Sustainability Week 2014 hits campus

By: CC Hutten – Editor-in-Chief & Matthew Worsham – Managing Editor & Evan Shaub – Opinions Editor & Alise Jarmusz – Asst. News Editor

By this point, sustainability at the University of Dayton is nothing new.

“The University of Dayton has recently seen an unprecedented level of interest in sustainability both on and off campus,” Ryan Schuessler, mechanical engineering major and director of Sustainability Week 2014, said.

“Following the President’s Climate Commitment, UD’s divestment from fossil fuels, the announcement of the single largest gift in UD history forming the Hanley Sustainability Institute and UD students’ involvement at the People’s Climate March in NYC, UD students are showing that they are passionate about sustainability via the largest Sustainability Week yet, involving students from all disciplines.”

Sustainability Week 2014 kicked off Monday with a film party featuring DamNation and will continue until Saturday, Oct. 25, ending with the Sustainability Summit.

“Students have been really ambitious about pulling together this big event,” Robert Brecha, physics professor and Sustainability, Energy and the Environment initiative coordinator, said.

The week has evolved from Earth Science Week with the geology department to Environmental Science Week to Sustainability Week. No matter its title, Brecha said that in the past, it was always driven by faculty with student involvement.

“Over the years its really turned into a student-driven event,” he said.

Inspired by global, local, alumni and student efforts, Sustainability Week 2014 focuses on two major themes: the responsible generation and usage of energy and food deserts and sustainable food systems.

“The two themes are meant to provoke sustainability oriented dialogue, both on campus and in the Dayton community,” Forrest Broussard, president of sustainability club, said. “These two Sustainability Week themes were chosen in light of recent developments at the university, as well as a growing trend in the city of Dayton to decrease urban food deserts.”

 

RESPONSIBLE GENERATION AND USAGE OF ENERGY

The responsible usage of energy is an all-encompassing theme that aims to curb wastefulness in the community and to help conserve energy on campus by teaching students how to be more environmentally aware in their everyday lives, according to the Sustainability Week website.

“The questions arise: Where do we get our energy? Where will we get our energy [in the future]?” Brecha said.

The theme of responsible generation and usage of energy addresses new forms of energy that are rapidly becoming more available in society. According to its website, the goal is to find a renewable energy source that’s doesn’t make an impact on climate all around the globe.

“The first theme comes directly from UD’s divestment in fossil fuels. Investment is better than buying energy,” Brecha said. Even though UD offers a renewable and clean energy graduate program and sustainability, energy and the environment minor, the campus is powered by coal.

“It seems like a glaring contradiction, but now [with the Hanley Sustainability Institute] we can open the conversation and students are able to do more,” Brecha said.

 

FOOD DESERTS AND SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS

“Over the past few years, the City of Dayton has had a growing trend in urban farming,” Broussard said. “Because vacant plots of land are, unfortunately, plentiful in Dayton, there are many locations to start urban farms that can provide fresh, locally grown food to community members who otherwise may not have access to this food.”

The second theme focuses on spreading awareness of ways to waste less food and make food choices better for the world as a whole.

“Because of this, we have invited students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the city of Dayton community to participate in Sustainability Week during a keynote speech Wednesday by world-famous organic farmer, Joel Salatin. We hope that this speech will continue to provoke and engage community members, both at UD and in the city of Dayton, to work to build more sustainable food systems and limit food deserts,” Broussard said.

Food deserts are places where healthy and affordable food is hard to come by, where people are malnourished due to their own physical inability to get a good meal three times a day. Most of these deserts occur in impoverished places far from cities. The goal is to create a sustainable generation of food, but also to provide nutrition to people living in food deserts.

 

DO YOUR PART

“We’re an educational institution, and we need to be getting the message out by teaching, learning and talking about the situation,” Brecha said.

Being part of a Catholic Marianist university, Brecha said UD has a special role, a duty, “because of what we profess to be.” Other universities might have other missions, but UD’s is one of social justice and human rights, which tie into issues of sustainability.

“We are starting to see more connections between these issues in some ways that are really good,” he said.

Broussard said that ultimately energy use, overuse, sustainable energy and food system creation affect people at UD, in Dayton, Ohio, and all over the world

“We are hoping to educate, engage, and continue the sustainability dialogue through Sustainability Week,” he said.

Chris Wagner, a senior mechanical engineering major and former co-president of sustainability club said that actively living sustainably is more than a lifestyle – it’s about being part of a change, something bigger than oneself.

“As University of Dayton students, it’s our task to have our voices heard,” Wagner said. “[Sustainability] is a UD thing, not just an engineering thing. Students should get in on these conversations and actually contribute.”

 

TIPS FOR A MORE SUSTAINABLE LIFESTYLE

WATER

The most important thing students can do to conserve water is to drink from the tap, according to Leslie King, the director of the River Stewards, and Andrew Kowalski, a graduate assistant for the program.

“The biggest way that anyone can have an impact on the environment is by choosing to drink tap water over bottled water,” Kowalski said. “The amount of energy to produce and transport bottled water is 2,000 times the amount used to treat and distribute tap water.”

Dayton sits on top of the Buried Valley Aquifer, which according to Kowalski, is known as “one of the most bountiful and self-replenishing freshwater sources in the country.”

