Classes are ending soon, and the winter holiday season is kicking into gear. This time of year brings a lot of excitement, and bit of the stress as we try to juggle travel, parties, and gift exchanges. With everything going on, it can also be easy to overlook the environmental impact of these activities. However, there are a few simple ways that you still practice sustainability during your holidays.
Send e-cards. Cards are often the first item on the to-do list for the holidays. After you have your holiday greeting list together, consider using electronic cards, instead of mailing paper ones. If you still love mailing out cards, buy ones that are printed on recycled paper or that have recycling reminder on them. You might even consider buying fair trade, handmade cards, such as those sold at Ten Thousand Villages.
Give ethically sourced gifts. Speaking of Ten Thousand Villages, they and other merchants have options for fair trade and ethically sourced gifts.
Buy local. You can also consider supporting small local businesses or artists. It takes a lot of energy and fuel to ship goods long distances around the holidays. When you buy local, you can help reduce these emissions while also supporting your local economy…and surprise your friends with unique gifts.
Choose green wrapping. Once you have chosen your gifts, consider your wrapping carefully. Some wrapping paper cannot be recycled, due to the presence of components like foil or glitter. Check with your local municipality or recycling station and ask what types of wrapping paper are accepted in the waste stream and choose carefully. You can also let your creativity shine! Reuse materials such as newspaper. Put your gifts into reusable shopping bags. Take your worn-out clothing or towels, cut them, and tie them around packages; and here is a Craftsy link to get you started.
Use less energy. The holiday decorations are a literal bright spot to the season, and sure to bring happiness to you and your neighbors. However, don’t let them lead to the post-holiday, high-utility bill blues. Use LED lights, which are more energy efficient, and time your lights carefully so that they aren’t burning 24/7. In addition to those two tips, the Department of Energy also suggests searching for rebates and using reflective decor.
Say no to single use party supplies. If possible, try to supply your party guests with reusable dinnerware to avoid creating large amounts of plastic waste. If you are anticipating having a lot of leftovers, and don’t want to waste the food, encourage your guests to bring their tupperware so that they can take them home.
Practice self care. The triple bottom line of sustainability is PEOPLE, planet, and profit. With so much to-do this season, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest. Go to a local park, because time in nature has been shown to reduce stress levels.
We want to wish everyone a happy holiday season and remind you to have fun and travel safely. These are just a few tips to help you “green” your celebrations. What are some of your ideas? Share them with us below.
On November 15th, The Office of Sustainability hosted its America Recycles Day event. America Recycles Day is a national initiative by the Keep America Beautiful organization focused around encouraging and inspiring people all over the nation to recycle effectively and help preserve the environment. The event was held at Georgia College in conjunction with Ethics Awareness Week, where students and faculty were encouraged to bring outdated important documents to shred. Not only did this encourage participants to practice safe handling of their information, but the shredded paper was also used to facilitate the development of food waste into compost here at Georgia College. To conclude the event, Office of Sustainability intern Ashlie Adamson offered a talk on a myriad of products designed to enable zero-waste living and the difference that zero-waste living can make in our community.
One of the largest sustainability initiatives at Georgia College is the recycling program. Representatives of the Office of Sustainability served to educate students and faculty about what can and cannot be recycled on the campus. Recyclable items include paper, cardboard, and aluminum and steel cans, as well as plastics #1 and #2. Additionally, the event served to inform the campus about the benefits of recycling for the economy and the environment. Georgia has one of the largest markets for recyclable materials in the nation; roughly one-third of all plastic beverage containers that are recycled in North America end up recycled in Georgia, and over 120 business in Georgia use recycled materials to manufacture new goods, according to the Georgia Recycling Coalition. Novelis, one of the world’s largest aluminum recycling companies, has its headquarters in Atlanta. The event also described the impact of individual people recycling; recycling a single plastic soda bottle will save enough energy to power a T.V. for 1.5 hours, while recycling one glass bottle saves enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for four hours.
