Summer 2009 | Caring for creation
A place in creation
By Lisa Strandberg
As its Catholic, Norbertine heritage implores, St. Norbert College has begun to color itself a deeper shade of green.
Norbert of Xanten never drank bottled water. The citizens of his namesake campus do, though, collectively draining more than 600 plastic bottles every three days – just one of the findings from this past fall’s Recyclemania program. Though Norbert might not have anticipated the relatively new problems of consumerism and climate change, he could offer an ancient solution in keeping with the charism of the order he founded: Look to the community around you and meet the needs you see there.
A growing body of students, faculty and staff – Norbertines, too – is applying that credo more broadly than ever before. Recognizing the whole of creation as their community, they have begun to collaborate, on the grounds of the college and beyond, to meet the planet’s need for gentler living.
“The idea of communio and community is that we take care of each other, and one way we can take care of each other is to walk more lightly,” says Wendy Scattergood (Political Science), who teaches an upper-level course in environmental policy. “It fits so well with the Norbertine philosophy of being good stewards.”
That philosophical fit doesn’t make fostering an environmental mindset on campus easy, however. “Big institutions are kind of like ships. It takes a while to get them to turn,” says Mark Bockenhauer (Geography).
Fortunately, those at the helm have begun to lean on the wheel. Recent developments on campus have brought environmental crusaders of all stripes together and their combined efforts are seeing a gain in momentum.
Bringing Catholic teaching to life
See new work in environmental ethics from
Larry Waggle (Philosophy). >>MORE
It’s not just the Norbertine influence that gives meaning to the green movement at St. Norbert College. Denominational actions and attitudes play their part as well.
“One of the tenets of Catholic social teaching is care of creation,” says Sister Sally Ann Brickner, O.S.F., ’67 (Peace and Justice).
During the 2006-07 academic year, the Peace and Justice Center elected to embrace that simple principle more fully. Under its influence, the center played a role in bringing to the attention of then president William Hynes the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, an effort to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions and equip society, through education, to stabilize the planet’s climate.
Hynes became one of the compact’s charter signatories and set St. Norbert College on the path to a lofty goal. The commitment calls for each institution to develop “a comprehensive plan to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible.”
The commitment further implores presidents to put in place “institutional structures to guide the development and implementation of the plan.” Thus arose the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee (ESAC), chaired by Bockenhauer, comprising a campus-spanning membership charged with crafting a climate-neutrality plan by the end of 2009.
Joining forces for change
The new committee connected for the first time those across campus who were already making environmentalism an individual priority. “Since there are students, faculty and staff on the committee, we’re able to connect different sectors of the campus,” says Environmental Club officer and ESAC member Stacy Szczepanski ’09.
She says, for example, that she has been heartened to learn that some behind-the-scenes campus staffers have long approached their jobs with sustainability in mind: “I didn’t realize how much work the facilities department has been doing for so many years.”
The man leading the charge to squeeze both cost and carbon emissions from the campus’s $1.6 million energy budget – mechanical systems manager Lew Pullen – likewise agrees that his ESAC interactions with faculty added tremendous value.
Now that the committee exists, Pullen says, faculty members “seem to be all of a sudden coming out and saying ‘What can we do to help?’ or ‘Here’s what we’re thinking about this,’ or ‘Have you thought about this for this next project?’ ”
Indeed, says Bockenhauer about the green front, “There are a lot of faculty on this campus who are ardently trying to teach and preach and to share ideas.”
Incorporation of sustainability concepts in curricular and cocurricular activities both upholds the college’s Norbertine tradition and comprises another element of the climate commitment’s reach – green education. To help drive that and other efforts, the ESAC’s climate-neutrality plan likely will recommend the creation of a fulltime sustainability manager position. After all, says Brickner, “It’s a lot of work to continue to raise consciousness.”
In its inaugural year, the ESAC gathered data on purchased electricity, heating and cooling, and transportation to estimate the college’s present carbon footprint. The result – 6.8 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per person per year – lands the institution well below the national average of 9.5 metric tons for four-year colleges, and squarely in the middle of its peer campuses.
“We were encouraged to see that the practices we are doing are working,” Szczepanski says.
Still, she admits that the college has a way to go. “There’s so much waste we generate, it’s crazy. We don’t feel responsible for it.”
Brickner agrees that instilling a sense of responsibility could have a positive impact. “We have to reach beyond the small circle that has been affected … and really get other people animated and involved.”
Various initiatives across campus already contribute to that effort. For instance, arriving freshmen each receive a compact fluorescent lightbulb from the facilities department, a gift intended to remind new arrivals of their role in reducing energy consumption.
This year’s elimination of trays in the cafeteria also heightened awareness of the need to conserve. According to Melissa DaPra (Dining Services), the move will save about 12,000 gallons of water and reduce food waste by more than 800 pounds each month.
By and large, students appreciate such measures. Of Dining Services’ initiative, Tara Vanden Elsen ’09 says, “For a lot of the guys, it’s inconvenient because they have eight cups and 16 plates, but I think it’s worked just fine for everyone. It was just the first week of complaining, then realizing that it’s better for the environment and better for tuition costs, hopefully.”
As Vanden Elsen and many of her peers realize, eschewing convenience for the sake of the environment can yield personal benefits as well as communal ones. Such stewardship, spreading across the campus with increasing speed, seems set to change the college for the better – and would make Norbert of Xanten himself proud.
