By Anne Sjolander, on behalf of Second Nature team
I very, distinctly remember my first school lunch….
It was the end of Kindergarten. I nervously sat awaiting my meal. A plate of “Chicken StiX” was handed to me. For those of you who don’t know, “Chicken Stix” are a chicken product related to chicken tenders, chicken patties, and chicken nuggets; however, as the name implies they are in stick form. The entire experience went down the drain (quite literally) when I bit into a Chicken Stix, was greeted by a piece of hard, fat and ran to the bathroom to spit it out.
Although we all agree that dining hall food is nasty, we often overlook the other harms caused by our institutions’ food purchases. Not only does it taste bad, but it also harms the consumer, producer, and the environment. Currently, agricultural production occupies more than 50% of habitable land. The processes that guide this food from farm to plate cause 30% of global green house gasses, 70% of global deforestation, and uses 70% of global fresh water. Of course, not all food production is a bad thing. The harm associated with the industrially produced food served in our cafeterias can be easily alleviated through better food purchases.1
As a Kindergartener I did not have the ability to protest the food that was being provided to me by my school system. However, as I progressed to higher education, I began to see that University and College students had the power to take matters into their own hands. As the food debate has come to the forefront of our culture, University and College students have become leaders in challenging their institutions’ food systems.
Across the nation, students have begun to organize on campus to make food sustainability a priority in their communities. The Sustainability Club at Eastern Washington University, an ACUPCC signatory school, has successfully moved a local farmer’s market on campus and is now working towards committing 20% of the university budget to local food and creating a campus garden. As the founder of the club Alex Silgar explained, their efforts on campus are to remind students that, “every food item has a connection to someone.”2
Students at Paul Quinn College, Texas’ oldest historically black college, has transformed their unused football field into an urban farm. President Michael Sorrell described this effort as a way, “To teach our students to solve problems that face our community."3 After being turned down by local grocers who were unwilling to invest in the underserved southern Dallas urban farm project, President Michael Sorrell reached out to the Sustainable Food Project at Yale for assistance. In return for Yale’s guidance, Paul Quinn students traveled to New Haven, Connecticut where they worked in community gardens in underserved neighborhoods.4
Although many Colleges and Universities are working towards food sustainability on campus, connecting the knowledge and efforts of students across the nation has become a daunting task. One of the leading organizations in this movement is The Real Food Challenge. Through creating a network of students on campuses throughout the United States, The Real Food Challenge aims to unite students towards, “the procurement of real food on college and university campuses, with the national goal of 20% real food by 2020”.5 You may be wondering how one would define “Real Food”. The Real Food Challenge has defined it as “food that truly nourishes producers, consumers, communities and the earth. It is a food system--from seed to plate--that fundamentally respects human dignity and health, animal welfare, social justice and environmental sustainability.”6
With support from the network of students and regional liaisons created by the Real Food Challenge, students organize and campaign on campus with the goal of informing students about the origins of the food they eat, its impacts on the earth and the efforts being made to better it. Through programs such as the Real Food Challenge, Colleges and University students have been empowered with the tools necessary to guide their tuition towards food that comes from “local, fair, ecologically sound, and humane” sources.7 Over 300 schools have joined The Challenge and the movement is growing. To get your school involved in the challenge visit the Real Food Challenge Website.
1Henry, Margaret. "Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility." Farm to Campus: The Successes and Challenges of Sourcing Local and Sustainable Food. Webinar. Retrieved June 21, 2011, from http://www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org/node/7248.
This is a re-blog of a post by Amy Hattan, Chief Operating Officer, Fore Solutions. See the original post here.
The USGBC’s Center for Green Schools may be new, but there are already numerous programs underway. In a recent call with the USGBC, we heard about the many ways that green building consultants and others could get involved in the buzz.
The web site is very informative, and a good first stop to learn about the many facets of the Center. The programs are categorized according to K12 and Higher Education, and they focus on more than buildings. The Center is also working to improve curriculum and to engage the broader community by facilitating conversation at the local level.
A lot of the work is happening at the local level with the USGBC Chapters. Many of the Chapters now have a Green Schools Committee. Committee membership is one of the best ways to get involved at the K12 level. The Center hosts a monthly webcast for the committees on a variety of topics.
The Center is also approaching their mission of “provide every child in America with a green school within this generation” from the advocacy angle. The Center has a staff member who serves as the Schools Advocacy Lead, and the Coalition for Green Schools helps to advance the advocacy agenda. Membership is free.
