Illinois Wesleyan’s primary dining facility, the Bertholf Commons, is now trayless,
meaning students visit the cooking/serving stations plate-in-hand, rather then “piling
up” on a tray. The switch away from trays was made in response to a student initiative
“I thought we’d have more complaints but the students adapted very quickly,” says
Dave Nicholson, Sodexho general manager for the campus residential dining service.
“We still have trays available but almost none get used.”
There’s the obvious reductions in water and detergent, but the primary savings is
that going trayless causes students to be more thoughtful about the food they choose.
“Students used to go to three stations and get three plates of food,” Nicholson says,
“and one plate of that food would end up in the trash.
“The results of going trayless have been remarkable,” he continues. “We went from
600 pounds of food waste per meal to 650 pounds of waste per day.”
Starting in 2011, Illinois Wesleyan’s food services will join a larger community effort
directed by Illinois State University to compost the area’s biodegradable food waste.
“There are nutrients in food waste,” says Biology Professor R. Given Harper, “and
they are wasted in a landfill. Why not put them back into the environment?” The composted
food waste will be trucked to an ISU farm north of Bloomington-Normal and dumped into
long piles called windrows, where it will age into a nutrient-rich natural fertilizing
agent. Organizers of the project hope that more than a thousand semitrailer loads
of food waste will be diverted from the local landfill through composting each year.
Other eco-friendly changes in the University’s food service include offering more
organic and vegan food choices. “We go through 60 pounds of tofu a week,” Nicholson
says. The number of vegetarian/vegan students has increased dramatically but many
other students simply choose meatless entrees. Some favorites are roasted pepper frittata,
bean tostado and eggplant Parmesan.
Another popular green addition is the new “hydration station,” which encourages students
to carry reusable water bottles instead of disposable ones. Students can bring their
bottles into the Commons any time of day and fill them from one of three attractive
vessels filled with different lightly flavored waters.
As they study the environment, Illinois Wesleyan students are going on to change the
world around them, both on campus and around the globe.
The University first began offering a minor in environmental studies (ES) in 1999
and expanded to include a major program in 2005. “Since the development of the environmental
studies program, we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of environmental studies
majors,” says the program’s director, Abigail Jahiel, associate professor of environmental
and international studies. “We now have around 40.”
Students in the program take a wide variety of classes in disciplines across Illinois
Wesleyan’s campus, from chemistry, biology and physics to history, political science
and anthropology. They can choose either a general major in environmental studies
or pursue a specialist degree in ecology, environmental chemistry, environmental policy
or international environmental sustainability. The ES program addresses a broad range
of issues concerning the relationship of human beings with the natural world. It is
designed to provide students with a basic knowledge of the scientific concepts, societal
factors — cultural, political and economic — and the ethical dimensions behind environmental
Sixteen professors from different disciplines currently teach courses in environmental
studies. Jahiel is a political scientist by training, with expertise in comparative
politics and Chinese politics. Her current research focuses on environmental politics
in China. The program’s associate director is Biology Professor R. Given Harper, whose
research includes examination of pesticide levels in birds and other wildlife. Courses
offered range from “Water Quality” and “Atmospheric Pollution” to “Comparative Environmental
Politics” and “American Environmental History.”
“Non-major students often take an environmental studies class and then comment, ‘I
never knew about this — you’ve opened my mind,’” Jahiel says.
Demand for such a program has grown in recent years, according to Jahiel. “Students
in this part of the Midwest recognize that IWU has one of the more developed programs
in Illinois,” she says. “One area where we’d like to see ourselves growing is in the
area of environmental service.”
The ES major helps fulfill Illinois Wesleyan’s mission statement, which commits the
University to environmental sustainability. Many students get involved in environmental
efforts at the University through organizations such as the GREENetwork and the Sierra
Student Coalition. On campus, the environmental studies program regularly hosts speakers
and other events to spread awareness about environmental issues and interests.
ES students also conduct research with faculty and, through internships, gain hands-on
experience with organizations such as the Ecology Action Center, Greenpeace, Illinois
EPA’s Governor’s Environmental Corps, The Nature Conservancy and several organic farms.
Students have also spent time studying around the world, either independently or through
travel courses such as May Term trips that Harper leads to study the tropical ecosystem
of Costa Rica.
Environmental studies graduates have gone on to careers in green architecture and
green design, waste management, energy policy, economics, toxicology and wildlife
biology. Recent graduates have also pursued advanced degrees in areas such as oceanography,
microbial ecology, international agriculture and public administration.
One such alumna is Leslie Coleman, who graduated in 2007 with a double major in environmental
and international studies. She spent the summer following graduation working at an
organic farm and then traveled to the Gambia in western Africa to work as a non-governmental
organization development volunteer with the Peace Corps. She was joined by her husband
Ryan Smith, a fellow 2007 ES graduate, who conducted environmental education work
while in Africa. The pair recently returned to the United States, where Coleman earned
a prestigious scholarship to study environmental law at New York University.
Jahiel is proud of such accomplishments and feels strongly that universities need
to take the lead in changing how society functions in everyday ways. “We are hopeful
that these changes and future educational efforts will yield further steps toward
a truly sustainable university campus that teaches sustainability not only through
the curriculum, but through its every action,” she says.
The roots of conservation run throughout the University
In days gone by, ground crews everywhere tended to blanket-spray with pesticides.
That practice has been replaced at IWU with integrated pest and weed management. “Now
we identify the disease and consider the best way to approach it,” says Grounds Services
Manager Eric Nelson (shown left). “If it’s a bug that’s active, it might be that way
for only a week or two, or the weather might change, so we selectively approach how
to handle the situation. ... If there are a few dandelions, we let them go, but at
a certain level we treat them.”
When it comes to cleaning, the University is trying to be more friendly to the environment
and efficient at the same time. A new floor-cleaning machine at the Shirk Center uses
ionized water, reducing the use of water and chemicals. Dale Conover, assistant manager
of custodial services and GREENetwork member, says that he and his team learn about
and test new organic cleaning products and also use water to dilute cleaners to different
strengths for different uses. Toilet paper and rollover paper towels also contain
post-consumer recycled content.
Soil conservation is among the key goals of the IWU Farm Committee, which encourages
no-till and strip-till practices with all of the farmers working some 6,300 acres
of Illinois Wesleyan-owned farmland. No-till slows erosion and run-off and starts
to slowly rebuild organic matter, allowing more rainwater to be retained in the ground.
The environment also benefits when less soil, fertilizer and chemicals are carried
into the ground and surface water.
SUSTAINABLE LIVING & WELLNESS EXPO
Each spring at the Shirk Center, the Illinois Sustainable Living & Wellness Expo brings
new opportunities for people to discover how to live well and live green. “This is
really about people discovering resources to help improve the quality of their lives,
and having a great time doing it,” says Missy Smock, director of the University’s
Wellness Program, which co-sponsors the event with the local Ecology Action Center.
The expo includes educational workshops, food demonstrations, music performances,
an eco kids’ carnival and a venue where local artists create pieces using recycled
materials. Exhibitors last year included energy auditors who helped individuals assess
how to cut energy costs in their homes.
To return to the start of the main “Green in Action” story, click here.
To read about two student environmental leaders who are also twin sisters, click here.