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Transylvania implements strategies for sustainability

By Lori-Lyn Hurley

In late February, young people from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C., to deliver a message of climate action to our elected officials during Power Shift 2009. In Kentucky, Transylvania students have taken the lead in these sustainability efforts. Of the 80 students from the state traveling to the youth summit, 48 were from Transylvania. (Click here for Power Shift story.)

Sophomore Amanda Holt became involved in Transy’s sustainability mission through the student environmental group, Transylvania Environmental Rights and Responsibilities Alliance (TERRA), after attending Power Shift 2007.

“It inspired me to transform my passion for environmental issues into direct action to raise awareness about sustainability issues in general, but specifically those related to college campuses,” she said. “College campuses are very conspicuous resource hogs—we consume a lot, but there are numerous ways to quell or at least ease this problem. Sustainability needs to become an expectation on Transylvania’s campus, not just an option.”

Transylvania is dedicated to creating this expectation about sustainability, which President Charles L. Shearer describes as meeting the needs of the present, while not compromising future generations’ ability to meet their own needs.

During his state of the University address last fall, Shearer highlighted the Crimson Goes Green initiative at Transylvania, a formal plan for a greener campus that includes changes in the way the University uses paper, monitors energy efficiency, recycles waste, and views transportation.

The initiative began to take shape when Shearer signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2007. This national voluntary commitment states that colleges and universities must exercise leadership in their communities and throughout society by modeling ways to minimize global warming emissions, and by providing the knowledge and the educated graduates to achieve climate neutrality.

“President Shearer signing the commitment got the ball rolling,” said Michael K. Vetter, dean of students, and chair of the Campus Sustainability Committee. “It provided the initiative for us to do some things that we may have thought about before, but now we’re taking action.”

The steps outlined in the commitment include developing a comprehensive plan to move toward climate neutrality, and initiating two or more tangible actions to reduce greenhouse gases while the overall plan is being written.

In response, the Sustainability Advisory Committee was formed to assist efforts already in place and make recommendations for future directions, and out of that committee came the Sustainability Committee, which includes faculty, staff, and students.

“It’s been interesting to see how the administration and the student organizations have come together to push for this,” Holt said. “The administration handles things like energy audits, green building renovation—the big stuff—and the student organizations work to educate the student body, help instill more environmentally healthy habits, and hold the administration accountable for its commitment to sustainability.”

Assistant Director of Career Development Michael Cronk, who serves on the subcommittee on educating ourselves, agrees that the campus must work together to solve the problems at hand.

“Everyone realizes some things we can do as individuals, like turning off the lights in the rest room when we leave,” he said, “but that alone isn’t going to solve the problem. We need to be thinking bigger, and our students are great examples of that happening.”

Students carry bags
Students carry totebags with the Crimson Goes Green logo.

Colleges can lead the way

One such student, senior Callie Clark, TERRA coordinator, said that U. S. colleges and universities are in a unique position to be a model for the rest of our society.

One way Transylvania is stepping up to that challenge is through improved recycling on campus. This is one of the many goals that the University is working on to meet the obligations under the Commitment, and as a result, recycling containers have been placed in every residence hall room.

“Putting out the recycling bins was Transy’s way of saying this is something you should be doing, not something you can do if you want to,” said Holt. “It was a step in setting up that expectation for sustainability.”

This spring, the campus is taking part in the nationwide campaign Recyclemania, a friendly competition that asks participating colleges and universities to promote waste reduction and activities and report recycling data for a 10-week period. Transy’s per capita recycling amount will then be compared with national results. Director of Residence Life Bob Brown, who chairs the subcommittee on waste management, sees Recyclemania as a benchmarking tool.

“We’re establishing a baseline, and participation in Recyclemania will help us do that,” he said. “Next year, we’ll have a much more concerted effort.”

The University also has begun the switch to environmentally friendly photocopy paper, letterhead, and envelopes. This recycled paper costs a little bit more than the paper previously used, but by using less paper, the University hopes to save the difference or more.

“University offices are working to eliminate or reduce the number of printed reports and statements they produce,” Shearer said. “For example, the Campus Center is moving toward a paperless office by offering on-line options for forms, scheduling, and equipment checkout.”

“We’re making good progress,” Brown said. “We just need to engrain it into the culture more and, as some other schools say, penetrate the halls and classrooms. I want it to be that on campus, when you see a trash can, you see a recycling container. They should be in tandem.”

“While our recycling program is beginning to flourish, this is simply not enough to accomplish our goal. I look forward to seeing long-term changes on our campus,” Clark said.

Some of those long-term changes are already underway. Energy management systems are being installed in campus buildings, and as lighting and equipment is replaced, the University is looking for more efficient options.

The grounds department uses fertilizer and pest control products that don’t pollute ground water, and a transition is underway to use only cleaning products that meet the Green Seal standard, a certification that ensures a product has been tested according to science-based procedures and found to be environmentally responsible.

There’s also a Web site in the works, available to those on and off campus, explaining the University’s commitment to sustainable practices and outlining the steps it’s taking. The site will include a link to LexTran, so that students and employees can easily check schedules and consider riding the bus instead of driving to work or to various places in town for shopping and entertainment.

The University also has four bicycles available for check-out by students, faculty, and staff, providing a solution for running short errands that not only saves fuel but also provides the opportunity for physical exercise.

“The Web site will be a huge educational tool for campus,” Vetter said, “and good for incoming students who want to come to a place that’s sensitive to these issues.”
Making the commitment

Committing to sustainability means having to make sacrifices, and the overall goal set for this year is simply to get more people aware and understanding of the process.

“The idea of being more sustainable is something that should be part of our ongoing learning on campus.” Vetter said, and it is, in more ways than one. In addition to the implementation of these measures, students at Transylvania have the option of a minor in environmental studies, where they can deepen their understanding of the natural environment.

Cronk pointed out that change won’t happen overnight, but major University decisions are now being made with sustainability in mind, evidenced in the newest buildings on campus. Thomson Residence Hall and the Glenn Building both have geothermal heating and air conditioning, and the newly renovated areas of Brown Science Center have also been outfitted with motion activated lights.

Senior Lee Nutini, a member of the subcommittee on waste management, said he speaks with pride when, as an admissions assistant, he walks prospective students and families through geothermally powered buildings and points out recycling bins.

He feels that the efforts of the president’s sustainability committee, as well as student organizations like Student Government Association and TERRA, have begun to change the daily routine on campus.

“Overall, I have seen a movement and awareness growing on campus among students as well as the administration,” he said, and he and other students are confident that Transy is moving in the right direction.

“I think Transylvania will continue to improve its standing as a green school,” he said. “We have a long way to go to becoming carbon neutral, but we have shown our resolve and determination to change the way we do things as a university.”

“There’s still a lot that needs to change,” Holt said, “but we have certainly made steps and continue to show our commitment to making smarter consumer decisions and lessening our impact on the environment. I’m proud of our accomplishments so far.”

For certain, those accomplishments and the ones yet to come are the result of the campus working together.

“Everybody on campus plays an important role in our sustainability efforts,” Shearer said, and those efforts have impact not only on Transylvania’s campus, but in the larger community.

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