In addition, the event informed attendees of the benefits of composting. Composting has the potential to save money by reducing the need for fertilizers and mulch, as well as enriching the soil. The organic matter found in compost increases the soil’s ability to retain water, allowing people the ability to save money on their water bills. Composting also helps stabilize soil in areas prone to erosion, increasing plant growth and soil cover. Furthermore, composting helps reduce the total waste found in landfills. Compostable materials account for more than 30% of all waste thrown away within a year. The decision to compost can greatly increase the lifespan of landfills all throughout the nation and the world. Moreover, there are currently 34 official composting operations recognized in Georgia by the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and commercial composters provide roughly four times as many jobs as landfilling these materials creates, according to the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County. Meanwhile, Georgia College is continuing its composting initiative, which takes post-consumer food waste from the MAX and converts it into usable compost. Some of this compost is used for the Community Garden on West Campus.
Georgia College’s America Recycles Day event saw support from the following clubs/organizations: the Environmental Science Club (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Office of Sustainability (email@example.com), the Earth Action Team (firstname.lastname@example.org), and the Gardening Club (email@example.com). Through this event, Georgia College hopes to educate students and faculty on the benefits of recycling and composting and to urge us all to participate in these initiatives through the college and in our own lives to help sustain our planet.
Cameron Skinner is a junior environmental science major here at Georgia College (GC) with a minor in geology. He was born in raised in Dublin, Georgia. He has played tennis for seven years but now focuses mostly on academics, work, and community service. He has a younger sister who is ten years old; and, in addition to working at the Office of Sustainability, Cameron serves and bartends at Ruby Tuesdays.
Cameron Skinner has worked in the Office of Sustainability for five months as one of the Materials Recovery interns. One of his main goals in his position is to “gear [Georgia College] towards more zero-waste initiatives and to improve our recycling plan.” He also hopes to increase the outreach of the Office of Sustainability and inspire other students to aid in the continuous efforts to preserve the environment. Over the three years that Cameron has attended GC, he has witnessed the Office of Sustainability develop from a single permanent staff member to two permanent workers aided by thirteen interns. He bears witness to the ever-growing network of faculty and students dedicating their time and talent to sustainability efforts.
Cameron is very passionate about sustainability as he believes that it is “the only option for humanity to prosper in the future.” To him, the term “sustainability” is “a philosophy that recognizes the importance and urgency of altering the way people utilize their resources.” He is not the only one who holds these sentiments over sustainability efforts; Cameron describes his colleagues as “very driven and passionate about sustainability on campus.” He describes how the Office of Sustainability has attracted a myriad of majors to participate in their efforts, from environmental science majors to psychology, economics, and marketing majors. Over the next few years, Cameron would like to see the Office of Sustainability continue to grow in size and influence. Cameron would also like to see the department move to a larger office space in order to be more visible and present throughout the college.
Some of the largest and latest sustainability projects on campus, as described by Cameron, are the installation of solar panels on top of Herty Hall and the composting initiative. He describes, “The Herty solar panels were the result of two physics students who drafted a proposal and submitted it to the Sustainability Fee Council (SFC) where it was approved for funding.” The project is designed to minimize the total energy consumption of the building and hopefully others in the future. Meanwhile, the composting initiative has been reusing post-consumer food waste from the MAX all semester long and has been providing compost for the GC garden. Cameron is also working with a colleague, Julia Steele, to organize a Campus Kitchen at GCSU. This would work towards helping those who are food-insecure by providing them with leftover food from the MAX. The team has recently received a $5,000 launch grant towards the project from an online video competition.
Cameron finds it challenging to devise ways in which “hard-to-recycle items” can be removed from landfills and reused, as well as educate the campus on what can and cannot be recycled at GC. He enjoys working alongside faculty and students to help maintain the environment, as well as “[decreasing] our anthropogenic footprint.” Cameron encourages students and faculty to visit www.gcsu.edu/green to learn about the efforts of the Office of Sustainability and how they can become involved. In addition, students can submit grant proposals which are reviewed by the Sustainability Fee Council. More information can be found by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
On October 24th, Georgia College hosted its annual Campus Sustainability and Food Day. Held in congruence with National Food Day and AASHE’s (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) Campus Sustainability Month, this event sought to promote the sustainability efforts of local businesses and campus organizations, as well as local farmers and agriculture. Participants in the event included the Office of Sustainability, Salamander Springs, Comfort Farms, the Oconee River Greenway, the local wastewater treatment plant, the Earth Action Team, the Environmental and Gardening Clubs, and Non-Human Animal Rights advocates. Local restaurant Kirk’s Jerk Kitchen provided food samples. In addition, the campus presented John Wathen, a Hurricane Creekkeeper and environmental activist, who discussed the environmental impacts of several business practices in our region.
