Toward a Greener Future

Students take the lead on efforts to reduce energy use in residence halls.

Earlham is taking a number of steps to make its campus more environmentally sustainable. The College is seeking LEED certification for its building projects — the new and renovated facilities for the sciences, the new visual and performing arts center and the renovation of Tyler Hall. There are many endeavors to reduce waste and energy use on campus. New majors in environmental science and environmental studies give an academic home for students who are acutely interested in sustainability issues. This spring, a group of students and faculty will be putting the finishing touches on a Comprehensive Sustainability Plan that will be submitted to the Board of Trustees for approval in June.

Across campus there are many initiatives underway that relate to environmental sustainability. In the following pages, we will highlight a few.

Miller Farm

Perhaps the most basic and grounded of Earlham’s sustainability projects is Miller Farm, a working farm where 10 students live and keep the farm working and producing all year round. When winter air starts rushing up Abington Pike, Miller Farm residents gather in the living room to cuddle around the wood-burning stove. Flickering flames radiate heat upwards, permeating layers of wool and fleece to dry socks dangling above the stove. Relics from years past hang from the walls, books lie open on the floor, and the farmers laugh together in the big white house.

Miller Farmers this year feel grounded by life on the farm.

“It’s an important counterbalance to the growing internationalism at Earlham because it’s a strong connection to the local that ties this land to the greater Earlham and Richmond communities,” explains Colin Andrews ’14. With plans for a new orchard and the community garden, the impacts of the farm intersect with student life on campus.

Everyone can dig a hole, plant seeds, and pull weeds, and the accessibility of gardens make them a gathering place for students who visit Miller Farm for Farm Day on Saturdays.

“For a lot of people, that ability to get away from Earlham to come to this Miller Farm space, into these gardens, is something that can center them and reinvigorate them in terms of their academics,” says Lyndsey Tu ’14. “And to have that be our home is really special; it’s a space where people come to feel happy.”

Energy Dashboard

Every Earlham student who has taken a science class in the past two years has seen the simple screen hanging in the lobby of Dennis Hall. It is small, another stimulus amongst the colorful posters, a scale model of Stonehenge, and fun-house mirror that greet each person. This interactive energy dashboard displays real-time data on the energy uses of the campus’s metered buildings.

These display systems inform students about their energy consumption — demonstrating trends and patterns throughout days and months — in hopes that the increased awareness will encourage conservation.

Through an effort by the computer science department’s Hardware Interface Project and Green Science Group, students have worked closely with faculty and staff to develop the metering and display systems for the project. The computer science teams have been working with electricians and maintenance staff to build the infrastructure to collect data, as well as collaborating with mathematics faculty to develop the software models for displaying the information on dashboards.

“We’re not serious about changing something until we’re willing to measure it,” remarks Ian Smith, director of facilities. Earlham’s ability to differentiate the energy uses of individual buildings opens up many opportunities for conservation education and sustainability.

Energy Wars

If you had walked into Mills Hall last spring, you could have seen students swirling through the hallways in brightly colored capes, wielding pretzel light sabers and making such commitments to save energy as taking shorter showers and line-drying clothes. This was the kickoff event for the Energy Wars, part of the Campus Conservation Nationals that Earlham was able to join thanks to the energy dashboard and metering initiatives. Coordinated by the Center for Environmental Action and Environmental Studies program, the Star Wars-themed competition (hence the capes) encouraged students in campus residence halls to battle to achieve the greatest energy conservation over a three-week period.  

Using data from the dashboard and computer science meters, banners were arranged Hogwarts-style above the fireplace in the dining hall to announce the conservation leader each day. Dorm captains donned capes to encourage participation around campus.

Barrett Hall took top honors with an astounding 21.2% reduction in energy consumption. All participants won a meal at a local restaurant.  

