700 Acres of Green

By Ellen Davis

A weather station monitors rain to eliminate unnecessary watering

Handrails on the Mundy Building never need painting

The University greenhouse

“Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world.” — Margaret Mead

In the coming years, Southwestern is going to be a much “greener ” institution, thanks largely to the efforts of students.

This spring, Southwestern became the second university in Texas to sign the Talloires (“Tal-wahr”) Declaration, a treaty that formally commits it to a more sustainable, or “green” way of doing things. Sustainability is frequently defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

So far, 355 colleges in more than 40 countries around the world have signed the Talloires Declaration, which takes its name from a town in France where the declaration was conceived at an international conference in 1990.

Schools that sign the declaration commit themselves to a 10-point plan that includes everything from offering degree programs in environmental studies to establishing partnerships with local public schools to teach their students about the environment and sustainable development. Schools that sign the treaty also pledge to set an example of environmental responsibility in areas such as energy use, recycling and waste reduction, and to prepare an annual “environmental audit” detailing their activities.

The push to get Southwestern to sign the treaty came from students, who say they saw that Southwestern had a commitment to the environment, but did not have a written policy that said so.

“This is the first official step in the school committing to environmentally sound practices,” says Ben Johnson ’07. Johnson spent much of his last semester on campus visiting with various faculty and staff groups to gain support for the treaty. “Everyone was very receptive from the beginning,” he says.

This fall, a committee comprised of faculty, staff members and students will work together to develop a plan for implementing the Talloires principles at Southwestern. Activities already being planned include an environmental summit in the spring for high school students within a 100-mile radius of Southwestern. The goal of the summit is to encourage students to pursue college coursework in environmental studies and to think about possible future environmental careers.

Initiatives already under way

In the coming years, Southwestern is going to be a much “greener” institution, thanks largely to the efforts of students.

Even before the Talloires Declaration was signed by President Jake B. Schrum ’68 in April, a number of sustainability initiatives were already under way on campus.

Building materials removed during the renovation of the Alma Thomas Fine Arts Center have been relocated to the east side of campus to be used in a new area that will include an outdoor teaching space, a native plant nursery and a community garden.

The native plant nursery will be used to raise native grasses and plants for use both on campus and around Georgetown. “The idea is to grow plants that are not readily available through wholesalers,” says Bob Mathis, associate vice president for facilities and campus services.

Amanda Covington ’07 was among the students who have been involved with the native plant project. “I have always loved learning about native Texas plants as well as land reclamation and the nursery incorporated both,” she says. The nursery will be irrigated with rainwater captured from a system installed on the studio arts building and the greenhouse.

In the community garden, students plan to grow items such as lettuce, tomatoes and onions that can be used by participants in a new organic food co-op. Students who join this co-op will take turns preparing meals made from locally produced food. Some food may also be available for others on campus to purchase. About 40 students have expressed interest in this co-op for the fall.

Students hope to fertilize the garden by making compost from cafeteria scraps as well as leftovers from the student apartments. Aubrey Weeks ’07 did her capstone project in environmental studies on how Southwestern could develop a composting system for the Lord Center and other residential apartments on campus. Among the systems she studied was one that used worms in small Tupperware bins under the sink.

“It’s a really good option for students,” Weeks says, although she admits that some of her neighbors were less than thrilled to learn she had 1,000 worms in her apartment.

Weeks and other students got many of the ideas for these new initiatives during a visit to the Blackwood Land Institute (www.blackwoodland.org) near Hempstead, Texas, last Christmas. The institute is located on a formerly neglected tract of land that has been turned into a living- learning environment.

Their efforts were also spurred by Jason Reitz, who came to Southwestern last fall to work for Southwestern’s Intramural and Recreational Activities (SIRA) office. Although his job focuses on Southwestern’s outdoor recreation programs and sport clubs, Reitz freely admits that conservation is his passion.

“Jason really empowered students and gave us lots of ideas,” Weeks says.

Last spring, Southwestern students worked with staff members in Information Technology Services (ITS) to organize the University’s first “e-recycling” event. Members of the community were encouraged to bring old computers, monitors, printers, telephones, cameras, scanners and other “e-waste” to campus for recycling. The event was a great success, collecting enough high-tech trash to fill an 18-wheeler. The material was delivered to Austin-based Axcess Technologies, which will reuse, recycle or refurbish it in an environmentally safe way.

“Southwestern should be proud of their efforts to educate people on the need for recycling as well as engaging the entire community of Georgetown to think ‘green’ and to understand the benefits of recycling,” says Daniel Reading, general manager of Axcess Technologies and husband of Julie Davis ’89.

Student-driven initiatives Mathis says students have been pushing him for years to make the campus more environmentally friendly. For example, he says students raised questions about sprinkler systems running after rains and spraying water on areas other than the grass. The University responded by computerizing the entire irrigation system; adding a weather station to monitor rain, temperature and wind; and adjusting sprinkler heads so that they only spray on the grass.

The University also has installed infra- structure so that the golf course, athletic fields and student apartments can all be irrigated using “gray” water piped directly from the city of Georgetown water treatment plant, which costs half of what drinking water costs.

Recycled cornerstone

“The combination of these two initiatives has dramatically cut the cost of irrigating the campus,” Mathis says.

