Bleeding maroon while staying green

Woman pollinating a soybean

I recently spent some time traveling with my beautiful grandchildren. I can’t tell you how much I value getting to watch them play, laugh and learn. And, while I watch them grow and discover the world, I can’t help but think about the ways I can improve the world they will inherit.

That is one reason I am proud to call myself a Saluki. Our students’ commitment to environmental stewardship sets a high standard for the region and the country. We’ve earned a silver ranking from the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), and have numerous ongoing initiatives to improve that ranking. We’ve also been recognized as a Bicycle Friendly University by The League of American Bicyclists and have been designated as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation.

In fact, many credit the late R. Buckminster Fuller, an SIU professor from 1959 to 1971, as the father of the modern sustainability movement. He published more than 30 books and lectured internationally but is perhaps best known for popularizing the geodesic dome.

Sustainability has long been a personal and professional interest. In fact, it was was a focus of the research we did at the Ingenuity Lab affiliated with the University of Alberta, my previous academic home. I’m pleased to see it front and center at SIU, as well.

Putting our money where our mouth is

Salukis don’t just talk the talk when it comes to sustainability. In 2009, students came forward to request the university create a new fund to help develop green initiatives. The result was the $10 Green Fee, which feeds the Green Fund. The fund in turn awards grants to support proposals that address the three pillars of sustainability (environmental health, social equity and economic prosperity) on campus.

More than $2.1 million has been allocated already in support of 169 diverse sustainability projects, and the Sustainability Council is now accepting proposals for a new round of grants, which will be announced in April. The deadline for proposals is March 1.

Sustainability in action

The projects supported by the Green Fund have had an impact across SIU campus. Many of these projects involve students, giving them real-world experience, and require collaboration from programs across campus.

Here are just a few of the many examples:

Salukis have kept approximately 1 million plastic bottles from landfills by using refill stations across campus, and worked with AIGA, a professional student design Registered Student Organization, to create signage to better communicate what is and what is not recyclable at our campus recycling stations.

The Green Fund has also brightened up the College of Agriculture building with a vertical garden that helps purify the air while using fewer resources than a typical garden. The Agriculture Building also hosts a green roof, which not only provides an excellent opportunity for hands-on research, but reduces heating and cooling costs and controls pollution from storm water runoff.

In the Department of Theater, the Green Fund helped with the installation of new lighting control consoles and LED light fixtures, which reduced energy usage for productions by 75 percent, and a new Steeldeck stage platform, which cuts down on the amount of lumber waste from theatrical sets. Both of these projects also give students the opportunity to develop their skills using industry-standard technology.

The university’s Physical Plant has chipped in by installing a 28kW photovoltaic solar array, installed more than 6,000 energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, added LED lights to almost 1,000 exit signs, and upgraded old fluorescent lighting to more efficient technology in 82 buildings.

I could go on, but there are too many projects to fit into one blog. I encourage you to check out all of SIU’s sustainability program on the campus Sustainability website. They are truly a shining example of our commitment to environmental stewardship.

Get involved

Salukis are digging in and getting involved in a number of ways. The Saluki Green Action Team — a collaborative group of students, faculty and staff — work to inform the SIU community about ways to measurably reduce our carbon footprint. Anyone can join for free.

SIU will also again be participating in the national RecycleMania competition and benchmarking event in February and March, joining other institutions of higher learning in reporting their recycling, composting and waste statistics for an eight-week period, with ranks determined accordingly. Our goal this year is to increase recycling and reduce waste.

First Friday Green Tours will also resume this spring, offering anyone the opportunity to tour campus and learn more about existing green projects and initiatives. Tours begin at noon on Feb. 2, March 2, April 6 and May 4 at the Innovation and Sustainability Hub, located in the Student Center.

A growing team

Geory Kurtzhals has been leading sustainability at SIU since the fall 2015 semester. During this time, the program has grown and SIU has received additional national recognition for its sustainability endeavors. This year, I am happy to welcome Karen Schauwecker, a 2015 SIU alumna with a master’s degree in geography and environmental resources. She is joining Geory’s team as our new sustainability program coordinator. After spending several years in agriculture education at the K-8 and university levels, Karen is returning to SIU.

There are also two new “Sustainability Fellows” on campus: Jesse Galaway, a senior mechanical engineering student from Monticello, Ill., and Samantha Griffin, a junior geography and environmental resources major from Chicago. These amazing students are gaining practical experience as they assist SIU’s Sustainability Office in supporting events and outreach, as well as recycling and other initiatives, and working to improve the campus-wide STARS sustainability score.

Learn more

Learn more about SIU’s nationally recognized sustainability efforts at www.sustainability.siu.edu, by emailing sustainability@siu.edu or by calling 618/453-2846.

Author: Carlo Montemagno

Carlo Montemagno is chancellor of Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Learn more about him at chancellor.siu.edu.