At the forefront of the on-campus efforts was the Office of Sustainability. The Office operates and oversees the major green efforts on Georgia College, including recycling and tracking the use of resources such as water and electricity. In addition, representatives from the Georgia College Sustainability Council were on hand at the event. The council is dedicated to reviewing and implementing initiatives on campus to promote sustainability. The major program of the council is the “Green Initiative,” which serves to incorporate and disseminate principles of environmental protection to the university and the surrounding community.
Additionally, the new Earth Action Team engaged in the event. The Earth Action Team functions through the GIVE center on campus and allows students to take a hands-on role in the upkeep of our ecosystems. The Earth Action Team is working with the composting project on campus, which takes post-consumer food waste from the Max Dining Hall and transforms it into usable compost. The environmental science-based organization is also now working to partner with the Campus Kitchens initiative, which is a national organization devoted to hunger-relief efforts. The team is constantly looking for new volunteers who don’t mind getting their hands dirty in order to preserve the integrity of our environment.
Along with the other on-campus organization, the Gardening Club showed its support in this event. The Gardening Club grows organic produce, such as basil, grapes, peppers, and tomatoes. The club manages efficiency in its multiple plots by placing cardboard underneath the mulch in the garden in order to help retain soil moisture as well as suppress the growth of weeds. Recently, the organization has taken over management of the West Campus Garden; and the club is beginning to utilize compost from the campus compost project, despite the project still being in its infancy.
Salamander Springs arrived at the event to showcase what it calls “sustainability at its finest.” The farmhouse is just outside of Milledgeville and is a fully off-grid, self-sustaining homestead. It uses mainly solar energy to power its utilities as well as self-composting toilets, and the entire homestead is constructed out of recyclable materials. The farmhouse is committed to the growth of organic crops and produce, such as vegetables, culinary herbs, and medicinal herbs. The homestead offers its produce for sale frequently at the Mulberry Street Market in Macon and the Greenway Farmer’s Market in Milledgeville.
Furthermore, the campus saw advocates for Non-Human Animal Rights. These activists showcased their sustainability efforts in the form of recyclable containers as well as ongoing endeavors to help preserve endangered species.
Comfort Farms attended the event as well. Comfort Farms in Milledgeville is an agricultural therapy farm to help veterans afflicted with PTSD. The farm allows veterans to raise crops and animals in order to empower veterans and enable them to lead stable and successful lives. The farm grants veterans short-term accommodations, and works to enable participants to prepare for everyday life and a successful future through sustainable agriculture.
Furthermore, The Oconee River Greenway displayed its dedication to a sustainable future at the event. The Greenway Park and Riverwalk offers residents of Milledgeville and Baldwin County with a beautiful area to experience the outdoors. Filled with the soothing sounds of the Oconee River, the Greenway is a place to walk, bike, run, and relax in the full immersion of nature. In addition to the walking areas, the Greenway offers a multitude of stations for fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. The Greenway is ultimately dedicated to the full preservation of the Oconee River for future generations.
Local Restaurant Kirk’s Jerk Kitchen provided food for the event. Owned by a Jamaican family, Kirk’s Jerk Kitchen provides Milledgeville with the taste of authentic Jamaican Cuisine. Opened just last year, the family-owned business provides a wide variety of Jamaican and southern dining choices and can be found right along North Wayne Street.
Finally, the event held a representative from the local wastewater plant. The plant participated in the event to raise awareness for waste improperly disposed of through household and corporate water drains. These items included grease, garbage, rags, and even tires. The company also works with restaurants in order to help ensure that waste is being disposed of properly. The plant informed attendees about how the improper disposal of waste through the sewer system not only has environmental ramifications, but is also much more expensive for the plant to clean out as well as for people to have their drains cleaned and repaired from abuse.
Beyond the organizations that participated in the Campus Sustainability and Food Day, the college held a talk from John Wathen to discuss the environmental issues that he has observed in his time as an activist and photojournalist. Wathen began his career by working in the coal industry, and the constant exposure to the harmful elements involved in the job has permanently affected his health, one of these elements being coal ash. Wathen explored the extreme environmental consequences of coal ash and the mismanagement of the toxin. He explored how large amounts had entered into the Emory River on account of the unwillingness of corporations to dispose of the substance properly. This, in turn, contaminated the river and decimated the aquatic wildlife. Wathen urged listeners to stand up to these kinds of environmental injustices and work to hold firms accountable for their actions.
