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From classroom onto campus: BW's brand of sustainability

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/07/09 @ 5:05pm

David Krueger and Sabina Thomas are pushing Baldwin-Wallace College to walk the sustainability walk. As co-directors of the now year-old Major in Sustainability at BW, doctors Krueger and Thomas want to take the lessons out of the classroom, and make BW the greenest campus around. They start by talking about what the campus is doing right and where it can improve. For example, the pair helped a student environmental group and the cafeteria to raise $20,000 for an EarthTub, a brand of industrial-sized composter. On a rainy March day, they demonstrate how it works.

The kitchen staff comes outside every day, rain or shine, to turn the giant top by hand. They have to record every pineapple or onion scrap from the kitchen in a log for the county health inspectors. After five months, they've collected 5,000 pounds of food and yard waste-after convincing the grounds crew to compose yard trimmings-and are finally seeing it reach ideal temperatures of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The kitchen staff feel a sense of ownership. In fact, it motivated them to start a waste grease recycling effort-it's trucked over to the chemistry lab where it's made into bio-diesel fuel

And yet, Krueger is the first to admit the labor costs in both composting, and in transporting waste grease outweigh the savings from reducing the waste stream or producing biofuel.  "We're not doing this to reduce waste costs," he said. "We put it in a highly visible location so that we can raise awareness."

Could they reduce their dumpster pickups even more if they educated the students on how to properly dispose of their plate scraps and collected those as well? Possibly (that's what Youngstown State University is doing in its cafeteria with its EarthTub. There's also the benefit of producing compost 'tea' a natural fertilizer that will help keep the grounds crew engaged). Can the waste grease transportation costs be reduced with an innovative idea from a student in the Sustainability program, which incorporates business and environmental lessons?

It's all part of the education process for the area's only four-year Sustainability degree program, and building support organically over time among staff, faculty and students. After all, they enrolled 10 students in the Sustainability program this year where last year they graduated two students. They feel encouraged by new leadership within the school-President Dick Durst lit a fire under the staff to improve its recycling and invested in new bins which led to a dramatic uptick in recycled content.

"[Durst's commitment] led to our solid waste costs dropping. What we need is a sustainability coordinator to create the metrics. If we had a goal of reducing energy by 10% we would do it." Krueger is clearly pushing the campus to think big. Thomas may help lay the cornerstone this year as she measures the entire campus' carbon footprint.

Challenges remain, as they would in any large institution. The school allocated $40,000 for motion sensors in all classrooms, for example, but only 50% have been installed. The school wants to install a wind turbine on campus but must face Berea City Council. "You have to be zealous and forthright. And you need someone who makes people accountable."

?To learn more about BW's sustainability initiatives and sustainability on campuses around Northeast Ohio, go here.

?To see an image gallery of the BW Earthtub with captions, go here.

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