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Sustainability initiatives increase on campus

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The Grill has added composting to their plethora of cans. Photo by Shabana Gupta.

On Thursday, Nov. 11, the “Sustainability on Campus and Beyond” panel discussed the College’s current action on climate change. Two of the College’s major initiatives were discussed at the meeting: the addition of more sub-meters and expanding composting to the Spencer Grill. Environmental and Safety Coordinator Chris Bair and Hannah Malicky `22, Student Government Association (SGA) environmental sustainability chair, are working to ensure that the College prioritizes environmental sustainability.  

An important step for sustainability is obtaining a broad sense of how energy is consumed so that the College can figure out the steps to reduce its energy use. Currently, the college only has one SEM for all of campus, a device that measures the amount of energy used. 

“The downside is right now we have no idea of what Noyce consumes, relative to the Joe [JRC], relative to the Bear,” said Bair. “We can’t have dorm competitions, you know, students would love to have energy competitions [to see] who can save more in the light.” 

The College plans to add additional sub-meters, so that they can gather data about energy use relative to different buildings.  

“Next semester, we’ll have sub-meters put in  all the dorms and the seven largest buildings,” said Bair.  

This energy data will be readily available to students on an open-source energy dashboard software that was created by Steve Huss-Lederman, a retired Beloit College professor. Students will have the opportunity to evaluate their energy use through this database.  

I have very strong faith that students can take on initiatives, especially at Grinnell College. – Hannah Malicky, SGA Environmental Sustainability Chair

“That will also provide students an ability to do data analysis and things like that, which is really cool. And hopefully get students more engaged with that side of environmentalism,” said Malicky, who is an independent major in environmental justice with a concentration in peace and conflict studies.  

Another sustainability project of the College is extending the composting program. “We’re trying to do everything compostable that we can,” said Malicky.  

All the food waste generated from the Dining Hall is composted, but the College, in partnership with the Student Environmental Committee (SEC), has added new compost bins to the Spencer Grill. Minimizing single-use plastics has also been a priority.  

“Over COVID, the conversation of single use plastic really sparked,” said Malicky. “SEC has been working on is reducing the amount of single use plastic within the grill. The cookies used to be wrapped in that plastic wrap, and now, they give them out in compostable kind of things.” 

On Monday, Nov. 15 compost bins were added to Spencer Grill as an addition to the current compost program. Although this is a major step in providing students with an environmentally friendly option to dispose of their food waste and compostable materials, the bins are only effective if they are not contaminated with trash or recycling. If there is any contamination, the entire bin has to be thrown away. 

“I would say four or five years ago … there were a lot of things that we could talk about [regarding sustainability] but they weren’t necessarily really indicative of [a] priority,” Bair said. “But sustainability is definitely a priority now. The Board of Trustees asks for the annual sustainability update and shows that they’re really interested and want to make sure we are making progress.” 

Even though the College is making progress in its environmental initiatives, it is still mostly student led.  

“There is a need, an aggressive need, for more institutional memory … for environmentalism because currently it’s student-run, but then we leave in four years,” said Malicky. “We need that institutional support.” 

Despite the lack of sufficient staffing dedicated to the environmental sustainability of the College, Malicky has hope in the students. “I have very strong faith that students can take on initiatives, especially at Grinnell College,” she said.  

After Malicky graduates at the end of the semester, she plans to continue the initiatives she started as a student.  

 “I’m going to be writing a 10-year plan for my position that is loose. So, students can … [see the] things that I have started, and that other people have started that should be maintained throughout these 10 years,” she said.  

Malicky has a passion project of her own that she hopes will start next semester. She is working on a bottomless mug campaign in which students will pay upfront for a mug in the Spencer grill and then receive free coffee for the rest of the semester. 

“You buy a tumbler for theoretically, like $100 at the beginning of the semester. And then for the entire year, if you bring that coffee mug, you get free coffee,” she said. “I’m hoping to implement that as a spring pilot project. There’s a lot of kinks that we’re working on right now. But that’s hopefully going to reduce the amount of cups that are given out.”  

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