All posts by Ben Davidson

Augustana University Outdoor Classroom

Augustana University students gained the benefit of learning outside with the addition of a new outdoor classroom on campus. The classroom was finished in time for use by classes this past fall.


An anonymous sustainability grant funded the project. David O’Hara, Augustana’s director of sustainability, led the project because of the benefits it can provide to the students and the campus community. 


The classroom itself is a lesson in sustainability.


Materials:The entire classroom is made of South Dakota stone, representing different parts of the state and different geologic periods. These include an orchestra (the “stage”) made of slate from the Black Hills; and three concentric arcs of seats made of Sioux quartzite from Dell Rapids, “Dakota Mahogany” granite from Milbank, and Black Hills slate. Several other kinds of local crushed stone provide a foundation and a wheelchair- accessible path made of packed gravel.


Surrounding the orchestra is a ring made of recycled quartzite cobblestones that Rick Foster of Foster Landscaping (the company hired to build the classroom) salvaged. They used to pave Sioux Falls city streets and were recycled for this project. 


Sustainability:Most of the stone is laid dry (that is, without mortar) since mortar wears down with weather. The orchestra appears to have mortar in it, but that is a mixture of sand, gravel, and several other components that prevent weeds while allowing percolation of rain. The mixture will soften when wet, and then re-firm when dry, allowing the floor to maintain its integrity while it settles over the years. Where the stones meet the grass has been kept low to the ground so that it is easy to mow around the stones without chipping the stones or the mower blades. Large stones, rather than composites like concrete or bricks, were used because stones last much longer without maintenance. The classroom will cost nothing to heat, cool, clean, or light. 


Use:The outdoor space is available for use as a classroom, but it can also be used for theatrical and musical performances, alumni gatherings, weddings, baptisms, etc. The classroom will seat about 35 people comfortably. There is space for several wheelchairs on the orchestra as well.


Read more about this and other sustainability projects at Augustana University.

Muhlenberg College President Kathleen Harring and Other Pennsylvania Leaders Urge Lawmakers to Accelerate State’s Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy

Muhlenberg College Interim President Kathleen Harring was one of 18 signatories of a letter sent in November to the Pennsylvania General Assembly urging lawmakers to enact market-based solutions aimed at reducing carbon pollution and increase in-state investment in energy efficiency, renewable energy and clean transportation.


In a news release announcing the efforts, Harring comments, “As an institution of higher education, we have knowledge and understanding of our most pressing environmental issues, including climate change. It is our responsibility to transform this knowledge to meaningful action, leading the way to a low-carbon clean energy future by supporting policies that will help us get there. These policies will enable us to use our campus as a living laboratory, provide opportunities for our academic programs and innovate in our physical operations in a way that can be replicated by others.”


In the letter, Harring notes that Muhlenberg’s environmental commitments include “reducing direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions and educating our campus community about these efforts as outlined in our Sustainability Strategic Plan. We have reconfigured our campus infrastructure, installed high-efficiency lighting, applied a variety of energy efficiency technologies, metered and measured our emissions and incentivized bikes and buses among other initiatives as part of our commitment.”


Read the rest of this story and the letter sent to the Pennsylvania General Assembly from Muhlenberg College.

Student group pushes St. Olaf to divest from fossil fuel companies

Last year, a student group at St. Olaf took action to push the school to divest from fossil fuel companies.  Here is a portion of the article from the Manitou Messenger.


The Climate Justice Collective (CJC) is a new student group dedicated to increasing awareness about climate issues and pushing St. Olaf to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies and reinvest those funds in socially responsible corporations. Formed Feb. 20, the group evolved from what used to be Divest St. Olaf, a student organization that also pushed for divestment.


St. Olaf’s endowment currently stands at about $520 million. Around 8.4 percent of endowment assets are invested in energy companies, according to Assistant Vice President and Chief Investment Officer Mark Gelle. In 2016, St. Olaf had invested over a million dollars in ExxonMobil, Chevron and Schlumberger, respectively, though Gelle said current investments are substantially different.


“Investing money in fossil fuel companies not only supports them financially but also morally,” CJC member Isaac Nelson ’21 said. “It is important that St. Olaf divests from fossil fuels because it sends a message that we do not support an industry that jeopardizes the wellbeing of future generations and the planet in exchange for short-term profit.”