But water crises elsewhere, like the drought in California, highlight the importance of protecting a valuable natural resource.

“Access to clean water has been a continuous challenge…even developed countries are beginning to realize it,” King said. “The need for an integrated and comprehensive policy that looks at land, water, economic development and community planning all together is imperative.”

Besides ditching disposable bottles in favor of re-usable ones filled with tap water, students can conserve water by being careful of their usage at home. Being conscious of when you’re running the tap and when you’re throwing “waste” water down the drain can take time to learn, and the ‘Water – Use it Wisely’ campaign publishes “100+ Ways to Conserve,” a list of simple tricks for saving water in your everyday life at wateruseitwisely.com.

ENERGY IN THE HOME

Considering energy use in residential and commercial buildings accounts for 40 percent of U.S. energy consumption, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The choices made about the energy in our homes and offices makes a difference on our total environmental impact.

Home modifications and high-efficiency appliances get a lot of attention, but there are behavioral changes that can save energy in homes that won’t cost a penny upfront. Try turning the heat down in the winter. Instead, wear an extra layer of clothing or a blanket. If the weather is nice in the summer, turn off the air conditioner and open the windows. If you choose to use it, close all windows and doors in order to best insulate your house and get the most efficiency out of the unit.

Some people turn off electronic devices when not using them, but many still draw current even when turned off. These “vampire” devices consume more than 100 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in the U.S. annually according to an October 2012 USA Today article. Rather than unplugging each one, connect multiple appliances to a power strip to easily disconnect them from power with the flick of a switch.

Energy Star-qualified light bulbs can improve energy efficiency because they use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last 10 to 25 times longer. Also try “daylighting” – using the natural sunlight as light and warmth instead of electricity, according to the EPA.

TRANSPORTATION

Driving a more efficient vehicle will save you money at the pump, but until you’re in the market for a new car there are plenty of other ways to save gas. Combining trips and maintaining your vehicle are a great start, but reducing the number of cars on the road is even better.

Technology has made it easier to coordinate carpools with other community members. If you’re going on a long trip, Facebook can be an easy way to find other students who can split the cost of gas. Uber and Lyft provide services that make it easier to split the cost of trips with others in your area. Don’t forget that you can seek or solicit carpools the old fashioned way on the maps in Kennedy Union.

However, the biggest way to reduce your transportation energy usage is to not drive at all. “In 2008, 28 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S. was distributed to transportation systems according to the U.S. Department of Energy; in the same year, fully one third of our energy [consumed] was imported from abroad,” Jordan Nader, a graduate student pursuing a master of science in mechanical engineering, said. “We could offset a large portion of this energy import by increasing the efficiency with which we conduct our transport.”

Walking or cycling can be healthier for the environment and your body. Nader suggests it is often competitive with driving for short trips. “In short, walk, bike, drive — in that order,” he said.

 

REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, on average, each American throws away more than four pounds of material waste every day. The “reduce, reuse, recycle” slogan is familiar, but “recycle” often steals the show.

The key to “reduce, reuse, recycle” is it should be followed in that order. Reusing and recycling have major value; however, they also have environmental and economic costs. The best approach is to reduce the creation of waste in the first place.

Paula Smith, executive director of dining services, helped to introduce a compost program at the university.

“When UD dining introduced our compost program five years ago, what really got my attention was the statistic that the second highest point of elevation in Dayton, Ohio, was the landfill. In my opinion, each of us can do something about this if we want to,” Smith said.

She said the best way to reduce waste at a dining hall is to use the reusable china. However, Smith understands many students prefer the take out option.

“[We] spent months researching and searching for a compostable carry out alternative … we trained our staff and implemented a three trash waste collection system in KU, [Marycrest] and VWK,” she said.

Smith urged students to bring compostable carry out items back to dining halls so they can be properly sorted and taken to a compost site.

“So much of our carry out packaging ends in the landfill because the consumer doesn’t know or doesn’t care,” she said.

Students can also buy products with less packaging, use reusable water bottles and coffee mugs, use cloth bags at the grocery store, donate old clothing instead of throwing it away and recycle waste materials. A list of recycleable materials can be found at epa.gov/region9/waste/solid/reduce.html.

 

FOOD

According to data from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, Americans spent an average of $4,382 per person on food in 2012. While it may be unhealthy to decrease food intake, it’s the choices made with those food dollars that determine the sustainability of our lifestyle and the richness of our diet and our community.

According to Diana Cuy Castellanos, an assistant professor in the school of education and health sciences, “When we begin to use methods that are not as environmentally friendly and take more ‘energy,’ [our] foods can usually be linked to negative health outcomes.” Local foods are fresher and often picked riper, meaning they are richer in nutrients.

Buying local saves energy in transportation, as the distance from the farm to the table is reduced. “This decreases food miles and many times if foods are grown locally on smaller farms, more sustainable growing methods have been used,” Cuy Castellanos said. It provides you with a chance to interact with the person who grew the foods you’re eating and enriches the personal ties in our community. In truth, what would you rather do with those food dollars: give them to a chain grocery store or to your neighbor for fresher, healthier, more sustainable foods?