From IWU Magazine, Winter 2010-11

Green in Action

In ways large and small, the University strives toward environmental sustainability.

Story by NANCY (STEELE) BROKAW '71
Photographs by MARC FEATHERLY

Think of Illinois Wesleyan's GREENetwork as a giant tree with both roots and branches spread across the campus.

The GREENetwork brings together all sectors of the University – students, staff, faculty and administrators – as they work toward environmental sustainability.

This expansive network began as one small green shoot. In 1991, Denise (Yehnert) Beard '92 launched the first campuswide recycling effort. Under her leadership, recycling bins were planted around campus. The University community began to get the idea, new at the time, that unwanted paper, water bottles and pop cans could go somewhere other than in a landfill, where they would remain for hundreds of years.

Recycling was just the first step in Illinois Wesleyan's goal of sustainability. The University's GREENetwork defines sustainability as "an attempt to provide the best outcomes for the human and natural environments both now and into the indefinite future."

In the mid-1990s, as awareness grew, several students, supervised by Biology Professor R. Given Harper, helped keep the recycling effort going. The Student Senate and the faculty passed resolutions to make the campus more environmentally friendly. Harper and Abigail Jahiel, associate professor of environmental and international studies, put forth a similar proposal to the faculty and it passed unanimously. Officially, an environmental consciousness had taken root on campus.

In 2000, a Green Task Force was formed. It issued a report in 2001. Among its findings was an early look at how much energy IWU was using, how it was used, and how much pollution it created – elements of what is now called a carbon-footprint calculation. The task force evolved into the GREENetwork.

All-campus "dumpster dives" are among the GREENetwork's more memorable efforts. Harper reports that, on five or six occasions, members of the University labor crew, faculty and student body have donned jumpsuits, gloves and masks to dive into a day's waste. "Examining the contents of a dumpster really makes an impression," Harper says. "We find so much perfectly good food as well as clothing and paper that could have been recycled."

In 2003, partly through efforts of the GREENetwork, the IWU mission statement was revised to include environmental sustainability as a University-wide commitment through its policies, programs and practices. "That was an enormously important step," Harper says.

The GREENetwork meets monthly, pulling together more than a dozen members from all aspects of campus life. Assistant Director for New Media Ann Aubry posts news to a GREENetwork blog in order to communicate University efforts both internally and externally. Aubry adds that the blog is a great way to help get the message out. "Because it's informal, it can capture a variety of activities and programs on campus very quickly," she says.

The network's four foci for this academic year are communication, composting, carbon-footprint calculation and recycling education. Leadership rotates among volunteers. This year's co-chairs are Laurine Brown, visiting associate professor of environmental studies and health; Carl Teichman '80, director of government and community relations; and student Kari Grace '11.

"There's a lot of institutional knowledge but we need to share it with each other; the GREENetwork gets different parts of the campus talking to each other," says Meg Miner, University archivist and network member. "That's the best part – one person's needs can be met by another person's progress."

President Wilson (above) helps plant a tree during the 2007 signing ceremony for the Talloires Declaration.

Illinois Wesleyan's commitment to environmental sustainability includes the support of President Richard F. Wilson.

In 2007, the Sierra Student Coalition approached President Wilson to sign the Talloires Declaration, a 10-point action plan for incorporating environmental sustainability into higher education. This declaration has been signed by hundreds of college and university presidents worldwide.

Before he signed it, Wilson worked with several groups on campus to ensure that the University could indeed move forward on carrying out the plans set forth in the declaration.

Three years later, Wilson sees real progress in implementing those plans as well as hitting other environmental sustainability benchmarks.

Wilson says, "The campus commitment to sustainability was formally embraced in the strategic plan that was developed and approved in 2006 and reaffirmed through our becoming a signatory of the Talloires Declaration in 2007. I have been heartened by the steady progress in turning those aspirations into accomplishments.

"I also have been pleased to see the range of activity, from creating a major in environmental studies and installing a geothermal system in the new Minor Myers, jr. Welcome Center to encouraging the use of "no till" practices on farms that we own and adopting "trayless" food service in the student commons. The exciting development this year is a joint project with Illinois State University and the greater Bloomington-Normal community that will allow us to compost food waste.