One of CJC’s primary concerns about St. Olaf’s current investment policy regards the College’s January 2018 hiring of the investment firm CornerStone Partners.  St. Olaf no longer publicly discloses its various investment managers or specific investments because CornerStone Partners considers this information proprietary.


Making the investments visible “is the only way that you can make sure those investments are ethical,” CJC member Abby Becker ’21 said.


“Under the Admissions tab on the St. Olaf website it says ‘Oles are the people the planet needs,'” Nelson said. “If this school is truly interested in what the planet needs, it will divest. We believe that St. Olaf has a responsibility to its past, present, and future students to do so.”


Read the whole story from the Manitou Messenger.

Big Hill Farm at Gustavus Adolphus College

Big Hill Farm is a student-managed farm that values local food production and sustainable agricultural practices. Each summer, student leaders hire new student interns to plant, grow, harvest, experiment with new techniques, and oversee the management of the farm. Upon harvest, students bring food from Big Hill Farm to the cafeteria for use in the salad bar. Ultimately, Big Hill Farm serves as one step to integrate the student body into the process of sustainable food production.


Learn more about Big Hill Farm and other sustainability initiatives at Gustavus Adolphus College.

Dendroecology Research Lab at Carthage College

Human activities are profoundly changing natural communities across landscapes at rapid and accelerating rates. Sustainability research through the Geography and Earth Science Department’s Dendroecology Research Lab at Carthage College is helping to predict the fate of these ecosystems, particularly in the face of novel disturbance regimes and a changing climate.

Biogeographic research at Carthage College funded by the National Science Foundation has made important contributions at the interface of human impacts, ecosystem dynamics, and climate change. Specifically, Carthage students conduct research with Professor Joy Mast on the impact on tree regeneration of the altered conditions of a post-high-severity burn environment coupled with the drought conditions that foster high-intensity fires in the Southwest, as well as on wildlife use of the burned forests. In addition, Carthage students join Prof. Mast in research on wildlife use of forests after bark beetle epidemics to view the sustainability of habitats. Students study the resiliency of forests in light of sustainable forestry practices and restoration of forests through prescribed burns and thinning of unnatural fuel loads.

These studies advance biogeographical and ecological theory by examining successional dynamics in extreme climate conditions under a human-altered fire regime and wildlife responses to both high-intensity fires and large insect epidemics in conifer forests of the American Southwest.

Learn more about sustainability initiatives at Carthage College.

Luther College Hosts Fall Plant Giveaway

The plant giveaway at Luther College is sponsored by the Center for Sustainable Communities and Luther College Wellness.  The event is made possible through the hard work of Luther College Facilities staff who cultivate and love these plants.

This event is a great opportunity for students to build their collection of plants, learn more about sustainability and wellness at Luther, and have a chance to connect with Sustainability Educators and Wellness Ambassadors.

Iowa Interfaith Power & Light Student Intern and Luther College Student Ashalul Aden

Ashalul Aden is a senior this fall at Luther College. Asha is originally from Rochester, Minnesota. She is double majoring in Political Science and Religion. Asha chose to work for Iowa IPL this summer because she wants to do her part as a global citizen in the world to combat climate change. Asha believes in the power of individual and collective action. Climate change is a wicked problem that does not have a simple solution. Asha does not see climate change as just an environmental issue, she also sees it as a social justice issue. The most marginalized and poor people on Earth will face (and are already facing) the impact of climate change. Asha believes that a person cannot truly combat climate change unless they act like the change they want to see in the world. If we truly want to combat the wicked problem of climate change, we need to start off by taking a critical reflection of ourselves. She believes that once someone holds themselves accountable, they can work with others to create a sustainable future so every single human being can live on the Earth for generations…and generations.

See the original post from Iowa Interfaith Power & Light.

Muhlenberg Named Top Performer in 2019 Sustainable Campus Index

Muhlenberg College has been recognized as a top performer in the 2019 Sustainable Campus Index, receiving a score of 100 percent for best practices in the area of water conservation. The College tied for the fourth spot among all higher education institutions nationally for water conservation and reuse, as well as effective rainwater management practices.