The Campus Sustainability and Food Day allowed Georgia College students a chance to interact with organizations devoted to sustainability efforts, as well as encouraging them to take part in the efforts to keep our world green.
Lori Strawder has worked as the Chief Sustainability Officer since 2012. Prior to her current role, she was the Facilities Operations Office Manager, and she has been employed at Georgia College for eighteen years. She arrived at her current position, as she states, “as part of a reorganization within the Office of Facilities Operations,” during which the position itself was created. In addition to Chief Sustainability Officer, Mrs. Strawder teaches part-time for the College of Business, Department of Information Systems and Computer Science.
Mrs. Strawder was born in Valdosta, Georgia, and graduated from Ware County Senior High School. She went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Bachelor of General Studies, as well as a Master of Public Administration and a Master of Management Information System. While employed at Valdosta State University, she was introduced to her future husband and, after marrying him, moved to Gordon, Georgia, where she pursued employment in public higher education here at GCSU. Mrs. Strawder boasts a “willingness to learn,” and receives inspiration from those who are able to “think outside the box.” Additionally, Mrs. Strawder enjoys the occasional trip to McDonald’s, as well as “anything home-cooked,” including, as she states, “[m]y granny’s red velvet cake or my grandma’s oatmeal no-bakes, green bean casserole or chicken casserole.” Her fondest memory at the Office of Sustainability is of a former employee who mentored and inspired her, encouraging her to keep things “simple and straight to the point.” In her free time, Mrs. Strawder enjoys sleeping, camping, hiking, reading, and the company of cats.
Throughout her experiences in the Office of Sustainability, Mrs. Strawder recounts that the most successful project she has seen was the Irwin St Parking Lot LED Lighting Conversion Project. This initiative replaced 21 metal halide lights of 1052 watts to 11 LED lights of 285 watts. The return on investment of the project was expected to save $7,583 in 26 months, however, the project paid itself off in 3 months. This has not only reduced the energy expenditure of the parking lot but has also made the area much more well-lit and safe for students. This project has also served as the basis for other similar projects throughout the campus. Meanwhile, Mrs. Strawder’s personal favorite project has been the West Campus Garden, a community garden for Georgia College. The garden, now primarily under daily management of the Gardening Club, “is not just a place for growing food; it is also an educational tool. Many organizations and classes have been out to the garden to learn about the food being grown, the process for the garden and how to get involved.” Mrs. Strawder hopes to spend more time out in the garden in the future.
Inside the Office of Sustainability, Mrs. Strawder groups her work into two main categories: energy management and waste management. Under energy management, she is responsible for “monitoring and analyzing the data for energy consumption and costs to the university.” This involves tracking the usage of resources, such as electricity, water, natural gas, propane, and fuel oil, on a daily, monthly, or yearly basis depending on how much of each resource is used. In addition, Mrs. Strawder manages energy efficiency efforts, which, as she describes, “[include] advising on energy efficiency efforts for new buildings/renovations. Energy efficiency is a means of incorporating ideas/conceptions that reduce consumption and costs to the university.” On the other hand, waste management, the more forward-facing of sustainability efforts, involves recycling, composting, and gardening. Recycling has been a campus-wide program since 2013 and continues to partner with off-campus entities, such as Advanced Disposal Services and Attaway Recycling. Meanwhile, the compost initiative, while still in its early stages as a three-year research project, takes post-consumer waste from the MSU Dining Hall and converts it into usable compost. For the West Campus Garden, which began in 2014, plans are to incorporate the usable compost from the Compost project into the garden.
While Mrs. Strawder works with all aspects and issues of sustainability, waste management is always at the forefront of her work. “Waste is a huge issue, and a global one at that, where many people do not realize the impact of their actions,” she states. “Waste management should not be designed on the basis of how to get rid of unwanted items. This should be designed giving consideration on how to repurpose, reuse and, last, recycle items.” Mrs. Strawder feels that waste management is imperative to our continued existence on this planet, and encourages us all to be more mindful of the waste we produce.
