Thursday September 9, 2010

BENNINGTON -- In recent years, Bennington College has renewed its focus on sustainability throughout its campus.

From encouraging students to travel into town in groups, or by bicycle, to growing and serving local, organic produce, to increasing recycling efforts -- the college is determined lower its carbon footprint.

Sustainability has "always been a part of Bennington’s philosophy, but there’s this renewed focus on action and thinking deliberately about what we’re doing as individuals and how we promote good practices and action in our world," said Eva Sutton, dean of students.

Sutton is one of approximately 15 members of a Sustainability Committee on campus made up of students, administrators, faculty and staff.

New initiatives

The college has had a Sustainability Committee in name for a number of years, Sutton said, but last year the committee was revamped and started coming up with new initiatives to improve the sustainability on campus,.

"One of the thoughts was to figure out where we were in terms of our own use and consumption and our carbon footprint ... and thinking about what our baseline is in terms of use and thinking about where we want to be institutionally," Sutton said.

The committee began with thinking about choices being made across the campus and identifying priorities.

"One of the big focuses was recycling and really making recycling a much more prominent part of the experience for not just students living here but for staff and faculty," Sutton said.


Advertisement

One of the committee’s first changes across campus was replacing random recycling bins with identical bins in every building and clearly labeling what should and shouldn’t be put in each. For help getting started, Trevor Mance, owner of the waste management company, TAM Inc., came to the college and talked about the effects of recycling. He also agreed to help the college help monitor the amount of trash that is recycled.

Sutton said recycling on campus isn’t new, but she said now there is a challenge out to the college community that has "stepped up" the efforts and increased the percentage of recyclables that find their way into bins and out of the trash.

To reduce waste, the college also gave every student a reusable bag to pick up "grab-and-go" lunches, which prior to this year were bag lunches students could pick up on the run. Now, students are using their reusable bags to eliminate the waste of paper bags.

The Sustainability Committee also came up with an new idea that has begun this fall where there are 10 bicycles that can be checked out by anyone in the campus community for a 12-hour period to get around campus, go into town, or ride on the trails.

People also check out a lock and helmet for the bicycles that are a cross between a mountain and road bicycle.

"They’ve been, actually, really well utilized," Sutton said.

Another effort to decrease the fuel usage of Bennington College students has been getting the Green Mountain Express to stop on campus at scheduled times throughout the day so students can take it into town in groups instead of driving multiple vehicles.

Students are allowed to ride the shuttle free of charge, and Sutton said students have been taking advantage of the opportunity.

In previous years, the school operated an on-call shuttle with one of its vans, and Sutton said it will continue to in the evenings, but having a scheduled shuttle stopping on campus during the day improves student access to the surrounding area.

"Our hope is this is reducing fuel and making it more efficient and effective for students to get in and around campus," she said.

There’s also a lot of change happening at the campus Dining Hall.

Last year, the dining hall abandoned lunch trays to reduce the amount of water used to do dishes. William Scully, director of dining services, said it takes an average of one gallon of heated water to wash a tray, as well as cleaning solution. Before the college went trayless, it used about 650 trays during the lunch period every day, meaning it wasted 650 gallons of water at the same time.

The Sustainability Committee also launched a labeling program that identifies food in the dining hall that is produced from within 100 miles, organic, or produced using ethical farming practices for the farmer and farm.

"What we are doing with this labeling system is starting a dialogue with the students to find out what they are interested in ... and let that dialogue drive what our purchases will be," Scully said.

In the future, Scully said the college also hopes to begin composting biodegradable waste from the dining hall.

Students also began a sustainable food group last year which started a garden on campus. Some of the produce grown in that garden is served in the dining hall and some is donated to a local homeless shelter.

Sutton said the students on campus have showed enthusiasm for the new initiatives and many have taken part in many, if not all, of the ways to lower the college’s carbon footprint.

"These are all things people can opt into in small ways and feel like they have a part in a larger initiative," Sutton said.

This spring, Bennington College was recognized in The Princeton Review as one of the most environmentally responsible colleges -- the journal cited its biomass heating system and expanded environmental studies curriculum.

Contact Dawson Raspuzzi at draspuzzi@benningtonbanner.com