Marlboro College has recently become a member of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education to further campus efforts toward building a healthy and just world. Through membership in AASHE, Marlboro will receive support in advancing its sustainability initiatives throughout the institution and in the community.
“AASHE counts on the support of progressive institutions like Marlboro to fulfill its mission of facilitating leadership to transform our planet,” said Meghan Fay Zahniser, AASHE executive director. “As the gateways to knowledge, higher education institutions have a unique opportunity to make sustainability part of everyone’s agenda. I welcome Marlboro to our family of colleges, universities, associations, and businesses driving the transformation to a sustainable world.”
AASHE enables higher education institutions to meet their sustainability goals by providing specialized resources, professional development, and a network of peer support. Membership covers every individual at an institution, so the entire campus community can take advantage of member benefits.
“We are happy to join AASHE and expand on our active role within the higher education community, as we all work to advance sustainability,” said Todd Smith, Marlboro chemistry professor and chair of the Environmental Advisory Committee. “We encourage students, faculty, and staff to visit the AASHE site and take advantage of the member-only resources to support ongoing campus efforts like the community farm, recycling, composting, energy conservation, and the Real Food Challenge.”
The addition of new solar panels on the south-facing awning of the Marlboro College Graduate Center, on October 28, marked the latest stage in the greening of Marlboro. The new system includes a series of 16 grid-tied photovoltaic panels, rated at a total of 4,560 watts, facing the graduate center parking lot.
“It’s a very visible start to what could be a larger project down the road,” said K.P. Peterson, the college’s master electrician. Although the panels are not sufficient to generate all of the electricity used by the facility, long-range plans include expanding on the project to include panels on the roof.
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.”