College campuses: Green, clean, money-saving machines

By Alexandra Yetter, Staff Reporter

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College campuses: Green, clean, money-saving machines

What happened to the environmental movement at Columbia? Once a leader, the college is losing ground to one of its biggest competitors.

Columbia once emphasized its on-campus environmental sustainability initiatives with pride, but now the practices have been brushed under the rug, said Elizabeth Davis-Berg, associate professor in the Science and Mathematics Department.

Davis-Berg said Columbia’s loss of focus on sustainability is due to the administration’s newfound emphasis on  increasing enrollment. However, she said increased awareness of Columbia’s sustainability efforts could help increase enrollment  numbers.

Meanwhile, Loyola University Chicago has continued to make strides in eco-friendly practices on its campus, earning a spot on College Magazine’s June 27, 2018, list of the most eco-friendly college campuses in the U.S.

In a Sept. 14 email statement sent to The Chronicle, Kim Koverman, director of Planning and Analysis, said Columbia has installed water dispensers and offered standard recycling, composting and battery recycling options at locations across campus to reduce waste. There is also a green roof located at the Media Production Center, 1600 S. State St., she said.

“The college is also working on automation systems across campus to reduce energy use, and the administration has plans to expand the use of these systems [in campus buildings],” Koverman said.

But despite numerous campus environmental policies, most faculty and students remain unaware of what the college is doing to be environmentally sustainable, Davis-Berg said.

“Columbia does more than we know [in sustainability], but probably less than it could,” Davis-Berg said.

Koverman said this lack of awareness leads to a disconnect across departments on campus.

Sustainability is helpful for enrollment at Loyola, according to Loyola University’s Director of  Sustainability Aaron Durnbaugh.  An incoming-student survey of Loyola students about how important sustainability initiatives were to their enrollment decision revealed that about half of new students valued it immensely in their college decision, according to Durnbaugh.

“Students want to make a change. They want to have an impact on the place they are at,” Durnbaugh said. “They’re seeking to understand how to take things they’re passionate about and turn that into a lasting action.”

Loyola has numerous sustainability initiatives active on its campus, including efforts to reduce the amount of energy used in buildings and sustainable water consumption, Durnbaugh said. Loyola’s main goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, he said.

Amanda Huegelmann, a senior environmental studies major at Loyola and Student Environmental Alliance co-president, said Loyola’s sustainability policies make a big impact on life inside and outside of the classroom.

“It lays the groundwork for how you should be thinking about these issues that really affect yourself  [and] so many other people,” Huegelmann said. 

According to an October 2017 report by The Association for the Advancement

of Sustainability in Higher Education, clean energy and waste management can save collegiate institutions hundreds of thousands of dollars each academic year.

“The cost for water for campuses has gone up quite a lot,” Durnbaugh said. “If Columbia is not doing everything it can to save water, it is probably losing money there.”

Koverman said Columbia is an exciting place to teach environmental issues because students are passionate about promoting positive social change.

Scott Strom, a junior writing for performance major and former president of the Green Roots Club, which is now defunct due to low membership, said tackling environmental issues does not have to be large-scale. Instead, students can focus on specifics, such as animal rights advocacy, cleaning oceans or sustainable food.

“Environmental activism is such a broad term,” Strom said. “A lot of times it’s difficult to look at it and find something everyone can get behind, but [that doesn’t] mean it’s not important.”

At Columbia, improving  sustainability might be as simple as advocating for more recycling bins in classrooms or adding more water-saving toilets and fountains, Davis-Berg said.

Reducing the amount of paper used in the classroom, donating leftover food from the food services to local homeless shelters, bringing more Divvy Bikes onto campus or even encouraging the administration to implement solar electricity for buildings can help, Durnbaugh said.

The University Center Dining Hall, 525 S. State St., implements a  handful of food sustainability initiatives, including trayless dining, supporting local farms and stocking fair trade coffee options, according to the cafeteria’s  website.

“My question for Columbia would be: What is your value and commitment?” Durnbaugh said. “I’m sure there is some way that sustainability helps meet that value.”

In a time of political upheaval, Strom said it is especially important for colleges to provide structure and knowledge about environmental practices.

“[The EPA is] trying to bring us backward, when we should be moving toward renewable resources,” Strom said. “It is important to be vigilant and to have that structure within your college, so you can feel like you are doing something about it.”