Students employed by the college as Environmental Quality Assistants, or EQAs, have been an integral part of sustainability programs at Marlboro for several years. But this year there is a bumper crop of EQAs on the job, six in all, rising to address several environmental challenges at once. They report directly to the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) on a range of projects from improving energy use on campus to researching the Climate Action Plans at other colleges.
“The EQAs are essentially the day-to-day action arm of the EAC, which advises the president on issues of policy and planning,” said Matt Ollis, math professor and chair of the EAC. “I was thrilled with the number of people interested in the position, all of them with talents to bring, and I continue to get inquiries.”
Among the valuable projects the EQAs are working on, they are assessing and applying weatherstripping around doors and collecting data on windows left open (and shutting them) and lights left on (and turning them off). They are installing LED light bulbs all around campus, with the goal of removing nearly all incandescent light bulbs by the end of the academic year. Members of the team are developing helpful signage for recycling bins, and to remind people to close windows and doors tight. Along with the dining hall staff they are launching the self-assessment required for participation in the Real Food Challenge, and collecting mugs and plates that find their way into dorms. They are even designing and building a tricycle cart for collecting compostables at events.
The dining hall staff has made great gains in buying more local foods, in line with the recent Real Food Campus Commitment, but not all their efforts have been local. A new partnership with Lotus Foods, an importer of ecologically sustainable whole-grain rice varieties, provides a wholesome option for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free students.
Lotus Food’s “More Crop Per Drop” rice varieties are grown with 50 percent less water and 90 percent fewer seeds, requiring less land, less labor, and lower costs for smallholder farm families. They also produce less methane than conventional flooded rice fields, so contribute less to global warming.
“We’re just making every effort to find as many ecologically sustainable food sources as possible, so when our distributor offered this rice we jumped right on it,” said Benjamin Newcomb (pictured), chef manager at Marlboro through Metz Culinary Management. Marlboro is the first Metz location to order Lotus Food rice, and is regarded as a pioneer in the company for introducing more local, organic, and other sustainable food options.
Bicycles are not only good for the environment, they are a great way to get exercise and blow off steam after 300 pages of The Brothers Karamazov. It’s therefore not surprising that Town Meeting voted in favor of paying $1,000 from the “Washer and Dryer Fund” to obtain three shiny, new mountain bikes. The proposal, which was presented to Town Meeting by Randy Knaggs, director of the Outdoor Program, met with unanimous approval, even raising the fund request from $750 to $1,000. The new bicycles, Raleigh Talus 3.0s purchased from Burrows Specialized Sports in Brattleboro, will be added to the growing stable of bicycles for students to borrow from the “bike shed” next to Random North.
“These are definitely the shiniest bikes we have had in the bike shed in a long time,” said Max Foldeak, director of the Total Health Center. Max leads a weekly bike trip on nearby dirt roads and trails that he refers to as “cycle therapy,” enjoyed by students, staff, and faculty alike. “This fall we had three new students show up wanting to ride, but they didn’t have bikes. Now we’ll be able to accommodate more interested students. It’s a great way to get off campus, to get to know the neighborhood, and figure out where you are geographically…as well as psychologically,” added Max.
“I am thrilled to be a part of the solution to our troubled food system,” said Benjamin Newcomb, chef manager at Marlboro through Metz Culinary Management. On April 15, Benjamin and Marlboro President Ellen McCulloch-Lovell signed the Real Food Campus Commitment, joining more than 100 colleges and universities across the country.“The Real Food Challenge permits us to create a fair, sustainable food culture that celebrates the student, the local farmer, and the best of what New England agriculture has to offer—farm to table.” The signing of the commitment was followed by a community dinner of mostly regional or ecologically sound foods, part of Marlboro’s events leading up to Earth Day.
“The garden and greenhouse are spaces of experimentation to relearn essential human skills—i.e. how to grow food,” said a recent article in College Planning & Management, referring to Marlboro College’s “farm.” “The students build knowledge by building community, while decreasing dependency on industrial agriculture.”
The article on Marlboro was included as part of a regular column on “Outdoor Learning Spaces” in CP&M, a magazine providing planning solutions for colleges and universities across the country, with more than 30,000 subscribers. “The space lives on and adapts to the current needs and interests of the community,” concludes the article. “New challenges create new opportunities for knowledge experimentation.
Although there are still a couple feet of snow on the Marlboro Farm, things are warming up in the greenhouse this spring. That’s because there is a class this semester called Finishing the Greenhouse: Collaborative Research & Action that is taking a closer look at how to make this community space a more effective resource for year-round, farm-related activities. Taught by writing professor Kyhl Lyndgaard and chemistry professor Todd Smith, in collaboration with admissions counselor Kenton Card, carpenter Don Capponcelli, and Outdoor Program director Randy Knaggs, this class has the task of making the greenhouse more functional.
