Several area colleges push for eco-friendly campuses

  • Article by: FEVEN GEREZGIHER , Como Park High School
  • Updated: July 4, 2011 - 9:27 PM
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Macalester graduate Ainsley Judge and junior Kebebush Bekele remove weeds from a garden on school grounds.

When walking on a college campus these days, one might find wind turbines, prairie grasses, recycling bins around every corner and community gardens.

This might seem like a school of the future, but the reality is that colleges across the country are becoming sustainable.

The College Sustainability Report Card creates competition among universities and ranks colleges based on their action and commitment to sustainability initiatives.

Some Minnesota colleges have maintained their identity as "green" campuses. Schools like Carleton College and Macalester College have long established sustainability efforts, but they have used the recent green trend to further their commitment.

"We have a long history of involvement," Macalester Sustainability Director Suzanne Hansen said. "We have always had active students, but there weren't any significant plans before [the signing of the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment]."

"[Sustainability] has always been a big part," said Carleton sustainability assistant, senior Ryan Noe. "It started in the '70s and became major last year."

ACUPCC, founded in 2006, has been fundamental in getting colleges to publicly pledge support for climate neutrality, which means that carbon emissions produced should be offset by carbon reducing actions. More than 600 schools have signed this commitment.

Minnesota campuses that have signed the commitment have begun transitioning to zero waste in greenhouse gases. Some aim to get there by 2020.

"We compost food waste, and we plan to get a new energy management system that will reduce energy (use) by 20 percent," said Tom Ruffaner, chair of Augsburg University's environmental stewardship committee. "Our main goal is to try and create a cultural change on the campus."

"Some people think they are in a bubble," Noe said. "Changing people's attitudes is important if we really want to help the environment."

Though the schools maintain different approaches to sustainability, they share one thing in common: students. Students are the ones who have proposed building chicken coops, growing gardens and reducing food waste.

"Students don't necessarily realize how they really can be effective to do sustainable projects in schools," Hansen said. "It is very powerful for them to propose projects."

At Macalester, the student involvement has changed the environmental outlook on campus. Energy efficiency projects have saved campuses millions of dollars. These endeavors have also created a sustainable attitude among students and peers.

"There's just a vibe on campus. You don't just bring a bottle of water; it's just frowned upon," said Macalester sophomore Audrey Kohout.

University of St. Thomas sophomore Jian Lin agrees. The emphasis on sustainable habits has definitely affected him. Lin said when he returns home to China, he will apply what he learned.

"I'm not used to doing [recycling] because it's not important in my country, but it is a big change," Lin said. "It's our obligation to help the environment."

College campuses have been working with their students to create and fund educational events for the community and subsidized bus passes to promote eco-friendliness.

Some students are still indifferent despite the campus efforts.

"I know what they're doing, but it's not a big deal to me," said Macalester junior Brent Campbell.

"Yeah, sure, we have recycling," said St. Thomas sophomore Miracle Vansiea. "I'm not that involved [in that program]."

  • TIPS TO STAY SUSTAINABLE You don't have to build your own backyard wind turbine to be as energy efficient as these colleges. Here are some simple sustainability tips for individuals at home: • Ride your bike and enjoy the scenery. • Eat less meat. Eating broccoli is good for both the planet and your health. • Unplug cords when not in use. "Phantom loads" waste a lot of energy. • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. • Educate yourself. • Be involved. Get your family or school to get an energy and waste audit and become more sustainable.
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