A publication from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the Sustainable Campus Index recognizes top-performing sustainable colleges and universities overall and in 17 impact areas, as measured by the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). Last winter Muhlenberg received a STARS Gold Rating for Sustainability Achievements, the highest level of recognition received by any Lehigh Valley higher education institution, for five overall areas: academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration and innovation and leadership.

In the 2019 Sustainable Campus Index, the College was recognized for a 52 percent reduction in water usage over five years. Campus landscape initiatives included eliminating water hoses and favoring native plants and hearty grasses. The plant operations department also decentralized the boiler plant. The campus’s multiple new boilers use less water and are more efficient, leaky pipes are no longer in use, and an organic water softener additive enables water to be reused in the boiler system, mitigating issues with Allentown’s hard water. 

Students have been part of Muhlenberg’s water conservation efforts. “Our students have been involved in water reductions through peer-to-peer advocacy,” says Kalyna Procyk, sustainability coordinator and an adjunct professor of sustainability studies. “They’ve led residence hall programs to encourage shorter showers, turning off the water when brushing teeth and reporting leaks.” 

“We are happy to recognize Muhlenberg College for its leadership in advancing sustainability,” said AASHE’s Executive Director Meghan Fay Zahniser. “I’m grateful for the work being done by this institution to help move society toward a more equitable and sustainable future.”

Read more from Muhlenberg College.

Carthage College Switches to Environmentally-Friendly Projectors

Here’s a bright Idea… projectors that use lasers, not lightbulbs!

Carthage College recently switched to Panasonic’s SOLID SHINE series of overhead projectors. 

In place of a lightbulb, there is a LED-based laser as the light source. The design is eco-conscious with no lead, mercury, or halogenated flame-retarding materials throughout any of the laser projectors. This will reduce waste because these projectors last approximately 20,000 hours compared to lightbulbs that need to be replaced after 3,600 – 4,000 hours!

Keep up with Carthage Going Green on Facebook.

Wagner College Introduces Environmental Studies Major

This fall, Wagner College will begin offering a new major in Environmental Studies, building on the strength of its existing minor in Environmental Studies.

“We have a number of students interested in serving others and making the world a better place,” explained Celeste Marie Gagnon, head of the Anthropology Department. “This major equips students like that to bring an environmental perspective to bear on world problems.”

“A lot of other colleges have developed programs like this over the last 10 years,” added biology professor Elizabeth Suter.

Students enrolling in the multidisciplinary major will be able to complete their senior capstone work in either the Biological Sciences or Anthropology department.

“Your concentration will be based on what kind of research you want to do, or where you want to go with your bachelor’s degree,” Gagnon explained.

“I was an environmental studies major as an undergraduate, and I became a scientist,” Suter said. “There are many kinds of work you can do with this: policy, law, management, risk management, NGO work in the fields of the environment, social justice, the impacts of the environment and environmental change on economics. Even local NGOs, such as those focusing on asthma.”

Students enrolled in the Environmental Studies major will learn about the three pillars of sustainability – social, environmental, and economic – and how culture functions as a mediating process between humans and their environment. They will also acquire an introductory knowledge of geographic information systems.

Learn more from Wagner College.

TLU Water To Thrive Group Raises Nearly $8,000 to Build Wells in Ethiopia

Last spring, the Texas Lutheran University chapter of Water To Thrive (W2T) successfully raised $7,922 through its annual benefit dinner and silent auction. The funds will complete TLU’s sixth and seventh wells and raised about $1,500 toward the cost to construct their eighth well in Ethiopia.

Since 2011, W2T and the Center For Servant Leadership (CSL) have raised $35,000 for sustainable wells that provide fresh and clean water to surrounding communities.

“The TLU Water to Thrive chapter’s success throughout the years can mostly be attributed to a strong group of student leaders that are passionate about involving the entire community of Seguin (Texas) in the mission of Water to Thrive,” Morgan Klaser, CSL director, said. “While the wells are impacting communities around the globe from Texas, Seguin businesses, churches, community organizations, and individuals have been inspired by the cause. Access to clean water is a universal human right and the students here have clung to their ability to make a difference about this issue through partnering with Water to Thrive.”

