Having gone green for years, the Knox community is going for gold standard. The college is one of over 900 members of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, or AASHE. The organization gives members a triennial rating of bronze, silver, gold, or platinum as a benchmark of their sustainable development in academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration.
According to Director of Sustainability Debbie Steinberg, Knox maintained its silver seal when the rating was renewed earlier this year.
“We’re doing a lot of good. We’re at that point where we need to start being conscious and action-oriented,” Steinberg said. “There’s a saying that ‘you’ve picked the low-hanging fruit,’ so we’ve gotten all the stuff that we can easily reach. The next step is gonna take more effort to reach the next level of fruit in the tree.”
Among the higher-level fruits is full utilization of resources on campus. Steinberg conducted a waste audit with ANSO classes last year which warranted them to analyze and weigh the waste from a garbage bin on campus collecting waste for a week. The trash test found that 50 percent of items being sent to the landfill were items that could be recycled. Steinberg stated a large culprit of misplaced recyclables are Grab-N-Go containers, most of which are comprised of recyclable materials.
“The bag itself is recyclable. Often times the materials inside, a lot of the clam shells are recyclable, the [bottle] containers are recyclable but because the bag was holding the lunch and the lunch leftovers, that becomes trash,” Steinberg said. “People aren’t taking the time to separate.”
Steinberg also stated people may use the trash alone in areas on campus where recycling resources aren’t available, an aspect which she’s working to address. Sophomore Caitlin Edelmuth, the president of Nature Club and the Student Senate Sustainability Chair, brings her own bag to Grab-N-Go. She hopes to see a shift in the attitude of students regarding simple lifestyle changes for the environment.
“I would love for the campus to be more sustainably minded,” she said. “I’ve seen people who compost in their rooms, they’ll take a little container and compost, or people like me who bring their own water bottle and other things like that, use my own utensils and shop at the Share Shop.”
Many students still buy single-use plastic items with the intention of recycling afterwards. However, reusable items prove to be significantly more eco-friendly. Steinberg expressed that while recycling is a good thing, it requires immense amounts of energy. If people began committing to reusables, the switch would both create less demand for single-use plastics and save the energy that goes toward repurposing them.
The sustainability committee of Student Senate has mainly focused on eliminating waste of plastic water bottles on campus. Since last year, the committee has continuously worked to institute refill stations into water fountains across dormitories and learning buildings. By the end of the term, they hope to introduce Sinky the Sink, their new cartoon delegate for encouraging students to “drink from the sink.” The senate is also working to make reuse kits this year, which will prevent clubs from buying throwaway materials for any events involving food.
“Dining services is going to [make it possible to] borrow utensils, plates, cups, and you don’t have to pay anything. You just take them back and [dining services will] clean them for you,” Edelmuth said. “We’re hoping that will help at least raise awareness, and it’s also less cost for the clubs.”
Edelmuth is also involved with Students for Sustainability, which staffs volunteer members in the Share Shop. While the Share Shop, a free store in the basement of the Neal dormitory, has been in the works for years now, the club is working toward adding an Apple Orchard to campus. Junior Sylvie Bowen-Bailey, president of Students for Sustainability, shared that the club hopes to present a proposal to the faculty and Student Sustainability Council for an eight tree apple orchard by Spring Term. While there’s certain obstacles still needing to be resolved, the club is working diligently to figure out how communities like Monmouth run an orchard effectively with similar environmental factors.
“We have to figure out how it will be run, which is a big question,” Bowen-Bailey said. “Japanese beetles are an invasive species that are a major issue for fruit trees, but there are people with apple trees around. We’ve reached out to Monmouth already to find out some more information.”
Students for Sustainability additionally tables for “Meatless Monday,” a once a month occasion met with controversy from the student body in which the cafeteria offers singularly vegetarian or vegan entrees or sides. Bowen-Bailey explained that many gluten-free, lactose-intolerant or protein-packing students have sent in complaints against Meatless Monday, while other students appreciate the day of sustainability in animal agriculture. She hopes that the occasion will become increasingly educational, as many students tend to view the day as a punishment; being sustainably founded, Bon Appétit is actually required to host a Meatless Monday at each institution they serve on a monthly basis. Bowen-Bailey believes that while animal agriculture is not the biggest sector for greenhouse gas emissions, it is the sector people have the most control over in their individual lives through creating more or less demand for meat.
“A one-third pound burger requires 660 gallons of water to be produced,” Bowen-Bailey said. “It’s the whole ‘up-the-food-chain thing; you have to water the corn. Cows are an inefficient way of getting calories [environmentally].”
After the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a grim report of the environment’s current state at the beginning of the month, the question of what the world’s people can do to mitigate global warming has been in the air. While she believes the report more closely regards Knox’s carbon footprint at an institutional level, she has been surprised by the number of individuals responding to the report.
“I’ve seen so many articles posted on Facebook about it in a way that I never really have before,” Bowen-Bailey said. “I don’t know why that is, but I guess I’m glad people are paying more attention.”