Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Blue Hens go green: Faculty discuss the university’s approach to sustainability on campus

NewsCampus NewsBlue Hens go green: Faculty discuss the university’s approach to sustainability on campus

Staff Reporter

The university boasts over 1,000 acres of land to its name. Much of the land is adorned with displays of shrubs and trees meticulously placed around areas such as the Green and Old College. The consequential result is an atmosphere of natural beauty that can accompany students through their daily activities. 

Some students regularly choose to spend their afternoons on benches nestled between a few Virginia Willow bushes. Others might even take advantage of the patches of grass outside of Gore Hall for a friendly game of volleyball.

The importance of preserving the natural appeal of the university’s campus seems to be clear to many students and professors. In hopes to understand how the plant life on campus is cared for, Andrew Adams, manager of the Botanic Gardens, shared his experience at the university

“A lot of what we use are the most sustainable options,” Adams said when asked about the chemicals and fertilizers used to maintain the plants. 

According to Adams, the university has done well in keeping up with the improving standards of plant life care. The gardeners regularly use “the latest stuff they can in order to maintain the campus.” 

Susan Barton, a professor of plant and soil sciences at the university, echoed some of Adams’s praise. When discussing how the university applies supplements to its vegetation, she said that “pesticides are never 100% safe,” but proper use can minimize any harm caused.

“Are you using it properly, are you using it the way it’s labeled to be used, and does the desired benefit outweigh any potential risks?” Barton said. “The way the university is applying pesticides and fertilizers are definitely within those bounds.”

Despite the university’s mentioned sustainable actions so far, according to Barton, there is still room for improvement. 

“Implementing sustainable landscape practices is a relatively new phenomenon in the landscape industry,” Barton said.

At the university, there is still “a little bit of old-school landscape management mentality that could be improved,” Barton said when discussing how they can improve upon current practices.

When elaborating on this “old-school landscape management mentality,” Barton characterized it as a mindset that results in missed opportunities. She said the university has a “bad habit” of replacing recyclable resources unnecessarily, opting for new ones instead of utilizing existing ones.

Barton pinpointed the university’s use of mulch as an instance where it could eliminate current practices and adopt more sustainable methods. 

The university makes an effort to compost all leaves on campus and reuse them as mulch. But despite the availability of the mulched leaves, caretakers of the grounds regularly purchase and utilize hardwood bark mulch from an external source, Barton said. 

To combat this, Barton made a proposal. 

“The university could have a policy that says they don’t use any hardwood bark mulch at all,” she said. “They could use only leaf mulch that is recycled from the leaves they collect.”

Barton characterized this policy as something “that the university could really hang their hat on as a real commitment to sustainability.”

Other staff members have echoed some of Barton’s dissatisfactions with the university’s efforts

Thomas Powers, a faculty member in the department of philosophy and the Biden School of Public Policy and Administration, described the university’s approach to sustainability as “a work in progress.”

Powers emphasized that the mindset is certainly present, but sometimes the execution is not. 

“Initiatives get started or highlighted, and then, for some reason, they don’t quite come to fruition,” he said.

“We’ve talked a lot about making campus greener, reducing the use of pesticides, making it possible for everybody to walk more, reducing car traffic,” Powers said. “But just saying it doesn’t make it true. You’ve gotta keep pushing and improving so that you actually see the benefits.”

However, Powers sees the establishment of the university’s Office of Sustainability as a significant achievement. With this development, Powers sees an opportunity for a larger and more organized effort towards sustainability. 

“For those of us who are interested in these issues, we have an administrator to whom we can appeal, the president, the provost, and other people who can make decisions.” Powers said.

Chris Williams and Jeffrey Summerhays, co-directors of the Office of Sustainability, share a lot of Powers’ enthusiasm when it comes to the office’s establishment. 

“What’s really exciting about this office is that it has created a formalized conversation that just wasn’t necessarily there before,” Williams said. 

Williams and Summerhayes both perceived the Office of Sustainability as a way to increase responsiveness to any sustainability-related issues noticed by the university community.

When asked how a student could help address environmental issues around campus, Williams offered numerous suggestions. 

“[Students] can write us,” Williams said. “They can complain to us. Tell us your really good ideas. We’re here to try to at least answer the questions or listen and see if there is a solution to that.”




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