President Katie Morton has been involved with the organization since her sophomore year. She is a junior majoring in molecular biology.

“The most exciting aspect about Water To Thrive has to be the idea of sustainability,” said Morton. “Our organization focuses not only on building wells, but also on how to maintain them and keep them functional within the hands of the community. This is a huge challenge and I’m so glad to be part of something that sees a problem and actually commits to action. My favorite thing about what we do is how each well is marked with a plaque that has TLU’s name on it. It’s so exciting that we are physically able to see what our hard work and donations have gone to.”

Learn more on the TLU website.

Pacific Lutheran University Community Garden

The PLU Community Garden is completely run by students with support from PLU staff. The Garden is dedicated to adding local, fresh produce to the Parkland community while providing a resource to experienced gardeners and those just beginning!

The Garden donates a variety of fruits and vegetables to the nearby Trinity Lutheran Food Pantry.

The property is managed by a PLU student group, Diversity Advocates for the Garden. The student leader is supervised by the Coordinator for Sustainability Integration and can be reached by email at garden@plu.edu, for questions, inquiries about service opportunities or to reserve a plot. Contributions are also made by the PLU Garden Club and local volunteers.

Check Facebook and Instagram for up to date news and fun pictures about the project.  Learn more on the PLU website.

Campus Conservation Competition at Valparaiso University

Care for creation is central to the mission of Valparaiso University. The Office of Sustainability builds awareness, understanding, and a culture of sustainability on Valparaiso University’s campus. 

The recent Campus Conservation Competition featured a friendly competition between the residence halls to promote sustainability awareness about energy and water consumption. 

The residence halls competed in a 3-week competition in April to reduce water and electricity consumption, based on benchmark data taken two weeks prior to the competition. The Office of Sustainability also gathered information about sustainable topics and issues on campus by asking the students to fill out surveys. The survey results will be used to create better sustainable solutions. Four different surveys asked students about water and electricity usage, transportation, and living patterns.

Overall, the competition was a success, resulting in over 7,000 kWh of energy saved and 100,000 gallons of water. In addition, there was about 10% participation in the surveys designed to collect data to inform future energy saving measures in the residence halls. 

The two plots below show how much energy or water was used each day throughout the benchmarking time and the competition for the top three scorers in each category. Overall, each tread line shows that the usage in each building went down from the beginning of the benchmarking time to the end of the competition. The strong slope of the sorority housing complex in both cases explains why they won first place in the competition. 

Valparaiso looks forward to learning from this experience and hopes that this annual competition will spark increased awareness and conservation among students that live on campus. 

Primmer Outdoor Learning Center at Capital University

Capital University has established the Merl and Margaret Primmer Outdoor Learning Center.  The mission of the Center is to foster biological and related research experiences and to promote creative learning opportunities for the students, faculty, alumni, staff and friends of Capital University.

The center, located in the Hocking Hills regions of Appalachia in Logan, Ohio, preserves the natural resources of the land in a manner that exemplifies principles of ecological restoration, biological conservation, and environmental sustainability.

An ideal research and learning center, the 74-acre property has seven ecosystems, including approximately 15 acres of a high-quality wetland and an area of groundwater seeps, which feed into three small streams. The wetland features a heron rookery with over 30 nests, and a bald eagle nest.

Other ecological factors contribute to the educational value of the property, including footage along the Hocking River and a riparian forest, a secondary-growth deciduous forest, old field and pasture habitats (some of which are slowly being converted to Ohio Prairie), and a pine/spruce plantation.

Continue reading about the Primmer Outdoor Learning Center at Capital University.

Augustana University Student Sustainability Survey

Augustana University’s sustainability committee has completed their first sustainability literacy survey for students.

The committee’s goal was to establish a baseline in order to measure where Augustana students currently are in terms of sustainability.

Out of the 1,160 on-campus students sent the Spring 2018 survey, 500 responded, a 43% response rate.

When asked whether they turn off the lights when they are the last to leave a room, students responded differently based on the type of room. Students said they turn off their dorm room lights the most often, followed by study rooms, day rooms, classrooms and, finally, bathrooms. While the sustainability team is encouraged by the frequency of students turning off lights in dorm rooms and study rooms, they find the other rooms to be areas that should be improved upon. They have discussed the possibility of motion detector lighting in bathrooms, day rooms and classrooms.