A new fellowship program places sustainability professionals into school districts, where they work for three years to advance the broad array of sustainability issues including green building in these K12 institutions. Currently, the Center has funding for two fellowships but is looking for sponsorship for expansion.
On the higher education side, the USGBC Students program continues to play an important role as a national network grows. National chairs have been selected to guide this work, and currently there’s a call out for regional chairs.
Research is an important mission of higher education, and it plays a role in the Center as well. The Research to Practice Program supports teams of students, faculty, and other research contributors studying various topics of interest. The Center is providing tools for assessment and small grants to the top teams.
And – very cool – USGBC is working on developing a GIS mapping system that will allow users to search for LEED projects all over the country, learn details about the projects, and to find other information such as locating all the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment signatories. The USGBC is holding a webinar on June 16 for more details.
This isn’t all….many other good things are happening. I would particularly like to point out that the Center is working to advance green building at under-resourced schools like community colleges and minority serving institutions. (This interest of the USGBC is directly connected to the prior work conducted by Second Nature – where I previously worked – on capacity building at under-resourced schools.)
While there are many entry points in this valuable effort by the USGBC, our contact says, “Perhaps the best place for consultants to help is through gap analysis, focusing on efforts like assisting the campus-wide approach of EB:O&M and Climate Action Planning.”
By Van H. Du, on behalf of Second Nature team
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently announced the winners of the Green Power Challenge for the 2010-11 academic year. The Challenge is part of the EPA Green Power Partnership Initiative, which as a requirement each conference has to have at least one institution that is an EPA Green Power Partner. These partner institutions must meet EPA energy purchase requirements using any combination of three options: renewable energy certificates (RECs), on-site generation and utility green power products.
Each year, the EPA hosts the Green Power Challenge as an opportunity for all collegiate athletic conferences to track their power sources and compete for the title of having the “highest combined green power purchases in the nation.” In addition, contributing colleges and universities within each participating conference also partake in the Individual Conference Champions category and compete to become the “largest single green power purchasers.”
This year, with over 256 million kilowatt-hours (kWh), the Big 10 conference topped the Collective Conference category for having the largest total green energy purchase among all conferences. Other notable runner-up conferences included the Ivy League with the total of 200 million kWh purchase (achieved single-handedly by University of Pennsylvania), and the University Athletic Association with the total of 92.5 million kWh of green power purchase. For the complete list of EPA Green Power Champions, please click here.
While smaller conferences (such as Cascade Collegiate Conference, New England Small College Athletic Conference, Northwest Conference, etc.) have accumulated lower total amount of green power purchase, they are as equally impressive and noteworthy given that many of these institutions actually have 100% or more of their energy purchased from green power sources. For example, the amount of green power purchased at Southern Oregon University is actually an equivalent to 287% of the total electricity usage on campus.
Another notable practice aside from buying green energy is simply saving energy. For example, at Pennsylvania State University, being green and energy efficient simultaneously is nothing more than just “business as usual.” PSU purchases approximately 83,600 kilowatt-hours of green power, which is about 20% of the institution’s total energy sources. At the same time, according to GreenBiz, the campus has also recently employed a new computer power management technology that is reported to save the school about $80,000 annually on its total energy bills.
Through competitions such as the Green Power Challenge, participating colleges and universities receive recognition not only for their immense efforts in greening their campuses, but also for taking the leadership role to address sustainability issues in the higher education community. It must also be noted that the majority of institutions awarded in the Individual Conference Champions category are, in fact, signatories of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. It shows that although signing the ACUPCC may be a voluntary commitment, being part of the network with guidelines and opportunities for exchanging ideas can indeed help these institutions commit, plan and implement their campus sustainability and climate action plans.
By Adrien Tofighi, on behalf of Second Nature team
“Sustainability” has, for a while now, become the new hit word from the supermarket to the classroom. Throwing it around has never been easier, and with so little knowledge in mainstream culture about what it actually means, it has slowly been engulfed under a pile of distorted definitions. Sustainability is simple. There is no need for speedy delivery pizza and oversized trash bag boxes from Costco, but it is “convenient”. There is no need for paper plates and plastic cups from Dunkin Donuts, but that is “convenient” too. As EF Schumacher titled his book, small is beautiful, and to add to the movement, slow is beautiful too! The only way to understand the true value of this is by changing the face of convenience, so how do we do so?
Convenience: [noun] a thing that contributes to an easy and effortless way of life1.