The Georgia Environmental Conference (GEC) is an annual, three day event focused on “Sustaining the Future for the People of Georgia and the Southeast Region.” It is attended by more than 700 diverse environmental practitioners including government officials, lawyers, architects, consultants, energy and recycling expert, solid waste managers, and more. With a comprehensive curriculum, planned by a 50-member steering committee and offering over 50 courses, the GEC provides an outstanding continuing education experience for environmental professionals. I had the privilege of attending this year’s conference, which was held from August 23 to August 25 (Fig 1). Although I focused mainly on the sustainability-related sessions, I also ventured into talks covering underground storage tanks and brownfields redevelopment, all while seeking ways to practice sustainability in the event setting.
Fig 1. The GEC agenda book helped ensure I stayed on track for my sessions.
In line with the event’s stated focus, significant exposure was given to sustainability topics during the session presentations; and topic categories included waste management, energy reduction, alternative transportation, and solar power. The specific sustainability-related sessions that I attended were the following: Environmental Management Systems; Best Practices for Waste Reduction; VW Settlement Funding Opportunities for Alternative Fuel Vehicles; Trends in Managing and Communicating Sustainability Data; Sustainable Communities; Media, Cars, Planes and Beer – Corporate Sustainability at its Best!; Implementing Energy Savings Programs; and Solar Power in Agriculture. During the sessions, I was inspired by the number of people who are working each day to incorporate best practices for sustainability into their workplaces, here in Georgia and beyond, as well as by their enthusiasm and dedication to the practice area. I am proud that Georgia College’s sustainability efforts are in line with those being implemented elsewhere. It was also very evident that the challenges we face on campus are not unique, especially in relation to improving our recycling rates, managing our waste, and finding better ways to reduce our energy consumption. I attended two additional sessions – Federal Agencies Assistance for Rural and Brownfields Redevelopment and Regulatory Updates in GA UST and Federal Waste Programs – which provided good reminders that we face many environmental challenges in the Southeast. These challenges are being met daily, however, by dedicated professionals, like those in attendance at the GEC.
Every year, the GEC is held at the LEED Certified Jekyll Island Convention Center. This 128,000 square foot venue is the east coast’s only oceanfront convention center. The planners, however, did not ignore the delicate coastline. Instead, locally sourced materials such as shells, sea glass and reclaimed pine were included in its design and construction. Additionally, the long list of sustainability design features, including bike racks, electric car charging stations, rainwater collection, low water plumbing features, and water efficient landscaping, incorporated into the construction helped secure the convention center’s LEED Silver status. While at the convention center, I scoped out the trash and recycling bins so that I could dispose of my waste properly (Fig 2). I also carried my reusable water bottle around Jekyll Island and declined daily towel service at my hotel. Overall, I was inspired by the location and agenda to enhance my studies and practice of sustainability in my career and daily life. You don’t want to miss out on this conference next year! Keep a check on the registration section of their website for dates and information.
Fig 2. The recycling bins at the Jekyll Island Convention Center were easy to find.
Georgia College is well into a new fiscal year. A new class of Bobcats has recently joined our campus. Two newly renovated buildings – Beeson and Mayfair – opened on campus. In this same spirit of renewal, the Georgia College Sustainability Council held its annual retreat on August 9, 2017, with council members, students, and myself in attendance, to recharge and set goals for the year. However, as newly appointed council chair Dr. Will Hobbs led us through the day’s activities, we realized that sustainability is not a new concept or practice and that implementing sound sustainability on campus requires us to communicate effectively across diverse ideas and value systems.
Throughout the day, Dr. Hobbs engaged us in group activities which stimulated conversation and sharing of ideas. We started the day by taking turns reading questions he had placed on the table and reflecting on them. Over lunch, we watched a presentation by Dianne Dillon Rigley, Board Director for Interface Inc., titled “Inspiring Positive Change. Re-member. Rethink. Remake.” and discussed our reactions. After lunch, Dr. Hobbs read a series of statements and asked us to indicate our level of agreement with each one. We also summarized last year’s progress and set goals for this year.
