Leading the Sustainable Way

August 25, 2008

Solar PanelSustainability has gone from a vague, undefined word to a phrase with a life of its own.  Yet, many still wonder what it really entails.  Sustainability is a “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” – a definition that was created in 1987 at the World Commission on Environment and Development.

“Sustainability is a global issue that we all have a responsibility to address,” said Dr. Richard F. Giese, president of the College. “This means taking serious action today to ensure the planet’s existence as we know it in the future. Mount Union is committed to leading the way.”

The Task at Hand
The first step in Mount Union’s journey toward sustainability was the establishment of the Sustainability Task Force.  According to Dr. Charles McClaugherty, Task Force leader as well as professor of biology, the Dr. John D. Brumbaugh Chair in Environmental and Ecological Science and the director of the John T. Huston-Dr. John D. Brumbaugh Nature Center, the group – students, faculty, staff and administrators – was charged with responding to the need for a green initiative on campus.  Two years ago, the mission of the Task Force was established and an outline of the organization was drafted.  The group was formally approved in the summer of 2007 and began meeting in the fall.

The mission of the Task Force is as follows. 

“It is the goal of Mount Union College’s Sustainability Task Force to meet the growing concern for sustainability on our campus.  Through education and communication, we will encourage and facilitate awareness and action on our campus and throughout the Alliance community.  We will assist the College in its decision- making process in these aspects and will search out opportunities that are socially, financially and environmentally sound in order to create a sustainable, efficient and healthy atmosphere for our students, faculty and staff.”

sustainabilityMaking the Commitment
Definitive progress first came with the Task Force’s recommendation that Giese sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment after careful review of the document.  Giese agreed with the group’s recommendation and committed to reducing and eventually eliminating the College’s global warming emissions and accelerating educational efforts toward sustainability.

By signing the Climate Commitment, Giese joined the leaders of more than 450 other institutions across the country.  The College quickly accomplished a number of steps in conjunction with the agreement by completing an inventory of all greenhouse gas emissions, adopting an energy-efficient appliance purchasing policy and participating in a waste minimization component of the national RecycleMania competition.

The Presidents Climate Commitment is the first such effort by any major sector of society to set climate neutrality – not just a reduction – as its target. This undertaking by America’s colleges and universities is inspired by efforts like the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership and other collective efforts by states and businesses.

In a nutshell, the commitment encourages colleges and universities to develop an institutional action plan for becoming climate neutral.  In order to do so, it was necessary to first calculate the College’s carbon footprint.

“A carbon footprint is the net amount of carbon dioxide or equivalent gases that a person, organization or political entity releases in the environment,” said McClaugherty.  “Mount Union’s carbon footprint of 31,245 metric tonnes per year or about 12.5 tonnes per person is fairly typical.”

McClaugherty said that there are three ways of achieving a carbon neutral state– reducing consumption, improving efficiency and changing resources by purchasing green energy or using alternative forms of energy.  Mount Union is making progress in all three areas.

Reducing Consumption

From purchasing to recycling and everything in between, Mount Union made a conscious effort this year to reduce waste. 

“It is so important for us to be a leader in recycling,” said Giese.  “It’s simple to do but often takes a change in mind set to be successful.  We hope our efforts will encourage members of the Mount Union community to not only recycle on campus, but to make it a life-long habit wherever and whenever possible.”

The College’s rejuvenated recycling effort was at the forefront, including the institution’s enrollment in the Per Capita Classic portion of the RecycleMania competition.  Throughout the year, achievements included the following.

  • New recycling receptacles – easily identifiable green bins with the recycling symbol on the front – were distributed campus wide. Paper, glass, plastic, metal and cardboard are all recycled through the program with materials delivered to a commercial off-campus transfer station for sorting.
  • The College maintained an active program to sell or donate campus surplus property such as office furniture, computer equipment and chillers and boilers. 
  • The use of inter-office reusable envelopes for campus mail reduces waste.
  • Mount Union implemented an environmental print policy, giving each student $50 (1,000 pages) on their account each August. So after 1,000 pages, students have to pay for each page.
  • AVI, Mount Union’s food service provider, now serves menu items on washable and reusable plates at our café, therefore reducing the amount of waste generated by “to-go” containers.
  • Numerous paper documents have been replaced with electronic alternatives. 
  • The College instituted a new purchasing policy, requiring consideration of waste prevention throughout the life cycle of purchased equipment.


