Arboretum: Going Green @ Haverford
Over the course of six days in October, Haverford’s campus sustainability officer Claudia Kent watched with growing excitement as a team of workers transformed the roof of Stokes Hall into a meadow.
Atop the asphalt, the crew installed water conduits and stone edging, and layered on drainage matting and sheets of polyethylene. Then, an 80-ton crane lifted bags of special lightweight soil onto the roof. Next, handfuls of sedums—drought tolerant, quick-to-root succulents—were tossed into the dirt until the entire rooftop was flecked with green. Finally, the seedlings were covered by a protective coir mat.
“It will all be in bloom in a year and will cover the roof completely in two years,” says Kent of Haverford’s very first green roof, which will provide wildlife habitat, control storm water run-off and help insulate the building against heat and cold. “And that’s not all,” says the enthusiastic Kent. “Green roofs can also double the life of a roof, which means lower maintenance costs and less waste going into landfill.”
Those dramatic changes on the Stokes roof are all part of Haverford’s increasing effort to go greener. And helping that process along has been the College’s Committee for Environmental Responsibility (CER).
Composed of students, faculty and staff, the committee was created through a student initiative at Plenary in fall 2000. The group’s first project was to create a long-term green plan for the College. “A Vision for a Green Haverford” addressed water conservation, energy use, waste reduction, and more, and called for the recognition of CER as “the key locus to facilitate implementation of the green plan.” In 2003, the plan was adopted as official college policy.
Central to CER’s mission is ensuring that environmental concern is an integral part of Haverford College’s daily life, informing everything from curriculum to administrative decisions to the maintenance of facilities and grounds.
Since its founding, the nine-member committee (student members are appointed by Students’ Council, faculty and staff by the President) has been instrumental in upping recycling efforts on campus and promoting energy conservation awareness. CER hosted a large-scale tree-planting project at the Orchard parking lot, co-sponsored an environmental conference on campus in 2007, and pushed to make the design for the Gardner Integrated Athletic Center environmentally conscious. (Haverford’s first LEED certified building, Gardner won a gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, which oversees the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certifications.)
In another CER-coordinated initiative, Styrofoam beverage cups were eliminated from the Coop and the Dining Center and replaced with bio-degradable cups made from corn oil.
Thanks to the efforts of CER, whose hardworking early ranks included Stephanie Rudolph ’06, Ethan Roland ’04, Hannah Shulman ’07 and Ingrid Weiss ’07, as well as professors Kaye Edwards (Independent College Programs) and James Ransom (English), and Dining Services Director John Francone, Tom Tritton was inspired to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2007. The Climate Commitment, which Stephen Emerson re-signed when he took over as president, pledges a college to take immediate steps toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to set longer term goals for becoming climate neutral. It also requires colleges to integrate sustainability into the curriculum and to make any action plans public. (CER reports on the greening work at the College through the Going Green at Haverford blog on the College website.)
Since signing on to the President’s Climate Commitment, Haverford has taken a number of steps toward reducing the College’s environmental impact. For example, all of the electricity Haverford purchases now comes from wind generated sources, according to Director of Facilities Management Ron Tola. The campus’s first geothermal well, installed last year, saves on cooling costs at the President’s house, while upgrades to the College’s computerized energy management system allows Facilities Management staff to centrally monitor 8,000 different points on campus 24 hours a day and conserve energy by adjusting heating and cooling units with the touch of a computer key. “Instead of just turning on the heat at a certain time in the morning, we can now read the temperature inside and out and base it on that,” says Tola.
“Some things we’re looking at for the future are preferred parking for car pools and hybrids,” says Tola. “Right now, we allow vehicles on campus for sophomores, juniors and seniors, and we let gas guzzlers park any where they want. But if we are going to live our ideals we are going to have to address vehicle use on campus.”
Even the way the College maintains the campus is changing, according to Kent, who in addition to her role as sustainability officer is also the College’s grounds manager. The grass is now left to grow tall in large swathes of the Arboretum, which helps with storm water management and creates a better habitat for birds and small mammals. Native plantings, which are better suited to the local environment, have also been increased. Between 2005 and 2008, 84 percent of the more than 7,000 new plants—most of them tiny, seedling perennials known as “plugs”—installed by Arboretum staff were natives.
The Climate Commitment has put Haverford’s move toward sustainability on a faster track, says Tola, who works closely with CER and named Kent sustainability officer last year. “We’ve done our emissions inventory and submitted information on our carbon footprint,” says Tola. “We’re into the first phase, now, which requires us to do a number of things on energy conservation. Within six months we expect to have our long-range plan for reducing energy use and becoming climate neutral in place.”
“I definitely think we are on the right trajectory at Haverford,” says Meg Dickey-Griffith ’09, who has been serving on CER since her freshman year. In March, Dickey-Griffith helped coordinate the College’s participation in Recyclemania along with fellow CER member Alex Mirarchi ’11. This friendly competition and benchmarking tool for college and university recycling programs measures and ranks the recycling efforts of schools over a 10-week period. Haverford emerged from the competition with a strong showing in the Per Capita Classic category, in which schools vied to collect the most recyclables per person. The College was number one in the state (out of 33 colleges entered) and was ranked 17 nationally (out of 293 colleges entered).