With students, faculty and staff collaborating across the campus, St. Norbert College is making strides toward its ultimate sustainability goal – carbon neutrality.
Far-seeing and commonsense efforts are making the difference. For instance, with help from a $40,000 Focus on Energy grant, St. Norbert College replaced Schuldes Sports Center’s 250-watt metal halide light fixtures with T5 high-output fluorescent ones, becoming only the second college in the country to use the technology. The change saves about $1,700 per month in purchased electricity.
And, as a member of Integrys Energy Group’s Response Rewards program for institutional customers, the college responds to the firm’s requests for energy usage reductions during peak load periods. Staff turn off lights and adjust temperatures in six campus buildings as needed.
In exchange, Integrys cuts the rate for a portion of the college’s purchased electricity from approximately $0.10 to $0.0325 per kilowatt-hour. The mutually beneficial arrangement saves the campus up to $15,000 per year and helps lessen the need for construction of new power plants.
Dining Services is awaiting budget approval to install a “food-erator” that will dehydrate cafeteria waste that cannot be composted, reducing its volume – and thus landfill costs and space consumption – by 90 percent.
And the college will conduct a feasibility study investigating construction of several wind turbines on college-owned land to offset its carbon emissions.
We keep learning, too. Eight students successfully applied to become an environmentally minded Intentional Learning Community in a Fourth Street campus house this fall. The group plans to plant its own garden, support local food markets and educate students in campus residence halls on greener living.
And, as part of the National Teach-In Day on global warming solutions, the Peace and Justice Center hosted Robert Gronski of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, who spoke on the Catholic moral imperative to address climate change and was interviewed for the college television show.
A treasure hunter ...
With the curiosity of a scientist, Lew Pullen (Facilities) searches for energy savings. When you step into Pullen’s unassuming office, in the southeast corner of the St. Norbert College heating plant, you might not notice the water-filled milk jugs lining his windowsill. That’d be a shame, because their reuse as a room-warming heat sink speaks volumes about the man who drove the campus’s green movement before it knew it had one.
As manager of mechanical systems, Pullen for years has monitored (and met) the campus’s annual energy budget. It’s a task he says the math major in him always has relished. Recently, though, he’s approached this objective with a mind for more than the bottom line. “Now we’re saving energy not to save money but because it’s the right thing to do,” he says.
It’s a mission Pullen pursues with enthusiasm, crediting the college’s leadership and facilities director John Barnes with encouraging him to experiment. “I’ve been given so much latitude in this job that I just go nuts. I go in all directions,” Pullen says.
“He does indeed have the zeal of a treasure hunter, like a kid in the backyard looking for Easter eggs,” says Mark Bockenhauer (Geography), chair of the college’s Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee and Pullen’s partner in spreading the sustainability word on campus.
Besides his impulse to do the right thing, Pullen says his quest for carbon neutrality is, quite simply, interesting and fun.
That’s all the more true now that his work with the ESAC has proven that he’s not a one-man operation. “The most fun for me has been to finally realize I’m not on an island by myself,” Pullen says. “I’ve been inspired by Mark [Bockenhauer] and the president [Thomas Kunkel] to get the word out, and I’m loving it.”
... and a student with a mission
On the list of Friday night student hotspots, the dumpster cages beside Sensenbrenner Memorial Union rank pretty low for most people. But come week’s end, that’s just where you’re likely to find Stacy Szczepanski ’09, loading five-gallon pails filled with a total of 250 pounds of Dining Services’ food waste into a borrowed facilities van for transport to a composting site across the river in De Pere.
Szczepanski’s collaboration with students and staff to build this composting program, which now involves some 15 students, is but one illustration of her strong support of campus sustainability. Her interest in helping the Green Knights become greener took hold her freshman year with a “lightbulb moment” (no doubt of the compact-fluorescent variety) when she attended the Midwest Clean Energy Conference in Madison as a member of the college’s Environmental Club. “That was a turning point for me,” she says. “A lot of students there were talking about how they were getting renewable energy on their campuses.”
The next year she set out to do the same, undertaking an independent study course to investigate the placement of solar panels on the Campus Center. More recently, she led the college’s eight-week Recyclemania competition and gathered data, along with other members of the Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee, to calculate the campus’s carbon footprint.As a last hurrah following her graduation,she and Valerie Gray ’11 presented to the board of trustees the results of their feasibility study for a greener John Minahan Science Hall.
“She has been fabulous,” says Sister Sally Ann Brickner, O.S.F., ’67, director of the Peace and Justice Center, which has spearheaded many of the college’s green initiatives. “She puts untold hours toward it.”
This fall she will continue her work at American University in Washington, D.C., where she’ll pursue a master’s degree in sustainability. Her goal: to land a job with a college or university doing the work she fell in love with at her alma mater.
As green as we can be
Their business has historically meant turning trees into information, so editors need to be particularly mindful of the environmental impact of their publications.
E-publications like the monthly newsletter @St. Norbert and this new online magazine are enabling us to bring rich media and online exclusive content to readers, with minimal cost to the environment and substantial cost-savings to boot.
The print magazine delivers good news, too. It is:
- printed on Forest Stewardship Council certified recycled-content paper from responsibly managed forests.
- printed with ink made of linseed-based oil, a formulated ink with organic materials that do not contain animal-based by-products and contain less than 1 percent of volatile organic compounds.
- shipped in locally manufactured corrugated cartons made of 74 percent post-consumer waste material.
- delivered by an environmentally-conscious printing company that promotes fuel efficiency and uses renewable energy sources.