During the 10-week period of RecycleMania, Mount Union collected a total of 26,757 pounds of recyclables, about 10.5 pounds per person.  According to McClaugherty, the program allowed the College to obtain baselines, develop protocols for measurement and enhance the recycling and waste reduction program. Next year, the College will enroll in the Waste Minimization portion.

“Waste minimization is a key component,” said Blaine Lewis, director of the Physical Plant.  “As we purchase products and accept deliveries, we are looking at what we can do to lessen the packaging that is being used.  We also are aggressively purchasing items made of recycled products  – building supplies like insulation, shingles and toilet seat covers. Even the crum rubber filler that is used as padding on the football field is made from recycled tires.”

In addition, many components of Mount Union’s campus building projects are composed of recycled materials.  The booths, light wells and flooring in the updated dining facilities in the Hoover-Price Campus Center are made from recycled materials.

The College also is placing a focus on purchasing locally when possible, thus reducing fossil fuel emissions released into the air by cutting the amount of time products are in transit.  Mount Union’s dining services provider, AVI, is leading the way.

According to Patrick Heddleston, vice president for business affairs at the College, a factor in the selection of AVI as the College’s food service provider was its past history and commitment to green initiatives.

“AVI is grounded in a commitment to sustainability and has established a proven track record at other institutions,” Heddleston said.  “AVI has a commitment to family values that include using local farmers and fresh produce. They have a ‘think global, buy local’ mantra.”

AVI has a number of initiatives including working with local farmers and composting. The head chef is environmentally aware and AVI as a company has endorsed sustainability efforts.

According to John Coker of AVI, the company has a “Think Global; Buy Local” philosophy.

“Mount Union needs to be at the center of the community circle in terms of increasing the community’s quality of life.,” said Coker.  “If the community is to take sustainability seriously, Mount Union needs to lead by example.”

McClaugherty is partnering with AVI Chef Joe Jacobs to create biodiesel fuel from used fryer oil.  The biodiesel will be used to operate vehicles at the Nature Center.

“AVI produces 700 gallons of waste oil a year – about 14 gallons per week,” said McClaugherty.  “We can take that oil and use it to make biodiesel for about one dollar a gallon.”  When compared to the current price of diesel fuel at over four dollars a gallon, that’s quite a savings and in line with Mount Union’s sustainable practices.

Improving Efficiency
While waste minimization is a key component of achieving sustainability, it also is imperative to improve efficiency.  Many improvements can be seen in this area campus wide, but perhaps no one effort better displays our commitment to efficiency than our new and renovated building projects.

“During the past two years, we have renovated and constructed a number of buildings on our campus,” Giese said. “In every case, we have worked with our architects and contractors to improve our efforts in being responsible to the environment.  This includes using technology and appliances that are energy efficient.”

Some of the College’s most recent renovation projects involved the dining facilities at the Hoover-Price Campus Center in which AVI and Baker Bednar & Associates combined to use a “green building design.” The characteristics of this design included enhanced air quality using environmentally clean technology and optimized energy performance in the kitchen exhaust and other air systems.

In addition, Mount Union’s new apartment-style housing also was constructed with the environment in mind.  According to Lewis, the College upgraded its standard windows from double-pane windows to triple pane with a solar coating for the project and each unit allows for better temperature control through programmable thermostats.

“We are really trying to watch our energy consumption by installing energy efficient technology campus wide,” said Lewis.  “The new apartments on Hartshorn Street feature state-of-the-art water heaters that are made of fiberglass.  The tanks themselves are non-corrosive and come with a lifetime warranty.  So, although we may have to replace elements of the heaters from time to time, the tanks themselves will never need to be replaced.

“We are installing high efficiency, low flow toilets and shower heads as we upgrade and build to reduce water consumption and are reducing the temperature on our hot water heaters,” Lewis added.  “The furnaces the College purchases are the most efficient available – 94 percent.” 