Says Dickey-Griffith, “In the last few years there has been much more support from the administration on sustainability, and I think most of the campus is pretty aware of environmental issues and very much wants to do the right thing. And our job with CER is to help make that happen.”
On a cold early March morning, the Committee for Environmental Responsibility is gathered around a conference table in the Dining Center’s Pendle Hill room for its weekly meeting. Starting in on a long list of agenda items, Claudia Kent begins her update to the group, which includes Assistant Director of Facilities Management Fern Hall, Dining Services Director John Francone, a founding CER member, KINSC instrument maker Bruce Boyes, visiting assistant professor of physics Anna Sajina, and Dickey-Griffith.
Mirarchi records the minutes of the meeting, typing away on his laptop computer, as Kent reports that the Athletic Department has approved CER’s request to grant physical education credits to students working on a soon-to-be established campus organic garden. Also going forward, she says, is an initiative that Francone and Coop manager Geoffrey Labe have been working on that will make reusable beverage cups available for sale at the bookstore and give students who use them a discount on drinks at the Coop. And starting that very week, Kent says, is the Go by Bike series, a new effort aimed at reducing the College’s carbon footprint by promoting bicycle use by students, faculty and staff. Included in the program, which CER established in partnership with the Haverford College Go By Bike Committee with support from the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, will be a lecture on sustainable transportation, a bike repair clinic, and a three-part smart cycling course.
“We’re also looking at starting a community bike program and we want to begin by asking graduating seniors to donate their bikes,” says Kent, who notes that a bike sharing program for maintenance staff launched last summer proved popular and cut back on the use of gasoline-powered golf carts.
Longtime CER member John Francone is up next. He’s got a meeting later, he says, with student representatives over an initiative just passed at Plenary calling for the College to cease giving out plastic bottles of water at campus events. Francone has also been working with students to promote the idea of going trayless in the Dining Center—which can save water and energy as well as reduce food waste. While he’s not ready to mandate the removal of trays, as a number of other colleges have done, he’s considering a suggestion from Students’ Council to move the trays’ location to make it not so easy to grab one. “The immediate goal is to reduce the amount of food students are taking and wasting,” he says.
Food waste has become a big issue for CER, which has been looking at the possibilities for large scale composting on campus. “The Dining Center generates approximately 200 pounds of pre-consumer waste a day— that is things like the outside leaves of the lettuce and the broccoli bottoms we throw out during food prep,” says Francone. “Add to that what goes into the trash cans in the front of the house and we’re up to more than 500 pounds of food waste a day that has to be trucked out of here.”
In an effort to explore some of the composting options, CER brought to campus representatives from Dickinson College, where a college-supported organic farm composts the dining service’s food waste using a traditional windrow method. In March, Haverford began a small pilot program to compost the Dining Center’s pre-consumer waste using windrows, which are heaped rows of compostable material regularly turned to speed decomposition. (Coming from the DC’s prep kitchen, reports Kent, has been about 1,000 pounds of food waste each week.)
Meanwhile, the committee has been looking into two high-tech composting systems designed for institutional use. Using various combinations of large-scale pulping machines, tanks and ovens to dry the food waste, one system—now in use at nearby Villanova—can produce usable compost in two weeks; the other promises compost in just 12 hours. To help guide the College’s decision making, CER has employed a consultant who at press time was in the process of evaluating Haverford’s entire waste stream.
Along with food waste, an effective composting system could also utilize biodegradable cups and utensils, as well as paper products, points out Kent. “Composting could save the college money as well as benefit the environment,” she says. “We would no longer have those trucks going back and forth to the landfill and we could use all of the compost we produce in the Arboretum.”
CER has been able to step up its activities in recent years thanks to the help of alumni benefactor Al Nierenberg ’85, who came forward in 2004 to provide annual funding to the group.
“That was a big boost and really a turning point for CER,” says Bruce Boyes, who has served on the committee since 2002 and has been helping to lead the effort to institute large-scale composting. “That funding allowed us to do things we would not have been able to do otherwise. We could put up posters, buy tee shirts and have events, and from that grew the student challenges.” He refers to CER-sponsored environmental consciousness- raising campaigns of past years. Known as the “Do It” series, they included “Do It in the Dark,” which reminded people to turn off lights, and “Do It Front and Back,” aimed at conserving paper.
“I found out about CER through a College publication and I decided I wanted to work with them and support them,” says Nierenberg, who headed the Outing Club during his years at Haverford and ran a volunteer work program on campus that helped maintain the Nature Trail, painted dorms and also addressed energy conservation. “I remember going around putting up sheets of plastic on windows,” Nierenberg says.
“Haverford has been improving its environmental record every year,” says Nierenberg, a Massachusetts business consultant with a specialty in sustainable practices. He notes that Haverford improved its overall grade from a “C” to a “B” last year on the annual Sustainability Report Card issued by the Sustainable Endowments Institute. “And I’m really pleased that the College has been sourcing local food for the Dining Center; that it committed to building a LEED-certified building and is addressing energy use. All of these things, everything we do, will help make a better world for future generations."