by Jillian McLaughlin '10
The "G"-word at "K" begins with "C." Green means collaboration, and throughout the academic year various constituencies have formed relationships to brainstorm solutions and engage in the College's commitment to promote sustainability on campus and beyond.
One big "C" is Farms to K's annual Local Food Cook-Off, an opportunity to come together and prepare recipes for the College community. Student organizations, friends, professors, and co-workers join forces to beguile people's taste buds with only local ingredients.
The theme of this year's cook-off - "What Your Grandmother Made" - is inspired by art professor Dhera Strauss' new documentary Kitchen Conversations. That film explores food and family and features many Kalamazoo College faculty and staff making their favorite family recipes.
While Farms to K and the administration work to bring local food to the cafeteria, the Recycling Department introduced a new change to the dining hall - a pilot program aimed at waste diversion. Starting first week of spring quarter, students scraped the extra food from their plates into a big recycling bin. Rob Townsend, director of the College's recycling program, transports the bins from the cafeteria to a local farm where livestock eat the waste as feed.
"It's a natural form of composting," Townsend says with a grin.
Facilities Management, Farms to K, retired sociology professor Kim Cummings, and Sodexho, the College's food provider, collaborated to launch the pilot program. Facilities Management and the Recycling Department purchased the bins and collect and transport the waste. Farms to K publicized the new program and demonstrated the new procedure for students. Sodexho expressed support for the program and worked with Facilities Management to fine tune the launch. Students do the separation and scraping.
"Everyone came together to make the program work," said Sustainability Intern Jillian McLaughlin'10. According to research conducted by students, the pilot program could divert as much as one ton of waste every week.
A liberal arts education makes connections across disciplines, cultures, and histories.
Last fall, Associate Professor of Biology Binney Girdler, her husband, and their two young children traveled to Chiang Mai, Thailand, along with "K" students on study abroad. Girdler, who co-coordinates the College's environmental studies concentration, was seeking a cross-cultural perspective on sustainability that she would further apply to her courses in that field.
In Thailand she taught a course on forestry, and she learned as much (or more) about interdisciplinary approaches as she did about intercultural approaches to environmental studies.
She organized her winter quarter course, "Senior Seminar in Environmental Studies," around local issues.
"As always, 'K' students infused me with optimism, one of the benefits of teaching at this college," she said.
Using ArcGIS, a computer mapping tool, students researched transportation, waste minimization, and green spaces in Kalamazoo. One group studied the accessibility of West Main Street for bus, foot, and bike commuters. Another explored different rates of recycling by different neighborhoods. And a final group mapped the amount of undeveloped land in Kalamazoo.
Community members attended the student presentations, including employees from the County Health Department and the Department of Natural Resources who are interested in developing a "sustainability atlas" of the city. Girdler and her students hope that their work will extend beyond the ten-week course and can be a way for the city to track its progress toward sustainable practices.
The Environmental Studies program also collaborated with the Sustainability Guild to host the College's first annual Sustainability Senior Individualized Projects Symposium.
"Students from a variety of disciplines have SIPs that link with the theme of sustainability," says Guilds Associate Anne Renaud '10, "and this event brings them together."
The Symposium's keynote speaker was Chris Dragisic '99, who coordinates the Global Sustainable Biofuels Initiative for Conservation International.
"The class is a great way to bridge theory and practice."Her work helps ensure that biofuel development does not increase risks to biodiversity, ecosystems, or persons' livelihoods. She also works to promote sustainable practices in Brazil.
The College's Climate Commitment
While various events, classes, and policies incorporate sustainability, no one thing has catalyzed the campus as much as the College's commitment to achieve carbon neutrality. Students in Kim Cummings' class, "How to Change the World," class used that goal to develop their class project: a plan to put photovoltaic cells on the roof of the library to convert solar energy to electricity.
Class members are enlisting fellow students to pledge reductions in their use of energy. Thus, they are paying for the project with conservation! At the current rate of conservation, the class will raise $4,300 by Commencement. Add to that this campaign idea: an increase in conservation by shutting off the hot water for a day (anticipated savings: $1,700).
"We're hoping that by the end of the year we'll have saved $7,700," said class member Alicia Pettys'13.
The photovoltaic cells will cost $35,000. Paul Manstrom, the Director of Facilities Management, pledged to match students' conservation savings with money from the Sustainability Revolving Fund that was approved by the Board of Trustees in the fall. Students worked with Anne Dueweke, Institutional Research, and Teresa Newmarch, College Advancement, to identify grants that could provide the remainder of the funding.
The campaign continues to broaden its collaborations, especially with the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership. A photovoltaic array situated on the library roof might also help meet the energy needs of the new center.
Pettys is optimistic regarding the College's progress toward carbon neutrality and sustainability. She's particularly enthusiastic about "How to Change the World." She said, "I believe in the idea of the class because it's a really great way to bridge theory and practice. It's important to learn about social justice issues and equally powerful to translate that into actions, especially doing something on our own campus."
Photo (by Sam Doyle '13)
The "How to Change the World" class on Earth Day