Lewis also emphasized improvements in the fuel efficiency of Mount Union’s fleet, including the addition of a hybrid vehicle being driven by Giese. As older vehicles are replaced, they will be swapped for newer and more fuel-efficient vehicles and hybrids when possible. The College no longer uses gas-powered golf carts on campus – all are electric – and bicycles have been purchased for Campus Security officers to cut back on gas consumption and emissions.  In addition, Physical Plant has begun purchasing large mowers that run exclusively on diesel fuel, which are more efficient.

All living facilities will be using compact fluorescent lighting by the end of the summer as well, according to Lewis.  This change was supported by a student petition circulated on campus during the 2007-2008 Academic Year that collected nearly 400 signatures.

“Our students are very much behind our efforts to adopt sustainable practices on campus,” said Giese.  “Two organizations – Students for Environmental Awareness  (SEA) and Janus, which focuses on issues of social justice and responsibility – have been very active this year in promoting ‘green’ issues.  Their dedication and service are to be applauded and the efforts encouraged and supported.”

Exploring New Resources
In the fall of 2007, Dr. Richard Olson, director of sustainable and environmental studies at Berea College, presented a lecture about sustainability at Mount Union.  He ended his presentation with a challenge for the Class of 2011 – to raise money toward the cost to install a solar energy system.  He promised to match the class members’ donations with one of his own.

This summer, a 10 x 10, 1 kilowatt solar panel was installed on the south side of the Hoover-Price Campus Center, directly above the back entrance nearest the Kresge Commons.  The panel was funded by students, alumni and trustees who donated a combined $4,000 for the project.  That amount was matched by Olson and supplemented by a $3,500 grant from the Ohio Department of Development.

“We believe the panel will generate the equivalent power needed to run the student PC lab in the HPCC,” said Lewis.

This panel may be the largest on campus, but it’s certainly not the only one.  A small solar panel at the Nature Center currently operates a camera located inside a bird house that allows visitors to observe nesting birds as they hatch and mature.  In addition, the Nature Center plans to install a roof-top solar heating system originally designed by Fred King, the husband of Dr. Kathleen Piker-King, professor of sociology and chair of the Department of Sociology.  The King family has donated the technology to the Nature Center to be used to help heat the facility’s water supply.

The McClaughertys have always been an environmentally-conscious family and have done much to prove it.

They purchased an older home 20 years ago, purposefully choosing it for its close proximity to campus. Their house is also the only one on their block not to have siding, because wood is a renewable resource.

“I also made the choice to stay at home in order to devote more time to being environmentally and socially conscious,” said Martha.

Rather than use a clothes dryer, clothes are usually hung on a line either in the basement or outside, depending on the weather.  They have also saved energy by replacing most of their light bulbs with compact fluorescent lights.

In addition to two huge compost bins, a water collection system, a substantial garden and a battery-powered lawn mower at their home, Martha works each week at fellow faculty member Dr. Kate McMahon’s farm in Homeworth, Ohio in return for fresh produce as part of the community-supported cooperative gardening effort.

When the McClaughertys travel around town, they generally ride their bicycles rain or shine.  They also purchased a Prius to drive when they are unable to ride their bikes. In fact, they make every effort to shop responsibly for all of their purchases.

Martha serves as chair of the transportation subcommittee of Alliance Mayor Toni Middleton’s Green Task Force.  This task force has established Fuel-Less Fridays during the months of June, July and August.  Residents of the Alliance community are encouraged to ride bikes, walk or carpool in order to use less fuel on Fridays and raise awareness about energy conservation.   The energy saved over the summer will be calculated based on the fuel-less miles logged.

The McClaughertys also are involved in a Simplicity Circle study group that meets to discuss current issues and how they affect one’s spiritual, social and personal duties in life.

The Nature Center also is using wind power.  According to Karen Santee, facilities manager, the power generated from a wind mill on the property pumps water that is then used to irrigate a community educational garden planted and cultivated by area third and fourth graders.

Promoting Sustainability

While things continue to progress on Mount Union’s campus, the College is extending its knowledge and resources to the Alliance community, partnering with the city to develop a more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable community.

This spring, a signed agreement partnered the two in a commitment to work together for this common purpose. Both entities have been meeting during 2007 and are beginning to develop specific plans to inventory their current level of sustainability.

