President Teresa Amott, a self-described “fanatic recycler,” has proclaimed environmental sustainability one of her top priorities at Knox, with her plan centering on student initiative and environmental consciousness and responsibility.
Amott plans to work in part with the Environmental Task Force (ETF), a group conceived during the tenure of former president Roger Talyor ’63, toward her twofold goal.
“It is clear that the environmental imperative calls on educational institutions, especially, to respond in two ways,” Amott said. “We need to educate students about the environmental impact of their actions, and we also need to examine our own institutional environmental impact.”
While Amott’s plan centers on the traditional “thinking green,” she applies her ideas beyond that facet of sustainability, diverting some focus to sustaining the institution itself and the greater Galesburg community.
“We are an energy-using, trash-producing entity that lives on the land. We have a footprint. We have a carbon footprint. We have a building footprint. We have a footprint on the planet,” Amott said.
Developing the “underground curriculum”
Amott said she was drawn to Knox partly through the ETF and its visibility on campus, along with the greater sense of environmental responsibility on campus. But she hopes to do more to ensure students leave the college with that sense of responsibility ingrained in their minds.
“I would say that the largest environmental impact of the college is probably the multiplied impact of our students getting an environmental awareness and then going on once they leave here,” Amott said. “They may spend four years here, but our hope is that they will spend 60 to 80 years living environmentally responsible lives as a result of what they’ve seen here.”
According to Amott, a student’s environmental consciousness, though it may be a part of the academic mission of the college, is not necessarily gained through academic coursework.
“It’s less about a particular course, and it’s more about the residential experience on a campus where the practices have been examined for their impact on the environment,” Amott said. “That’s the underground curriculum, or the values of the institution.”
She equated this idea with students learning about global issues; rather, even if students never take a course that addresses global issues (which she said would be a difficult feat), the sheer number of international students at Knox would inevitably lead to exposure to global issues.
“If you are surrounded by people who are thinking consciously about the environmental impact of their actions, it becomes part of the curriculum,” Amott said, adding that environmental consciousness could in many ways find its way into a student’s academic life.
“If you live on a campus in which concern for the environment is present every day … you might take a creative writing course, and you might be inspired to write a short story or a poem that is about nature,” Amott said.
Recycle, recycle, recycle
Amott said she has noticed that recycling is prevalent on campus, but she would like to see advances in how much we contribute to landfills as a campus.
“Personally, I’m kind of a fanatic recycler,” Amott said. “Where I used to live, I looked across a lake, and on the other shore I could see a landfill that was barely visible when I came. By the time I left five years later, it looked like a mountain.”
“It really struck me that our throwaway lifestyle is creating these huge spaces devoted to nothing but the storage of trash.”
Amott said she is “willing to bet” that much of what is thrown away on campus is recyclable, but she also acknowledged that there are staffing issues involved with sorting and hauling recycled material.
The little things count
Amott said that fostering a more environmentally responsible lifestyle involves becoming more conscious of the everyday means by which students already act sustainably, including the trayless cafeteria, web-based publications and double-sided printing.
“We need to continue to expand those environmentally responsible practices so as to expand the extent to which people internalize them and carry them forward for the rest of their lives,” Amott said.
She also mentioned the use of fluorescent instead of incandescent lights and unplugging chargers when they are not in use, some energy-saving techniques which may seem second nature. But, she said, to instill those practices, students should be actively thinking about them.
Amott expressed her hope that throughout the process of renovating Alumni Hall, an eye will be held toward Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. She said the college has already made progress toward that goal, though, simply by saving the building itself.
“If we had torn it down, talk about trash. There would have been a giant pile of rubble which would have to go somewhere,” Amott said.
Amott said the LEED system is based on points for incorporating certain energy-saving aspects to a building, including use of hot water, low-emission paints, recycled carpet and proper insulation.
Sustaining the community
“There’s a broader question, though, which is sustainability in the sense of sustaining the community, which is connected a bit to my idea of reaching out to Galesburg,” Amott said. “We should be an environmentally sustainable place, but we should also be sustainable in our service to the community.”
She spoke to community service projects as the means by which many students work to sustain the community. But, she said, those projects could be much more powerful if they last longer than four years.
“So if you’re a first-year student and you start a project of mentoring, after you leave, it stops. That’s not sustainability. You have to find a way for that project to continue,” she said.
Amott also extended the applications of sustainability to encompass the future of the college financially.
“You may be here for your years, but during your lifetime, you should be giving back to Knox to sustain Knox. There’s a reason we’ve been here for 175 years. It’s that people thought about the sustainability of Knox itself,” Amott said.
Carrying out the academic mission
“At the end of the day, if you only live an environmentally conscious lifestyle for the four years that you’re in college, then we will have failed, I think, in our mission,” Amott said. “It’s really about what you do after you leave here, and this is the moment to give people that experience of thinking ecologically, thinking green and being an ecological change agent.”
The ETF has not yet met this year. Amott said she is still in the process of organizing the group.
Editor’s note: This is the third installment of a four-part series highlighting Amott’s priorities as president. Next week’s final piece will look at her proposed idea for a “strategic plan” for the college.