All posts by Hayden Lewis

Across the U.S: Sustainability on Campus

One week in campus sustainability. Infographic by Tina Casagrand
One week in campus sustainability. Infographic by Tina Casagrand
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education is, in fact, a thing.

I have a confession: The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) is a thing, and until very recently, I had never even known it existed.

As something of a journalism student and a big fan of student sustainability, my complete lack of knowledge when it came to AASHE and their growing network of higher education-based sustainability initiatives was admittedly embarrassing, but it wasn’t without the silver lining of a newly informed quidnunc — that I can now relay AASHE’s existence and their most recent developments to the Footprint Magazine audience!

Conveniently enough, AASHE sent out its latest e-Newsletter just last week, which documents the newest sustainability initiatives on college campuses nationwide. Let’s take a gander at some of the highlights:

U Arizona Creates Bicycling and Pedestrian Committee

UANews, The University of Arizona’s primary news service, even has this spiffy logo for its sustainability section!

Yep, that’s right! The University of Arizona officially created its own Bicycling and Pedestrian Committee last week, hoping to represent everyone by consisting of faculty members, staff, students and members of the community. The overall goal of the committee is to further ensure cohesion between cyclists and pedestrians during their respective commutes.

Minnesota State U Debuts Student Recycling Program

Is this a sign that Recyclemania is catching on? Minnesota State University at Moorhead has an “Office of Campus Sustainability” (like ours!), and Joe Herbst, the university’s Sustainability Coordinator, is in the process of finding 20 dedicated students who are passionate about sustainability and recycling.

Each week, the students will be assigned to different buildings and will be responsible for collecting the recycling in that building. The students will receive a weekly stipend of $15 and have the opportunity to earn prizes, including an end-of-the-semester trip. Sounds like a pretty good gig to me — I bet there’s nothing like getting paid to do something that benefits your community and planet!

A wind farm in Ohio where OSU may or may not be purchasing their wind power from. Mysteries abound!

Ohio State U Signs 20 Year Agreement to Purchase Wind Power

Alright, this one is pretty remarkable. According to the article, Ohio State University signed a 20-year agreement in October to buy 50 megawatts of energy annually from Blue Creek Wind Farm, Ohio’s largest commercial wind farm.

But that’s not all, because OSU also expects to save $1 million per year with their wind power investment! Now, I’m not an expert in renewable energy or economics (shocking, I know), but $1 million per year in savings certainly says something about the economic benefits of renewable energy investment.

In any case, be sure to check out MU’s mighty one wind turbine, recently installed in 2012, and this is a relatively hopeful article regarding the most recent developments of wind power coming to Columbia.

U Iowa Turns Invasive Species-Infested Trees into Biofuel 

So, the University of Iowa is essentially killing two birds with one sustainability stone here (or should it be hawks?).

Bird one: UI’s surrounding area, Jefferson County, has 24 acres (!) of dead and dying invasive species-infested pine trees and little if any money to clear the environmental wasteland for productive use.

Bird two: UI’s Sustainability Office is well short of its goal to meet 40 percent of the institution’s energy needs through sustainable sources by 2020.

And the ever-dependable sustainability stone (which totally sounds like it should be an item in Pokémon): The UI is hiring a contractor to convert Johnson County’s invasive trees into biomass to be burned with coal in the university’s steam-generating boilers.

The final outcome: The university ups its sustainable energy quotient, while the conservation department replaces an environmental nightmare with prairie and oak savanna jewels. You go University of Iowa!

The Real Food, Real Jobs campaign doesn’t only fight for improved food and food service working conditions, but it also has a pretty simple, kickass logo.

American U Food Workers to Receive Sustainable Food Training

MU’s dining services do a lot for campus sustainability (see here and here), American University’s dining staff may have us one-upped on this one. In an groundbreaking move earlier this week, food service workers ratified a new contract with “sustainability language” that includes training and increased hours so they can cook from scratch with fresh, local ingredients—and a watchdog committee to hold their employer to it.

And as if that’s not enough, the four-year contract also gives workers the largest raise they have seen in the history of their union ($2 an hour over the four-year contract), protects them from subcontracting, and preserves their health care benefits and pensions.

The contract was part of a growing “Real Food, Real Jobs” campaign which, as the name suggests, aims to improve the quality of food service on college campuses nationwide, while also improving the the food workers’ labor conditions. Also according to the article, food service workers at the other six universities are either in bargaining or preparing for negotiations this spring.

