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Blue & gold make green

Maggie Hayes '12 at the Farmer's Market in the College CenterAugustana continues to make progress toward its goal of "going green," taking several steps to reduce its impact on the environment. Driven by groups of students, faculty and administrators, a few of the more visible programs deal with mass transit and a new approach to the college's food supply. It's all in response to the Augustana Board of Trustees' adoption of a detailed action plan in 2007 to reduce the college's environmental footprint and the college's aim to teach environmental stewardship by example.

How we get from here to there

A new partnership between Augustana and MetroLINK, the mass transit service provider for the Illinois Quad Cities, allows all students and college employees to ride Metro buses anywhere, at any time when they show their college identification card. This program expands the late-night shuttle service from campus to downtown Rock Island, which started last spring.

The one-year agreement will enable every member of the Augustana community to consume less energy. "The agreement with MetroLINK notes the effectiveness of our efforts in making Augustana a more sustainable community," says President Steve Bahls. "And we are dependent on each and every member of the campus community and the choices they make." If the program proves successful, Bahls would like to see the service for the college's students and employees expanded to other parts of the Quad Cities, including the cities of Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa.

Environmentally friendly MetroLink busTying the college into the local mass transit system also supports the Quad Cities' own green movement. About half the MetroLINK fleet of buses runs on natural gas, which means these buses emit 90 percent fewer particulates and 50 percent less nitrogen oxides. The buses also have a bicycle rack attached to the front of the bus that allows students and members of the Augustana community to take their bikes anywhere the buses go.

"This is a ‘win-win' proposition for our community and MetroLINK," says Dr. Mark Vincent, an associate professor of psychology who has been riding Metro buses daily for about a year. "Using public transportation is a meaningful step that each of us can take to reduce fuel consumption, help the environment by reducing carbon emissions, and save money in the process."

Pamela Larson '10, a board member of the campus environmental organization Global Affect, says riding the bus has "allowed me to have a more complete Quad Cities experience as I'm able to visit stores, neighborhoods, parks and historic sites that I would not have been able to travel to."

To make it easy for students to participate in the new program, Dr. Mark Vincent and Katie Suriano '10 created a map of bus routes in Google Maps that enables students to plot their own destinations.

Along with Google Maps, students also have access to a MetroLINK text messaging service that gives riders real-time information about how far away a bus is from a given stop, so riders can determine if there will be a wait.

MetroLINK spokeswoman Jennifer Garrity said the partnership between the college and the transit system is the first of its kind for MetroLINK. Garrity says it's a good way to spread the word that riding the bus can save gas and the environment-even if you only ride once or twice a week.

Augustana's initiative already has been recognized by the Quad Cities Transportation Advocacy Group, which gave the college two Thinking Outside The Car Awards for its projects to get more people on buses and bicycles. Augustana was cited for "best transit improvement" for its partnership with MetroLINK, and Global Affect, a student organization, was recognized as the "best organization that raised the consciousness about alternative transportation" for Project Pedal.

Augustana students with Global Affect promote environmental awareness on campus and in the Quad Cities. Through Project Pedal, Global Affect gave away 15 new mountain bikes to first-year students who signed a pledge not to bring a car to campus. Chapter 20033 of a local financial services company, Royal Neighbors of America, provided funding for 13 bikes, and Augustana's Student Government Association (SGA) financed one bike as did the college's Physics Club, according to Global Affect's faculty advisor Dr. Jason Koontz. A local bicycle shop, Bike N Hike in Rock Island, also participated in the pilot project.

The level of interest exceeded the number of bikes. More than 60 first-year students signed the pledge, so the 15 bikes were distributed on a first-signed, first-served basis. For next year, Global Affect will be seeking grants and hoping to raise more money for Project Pedal, and working with SGA to provide at least 60 bikes for this fall's incoming first-year class. It's all in keeping with Global Affect's three main objectives: (1) Encourage fuel-free transportation, (2) foster an appreciation of the natural environment through recreation and (3) establish bike-riding habits that will extend beyond students' four years on campus.

"With Project Pedal, Global Affect wants to encourage a culture shift where students can gain confidence in ‘breaking their car habit' while in college and look for new and creative ways to live car-light," Koontz says. "If we can foster that here, once students graduate they will feel empowered to support alternative transportation and communities that offer such alternatives. The Global Affect students have been very successful these last few years focusing on issues where students can actually make an impact on campus. They see the results of their hard work here and they can use their skills to make a difference in their post-Augustana lives."