"I was pleased initially to be part of the decision to make sustainability an important priority of the University," Wilson concludes, "but even more excited to see that commitment translated into practice."

Associate Director of Admissions Chris Kawakita '98 is grateful that he can show prospective students, right off the bat, that Illinois Wesleyan is committed to sustainability.

As the first place that prospective students often visit, the Minor Myers, jr. Welcome Center, also has the distinction of being the University's first fully "green" building. Home to both Illinois Wesleyan's Office of Admissions and Hart Career Center, the center opened in 2008, earning Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Bob Murray '82, dean of enrollment management, checks the center's geothermal system.

Some of the environmentally friendly features incorporated into the Myers Center design are a geothermal heating system, the latest in efficient fluorescent lighting and a traction elevator powered by a small motor instead of a hydraulic pump. Energy savings are considerable, estimated at between 35 to 50 percent, with a payback of seven years to recoup the equipment's cost.

In addition to these main design features, "we are doing lots of little things that all add up," says Kawakita, who is a member of the GREENetwork.

A recycle trash unit is located just inside the Welcome Center door. Families are offered drinks in reusable ceramic mugs that feature the IWU logo on one side and a double-meaning exhortation to "Think Green" on the other. There are no vending machines in the building, just an energy-efficient refrigerator and an honor system. To cut down on printing, the admissions department employs a "JIT" (Just In Time) system that prints brochures only as needed, using lightweight paper.

Even a picnic table outside the center is composed of 3,200 recycled milk jugs.

"It's not an in-your-face kind of thing," says Kawakita, "but in everyday actions and interactions we are showing students and prospective students that we take environmental sustainability seriously."

When it is constructed, the new Main Classroom Building will also emphasize environmental sustainability. In addition to energy-efficient windows and lighting, the building will be supported by a geothermal system that should cut heating and cooling costs in half.

New ways are being explored to build sustainability into the existing campus infrastructure. Physical Plant Director Bud Jorgenson gives the example of an activity area inside the Shirk Athletic Center track that was determined to need more light. A pre-green solution would likely have been to put up more light fixtures. Instead, brighter but more efficient fluorescent lighting units were installed, saving 50 percent on energy, says Jorgenson, who adds that sometimes it "takes money to save money."

IT support specialist Roy Bailey stacks old computers to be recycled.

The same can be said of the replacement this past summer of 65 pairs of laundry machines – which after 14 years had completed their usable life – with the same number of new Energy Star machines. According to Assistant Dean of Students Matt Damschroder, the new machines use 20 less gallons of water per load of laundry than the machines they replaced. Considering that students do nearly 100 loads of laundry a day, that's 14,000 gallons a week or 224,000 gallons of water saved in a semester, Damschroder says. In addition, each new machine draws 61 percent less energy compared to the old machines.

Another adage that often applies to sustainability is "a little can mean a lot." As part of a comprehensive sustainability plan at The Ames Library, paper use was reduced dramatically when printers there were set to double-sided mode. The paper itself is 30-percent postconsumer fiber, says Meg Miner, University archivist and a member of the GREENetwork. But the overall goal is to encourage students to use the least amount of paper possible.

"We make a real effort at print-copy awareness and we have a Web page with tips on how to reduce printing," says Miner. Sometimes we gather up all the recycled paper and fill the display cases to make a point."

An even more dramatic example of recycling can be found at the old University Bookstore. Roy Bailey, senior desktop support specialist for information technology, points to a back room that's filled with cast-off technology equipment waiting to be recycled. "There's probably 4,500 pounds here," says Bailey, shaking his head at a small mountain of old laptops, printers, keyboards, scanners and fax machines.

Recycling computers is a tricky business, Bailey acknowledges. He uses a company that triple-erases hard drives. Useable equipment gets funneled to charitable institutions when possible. The rest is carefully recycled. We've saved hundreds of thousands of pounds from going to the dumpster," Bailey says. It's the right thing to do. If you buy new computers, you've got to deal with the old ones."

To continue reading the main "Green in Action" story, click here.

To read about two student environmental leaders who are also twin sisters, click here.

To go to the IWU GREENetwork website, click here.