Area colleges focus on being 'green'
Students at North Dakota State University are saving energy and keeping food waste out of the landfill with a simple sacrifice.
The university eliminated trays in the dining halls this fall to prevent students from taking more food than they can eat. With 25,000 meals served each week, getting rid of trays also means NDSU will save water and energy that would have been used to wash those trays.
It's just one example of changes local campuses are making to become more environmentally sustainable.
Although colleges have had "green" projects before, the efforts are now more focused and a higher priority.
"It's all because the students got involved," said Jack Donahue, director of NDSU's dining services. "That's what made it happen."
At Concordia College, climate change is the subject this month of the annual campus symposium Sept.
16-17. The college also had a consultant analyze how Concordia could become more sustainable and created a task force to tackle the recommendations.
For Sophie Gardner, vice president of Concordia's Student Environmental Alliance, the changes can't come fast enough.
"It's much overdue," Gardner said. "It's great that it's finally happening."
The first time Meagan Barbie thought about the environment was watching a TV show on Nickelodeon that prompted her to start picking up trash in her neighborhood.
Now the Minnesota State University Moorhead senior is happy there are so many other students her age interested in environmental issues.
"It's no longer a 'hippie save the whales' cause," said Barbie, president of the student club Network for Environmentally Educated Dragons. "Just that people are paying attention to it is really good."
Barbie and other students from the club attended a national youth summit on environmental issues last year and discovered MSUM is ahead of many other campuses, she said.
MSUM students began charging themselves a $3 per semester "green fee" in 2004. It raises about $45,000 a year to fund environmental projects and students determine how to spend the money.
So far the fees have funded permanent bike racks, more than 50 new trees on campus and student research and internships on environmental issues. The fee also supports a recycling program in the residence halls.
About $100,000 from the fees has been set aside for renewable energy projects, said Alan Breuer, MSUM's environmental health and safety officer.
MSUM students proposed last year to install a wind turbine, but they're still working on the location and other details. Solar energy also is being explored, Breuer said.
At Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Moorhead, students have been the driving force behind a recycling program and other green projects, said Provost Jerry Migler.
One change the college is making this fall is reducing the amount of driving faculty and staff do among MSCTC's four western Minnesota campuses.
President Ann Valentine said employees will meet more often using technology rather than spending as much time on the road.
Gretchen Bromley, leader of a new NDSU sustainability task force, said becoming sustainable is not just about adding recycling containers - it's a whole paradigm shift.
"It's not just another thing on our plate, it's how we approach everything we do," she said.
Gabe Carter, co-president of NDSU's Student Environmental Advisory Council, said students are raising the bar and pushing for changes on campus.
At Concordia, a new yellow bike program students started this fall aims to encourage people to ride across campus.
Concordia students also are using reusable bags instead of plastic, and exchanging light bulbs in their residence halls and apartments for compact fluorescent bulbs.
During a campuswide symposium this month, students will collect recycling at a prominent campus location to illustrate how much is being kept out of the landfill.
Dana Cox, president of Concordia's Student Environmental Alliance, said colleges should set good examples.
"They have the opportunity to lead the way to initiate change," Cox said.
The level of interest from MSCTC students for sustainability efforts is one reason Valentine signed a pledge called the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment.
The commitment, which has been signed by college presidents nationwide, is a pledge to eliminate campuses' greenhouse gas emissions over time.
The North Dakota Student Association has encouraged all state colleges and university presidents in the state to seriously consider signing the commitment.
So far, the University of North Dakota is the only one in the state to sign on.
Green efforts are proving effective and saving money.
NDSU tested the "tray-less" policy in the dining halls last year and saw a 42 percent reduction in wasted food,
a 27 percent reduction in wasted orange juice and a
65 percent reduction in wasted milk.
NDSU estimates the new policy could prevent up to 80,000 pounds of food from going to the landfill this year.
"When you feed the number of people that we do, it doesn't take a lot of waste to really snowball," Donahue said.
If you go
- What: Concordia's 2008 Faith, Reason and World Affairs Symposium
- When: Sept. 16-17
- Where: Concordia College. Most events will be in Memorial Auditorium.
- Info: The symposium focuses on the subject of climate change. All sessions are free and open to the public. A complete schedule is at www.ConcordiaCollege.edu/symposium.