Campus / News / May 29, 2013

A year of sustainability

From successes with building bicycle infrastructure to stumbling blocks with composting, Sustainability Coordinator Shawn Tubb’s first year has been “a little bit of everything.”

Shawn Tubb led Knox’s sustainability affairs for a full year as the Sustainability Coordinator. (Jason Deschamps/TKS)

Shawn Tubb led Knox’s sustainability affairs for a full year as the Sustainability Coordinator. (Jason Deschamps/TKS)

“I could list a huge number of things I would like to see happen, because I’ve always been an overachiever,” he said. “I feel like it’s been a really successful year overall.”

Tubb cited the expansion of Earth Week into Earth Month as his favorite project from this past year because of its work to involve people who would not normally attend sustainability events. In addition to the typical film series and lectures, Earth Month also featured a green jobs panel, the first Galesburg Earth Day Festival and a revamped spring EquiKnox lecture featuring musician and activist Ben Sollee.

“Instead of preaching to the choir, you [are] actually educating the larger community and getting more and more people into the dialogue about sustainability,” he said.

He also mentioned working with students on sustainability research as an unexpected yet extremely enjoyable part of his job.

“I think that’s been a great way for me to tap into what the priorities and passions of the student body are,” Tubb said.

Sustainability plan

One of Tubb’s first goals as coordinator was to begin the development of a sustainability plan, which he hoped to have completed by the end of the academic year. He has since pushed that deadline back to November or December 2013.

“Because Knox isn’t used to doing comprehensive plans and it isn’t ingrained in the culture, it’s gone a bit slower than I thought it might,” Tubb said. “But that’s a good thing, because planning is a slow and methodical process.”

Tubb spent the summer, fall and winter collecting data on Knox’s energy usage, recycling practices, sustainability education and a host of other components, many of which had not previously been systematically studied. Forums held in mid-May allowed students to provide input on what sustainability initiatives they would like to see around campus. This process will continue into the fall.

Bicycling and transportation

Upon arriving at Knox in the summer, Tubb immediately began work on improving bicycling infrastructure, eventually getting Knox’s bike shop up and running early in the fall.

The shop, located in the basement of Conger-Neal and staffed by student mechanics, has serviced over 50 bikes in Knox’s long-term bike share program and held numerous workshops on bike safety, leading to over 60 long-term checkouts over the course of the year. While Tubb does not have data from previous years, he believes this is probably at least triple  the prior usage.

Using funding set aside by Student Senate during the 2011-2012 academic year, Tubb also implemented a short-term bike sharing program with four bikes. As of May 23, there had been more than 70 checkouts over the program’s five-week existence. Tubb is currently investigating requests for more bikes to be added to the program.

“[Cycling infrastructure] creates lifelong patterns of thinking about bicycling as more than just a recreation or pastime,” Tubb said. “That’s why I think it’s really important.”


Less successful has been the implementation of Knox’s composting system purchased last spring. As The Knox Student reported last week, the worms in the system responsible for composting food waste have died. The original crop of worms died during fall term due to overheating in the system.

“Vermicomposting is a very tricky science because [the worms] are living creatures, and they require very specific temperatures, pH levels and moisture levels,” Tubb said.

Further inhibiting the wider implementation of composting at Knox is the fact that vermicomposting systems cannot break down compostable dishware, which is too rigid and therefore must be shredded first. Due to this, none of the compostable products purchased to replace Styrofoam in the Gizmo can  be composted on campus.

Tubb stressed that the money spent replacing Styrofoam was not wasted, however, because of the amount of energy that goes into producing Styrofoam and the comparable environmental friendliness of compostable dishware.

In the future, Knox may be able to compost dishware off-campus at the Sustainable Business Center, where Peoria company Artisan Organics is considering opening a composting facility in the fall.

Anna Meier

Tags:  bicycle composting earth month earth week environment shawn tubb sustainability

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