In 2003, students worked with Physical Plant staff to develop the ConServe program, which is designed to encourage energy conservation on campus. Stickers with the “ConServe” logo have been placed on all the light switches on campus, and students and staff have been encouraged to change thermostat settings and turn equipment off during the holidays. Since the effort was started, energy consumption on campus has gone down, but unfortunately this decline has been offset by sharp increases in the cost of energy.

Over the past few years, students also reclaimed an area behind the Physical Plant Building that was covered with weeds and converted it to a small park that includes an outdoor chess board, horseshoe pit and a “sustainable” putting green. The area has been named “Charley’s Grove” in honor of Charley Ray, a former Physical Plant director who was beloved by students.

The putting green soil has been treated with a mineral called Xeolite that helps it retain water. If successful, Mathis says, this could be used on the rest of the Southwestern golf course.

Green Hall and Green Buildings

The Dorothy Manning Lord Center, a new residential apartment complex opening this fall, will have one building dedicated to students who want to live in a “Civic Engagement/Green Hall.” These students will work together to build a community dedicated to sustainable living. Fifteen students have signed up to live in this building. Among them is Tanlyn Roelofs, a sophomore who is minoring in environmental studies.

“My vision is a community that is aware of social justice issues and collectively acts by volunteering, hosting events or simply engaging in constructive dialog,” Roelofs says. “This strong communal element, commitment to the environment and social issues embodies Southwestern’s core value of ‘encouraging activism in the pursuit of justice and the common good.’”

Ansa Copeland ’07

Ansa Copeland ’07 will stay on at Southwestern next year as an AmeriCorps volunteer, and part of her time will be spent serving as an advisor and mentor to students in the new “Green Hall.”

“I wanted to find a way to keep working on the issues that are important to me,” Copeland says. “Southwestern students have such cool ideas — I want to support them and show them how to get things done on campus.”

Copeland says she hopes the new “Civic Engagement/Green Hall” will become a center for all students interested in these issues – not just the ones who live there.

While the “Civic Engagement/Green Hall” will not be located in what is considered a “green” building, Southwestern is moving toward that in its new construction projects.

The new Charles and Elizabeth Prothro Center for Lifelong Learning, which will be constr-ucted starting in the spring of 2008, will be the first truly “green” building on campus. In fact, Southwestern is striving for LEED certification on the building from the U.S. Green Building Council, the “gold standard” for environmental construction. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.

The move toward “greener” buildings on campus began with construction of the Mundy Building, which opened in 2004. This building has natural fiber carpets, high-efficiency windows with solar screens on them, galvanized handrails that never need painting, and waterless urinals in the men’s bathrooms. It also uses native plants in the landscaping, which require less water and are less prone to disease.

“These are minor things but they add up,” Mathis says.

The new student apartments opening this fall will have many of these same features, as well as a central hot water system that is more efficient than individual hot water heaters. All residential buildings on campus now have low-flow showerheads – a project that was completed with the help of a grant from the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS).

Initiatives to look for in the coming years, Mathis says, include use of more environmentally friendly cleaning products, use of “gray” water to irrigate the central campus, and larger-scale composting systems.

Mathis also says that as the City of Georgetown becomes more sustainable, Southwestern will as well. For example, he says, the city just recently started accepting cardboard for recycling, and several proposals have been made to improve mass transit in the area.

And already, Mathis has a list of more than 50 other sustainability initiatives to consider — everything from installing a solar heating system for the swimming pool to campus vehicles that are powered by alternative fuel. However, he notes, many of these initiatives require an “up front” investment before they can be implemented.

“If we want to be serious about sustainability, we have to invest in ourselves and the future,” he says.

For more information on the Talloires Declaration, visit www.ulsf.org.

Environmental Studies a ‘Growing Program’ at Southwestern

— Ellen Davis

While the Talloires Declaration calls for universities to have degree programs in environmental studies, Southwestern has already had such a program since the 1999-2000 academic year. Laura Hobgood-Oster, associate professor of religion and philosophy who currently serves as chair of the program, says it is very much a “growing program.”

This fall, the program is offering a new course and the program is expected to get its first full-time faculty member in the 2008-2009 academic year.

Hobgood-Oster says there are many advantages to pursuing environmental studies in a liberal arts environment. “Big research universities usually have narrowly focused environmental studies programs that concentrate on one of the natural sciences,” she says. “A Southwestern education can help students make connections.”

For example, she notes that many environmental issues, such as environmental justice, require knowledge of multiple areas such as chemistry and sociology.

Hobgood-Oster also notes that Southwestern students develop good writing and speaking skills, which can be critical in careers related to the environment. “It’s also easy to practice leadership on a campus this size,” she says.

Since Southwestern awarded its first environmental studies degree in 2004, Hobgood-Oster says graduates have gone on to a work in a variety of fields, including environmental education, environmental law and environmental toxicology.

“All our graduates have gotten good jobs or been accepted into strong graduate programs,” Hobgood-Oster says. She credits much of this to internships that have helped students land jobs. Southwestern students have interned with a variety of agencies such as Texas Parks & Wildlife and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Several have also joined AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps before entering graduate school.