The agreement, signed by Giese and Alliance Mayor Toni Middleton, will include sharing research on sustainable operations including energy efficiency, purchasing, fleet management, waste management and related items and securing funding sources.

The city will offer opportunities for student internships, class research projects or other educational activities communicating between the two task forces and cooperating in the use of facilities, educational opportunities and public outreach.  The city and the College will cooperate by offering joint research projects, field trips, seminars and even public relations efforts.

“Signing this document gives the city and Mount Union College a unique opportunity to combine our resources for the good of the community,” Middleton explained. “The College and community are inextricably linked, and by forming a partnership to become more sustainable, we can use the valuable resources available to us in the community to become more responsible.”

“While the signing of the document appears ceremonial, both the mayor and I share the belief that if we can partner in our sustainability efforts, we can make a difference in Alliance and the surrounding area,” Giese said. “We have an excellent opportunity to share brain power and resources in an effort to become more energy efficient.”

Mount Union also is among those sponsoring the new Alliance Farmers’ Market.  Featuring local produce and baked goods, the market will be held on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. through mid-October.

“The catalyst for the Alliance Farmers’ Market was this year’s One Book One Community selection Plenty by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon,” said Harry Paidas, vice president for public affairs and marketing and chair of the One Book One Community Committee.  “The book is about the authors’ experience with a 100-mile diet in which they spent a year trying to eat nothing but locally-produced food. “

One Book One Community, also sponsored by Mount Union, is a community-wide reading program that encourages citizens to read and discuss the same book and brings the author(s) to the community.

In addition, Mount Union also is sponsoring Fuel-Less Fridays with the Mayor’s Green Task Force, encouraging individuals to use alternate forms of transportation on Fridays during the summer months. 

Looking to the Future

If Mount Union has proven one thing this year, it’s that change – whether small or large – can have an immediate impact on our environment and its resources.  In an effort to move toward a carbon neutral state, the Sustainability Task Force is making definitive plans for the coming years.

Mount Union is now serving as a pilot campus for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) STARS program.  STARS is a voluntary, self-reporting framework for gauging relative progress toward sustainability for colleges and universities.

“The goal is to establish a ranking system as part of this pilot program,” said Lewis.  “We are one of less than 100 schools selected for this program and one of a very few small, private schools.  Our job is to evaluate the rating documents by practicing the process.”
In addition, the Task Force is working on an institutional action plan for becoming carbon neutral, a requirement of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.  The College also will continue to take steps to further reduce consumption, improve efficiency and change resources.

With the announcement this year of a new major in environmental science, Mount Union’s commitment to sustainability has extended into the classroom.  In this major, students learn to address environmental issues from an interdisciplinary perspective, gaining hands-on experience in chemistry, geology and biology.  The College anticipates that this program will be a great success as sustainability initiatives continue to grow across the country and throughout the world.

“It is imperative that we consider sustainability initiatives as a necessity, not a fad,” said Giese.  “Many have jumped on the ‘green bandwagon’ within the last year, and that is great, but we cannot afford to get off anytime soon.  It’s too important.  It’s necessary.”

Jack Peters, a member of Mount Union’s Board of Trustees and long-time environmental advocate, agrees that sustainability is our future. 

“I am excited about the College’s sustainability efforts but whether I am excited or not isn’t as important as the fact that there is a generation of high school graduates who will be expecting their college or university to be pursuing green initiatives,” he said.  “The day is coming where students will look at colleges and universities based upon their commitment to sustainability.”

Organizations, businesses and educational institutions across the country are giving “green” a whole new meaning, but the small changes an individual makes in his or her daily lives are just as important as large-scale corporate change.  Reusable grocery bags, recycling bins, compact fluorescent light bulbs, a garden and composting area, energy efficient appliances –  these are just a few things that Mount Union students, faculty and staff incorporate into their daily lives to make a difference.  It can be as simple as turning off lights in an empty room, adjusting the thermostat or the temperature on a water heater or opening the windows instead of turning on the central air.  They are small changes with great impact.

“There are many different shades of green,” said McClaugherty.  “Being green means different things to different people and is more about how you view the world around you and your place in it. It is a reflection of your values.”

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