Sustainability Initiatives Have Deep Roots at Tri-C
July 22, 2015
Every Saturday morning, Shane Reece loads up a truck with food waste from the Cuyahoga Community College Metropolitan Campus cafeteria. The scraps include fruits and vegetables and other compostable leftovers.
The Tri-C maintenance worker takes the stuff to Rid-All Green Partnership, an urban farm in Cleveland’s Kinsman neighborhood. There, the waste goes into a large pile and, after about six months, is transformed into “black gold,” what Rid-All co-founder and Tri-C alum Keymah Durden calls the compost the waste becomes.
This is but one example of Tri-C’s commitment to sustainability. It’s also one of the more obvious examples in an effort that encompasses the College as a whole and includes initiatives that go beyond recycling and composting all the way to academics.
“People want to be stewards of the resources of the College,” said David November, Tri-C’s director of sustainability. “The efforts are dependent on the dedication of Tri-C employees.”
Tri-C claims four buildings that are LEED certified, a stamp of approval from the U.S. Green Building Coalition. But the real work goes on almost behind the scenes, in the details.
November’s efforts include recycling scrap metal, reusing shipping pallets as kindling for the College’s fire training program, composting lawn and food waste, shredding and recycling paper, encouraging energy efficiency and more.
“Sustainability can be found wherever you look for it,” November said.
Waste Not, Want Not
Sustainability as a concept took hold at the College around 2007. That was the year the College hired Dr. Craig Foltin, executive vice president of administration and finance, and he noticed there were no recycling containers in his office. Thus began an assessment of Tri-C’s sustainability practices.
This resulted in the College’s sustainability plan, which was adopted in 2010. It called for pursuing carbon neutrality, reducing the environmental impact of the College’s buildings, waste reduction and more.
That year, assistant professor Ky-Wai Wong began a composting initiative at Eastern Campus. With help from James Funai, an assistant professor in the Plant Science and Landscape Technology program, students built four composting bins on campus. Food waste from Café 4250 and cooking labs makes its way to the bins and is eventually used for student landscaping projects on campus as well as a community garden.
“We had so much waste leftover. I knew there was something we could do, and this was the right thing to do,” Wong said.
In 2014, the Hospitality Management Center of Excellence at Public Square began delivering edible leftovers to St. Herman’s House in Ohio City and composting food waste at Maggie’s Farm in the Stockyards area of Cleveland.
The College also composts all of its yard waste.
November said waste diversion is a fundamental goal of the College. He hopes to be managing half of the College’s waste sustainably by 2025.
“The logistics are the biggest challenge,” November said.
At an institution of higher learning, paper also presents a problem. Tri-C recycles roughly 80 tons of paper per year. Faculty and staff are encouraged to think twice before hitting the print button, and when printing is necessary, using both sides of the paper is standard practice. Double-sided printing has saved the College roughly 5 million pages annually.
Last year the College began offering its course catalog exclusively online.
“There were huge amounts of those leftover,” November said.
November said controlling the use of paper on campus was still a big deal and that he would like to see greater strides made. But the critical element is that people think about it now, where they might not have in the past.
Eastern Campus has a 28,000-gallon cistern that captures runoff for irrigation. Other sustainability initiatives include an increased focus on online marketing, powering down computers at night instead of turning them off, and using energy-efficient lighting.
November said that this all fits in with Tri-C President Alex Johnson’s fifth priority: to make the most effective use of resources for the benefit of students. But there is another reason to act in an environmentally responsible way.
“It’s not costing us more, and it’s the right thing to do,” November said.
Compositing food waste is but a starting point for sustainability. Sustainability is a mindset, and some of the most interesting sustainability initiatives at Tri-C are happening in the classroom.
November said he would like, as a service, to offer sustainability lessons to the College’s faculty, but many are taking the initiative on their own.
Michael Wilkins, associate professor of mathematics at Metro, incorporates sustainability into his spring Statistics II course. Inspired by Earth Week, Wilkins asks students to formulate a question related to sustainability — paper versus plastic, hybrid cars versus traditional cars, nuclear power versus coal, even leaving a PlayStation on all the time versus turning it on and off — and then dig deep into the numbers that underlie it.
“It strengthens their statistical skills and their analytical skills, but it’s also making them aware about the environment,” Wilkins said. “There are so many problems with the environment that blend well with statistics.”
In her package design course, assistant professor Suzanne Meola encourages students to think about the environment. So, they design shampoo containers that are refillable at the store and reusable takeout containers, for example.
“Most of the time packaging is discarded into the municipal solid waste system, and it takes up one-third of our municipal solid waste system,” Meola said. “So, with that being said, how can we practice product stewardship when we are designing packaging to actually create things that can be reused or repurposed or packaging that is greener and built with material reduction?”
One of her students designed a square, aluminum beer can called the Cleveland Block. It minimizes wasted space during transport.
“I thought this would be over [students’] heads, that it would be too much. That was not the case. They loved it. They thought, they were challenged,” Meola said. “It changes them.”
The Big Picture
Last year, the College introduced its U Pass program, which offers students free use of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. This makes getting to and from school easier — possible in some cases. More than one out of four Tri-C students used public transportation to reach class during fall semester 2014 — a 50 percent increase from the previous year, according to a commuting survey by the College. But there is a sustainability component to the program, too. Riding the bus or rapid helps reduce carbon emissions.
This is a good example of how sustainability works at the College today. It’s not an idea that is forced on new initiatives; it’s a natural part of any move the College makes.
“As a community college, we are key members of the community,” November said.
November will tell you that sustainability can be part of any conversation, that there is a social justice component to sustainability (food security, for example). It’s a tricky concept to get your head around, but it speaks to a greater truth. You can talk about sustainability when you talk about anything at all.
“It’s gone from being practiced by people interested in it to being part of the culture,” he said.
While November would like to see the College’s paper waste decrease even further, he also has his sights on some of the more nuanced aspects of sustainability. He said he would like to work with students more. He would like to see sustainability as part of College-wide curricula — across disciplines — so students leave Tri-C with sustainability as part of their worldview.
“It’s a journey to a societal shift,” he said. “The trick is getting people to see how different systems interact and depend on one another.”