Revisiting Harper College’s Sustainability Efforts

It’s been a few years since I wrote my blog post on Harper College’s sustainability initiative and efforts, so I decided to revisit this issue with the college to discover its progress and if there have been any additional programs added to the initial initiative.

Campus Additions

The campus is in the process of adding sub meters to track energy and water efficiency cost savings. The college has also changed the way it collects data for the carbon commitment progress evaluation. So, at the end of the next academic year, Harper should have more accurate findings to report.

Bringing Sustainability Into the Classroom

The Prairie Observation Deck, which was completed in the fall of 2016, is an outdoor classroom of sorts, where students observe and study the plants, birds, and mammals of natural prairie habitats. According to Amy Bandman, Sustainability Coordinator at Harper College, “The great thing about this new deck is that it is accessible so all students are able to participate, whereas the original deck was only accessible by climbing stairs.”

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Harper’s Prairie Observation Deck, Photo Courtesy: Amy Bandman

According to Craig Stettner, Professor of Mathematics and Science, ” My primary use for our prairie platform has been as an outdoor lecture location.  When I teach BIO 103 (Man and the Environment), my small-group sections are comprised of 16 students, a perfect size for the platforms.  This fall, I will have nine small-group sections, all of whom will have to mount the platform and listen to my banter three or four times during the semester. There is no substitute for speaking about something while gesturing towards the real thing.”

Karen Lustig, Professor of Mathematics and Science, also comments, ” I also use this platform for my classes in a similar manner as Craig has described .  We often meet there or regroup  before spreading out into the prairie, woods, etc.  We also use it as an observation post when we study and record birds and mammals for one of our labs.  In the past students in wheelchairs or on crutches have had to remain on the sidewalk to observe and record for lab-now they can get they can get the real feel of what a prairie is like!”

Green In and Outside of the Office

The College introduced the ReUsit Room , the College’s first office supply exchange space. According to the College’s 2017 Sustainability Annual Report, “The ReUsit Room allows employees to obtain office supplies without purchasing new items. Employees are also encouraged to donate gently-used office supplies they no longer need. This waste reduction initiative continues to result in decreased material sent to the landfill and reduced spending.

The goals of this program included:

  1. Find a solution to move out office waste
  2. Create an ongoing method of reducing waste and operational costs
  3. Increase campus participation in waste reduction intitatives.
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Harper’s ReUsIt Room, where old supplies get a second life. Photo Courtesy: Amy Bandman

According to Amy Bandman, Sustainability Coordinator at Harper College, “During the 2017/2018 academic year, 2,636 items were reused from the ReUseIt Room, translating into a money savings of over $5,600 and eliminating 1001 pounds of material from entering the landfill. Since its beginning, the ReUseIt room has repurposed a total of 6,941 items, saved over $14,900 in avoided office supply expenses and saved over 2,400 pounds of material from entering the landfill.”

The ReUsitRoom has helped shift the way the campus things about waste. The ReUseIt Room continues to be utilized as a true exchange space; donations are constantly made to the ReUseIt Room and office supply items are frequently taken out and given a second life. This initiative has helped shift the way the campus thinks about waste.  Old office supplies are no longer seen as trash.

The second annual RePlantIt Free-For-All ton June 5, 2018, drew over 80 employees who shared their plant bounty and picked up new plants for their office or garden. This free plant exchange showcased several hundred plants for employees to enjoy including outdoor plants, vegetables and herbs, indoor office plants. A mix of exotic plants was donated by Harper’s Biology Department. One of Harper’s adjunct faculty, Jennifer Richardson, a master gardener, volunteered at the event answering any questions employees had relating to plants or gardening. This sustainability engagement event continues to engage Harper Employees in greening our campus and community

New Compost Bins

The Harper College Facilities Management has partnered with Harper’s Chemistry department to build composting test bins on campus this spring.  The new compost bins are located on the east side of campus, on the site of the former construction parking lot. The bins will be used by students in Harper’s chemistry classes to conduct research on composting.  Students will study the chemical make-up of compost, which materials make optimal compost and will observe how different kinds of materials alter its chemical make-up.  This green campus project is starting in the classroom with small scale organic material collection with anticipated growth in the future.

 

 

 

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Green Alternatives For Autumn Yard Work

September already! It seems as though we were just peeling off our parkas for the warm summer sun and now we’re digging through our closets searching for those hoodies, jeans and other fall clothes we were so eager to get rid of back in the spring.

For some of us fall also means preparing our yards for the nasty, and sometimes just plain brutal winters, which we leavesexperienced last winter in many parts of the U.S. including the Midwest. But, gardening nowadays means a lot of noise and pollution.In fact, according to an article posted on EarthShare’s Web site, “…one gas-powered leaf blower can emit as much pollution as 80 cars!”  What can modern gardeners do to adequately prepare their gardens for the winter while treating the Earth better?

The number one tip is to choose hand-powered tools over gas-powered tools. Sure, it may take you longer and it may be a bit more strenuous, but think of it as a built-in workout.  Some suggestions include:

  • Choose rakes over leafblowers. Rakes are just as effective. If you really need a leafblower for a difficult spot to reach, choose an electric leafblower, which are quieter, more energy-efficient and do just as good of a job than a gas-powered leafblower.
  • Try electric trimmers instead of energy-intensive garden trimmers.
  • Most lawns are small enough for hand lawn mowers instead of power mowers. If you decide you need a power mower, conduct some research on electric mowers, which make less noise and have less environmental impact.
  • Hire the neighborhood kids to help! Don’t have the time to take care of your lawn or garden?! Hire the neighborhood kids – it’s more affordable and ecological – plus it teaches the kids responsibility.
  • Compost as much as possible. Spread a thin layer of screened compost about a quarter of an inch to a half of an inch thick on the top of your lawn.
  • Final mowing – for the final mow of the season, cut the grass a little shorter than usual to prevent matted grass and snow mold.
  • When fertilizing your lawn try organic alternatives. Start by leaving the grass clippings on your lawn. Plant clover, which is rich in nitrogen. And then you can also leave compost on your lawn once a year.

These are just a few alternatives to prepare your lawn and garden during the fall for the winter months. These gardening tips have been around a lot longer than chemicals and gas-powered machines and work just as well, or even better. Many times, these alternatives may also be less expensive as well.