The council members present expressed various reasons for joining, noting their wishes to interact more with students, to be on the frontline helping improve the campus and Milledgeville community, to engage interest in the environment, and to give back to the campus. One member joined, in part, because he was Georgia College’s first Environmental Science graduate. Ideas for projects such as improving sorting of compostable materials at the dining hall, purchasing electric vehicles for our public safety officers, installing EV stations on campus, and upgrading light fixtures emerged. Lack of mandates, communication, financing and cultural buy-in were discussed as potential barriers to these and other sustainability projects. The council did not provide unanimous responses on any of the seven statements that Dr. Hobbs read aloud.
One idea that was shared, however, seemed to resonate within the group. “Sustainability is nothing new,” explained one council member. “My grandparents used everything.” The group generally agreed that we are not proposing radical concepts and that we can educate the Georgia College community on the common sense solutions that sustainability provides. However, as evidenced by our own varied viewpoints, we must do so while effectively communicating with all of the diverse value systems present in our community.
Once finalized, the minutes from the council retreat will be available at this link. To learn more about the day’s activities, be sure to check back. We also hope that you will join in the council meetings, held monthly on campus. Look for the announcement of the first meeting, coming soon.
The National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) is a membership organization representing business and financial officers at more than 2,100 colleges and universities. NACUBO’s mission is to “advance the economic viability, business practices and support for higher education institutions in fulfillment of their missions.” NACUBO supports and engages its members through professional development activities, including its annual meeting, which was held recently in Minneapolis from July 27 through August 1. Sustainability is one of the many business and policy areas that NACUBO researches and promotes, and the Office of Sustainability was on hand at the conference to network and learn best practices from our peers.
Overlooking the currents of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis.
This year’s meeting theme was “Currents of Collaboration,” focusing on “the power of higher education and the role of the chief business officer in navigating connections and steering diverse teams toward a shared vision for the future” (John Walda, President and CEO of NACUBO, Meeting Experience Guide). This theme, as it relates to building green initiatives on campuses, was explored in depth in some of the sessions that we attended. In their session titled “Cents and Sensibility,” Georgia Tech representatives Steven G. Swant (Executive VP of Administration & Finance), Mark Demyanek (Assistance VP of Operations & Maintenance), and JulieAnne Williamson (Assistance VP of Administration & Finance) explained that chief business officers, facilities and operations, and sustainability offices are natural partners in implementing projects on campus. The chief business officer invests and aligns projects with the campus strategic vision. Facilities and operations designs and implements the projects. Sustainability offices provide the education and programming. They stressed that by engaging all stakeholders on a campus, positive impacts are made. In “Collaborating to Achieve STARS: Why, What, How, Obstacles and Benefits,” Ruth A. Johnson (Vice Chancellor of Planning & Administration, University of Washington Bothell), Julie Feier (VP of Finance & Administration, CFO, Western State Colorado University) and Sally Grans Korsh (Facilities Management & Environmental Policy, NACUBO) discussed the necessity of engaging multiple campus departments when applying for the AASHE STARS rating. They explained that sustainability issues crossover throughout campus departments and that the data and time needed to complete the AASHE points survey is huge. As such, your campus could be missing points by not asking for everyone’s help with the process. There is clearly a need for strong campus collaboration and data mining in order to ensure that sustainability initiatives are successful.
There were many other informative sessions, in addition to the two discussed above, as well as captivating speeches by three keynote speakers – Thomas Friedman, Michele Norris, and Bill Bryson. This exciting agenda was held in the Minneapolis Convention Center, which is a LEED certified building. While there, we took notice of the many options for waste disposal. Bins, with clear signage for placing compostables and recyclabes, were conveniently located throughout the center. As we saw on the center’s digital signs, 60% of the waste is diverted; and more information about their sustainability features can be found at this link. We in the Office of Sustainability feel inspired by the venue and the conference to continue working hard to implement best sustainability practices at Georgia College.
Bins located in the Minneapolis Convention Center.
In July of 2017, two of our interns, Cameron Skinner and Julia Steele (pictured below), attended the 6th Annual Appalachian State Energy Summit in Boone, NC. The Office of Sustainability was able to send these students to this out of state conference, thanks to the Sustainability Fee Program. They each shared their thoughts and experiences from the conference below.
Cameron Skinner, a senior Environmental Science major and intern with the Office of Sustainability, shared his experience at this year’s conference.
