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A sustainable Vanderbilt

Posted by on Monday, September 5, 2011 in Athletics, Dining, Energy, GHG, Green Building, News, Sustainability Project, Waste & Recycling, Water.

by Lucas Loffredo

[Article originally featured on InsideVandy]

Sustainability is, as defined by Vanderbilt University’s Sustainability and Environmental Management Office (SEMO), “the development of a process or management system that helps to create a vibrant campus economy and high quality of life while respecting the need to sustain natural resources and protect the environment.” Opinions vary on whether or not Vanderbilt is on the right track to achieving this goal.

SEMO is implementing several new sustainability-focused projects on campus, as are Students Promoting Environmental Awareness and Responsibility (SPEAR), the Green Fund, the American Studies Sustainability Project and other campus organizations.

“We’re trying to really encourage people to engage in the full gamut of sustainability,” said Sustainability Professional Kendra Abkowitz from SEMO. “It’s not just recycling, or just alternative transportation, there are a lot of different ways you can be sustainable at work or at home.”

The Campus Recycling Program has gotten feedback from the student population that the initiative is working well. Despite these initiatives, many students think Vanderbilt still has a long way to go.

“I’ve seen a lot of posters around, but I really haven’t seen much publicity from people within (sustainability-oriented) organizations,” said senior Michelle Olin. “I think that they could reach out more.”

Another problem students mentioned was a dearth of initiatives that are relevant to the general student population. “I really think that more creative ideas have to be put in place rather that just improving on ones that already exist,” said junior Hayley Gibson.

The Green Fund, an initiative started last year at Vanderbilt, takes a small portion of university money to implement sustainability projects put forth by students. The Green fund approved financial aid at the end of last year for three projects, including solar panel installation on the Vanderbilt Power Plant and the “Lights Out” Student Recreation Center lighting replacement initiative.

“These ideas come straight from the students,” Abkowitz said of the Green Fund sustainability initiatives. “When students bring unique ideas and their enthusiasm for various projects, it makes our jobs easier. We enjoy working closely with the students.”

How Vanderbilt is Going Green

Commons Cup Energy Competition

The annual Commons Cup competition, in which the first-year residence halls compete in various events over the course of the year, recently added “Energy Conservation” as one of its contest categories. “The basic idea with the Energy Conservation component is that each house tries to save as much electricity as possible,” said the School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt’s Jonathan Creamer, an administrator of the program. Energy savings come from turning off lights, taking shorter showers and similar small-scale methods of conservation. North House won the Energy Conservation sector of the competition last year, but the real winner was the university, as they saved $15,000 in electricity costs, a 3.5% increase over the previous year.

Campus Recycling Program

With a newly appointed Campus Recycling Coordinator, Lindsay Walker, the Campus Recycling Program is ready for another successful year at Vanderbilt. “I’m looking forward to building on the program that exists and working with people around campus,” Walker said. Besides continuing to recycle material from the residence halls, there also will be recycling at certain sporting events. Campus Recycling’s Cardboard Crew, a group of volunteers who attempt to divert the waste from move-in away from landfills, was also a success this year; from this year’s move-in, they managed to save 17.84 tons of cardboard and two 26-foot moving trucks full of Styrofoam and plastic bags.

Green Fund “Lights Out” Student Recreation Center Lighting Upgrade

One of the programs that received money from the campus Green Fund at the end of last year, “Lights Out” involved replacing 28 1000-watt light bulbs in the gymnasium of Vanderbilt’s Student Recreation Center with more sustainable 282-watt bulbs.

Green Bag Luncheon Series

SEMO and the American Studies Sustainability Project will be hosting a series of informal on-campus lectures, to which students and university faculty can bring a packed lunch and hear notable members of the Nashville community talk about sustainability. The first edition of the monthly series will occur on Wednesday, Sept. 21, from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. in Sarratt 189; Stacey Kendrick, a health educator from Vanderbilt, and Jeff Themm, the director of the Nashville Farmer’s Market, will discuss sustainable food and dining. The lectures will be recorded and posted online, and there will be raffle-style giveaways for those who attend one or more lectures.

Green Fund Solar Panel Installation

Sponsored by the Green Fund, this project was submitted by Vanderbilt students Erik Werner and Jacob Choi, and involves installing 8.16-kilowatt solar panels onto the sides of one of the buildings at the campus power plant next to the Sarratt Student Center. The project will be completed within the next few weeks. “It’s going to provide power that we can use, from a renewable energy source,” Abkowitz said of the initiative.

American Studies Sustainability Project Speaker Series

Vanderbilt’s American Studies Sustainability Project is holding its first speaker of many this semester on Sept. 22 at 5 p.m. at Ingram Hall. Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and founder of, will talk to Vanderbilt students and people from the Nashville community about sustainability. Other speakers throughout the year will include human rights and energy activist Van Jones and Nashville mayor Karl Dean. “We hope to create a campus-wide conversation that will highlight programs already in place, embolden Vanderbilt’s efforts toward sustainability, and deepen our understanding of what we are working toward,” said American Studies Professor Derrick Spires in an email.

2010 Update to Vanderbilt’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory

Vanderbilt has tracked its greenhouse gas emissions data since 2005, and in October they will add statistics from 2010 into the inventory. The information will be utilized to view trends in Vanderbilt’s greenhouse gas-producing energy usage, as well as to target areas where Vanderbilt can use less energy or switch to alternative energy forms.

Eco-Dores Sustainability Peer Education Program

In the third year of the program, student volunteers from each residence hall on campus will participate in monthly educational events about various aspects of sustainability. The goal is to create a forum where students can have informal discussions about sustainability topics like water conservation, sustainable food and dining, and energy conservation. Applications for the program are due Monday, Sept. 12.

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