Sustainability Update

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St. Mary’s students, with our picturesque location on the river and the intensity of the nature that surrounds us, tend to think of our college as a particularly green one. But what is actually going on to benefit the environment on campus? I sat down with Sustainability Office fellow Shelby Kalm, a recent St. Mary’s grad, and intern Kate Cowart to discuss ongoing and upcoming projects.

The sustainability-focused LIFE Fair went off on Wednesday Feb. 11. Job fairs sponsored by the Career Center are a usual occurrence on campus, but this was the first year that a fair for environmentally focused careers and internship opportunities came to St. Mary’s, recruited by both Student Services and the Sustainability Office. Close to 50 organizations were represented, some of whom had recent St. Mary’s graduates coming down to table for them. An estimated 200+ students showed up in their best professional wear toting their freshly printed résumés.

New work is also being done on the Campus Farm. As of last summer, produce from the club-directed farm contributes to what Bon Appetit serves in the Great Room, and in turn, compost from student housing and the dining hall is used as fertilizer.

“The greenhouse has been a great way to make the whole school a stakeholder in sustainability,” said senior Kate Cowart, lead Sustainability intern, referring to the $5000 grant won from the Fork to Farm program last semester. The grant was used to purchase a redwood A-frame greenhouse that students are now helping to construct. In fact, early in February, almost too many student volunteers showed up to the initial construction project, all eager to help out by digging trenches and setting the hoophouse’s foundation. More opportunities to volunteer at the Campus Farm will be making their way to student inboxes.

Arbor Week will be from March 30th-April 4th. Speakers from the National Arboretum will be visiting, and SMCM professors will be giving talks on art and naturalism. Other activities like yoga, green tours of campus, and movie screenings will help mark a week of celebration for trees and the environment. And later that month, the Green Cup will be back to challenge students to use less energy in the dorms and living areas.

Last semester a full time Environmental Studies faculty member was added to St. Mary’s staff. Dr. Barry Muchnick has been leading the new Sustainability Practicum course, ENST450, in which students complete independent projects on topics like food and electronics waste on campus. “The class gives students a way to work hands-on with sustainability practices on campus,” said Shelby Kalm. The Environmental Studies department is working closely with the Sustainability Office as a resource in order to increase the visibility of environmental issues at SMCM. The department is currently pushing through a plan for an Environmental Studies major, which is currently only offered as a minor course of studies.

“I think right now we’re in an upswing [of environmental awareness],” said Kalm. “People are getting involved in more projects, and…with the potential for a major I think there’s a lot more energy around things environmental.”

The student body is largely involved with green efforts on campus by way of clubs like the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) and the Environmental Protection Committee, a branch of SGA. The EPC is closely involved with the Climate Action Plan, set forth by St. Mary’s back in 2011, which hopes to make the school energy net-neutral by 2020 (meaning we would offset our carbon production entirely).  Just this year SMCM was put on the EPA’s Top 30 list of universities that are using green power.

But Cowart also wants to remind students of the ways they can get involved in their daily lives, just by establishing practices like turning off lights and minding how much waste they generate. “You have to put it in perspective of how small actions can really affect your whole game plan,” said Cowart.

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