This year Appalachian State University (App State), located in Boone, NC, hosted their 6th annual Energy Summit and welcomed students, academia and business leaders in order to share the latest news on renewable, clean energy sources. App State, which is home to approximately 18,000 students, has become a leader in sustainability over the years by implementing cleaner energy sources such as wind and solar; and the university also has a top-notch recycling and composting program which greatly reduces the amount of landfill waste. The university introduced the former head of the EPA under the Obama Administration, Gina McCarthy, as well as Majora Carter, who specializes in urban revitalization and sustainable development as keynote speakers for the event.
The summit began with a warming introduction from Appalachian State’s Director of Sustainability, Dr. Lee Ball, who stated that this year’s summit would focus on three key themes: “Perspective, Policy and Practice.” Incredible speaker after speaker stepped onto the App State stage to inform the audience on topics such as renewable energy, climate change, sustainable leadership and environmental policy. One of these outstanding guest speakers was Dr. Leith Sharp, who is the Director of Executive Education for Sustainability Leadership at Harvard University. She reinforced the importance of the emergence of a new leadership paradigm, and she also discussed the transition that Harvard underwent to go from environmentally unaware to a leader in sustainable efforts.
Panel discussions with students from universities in NC and Dr. Amory Lovins, a climate scientist at the Rocky Mountain Institute, continued to intrigue the crowd. Dr. Lovins explained that many state agencies, organizations and churches across the nation have agreed to meet guidelines set forth by the Paris Climate Agreement even though the U.S. withdrew its participation. He noted that the “We Are Still In” movement is a testament to the dedication of U.S. states for continuing progress under the agreement. He also spoke on the responsibility the millennial generation has to remediate the effects of long-term damage that has been done to the environment from the burning of fossil fuels as an energy source.
Julia Steele, a senior Environmental Science major and intern with the Office of Sustainability, reflects on her visit to this year’s conference.
Perhaps the two most prestigious individuals to appear at this year’s energy summit were the keynote speakers, Gina McCarthy and Majora Carter. Both of these women have proved to be extremely pivotal in environmental policy and activism. If you’ve never listened to McCarthy speak, you are in for a treat. Her speech captured the audience’s attention with her empowering, relatable and comical words. She reassured everyone that even though Washington D.C. has taken a step away from the remediation of climate change, progress shall continue. McCarthy ended her time on the App State stage with this quote: “Don’t waste a good worry on things you cannot control.” The other keynote speaker, Ms. Carter, has dedicated her career to fight for environmental and social justice. She has hosted a TEDtalk regarding green-collar job training and placement and has won a Peabody Award for her radio series titled “The Promised Land.” She founded and led Sustainable South Bronx from 2001 to 2008 when few were even talking about sustainability. Both speakers were given standing ovations at the end of their speeches by the Appalachian State audience for their enthusiasm and commitment to people and their right to a safe and healthy environment.
We returned with ideas filled to the brim after listening to many eloquent speakers. Now it is a matter of deciphering what ideas are plausible for a school less than a third of the size of Appalachian State University. To date, the Herty Hall rooftop is the only location that has solar panels which supplies a percentage of the building’s energy and this project has been our “foot in the door” for future implementation of renewable energy alternatives. To continue progressing sustainably, educating students, faculty, and staff is a crucial component.
Education can be quite challenging if the information does not apply to a person’s area of interest. Nonetheless, a key point that was emphasized during the summit was to consider the perspective of whomever you are educating. The beauty of sustainability is it can be woven into sectors of business, politics, finance, and science; the educator just has to speak the other person’s language. Head of EPA, Gina McCarthy, reiterated that there was a large disconnect between scientists and the general population solely from the highly intellectual explanations that are used to communicate crises like climate change. A business man or woman will rarely take the time to interpret a chart that provides the temperature and precipitation over a range of spatial and temporal scales. However, if one were to provide numerical evidence that a product, like LED light bulbs, could save his or her business money and time, it is possible that more businesses would be on board with this initiative. To apply this concept on campus, sustainability advocates need to first perform individual research not only on the science behind being sustainable, including examining the business and economic impacts. Once students, faculty, and staff from different disciplines begin to communicate with one another on a level that each person understands, ideas begin to flow and progress is made. All universities, despite the differences in population size, are hubs for energy-consumption; therefore, there is ample opportunity to execute sustainable initiatives once bridges are built between departments and strides are made to fulfill the idea of a liberal arts university.