The full e-Newsletter can be read here, subscribed to here, and archives (which you’ll probably want to visit, since this post may be a bit dated by now) can be viewed here.

By the way, a little secret: Try searching “Sustain Mizzou” on the AASHE website. You’ll be glad you did!

Profile: Roger J. Giles

Relaxing on his sternwheeler, Roger GIles has good reason to smile — he has arguably one of the best jobs at MU: "Protect[ing] the environment from the university!"
Roger GIles has good reason to smile — he has arguably one of the best jobs at MU: “Protect[ing] the environment from the university!” (Photo credit: Dennis Dye)

Hazardous Materials Services is a branch of MU Environmental Health and Safety. This story is the first of a two-part series profiling EHS employees that contribute to on-campus sustainability, however mostly under the radar.

Fifty-eight years old, follicly challenged, and having spent nearly half his life in the same workplace, an objective account of Roger J. Giles renders him about as interesting as an investment bank’s Twitter feed.

Such a depiction, though, would be starkly inaccurate.

Just sitting Giles’ office, it’s hard to believe the man is almost three times the age of most undergraduates at MU. Upbeat indie music seeps from a Pandora station while Giles navigates his Facebook (he’s more adept at it than most his age, I should add), searching for profile-worthy photos.

But while his demeanor is youthful, the back wall of Giles’ office testifies to his years of experiences — covered with dozens of framed photographs, certificates, and some awards.

“When I do things, I tend to get really passionate,” said Giles, reminiscing on past hobbies like ultimate Frisbee™ — which he stuck with for over 30 years, founding Columbia’s club program — and paleontology, which led him on expeditions in Europe and the American West for more than a decade.

On campus, Giles serves as Manager for Hazardous Materials Services, a branch of MU Environmental Health and Safety. He oversees all of HMS’ activities, which include:

  • Preforming the majority of lab inspections on campus;
  • Collecting all hazardous waste and preparing it for outside shipping;
  • Providing oversight for any handling of hazardous materials.

“Research chemicals, diagnostic specimens, genetically modified organisms — approval for those types of shipments comes from [HMS],” he said.

Roger Giles doesn't always wear clinquant shorts, but when he does, it's while on his sternwheeler.
Roger Giles doesn’t always wear crocs and clinquant shorts; but when he does, it’s when he’s on his sternwheeler. (Photo credit: Jonathan Lauten)

Although they don’t function hand-in-hand with student sustainability, Giles and his department nonetheless play a critical role within EHS: “We protect the environment from the university,” Giles told me, “I say that somewhat flippantly, but it’s true!”

A notable example of this was in June 2010, when a biochemistry laboratory in Schweitzer Hall exploded due to a mismanaged chemical reaction involving hydrogen. The cooperation of EHS, among other MU departments, was crucial for handling the emergency safely and efficiently.

“[Emergency response] involves us coming in at odd hours sometimes… but we’re doing bleeding edge research here — sometimes things can get a little… energetic,” Giles said with a smirk.

But how exactly does Giles’ department play into sustainability? Well, HMS is a direct component of one Sustain Mizzou project in particular: E-waste drives.

Since electronic waste is a hazardous material, and recycling is regulated under state and national law, HMS typically sends staff to the E-waste drives twice per day to make sure everything meets regulatory guidelines. Also, when it comes to choosing a vendor to sell the waste to, HMS does the vetting.

“It was a local business…they’re good people,” Giles said of this year’s vendor, Mid-Mo Recycling.

Also with regard to sustainability, Giles said he’s seen a robust increase in environmental stewardship during his time at EHS, which he attributes to Vice Chancellor Jackie Jones’ consistent funding of the department.

“Jackie is an advocate for sure…” Giles said, adding that when he first started working for HMS, the department was essentially “a one-man show.” Today though, as a result of Vice Chancellor Jones’ steady funding, there are about a dozen people employed by HMS

As a manager, he admits to being more on the bureaucratic end of things now, but that doesn’t thwart Giles’ enthusiasm toward his work. The satisfaction of providing a safe work environment to MU students and faculty, the knowledge that he’s making researchers jobs’ easier, and the general freedom that comes with being manager of his own department, are what Giles deems the most rewarding aspects of his job.

