In preparation for Earth Day on April 22, the Office of Sustainability is putting on Earth Week: a celebration for the earth, and a reminder that Elon University’s efforts to protect the environment persist year-round.
Events will be held throughout this week to raise awareness of sustainability issues and the initiatives the school offers to combat them.
“I don't think Elon falls short in terms of sustainability, but I think that is a common misconception that Elon students have,” said senior Kate Pearce, the Eco-Rep coordinator. “I think that oftentimes individuals do not know everything that the university is doing to be more sustainable and to make it easier for students to be sustainable.”
The office works to address an array of everyday environmental concerns, such as food waste and production, carbon emissions, building efficiency in terms of water and energy consumption, indoor and outdoor air quality, climate and waste on the whole — trash, recycling and compost.
In order to sustain all of these things, there are more things to consider than the planet's well-being alone.
“At Elon, we talk about how sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compromising future generations’ abilities to meet their own needs, and we really break that up into three different aspects,” said Kelly Harer, the assistant director of sustainability for education and outreach. “When most people think of sustainability, they think of the environmental aspects, and that’s one aspect, … but it’s also important to consider the social aspects and the economic aspects. At Elon, we call those the three Ps, which is people, planet and prosperity, and we talk about how we need all three of those things to be fully sustainable.”
This week, the Office of Sustainability has partnered with organizations on campus such as Elon Dining, Elon Outdoors, the Student Professional Development Center (SPDC) and various clubs, fraternities and sororities to educate students and community members about sustainability, the collaborative efforts on Elon’s campus and how individuals can do their part.
Party for the Planet, which will be held from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. April 20 at Lakeside Plaza, involves the most collaboration across these organizations.
“The SPDC will be there talking about green jobs. Elon Outdoors will be there talking about how nature and being outside is good for your mental health and physical health,” Harer said. “We’ll have a smoothie bike there, so basically it’s a bike that you’ll pedal to power the blender, and you’ll make your own smoothie and see how much energy it actually takes to make that smoothie.”
In addition to these topics, the Office of Sustainability is also bringing to light the amount of waste students produce, much of which comes from food.
According to Somini Sengupta of The New York Times, 1.3 billion tons of food are wasted globally per year. This is about one third of all food grown.
From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 18 at Lakeside Dining Hall, students will have the opportunity to weigh their food waste.
“Basically, we’re trying to bring awareness to food waste on Elon’s campus. The most food waste that we have is from post-consumer,” Harer said. “We measure all of our food waste at Elon, ... the stems of peppers and those kinds of things, and we also measure post-consumer, so when a student comes and eats half of a sandwich and throws out the rest.”
Rather than placing their plates on the rotating dish racks right after their meals, students will first have to scrape their plates into a bin, quantifying not only the amount of food they wasted during lunch, but also the amount of food students waste every day.
“We did this last month as well, and we wasted 131 pounds of food waste in the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., just that one lunch period,” Harer said. “We decided to try to do it every month. We thought that would have a bigger impact on the student body.”
According to a 2014 report by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, food waste accounts for 3.3 billion tons of carbon, and “the bluewater footprint, i.e. the consumption of surface and groundwater resources of food wastage,” equates to about three times the size of Lake Geneva in Switzerland, the report says.
But efforts to minimize food waste and sustain production don’t end there. Elon’s Loy Farm utilizes Grow Biointensive methods, which focus on soil health and using organic materials to yield an optimal harvest.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States as a whole wastes more than $160 billion a year in food. But Loy Farm provides food for Elon Dining and for Campus Kitchen, a club that harvests those crops and uses them to cook meals for the Allied Churches of Alamance County, saving money and carbon and water costs.
“In Loy Farm they don’t waste any food, and they receive donations from Elon Dining,” said sophomore Jordan Horton, a cook team leader for Campus Kitchen. “They compost all food waste that they do have, like any stems and plant parts like roots, etc. … and all the food ... is donated to Allied Churches, so there’s nothing going to waste.”
Since 15 percent of people in Alamance County are food-insecure, according to Southern University Consortium, this is a prominent way in which the Elon community addresses sustainability in the social regard.
“Last year they harvested 4,600 pounds of food that went right out into Alamance County,” Harer said.
But food that inevitably goes to waste is sent to Brooks Contractor, a commercial compost center, along with food containers from dining locations on campus such as Lakeside, Freshii and Qdoba.
“We can compost things like chicken bones and meat and dairy. A lot of times in a backyard composting, we wouldn’t be able to compost those, but we can here,” Harer said. “And Elon Dining, I’d say the majority of the things they give out is compostable, like the to-go containers … the green plastic utensils, anything that will say compostable probably in tiny little letters."
Note that the black utensils at Winter Garden are not compostable, though the food and drink containers are.
Also on Wednesday, the Office of Sustainability will continue spreading the spirit of sustainability by partnering with Elon Outdoors for Sustainable S'mores Outdoors.
“We’ll have some Eco-Reps who are there to talk about sustainability, and we bring sustainable food, so fair-trade certified chocolate, vegan marshmallows and all that good stuff,” Harer said.
On April 19, Harer will be leading a tour of Schar Hall and Steers Pavilion, two of Elon’s newest buildings, at 1 p.m.
“We have a green building policy on campus, so any new buildings that come along are required to be LEED-certified, which is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” Harer said. “This is our 27th certified project on campus,” she said about Schar and Steers Pavilion.
LEED-certified buildings are ranked based on different aspects that make a building sustainable, including energy efficiency, low-flow water fixtures, the use of local and recycled materials, temperature regulation and ensuring that post-construction materials were recycled.
“There’s a lot of work behind the scenes with energy use,” Harer said. “For example, we are in a pilot program for energy conservation action, which is where we’re piloting 10 buildings. After a certain time, we raise the temperatures — we put the temperature higher in the summer and lower in the winter to conserve energy so that the heating and cooling won’t be running constantly, it will only run when people are actually in the building.”
Though the university controls most aspects of environmental design, students play a large role in the effectiveness of these efforts.
“Students can make a conscious effort to reduce waste consumption, turn off the lights when they leave a room, and take shorter showers or turn off their sink while brushing their teeth,” Pearce said.