania report uses the EPA’s Waste Reduction Model (WARM) to transpose these figures into more commonplace measurements, such as total carbon dioxide (in metric tons), amount of energy consumed by a household, and amount of carbon emissions from automobiles. By this point, the diversion efforts of Georgia College are equivalent to the removal of forty metric tons of carbon dioxide, eight cars off the road, or the energy consumption of three households.

     By the end of RecycleMania last season, Georgia College ranked 186 out of 190 with a final recycling rate of 7.816%. We are already soaring above that previous percentage, and this season promises the opportunity to build momentum in the community and send Georgia College well on its way to becoming an ever-greener campus.

Profiles in Sustainability – Julia Steele

     Born and raised in Lawrenceville, Georgia, Ms. Steele works as the Events Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability and has done so for nine months. Her mother hails from South Korea, and she initially taught Ms. Steele about the importance of sustainability. Ms. Steele comments, “From a young age, I learned to never waste food and would often salvage items from my neighbor’s trash on Tuesdays before the trash man would come for pickup.” Living in a war-torn environment, Ms. Steele’s mother could not afford to waste resources and inspired the same sentiment in her daughter. Ms. Steele originally declared her major in nursing, but after being dissuaded by the hospital environment, she decided to change it to environmental science with a minor in public health to help serve the environment and people’s health.

     Ms. Steele states, in regards to her position, that, “My main goal is to primarily educate students about the office’s initiatives through activities, games and guest speakers.” She works to organize events at Georgia College such as Campus Sustainability and Food Day, America’s Recycling Day, and the annual Sustainability Fee Program Symposium. Ms. Steele discusses how she most enjoys the outreach and collaboration she is able to take part in with other departments. Additionally, she states, “I enjoy teaching students about sustainability and learning how to translate scientific information into a diction that non-STEM majors can understand.” However, due to a lack of resources and amenities, the Office of Sustainability is restricted in its ability to fully facilitate composting or recycling. “Asking students to change their habits can be challenging,” Ms. Steele remarks, “[i]t’s difficult to show student the direct impact they have on the environment.” Still, the Office of Sustainability consists of a dedicated team willing to make all the impact that it can. Ms. Steele considers herself very fortunate to be working among such tenacious, hardworking individuals, “I am so grateful to surround myself with dedicated people in OoS [the Office of Sustainability]. Lori Strawder and Kristen Hitchcock are the two people I truly admire, . . . I also love working with motivated colleagues. Kierra Brown, Elizabeth Carroll, Toria Middleton, Lauren Barber, Ryan Agnew, and Jake Dietch are all so eager to make change and willing to help one another around the office.” With such a devoted group, Ms. Steele hopes that the office can see more student involvement as well as sustainability implemented in classroom projects in the future.

     Currently, Ms. Steele believes that the composting initiative is one of the most successful projects that Georgia College has seen. The project has built up steam under manager Jake Dietch, and the project continues to grow while educating students on the importance of recovering waste and replenishing soil with nutrients. Ms. Steele comments that, “We are producing so much compost, and I’d love to see Georgia College giving the compost to local farmers!” She believes this will strengthen ties between the campus and farmers within the area. She also explains how recycling rates at Georgia College continue to rise each year.

     Ms. Steele defines sustainability as, “[being] [M]indful of the human impact on ecosystems, fostering healthy living and acting locally in order to preserve our resources and maintain the integrity of the environment.” She is excited for the implementation of a Campus Kitchen at Georgia College, and she states, “I believe this will have a profound impact, since this is a collaborative project that includes sustainability, dining and the community.”  Ms. Steele also plans to incorporate more collaborative and interdisciplinary programs in order to reach a wider audience of students. For instance, Ms. Steele is currently working with the Art Department to host John Sabraw, a nationally acclaimed artist and environmentalist, at the Sustainability Fee Program symposium. Backed by an ever-growing network of interns and student volunteers, Ms. Steele is poised and ready to advance sustainability efforts at Georgia College and contribute to a global mindfulness of our impact on our world, “My family and friends can all be witnesses of my passion about the health of our environment and determination for future generations to have equal opportunities.”


Georgia Arbor Day Celebration at West Campus

You have probably heard of Arbor Day on many occasions, but have you ever stopped to think about the significance of this tradition or how we observe it on campus? The first official observance in the United States was held on April 10, 1872, in Nebraska; and it is now celebrated nationally on the last Friday in April. However, many states also hold their own observance to coincide with the prime planting dates in their regions, with Georgia holding its Arbor Day on the third Friday in February. Each Arbor Day presents an opportunity to reflect on and recognize the importance of maintaining healthy trees, which provide many benefits including food, oxygen, shade, energy conservation, soil erosion prevention, clean air and water, and many more.