By day, Roger Giles serves as Manager of MU's Hazardous Materials Services, but by night (or, more accurately, in his spare time), Giles enjoys spending time on his sternwheeler, touring the Missouri River.
By day, Roger Giles serves as Manager of MU’s Hazardous Materials Services, but by night (or, more accurately, in his spare time), Giles enjoys spending time on his sternwheeler, touring the Missouri River. (Photo credit: Rachel English)

When it comes to the stressful parts, Giles says inspections by regulatory agencies (EPA, DOT, NRC, among others) naturally produce taut nerves and that meeting deadlines is always a concern, but that HMS is “no different than the library in that respect.”

Probably helpful in alleviating any stress from the job, Giles and his wife focus their attention nowadays mainly on boating. Specifically, they are the proud owners of a sternwheeler on the Missouri River, where they give free tours to the community and host fundraisers for environmental organizations.

“Most of my personal non-work environmental interests are associated with the river… I do a lot of my recreation on the river,” Giles said.

(In fact, this charitable and progressive attitude toward their sternwheeler is what led the Columbia Missourian to publish a short story on the Giles’ and their boat last month.)

But that’s not all the Giles’ have been up to these days. Remember his aforementioned office wall, decorated with memorabilia? Tacked up among the archives, perhaps most noteworthy, is a Burning Man-themed calendar.

“Of late, [my wife and I] have kind of become part of the burner community,” Giles said, scrolling through a myriad of assorted photos from over the years.

As he further combed through his digital photo collection, I couldn’t help but see the resemblance of a young boy, rummaging through his toy chest. But while Roger Giles remains young at heart and in mind, protecting the MU community and environment from hazardous materials is a duty juxtaposed to such virtues — conferring responsibilities that only a seasoned veteran in the field can effectively uphold.

In this sense, and so many others, Roger Giles fits the a build. With the knowledge that Roger Giles oversees hazardous materials at MU, we should all feel a little bit safer.

If you’ve read this far, you definitely deserve to see this picture of Giles at Burning Man 2010. Though he’s nearing sixty, you’d never guess it by his physique alone. (Photo credit: Barbara Giles)

In Photos: Columbia’s Recycling Facility

Bales, bales and more bales! A large part of touring the facility involved marveling at and subsequently maneuvering through the bales.

At some point or another, most of us have heard at least something about Columbia’s landfill and recovery operations, where all of MU and Columbia’s waste and recycling is sent. Last week, I had the pleasure of touring the landfill via an Environmental Leadership Office-sponsored event, to finally see (and smell) what all the buzz was about. First though, some quick numbers about the facility, provided by a convenient fact sheet we received during the tour:

Fillin’ Up: Columbia’s Landfill

  • 107 acres of the site is used for landfill.
  • 720 total acres at the site.
  • 6 billion tons is the full capacity of the landfill
  • 50% of that 6 billion ton capacity is remaining.
  • 600-700 tons of waste is added to the landfill daily.

Makin’ that Green: Fiscal year 2012

  • $176,856 worth of the harvested methane from the site’s bioenergy plant has been paid to the Public Works Solid Waste Division by the Water & Light Department.
  • 10,347 tons of material has been recycled in Columbia’s material recovery facility.
  • 14,588 tons of compost have been processed at the sites compost facility.

(Somewhat) Dirty Jobs: Staffing

  • 7 full-time employees at the recovery facility.
  • 22 temporary employees at the recovery facility.
  • 14 full-time employees at the landfill.
  • temporary employees at the landfill.
  • 2 full-time employees at the compost facility.
  • 1 temporary employee at the compost facility

Now, on to the photos!

The most critical part of the recovery process is this big blue baler. The baler converts all of the recycled materials into easily manageable bales.
Fibers (cardboard, paper and magazines), piling up, soon to be baled.
Employees hard at work, sorting out the waste from recyclable material as it makes its way through the through the baler process.
Recyclable plastics waiting to be bailed.
Note: The facility does not recycle plastics 3-7 because there is not a strong enough market for them to be profitable.
Bales of recycled aluminum, soon be auctioned to the highest bidders (i.e. companies that will further process the aluminum for redistribution.
A close up look at an aluminum bale. Can you dig it?!
The landfill.
Note: This photo does not do any amount of justice in portraying its incredible vastness.
This is part of the main machine at the site’s bioenergy plant. It’s a remarkable (and remarkably noisy – earplugs were needed) facility that harvests methane and other sources of energy from the waste in the landfill.