Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Fall/Winter 2014 (November 4, 2014)

How To Make a Campus More Sustainable

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November 4, 2014

By Susan Kasten

HOW TO sustainability
This installation, strung from the sides of the Center for the Sciences
bridge, was created by students and led by Victor Casto, an artist
who uses recyclable materials in his work. Student leaders brought
the artist to campus during Earth Week. Photo by Greg Anderson

Every egg that’s served up in Commons these days helps a local, organic farmer’s vegetables thrive. And the grounds from every pot of coffee brewed in Beloit’s dining facilities? They also help the garden grow.

Coffee grounds and eggshells—kitchen scraps once destined for the dumpsters behind Commons—are now tossed into five gallon buckets instead of going into the trash. Twice a week, the owner of nearby Wright Way Farm retrieves the buckets and uses the contents to fuel his vermicomposting operation (composting with earthworms).

Wright Way is one of two key community partners working with the college’s food service provider Bon Appetit to reduce food waste, the top concern students had for Lindsay Chapman when she became Beloit’s first sustainability coordinator last January.

Beloit also partners with Caritas, a non-profit that provides emergency social services to local residents. The college freezes leftover servings of freshly made soups, stews, and casseroles and transports them twice a week to Caritas for distribution to their clients.

As a Duffy Fellow last year, Meghan Bleidorn’14—in conjunction with Bon Appetit—tackled the administrative work that allowed Beloit to become the first Wisconsin college to join the national Food Recovery Network, which makes the arrangement with Caritas possible. Sharing the abundance of food with people in need continues this year under the leadership of Alex Boyd’15.

“I’m most excited about the food recovery because it was really student-driven,” Chapman says of the expanding sustainability efforts at Beloit. “It really took off like wildfire, and I think it’s fairly well-resourced as far as student time and effort goes.”

Reducing food waste is only one part of a growing interest in making the campus more sustainable and raising awareness around sustainability issues.

With a platinum LEED-certified science center, a fairly new academic program in environmental studies, and a Sustainability Fellows summer research and fieldwork program for students, Beloit already has a track record of sustainable practices. But this year, a major grant called “Pathways to Sustainability Leadership” is accelerating activities, creating Chapman’s position and a residence hall director’s post that focuses on connecting students to people and sustainable projects.

“The overall goal of the grant is to raise sustainability literacy among our students, and the way we do that is through Facebook, through posting facts and figures from reputable sources, or by telling stories that highlight what we’re doing on campus,” says Chapman. “This isn’t a new concept, and the culture is not something new, it’s being improved. The communication piece is key to changing behavior.”

A steering committee made up of faculty and staff from departments across campus is leading the new initiatives. Among them are courses across the curriculum that contain sustainability citizen modules, continuing summer research projects, and student leadership teams which take a cross-disciplinary approach to issues.

 A revolving loan fund helps kick-start projects and regenerates itself. The recent replacement of Campbell Hall’s windows is but one example of how the revolving loan fund paid dividends through energy savings that went back to finance the next project.

The sustainability steering committee also created a plan last spring that will guide Beloit’s efforts over the next three years. Chapman says the Sustainability Plan will be vetted by other campus groups and then voted on, with a final version expected to be in play by 2015.

Ultimately, what makes Beloit’s sustainability efforts different is the design, which is based on the idea that many different approaches, academic departments, and thought processes work best in solving problems.

“A lot of times, at other schools, you’ll find sustainability housed in the environmental studies or environmental sciences departments,” Chapman says. “But we’re taking a much broader approach, and that’s what is different, exciting, and also challenging about doing sustainability at Beloit.”

Sustainability Successes:

What can be recycled differs across municipalities, and Beloit’s students come from across the nation and the world. To build stronger awareness of Beloit’s particular requirements, Chapman staged a competition last spring that had residence halls vying to create a clean stream of recycling items. Before the contest, Chapman says as much as 40 percent of the bins’ contents had to be tossed because too many unrecyclable items were comingled with recyclables.

Urban Garden
The Beloit Urban Garden, known as BUG, is located just north of campus on a city lot the college owns. There, students raise seasonal vegetables that they sell to Bon Appetit and which ultimately end up on dinner plates in Commons. BUG is completely run by students who spend a lot of time hand-weeding and raising their crops organically (without chemicals).

Energy and Water Usage
Beloit’s Physical Plant and Chapman are collaborating to create a baseline of energy and water use from campus buildings using an Energy Star portfolio manager. The free tool from the Environmental Protection Agency tracks the trends of different buildings over time and provides comparisons to similar buildings across the country.

Beloit’s large stock of historic buildings may seem a daunting challenge when it comes to energy efficiency. But that didn’t faze junior Arianna Cocallas’16, who identified four special interest student residences with weatherizing needs, conducted an economic analysis with Professor of Economics Warren Palmer, made a proposal to the revolving loan fund for financing, and arranged for contractors to do the work. Weatherizing was completed in June. By fall, Alliant Energy had already issued credits for two of the four buildings for energy efficiency increases of 25 percent or more.

(Click here for Chapman's tips on greening your holidays)



  • November 10 2014 at 4:15 pm
    Kristin Jackson Distante

    Has the college taken steps to divest its endowment and pension funds from fossil fuels?

  • November 11 2014 at 7:56 am
    D. Michael Anctil '85

    This makes me very proud! As a sustainability advocate in my current sphere of influence, it's wonderful to see sustainability efforts in my former sphere. Keep up the good and necessary work!

  • November 11 2014 at 5:30 pm
    Susan Kasten

    Kristin, I did some checking and found that the college’s endowment is invested mostly in a portfolio containing mutual funds for equities, REITS, and fixed income investments. The holdings in the mutual funds change often and may at times contain energy funds (Beloit does not have a policy about divestment). Beloit’s retirement plans are through TIAA-CREF, a leader in higher ed retirement administration. Those investments include mostly mutual funds and may include stock in energy companies. However, TIAA-CREF does offer a social choice investment option to individual members. That fund invests only in companies that are “suitable from a financial perspective and whose activities are consistent with the account’s social criteria.” -- Susan Kasten, Editor

  • November 12 2014 at 2:19 pm
    Jim Robertson

    For the last six months I have been formulating the concept of an economic principle of measurement which I named "Sustainability". In a nutshell, economic activities are evaluated and taxed based on their "sustainability" as an endeavor, or the contribution of the economic activity to our sustainability as a species.

     How surprised and excited I was to find that my Alma Mater was out ahead of me and fully engaged in using the concept to evaluate our behavior.

    Clearly "growth" as a measure of success must be replaced.


    JimR  - Class of 60 



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