The purpose of the Finishing the Greenhouse course is to bring together a team of faculty, staff, and students to study the performance of the greenhouse and how it can best be integrated into the farm. Working together as well as on independent projects, the class is asking questions like: How will the greenhouse be most effectively used? How much light does the greenhouse receive? How much heat does it retain? What kinds of plants are a good match between the performance of the building and the community’s needs?
Students started the semester by building electronic light and temperature loggers, to measure these variables in different parts of the greenhouse over the season. Then they measured the overall surface dimensions and volume of the space, and learned how to conduct a “blower door test” (pictured above) to measure the air-tightness of the envelope. All of these measurements will help instruct the design of a ventilation system, solar-powered lights, and other systems that will help make the space more effective. Throughout the semester the course is rooted in collaborative and site-specific learning, known as place-based pedagogy. The greenhouse presents a unique opportunity to generate empirical data, find design solutions, and construct projects that will make a difference.
On August 26, Marlboro hosted the annual meeting of the Vermont Campus Sustainability Network, a group of sustainability coordinators from colleges and universities across the state. Seven colleges were represented, including University of Vermont, Green Mountain College, and Norwich University, and 17 people attended the meeting—one of the biggest meetings in recent years, contrary to expectations given Marlboro’s location far away from most other Vermont campuses. Attendees also included representatives from Efficiency Vermont, who sponsored the event.
After being welcomed by Ellen McCulloch-Lovell, Marlboro president, the group discussed their experiences and campus initiatives in energy conservation, carpooling, socially responsible investing, and more sustainable food options. A highlight of the meeting was a visit to the Marlboro greenhouse and farm, where attendees learned about these student-initiated projects to bring more focus on local food at the college. Marlboro looks forward to further engagement with, and new ideas from, this network of like-minded campuses.
While Marlboro College is making every effort to be more sustainable, in its operations, academic programs, and administration, how does it stack up to other colleges? Marlboro now has a window into this important issue through the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS), a methodology developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. As part of her Plan of Concentration work, Joy Auciello ’13 compiled answers to the 135 comprehensive questions, detailed in the 300-page STARS technical manual, and found that Marlboro scores equivalent to a Silver rating.
“At Marlboro, we can think of STARS as a template for environmental improvement,” said Joy, pictured right helping build the new greenhouse. She built an internal website that will let the college track it’s sustainability work, using metrics that that reflect Marlboro’s place in the higher education landscape. Of the schools that have officially joined STARS, fewer than 50 have a Gold rating and none have the best-possible Platinum. For now Marlboro’s results are unofficial, as the college has chosen not to report directly to AASHE. But with so much work into it, and such a positive outcome, Marlboro will likely revisit joining STARS in the future.
“This is a great piece of work by Joy,” said Matt Ollis, math professor and chair of the Environmental Advisory Committee. “It gives us the chance to identify areas where we should pay more attention in the coming years and highlights some of our past and ongoing successful hard work.”
Marlboro’s Environmental Advisory Committee has initiated a community “green revolving fund” to support energy efficiency and renewable energy projects around campus. Starting with a seed grant from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation gift, the GRF will provide capital for these projects and be replenished out of the savings those projects generate.
“In the last few years there has been significant growth in this type of fund at colleges and universities,” said Matt Ollis, math professor and chair of the EAC. “There’s little doubt that it can be an effective way to implement structural energy efficiency measures.”
Two projects already under consideration for funding through the GRF are installing more efficient lighting in Persons Auditorium and a photovoltaic (solar panel) array on the maintenance building to offset electricity costs. The money that these measures saves the college each year will be reinvested into the fund, to provide for other green projects in future years.
It takes between 6,000 and 8,000 gallons of oil each year to heat Persons, Marlboro’s spacious gym and auditorium. That is about to change, as nine 500-foot-deep geothermal wells are being drilled in March 2013. The geothermal project was proposed and paid for by the Marlboro Music School and Festival that occupies campus during the summer months, but it will also be a boon to the heating bill during the winter.
The geothermal system works by circulating water through a closed loop, in and out of the wells. The groundwater in the wells never leaves the ground, but cools the system water by heat transfer, the same as a radiator. The circulating water cools the building in the hot summer months and, because the ambient temperature is so much colder than the 55-degree groundwater, helps heat the building in the winter. Although it will result in more electricity costs, because of the circulating pumps, the new geothermal system will significantly reduce Marlboro College’s carbon emissions. Something worth thinking about, while you’re playing basketball or listening to a concert.