Here at Georgia College, the Grounds Department, the Office of Sustainability, and the Earth Action Team teamed up on February 23 to celebrate Georgia Arbor Day. Five ginkgo trees were planted along the West Campus Entrance. This species was chosen due to the spectacular yellow color that the trees showcase in the fall, which will create a dramatic drive and view from the village apartments. The staff and students who participated were treated to a special demonstration of correct tree planting techniques by Seth Hawkins, certified arborist, community forester, and member of our campus tree committee. By using those techniques, the participants helped to ensure the survival of the five trees. Mr. Hawkins also allowed us to video his explanations, and you can learn how to successfully plant trees by watching Part 1 and Part 2.

Our Georgia Arbor Day celebration not only allows us to reflect on our state tree holiday but also kick off our National Arbor Day celebration. Each year, individuals and organizations on campus are invited to volunteer to plant trees in the weeks leading up to National Arbor Day, which will be held on April 27. We are proud that Georgia College is a Tree Campus USA, and we hope that you will join us in maintaining our tree canopy. Email Aaron Seay, grounds supervisor, or Kristen Hitchcock, Sustainability Coordinator, to schedule your tree planting.




RecycleMania Kick Off!

     Starting February 4th, the 2018 RecycleMania campaign has begun! Based in Washington D.C., RecycleMania is an eight-week-long event dedicated to promoting recycling efforts in college campuses across the United States and Canada. As stated by the organization itself, “Using fair and friendly competition, RecycleMania provides tools and opportunities that inspire, empower, and mobilize colleges and universities to benchmark and improve efforts to reduce or eliminate waste.” RecycleMania serves as a vehicle for increasing recycling and sustainability efforts nationwide. Georgia College will compete alongside countless schools, including Georgia State University, Auburn University, and even Harvard University, to boost our recycling rates. The school that races to the top of the scoreboard will receive international recognition, an award made of recyclable materials, and the honor of hosting the organization’s traveling trophy for a year.

RecycleMania logo made from recycled tire rubber

On February 9th, Georgia College officially kicked off its participation in RecycleMania. Interns from the Office of Sustainability tabled outside of the Arts and Sciences building and provided pertinent recycling information in regards to what can and cannot be recycled at Georgia College, as well as a small game to discern what the campus can recycle. Participants in the game received a free water bottle. This is the first of many more recycling and RecycleMania based events to occur in the upcoming weeks.

Office of Sustainability interns help kick off RecycleMania at Georgia College.

RecycleMania rates schools based off of three categories: total recycling per capita, smallest waste generation, and highest rates of recycling as a percentage of total generated waste. Scores are updated weekly and schools are ranked accordingly. Last year, Georgia College achieved recycling rates of 6-8%; and our goal this year is to surpass those percentages. Throughout this competition, the Office of Sustainability will be hosting a multitude of events in order to promote the campaign and raise our scores. Recycling is one of the Office of Sustainability’s chief sustainability programs, and we hope that RecycleMania increases the education of and participation in the recycling initiative.

Informational poster of what can and cannot by recycled at Georgia College

Georgia College supports recycling of paper, cardboard, paperboard, and plastics #1 and #2 (Plastic products have a small number inside of a recycling symbol on the surface of the object). We encourage all students and staff to take part in this exciting event and help rocket Georgia College to the top of the scoreboard!

Office of Sustainability Poster

Sustainable New Year’s Resolutions

As the new year begins, the Office of Sustainability encourages you to consider a sustainable New Year’s Resolution for 2018! Check out our previous blog post if you’re in need of some ideas! We also found some students on campus that have their own eco-friendly resolutions.

  • Our very own intern, Elizabeth, has resolved to stop using plastic straws for the new year. Instead, she carries stainless steel, reusable straws with her!
  • Another one of our interns, Ryan, has decided to stop using plastic bags. Instead, he brings his own reusable bags to the grocery store!
  • Our compost intern, Jake, aims to educate 200 people on sustainability and environmental practices in 2018!
  • Ashlie, a zero-waste advocate and intern, has given up bottled shampoo for 2018. Instead, she will be using Shampoo Bars from LUSH, which are packaging-free and last for over 80 washes!

Let us know if you’ve committed to a sustainable resolution, no matter how small! We will keep you updated on how well our interns stick to their resolutions!