Environmental Semester

Fresh from Earlham’s August Wilderness backpacking trip, Bri Cody ’16 was anxious to move into her dorm room on the third floor of Bundy Hall, the home for the first crew of Environmental Scholars at Earlham.

As part of an initiative to create innovative new first-year programming, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Director of the Center for Environmental Action Jay Roberts worked to develop this program as a pedagogical incubator/academic and experiential learning opportunity for incoming students interested in environmental studies and science. As part of the Environmental Semester, Cody takes a trio of classes, Environment and Society, Ecological Biology, and an Environmentally themed Seminar. “There have been so many interweaving connections between all of them,” Cody says. The students often sit together to complete the readings and pause to discuss along the way. “Since all of our classes are connected, we don’t have to switch gears,” notes Bailey Howard ’16.   

“I have learned so much by being automatically immersed in sustainability on campus and have been challenged and encouraged every step of the way,” says Cody. “It’s really helped my transition to college.”

Ford/Knight: Creating Earlham's Climate Action Plan

Though her dream afternoon involves kayaking on a frothy river lined with a fringe of dense trees and wild animals, Helen Mountjoy-Venning ’14 will settle with quiet research on her bed, seated atop a bright woven blanket in her room filled with pictures of adventures. “Look at this beautiful geothermal plant in Iceland,” she says, showing me a picture of steam billowing up from a snowy landscape. “We should have that at Earlham.”

Mountjoy-Venning is part of a Ford-Knight research team of eight students, led by professor of environmental studies Jay Roberts, who are working to create Earlham’s first Climate Action Plan. Earlham’s Ford-Knight program funds student-faculty research projects. The program was established with grants from the Ford Foundation in 1985 and the Knight Foundation in 1989. The Climate Action Plan will outline specific strategies for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by the college.

Roberts always looks for ways to create student and faculty learning experiences, and he took this opportunity to engage students in the “messy practicalities of problem-solving.” Each student chose his or her own research focus that relates back to the overall goal of the Climate Action Plan. These directions range from creating an eco-house to greening initiatives in the Athletics department, providing critical research for the drafting of the plan. “It’s more self-directed,” says Mountjoy-Venning. “That’s challenging.”

In October, the group traveled to Los Angeles to attend the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference. Here, the Earlham group engaged with students and faculty from peer institutions and organizations dedicated to reducing energy on college campuses. They were able to gain insights on concrete solutions for energy reduction, from change management strategies to financial modeling.

“I love going to conferences with students because I think it’s one of those opportunities where students can go out and experience a broader world,” Roberts says. “And then come back together and query each other about what you found, bringing it back to Earlham.”

Japanese Garden Design & History Class

For centuries, Japan, a densely populated nation that nonetheless values simplicity and sustainability, has fostered these values with beautiful and contemplative gardens.

Next semester, 12 students will explore differing Japanese ideas in this area with Meghen Jones ’93, teaching fellow in Japanese studies. Together, they will renovate the Huffman Japanese Garden in Runyan Center and will study the history, theory, and design of gardens in Japan. “We’ll be looking at all sorts of Japanese garden designs, from the earliest of Shinto sacred space designations to Zen gardens to Daimyo or feudal lord gardens, leisure spaces, and contemporary designs that accommodate traditional values with an urban Japan,” Jones explains. Initial discussions with Nancy Jackson, landscape designer, and Chuck Yates, professor of history, whose father helped build the original garden in the early 1970s, have provided valuable background information about the garden, but much of the design and renovation will be determined and executed by the student group in the spring.

Jones explains that it is a cliché in discussions of Japanese culture that the country is uniquely situated such that the Japanese people have an intuitive capacity to understand nature because of natural disasters, such as volcanos, earthquakes and tsunami. This collective exposure and understanding of the natural world informs their relationship to the earth and the gardens they create.

Jones received a SEED grant from the Center for Environmental Action to help cover the costs of renovation; she hopes that this project will bring attention to the Huffman garden within the Earlham community. 

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