Anna Vandervlugt '09, president of Global Affect, hopes the campus program can be expanded this fall to include not only first-year students, but also other students interested in leaving their cars at home. "As long as we can secure funding and continued support, I can see Project Pedal becoming a defining feature of the student initiatives in sustainability at Augustana," Vandervlugt says.

Members of Global Affect and Project Pedal participants

What we eat

There's another trend on campus that also relates to transportation, but this time it's about the food we eat. Augustana's Dining Services now offers locally grown produce and meat through its Farm2Fork program. The idea is simple: Why buy an apple from Washington state and transport it hundreds of miles when local produce is available?

"We can get a fresh-picked one just around the corner, while also investing in our community," says Gary Griffith, director of dining services for the college. Cutting out the long-range transportation helps local business, provides fresh produce and meat, saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Thus far, farmers from Oak Hill Acres in Atalissa, Iowa; Wesley Acres Produce in Milan, Ill.; and Illinois Crown Beef near Galesburg, Ill., are the main suppliers.

Griffith says a shift toward locally produced food supplies is an emerging movement, and it will grow as more people realize how much sense it makes-and how good it tastes. To prove the point, Dining Services showcased the food produced and delivered by local farmers, giving the Augustana community the benefit of comparing it to products that took the long road to campus. The locally produced food also was featured in Augustana's first Farmers' Market and Lunch at the College Center last September. It was such a success that beginning this fall, the Farmers' Market will take place biweekly on campus, Griffith says.

But that's just the front end of the food chain. The back end comes into focus as Augustana has begun composting food waste from its cafeterias at nearby Wesley Acres Produce. The college leased an acre for the project on the 65-acre organic farm, and started moving food waste to the site in November. It's trucked to land owned by Jim Johansen, who attended Augustana in the early 1970s. There, our leftovers with the help of red worms will enrich the soil for the fruits and vegetables of the future. Griffith estimates the effort will save 80,000 pounds of food waste a year from going to the landfill-or down the garbage disposal. "I'm excited because we are really going full circle," he says.

Griffith is also extending the sustainability effort to the cafeteria's tableware. The plastic utensils in the cafeteria are made from potatoes. Paper plates are made from milled sugar cane. Box lunch containers, clear containers, waffle cups and lids all are made from corn. All these items are now compostable, as well, and can be buried and turned into compost along with the food wastes.

Not even the used fryer oil from the cafeteria is going to waste. Griffith set up a deal with the two farms that supply local meat and produce, Oak Hill Acres and Wesley Acres Produce, to recycle the college's used fryer oil into Viking Fuel, a biodiesel to heat the farms' greenhouses to extend the growing season and to run farm equipment. 

And finally, to extend the reach of this movement, Griffith is expanding the effort into the Rock Island community. He's talking to local K-12 schools in the area, asking them to consider buying locally produced food and composting the leftovers. He's asking teachers in the Rock Island-Milan school district to talk about sustainability with their students, and wants to enlist Augustana students to begin making presentations about sustainability in the community. 

"We are committed to be a leader in promoting sustainability and a healthier planet," Griffith says.

When Augustana received a Radish Award, named after a local publication that recognizes best efforts for sustainability, Dr. Kevin Geedey summed up why the college has made environmentally friendly practices a priority. "We're here to educate students," said Geedey, associate professor of biology and chair of the Environmental Task Force, the campus sustainability committee's predecessor. "The environment is always changing, and we make the claim that we prepare students to be leaders of their communities. It's not something to just talk about. They have to live it."

From light blubs to toilet paper ...

  • Annually, Augustana uses 8 million pages of paper-a stack nearly twice the height of the Sears Tower, estimates Shawn Beattie '94, educational technology manager for Information Technology Services (ITS). The college recently switched from 10 percent to 100 percent recycled, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified and chlorine-free white copy paper. To find more ways to be good stewards of paper, toner, energy and staff resources, ITS and several campus committees continue to investigate ways to reduce printing waste on campus.
  • Global Affect gave 1,000 compact fluores-cent light (CFL) bulbs-500 purchased by Facilities Services and 500 donated by MidAmerican Energy-to students in residence halls. Incandescent blubs will not be allowed in residence halls and houses beginning this fall.
  • The college switched to a minimum of 95 percent recycled toilet tissue and 100 percent recycled paper towels.
  • Beginning in January, Augustana imple-mented single-stream recycling-a system in which all paper fibers, aluminum cans, plastic, glass, etc., don't have to be sorted. This should increase the volume recycled and decrease the volume sent to the landfill.

Learn more about Augustana's efforts toward sustainability.