Every morning I see escalators in the subway station, in Boston these run for about 20 hours a day, seven days a week, with several of them in more than 30 stations. Although I don’t know everyone’s physical condition, I know for sure that more than half of the individuals who take an escalator can also easily walk up a flight a stairs. But, it is convenient, right? The problem with convenience is that it has no limits, no restrictions, and most of all, there is rarely any incentive not to use something that is convenient. Yet this word seems to have brought about many of our current environmental problems. On-demand escalators run in few places around the world, and can cut up to 52% of energy use2. Furthermore, if individuals really needed to use an escalator instead of stairs, wouldn’t it be fair to offer them on-demand individual seating, similar to that of a ski lift? Keeping these at regular escalator speed, or even slower, we’ve already created two incentives not to take the escalator; not only would I, as a 21 year old male, look lazy on it, but I would see the others flying by me on the staircase as I remain seated!
So, how did convenience ever shift from “easy to use” to “easy to use regardless of the consequences”? Where are the restrictions on plastic cups from Starbucks, and most of all, where are the incentives to bring your own mug from home (which you already bought)? This is not a revolutionary concept, in fact it’s not even a new concept, but we’ve thrown a new word on it. Yes it is “sustainable” to bring your own mug to the coffee shop, but it is also common sense. So where did our notion of common sense go?
I was reading a story about a cashier telling an old woman at a store that plastic bags weren’t good for the environment, she apologized and said “We didn’t have the ‘green thing’ back in my day”. The story continues with examples on how it was, “back in the day”; milk and coke bottles were returned to stores, everyone used stairs, baby nappies were washable and re-usable (as opposed to the throw-away ones), solar and wind energy dried your clothes on a clothesline, you could refill your pen with ink or replace your razor blade, instead of buying a whole new one, and exercising was a product of all this work, not something to pay for at the health club you drive to, but as the story goes, “she’s right, they didn’t have the ‘green thing’ back in her day”3. Yet much of this lifestyle is not that far “back in the day”, it has only vanished in the regions where “sustainability” and “green” have become big hit words (picture a gradient interactive map of the world showing what regions use these words the most, and where this “back in the day” lifestyle still remains, the contrast will then be obvious). People from the other regions of the world (from Wyoming to Malaysia) may scratch their head after hearing the word “sustainable”, and yet they will be the first in line at the shoe-repair shop.
Sure, the scenario above is not that surprising, what we need to take into account however is where education lies in all of this. More specifically, where is higher education, literally, and where is it taking us? Out of the first 30 schools ranked in the World’s Best Universities from U.S News & World Report, three are in suburb settings and two are in rural settings, while the rest remain in major cities4.
How can we be preparing students to better the world in an environment that has lost much common sense in the name of convenience? Of course, these schools are amazing knowledge hubs, with vast resources, and brilliant students – but not many classes will teach you why you should be taking the stairs instead of the escalator. Educating our students for sustainability means providing them with a sense of wonder for what is simple, slow, small, and efficient. Educating our students about sustainability means refining their wisdom (or, common sense) as well as their knowledge. Such education is the foundation for holistic thinking, and thus holistic solutions. There are too many aspects of humanity which cannot be measured by the calculator or the ruler, but only by the mind and sometimes a mere sense of logic, and if our parents cannot teach us how to put value on these aspects, than it is the role of higher education to do so, especially if it claims to fully prepare students for the world.
***(I suggest you to perform a study, asking 50 healthy [no lower body or cardiac problems] escalator-riders ages 15-40 if they hold a gym membership, and please respond with your result).
By Vanessa Santos, on behalf of Second Nature team
As a recent college graduate with just one year of experience in the “real world,” I have a lot of questions I tend to ask myself on a daily basis.
Amid that unknown abyss that faces most fresh college graduates, I find most of my questions start with the word “what:” What can I do with my college degree? What can I afford to buy and eat for dinner tonight? And most importantly for me, what can I do that will make a positive and lasting impact on our society and the world?
Admittedly, these aren’t easy questions for anyone to answer. A few months before graduating Boston University in 2010, I made a one-year commitment to an internship at Second Nature, deciding that this would be the first small professional step I would take to being able to answer all these questions.
Before stepping into the Second Nature office for the first time in February of 2010, my knowledge of sustainability was pretty limited. Though I was eager to learn more, in my mind, the vague concept was associated with phrases like: “global warming,” “saving the planet,” and “sounds cool.” Sure, I recycled, tried to conserve energy for a lower monthly bill, and believed in social equity for all groups of people, but how does this all tie together and what does this have to do with sustainability?...Read more.