When responding to the question how they would rate their knowledge of sustainable landscaping practices on campus, students were not very confident. Only 7.6% of students considered their knowledge to be excellent, while 35.4%, 32%, and 25% of students believed their knowledge to be good, fair, and poor, respectively. As the sustainability team continues their work, which they consider to be only beginning, they feel confident that these numbers will rise in their upcoming surveys.

View the rest of the results of this survey from Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Upper Mississippi Center at Augustana College

The Upper Mississippi Center (UMC) at Augustana College mobilizes faculty and students to help communities solve social, economic, and environmental challenges.

Communities sometimes lack the resources to develop and implement innovative solutions to sustainability challenges. Augustana students and faculty have the skills and knowledge but often lack real-world settings to put their expertise to work.

These sustainability challenges create opportunities for students to learn how to tackle and solve complex, controversial 21st-century problems. The UMC brings these groups together.

The center integrates knowledge and perspectives from the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences to create solutions as students work with community members.

Since 2013, the UMC has created high-impact learning experiences across campus with community-based research projects, project-based learning experiences for existing courses, internships, and service-learning experiences.

Read more about the Upper Mississippi Center at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois.

Free Table at Augsburg University

Augsburg University has a “free” reuse table that is available to any student, staff, or faculty member in the Augsburg community.

WHAT CAN BE DONATED?

Any individual can bring items that are reusable and place them on the table; there is no need to check in with anyone. Items can include clothing, office supplies, equipment, household items, and much more.

CAN I DONATE NONPERISHABLE FOOD ITEMS?

Do not leave any food items on the Free Table. Instead, donated nonperishable food items can be delivered to Campus Cupboard.

WHO CAN TAKE FROM THE FREE TABLE?

Any Augsburg student, staff, or faculty member is welcome to take anything they see off the free table. There is no need to check in with anyone; if it is on the table, it is yours for the taking.

Learn more about sustainability at Augsburg.

Muhlenberg Provides Free Bus Service for All Students and Employees

“The College is pleased to offer this new partnership with LANTA which will provide free, convenient and environmentally-friendly transportation for our students, faculty and staff,” said Muhlenberg College President John Williams. “This service will make it easier for our students to connect more extensively with the Allentown community as well as the Lehigh Valley more broadly and it will be a great option for our employees to travel to and from work.”

Read more about this story from Muhlenberg College.

RecycleMania at Wartburg College!

During February and March, Wartburg College is joining over 600 other schools in the RecycleMania program, a competition to decrease landfilled solid waste. Wartburg won $2,500 in 2012 by improving upon paper recycling the most from the competition. During these months, Wartburg will be tracking their waste going to the landfill and waste diverted to recycling.

Course Spotlight: Green Europe, Luther College

This past January, 22 Luther College students along with two professors traveled to Germany and the United Kingdom to learn about the energy transition in these countries from fossil fuels to renewable sources.

Led by professors Jim Martin-Schramm and Soren Steding, the class visited and toured many sites including a wind turbine test field in northern Germany, an energy from waste plant in Berlin, a biofuel and coal-fired power plant in the UK, and Hinkley Point B, a nuclear power plant in the UK. Germany and the UK were interesting case studies for the class as both countries are committed to transitioning to renewable and low-carbon energy. However, these countries are achieving this in different ways. Germany is completely ending the use of nuclear energy and not allowing hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas, while the UK is investing in more nuclear power and has not counted out fracking to increase oil and gas production.

On the course blog, student Ben Davidson writes, “Throughout this whole trip, we have enjoyed learning about the green energy transition throughout Germany and the United Kingdom. We attended over 22 events between 10 cities throughout Germany and the UK. Through these different presentations and discussions, we not only discussed the energy transition from a scientific or political view, but we also analyzed these current issues with ethical reflection and through creative processes. We realize now more than ever that our world is in the midst of a green energy revolution and that there may be different ideas of how to move forward, but the important thing is that the world continues to make forward progress on carbon reduction goals and continues to advance through this energy revolution.”

Read more about the trip from the course blog.