Last weekend marked the second annual Local Living Festival, organized by the Sustainable Living Project, that was held at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Learning Farm. Faculty, staff, and students from St. Lawrence and other institutions, as well as community members, farmers, and area locavores all came out to support the event. The festival featured dozens of panels, speakers, and workshops ranging from “Raising Rabbits Successfully” to “Lasagna Gardens for Beginners.” Oh, and let’s not forget the pen of llamas.
One of the main attractions on the first day of the festival was the Campus Sustainability Summit. Representatives from St. Lawrence, Clarkson, SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Canton, Paul Smith’s, and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) got together to present the actions their respective institutions are taking in regards to sustainability and to listen to what ideas their peers had to offer.
SUNY Potsdam’s RJ Mattimore spoke about his goal of working sustainability into the general education requirements for students and mentioned the new student interest he has seen in the school’s environmental club. “We have a long way to go,” Mattimore said, in regards to the existence of a truly sustainable campus, “but we’re starting to roll really quick.”
Kate Glen from Paul Smith’s College mentioned the President’s Climate Commitment toward climate neutrality, which SLU’s President Fox had also signed. She said that Paul Smith’s was looking into alternative ways to heat and power the school, and that they were also focused on getting more local food into the dining halls. Paul Smith’s charges students a $25 sustainability fee each year and also has access to a sustainability fund, the money from which is used to fund proposals written by students, faculty, and staff. “Sustainability saves money,” Glen said. It is just a matter of getting people on board.
Clarkson University’s Susan Powers spoke about the student-initiated greenhouse on campus, the bike lane in Potsdam, and the goal of improving the insulation of campus buildings. She is focused on raising awareness of the issue of sustainability, and has played a role in getting zip cars available for Clarkson students. Similar to that of Paul Smith’s, Clarkson has an annual sustainability fund of $25,000 that funds student-initiated proposals.
The student representative from SUNY ESF discussed the school’s goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2015, which seems like a lofty goal, but is made possible by the fact that SUNY ESF owns 25,000 acres in the Adirondacks. She also mentioned the Green Campus Initiative club, which educates other clubs about having zero-waste events and hosting them in an environmentally responsible manner.
SUNY Canton’s representative spoke of the school’s desire to go tray-less and discussed the presence of food composters on campus as well as a system that forces campus computers to shut down after a certain time. Although SUNY Canton students in the audience said that they were slightly inconvenienced by this, the system saves the school a fair amount of money and energy.
St. Lawrence’s own Louise Gava introduced SLU as one of the first institutions to have an environmental studies department as well as being the home to one of the country’s oldest outing clubs, second only to Dartmouth College. Gava seemed pleased to say that the Climate Action Plan was accepted and passed by the board of trustees in May and that St. Lawrence is now committed to zero net greenhouse gases by 2040. “Last year we installed 47 electricity meters on campus,” Gava said. She explained that now it is easy to see inefficiencies in buildings through real-time data, which enables us to make changes that will yield more energy efficiency.
Gava also talked about SLU’s Campus Kitchens project, which takes leftover food from the dining hall and puts it together to form a meal for those in the local population who may not otherwise have access to a full meal. “There’s a lot of energy around it,” she said.
There are several other projects in the works for St. Lawrence, but Gava explained that financing is always a problem. “St. Lawrence is deciding, what do we want our landscape to look like long-term?” She mentioned a plan for developing an off-campus sustainability semester, which would focus on agriculture and building, as well as a permaculture design garden that is in the works, called Fruit for the Future.
Amongst all these things, Gava seemed most excited about the new Strategic Plan and the Facilities Master Plan. She said that it was encouraging to see sustainability interwoven into these documents that allow us to see a five-year and ten-year plan for the future of the institution. “It’s a really exciting time at St. Lawrence,” Gava concluded.
The Campus Sustainability Summit ended with a question and answer period. The panel members accepted questions from the audience, but also seemed to have a lot of questions for each other. They discussed the issue of not having enough local food available to feed the colleges and universities, let alone the community as a whole. It was pointed out that the prime growing season in the North Country is short and does not come at a time when students are on campus, so it is often hard to find people to tend the gardens during the summer.
One of the biggest issues facing St. Lawrence and other institutions seems to be the question of how to feed ourselves responsibly without depleting the land or the community food source. It was interesting to see the school representatives come together to discuss their ideas and present the work that each has been doing. “Together, we’ve solved all the problems,” Gava said somewhat jokingly, but if each school did everything the other schools were doing, we would certainly be taking steps in the right direction toward a sustainable future, on and campus.
By Lettie Stratton