Environmental Initiatives Office ‘tells the story’ of sustainability at MC

Last spring, Bruce Guilliame and Dr. Maria Siopsis applied for a private grant to establish a new program at Maryville College. This program, the Environmental Initiatives Office (EIO), would employ three students to answer a simple question: What is green about MC?

In many ways, MC sits at the forefront of environmental sustainability for post-secondary institutions. From its innovative steam plant – a feature at the 1982 World’s Fair – to the 140-acre College Woods – a state-designated stewardship forest and the largest undeveloped green space in the city – to MC’s pinnacle of sustainability, the LEED Gold-Certified Crawford House – the second oldest building of this status behind the US Treasury Building, MC upholds an amazing tradition of sustainability and environmental awareness. And that just represents a fraction of the work being done here at the college.

So, when asked about these efforts on campus, why are most students – even those who have been here for three or four years – oblivious to the amazing story of environmental conscientiousness the college has to tell?

“We simply don’t talk about it,” according to Guillaume, head of the Mountain Challenge program and lead sponsor of the EIO, “Maryville College is really good at promoting sustainability but really bad at organizing and utilizing our work.”

To answer this dilemma, Guillaume, in cooperation with Dr. Siopsis, Associate Professor of Mathematics and head of the Scots Science Scholars program, applied last year for the Gerald W. Gibson Professional Development Fund grant in order to establish the EIO.

In his application, Guillaume described the purpose of the new office in two ways: to “Investigate, catalog, describe, and communicate all the environmental initiatives on campus,” and to “Improve energy efficiency on campus by organizing data available from utility bills and other sources on campus.”

In essence, the new office will undertake three main tasks with the hope of establishing long-term repercussions at the college. The first is to collect the data.

Besides the previously mentioned environmental efforts on campus, MC is noteworthy for its task-lighting strategy, recycling initiatives, the massive Anderson Hall recycling project, the bat condominiums and orchards in the College Woods, the innovative Mountain Challenge Program, the new yoga deck – built entirely from recycled coke bottles – and the various programs implemented by its new food provider to promote sustainable practices and local, organic farming. There is an entire wealth of information on the campus about sustainability that spans nearly every building and division at the college. Someone just needs to collect it.

Following this data acquisition – done in part by the Scots Science Scholars program through the efforts of one of the office’s three student interns – the EIO will put this data into a usable form in order to address issues of energy waste and over-spending at the college.

“Currently Maryville College spends roughly $1 million on energy each year. To date, we have no organized institutional effort to curb energy use,” Guillaume said.

By establishing a user-friendly spreadsheet and providing baseline data for energy usage at the campus over the past two years, with intentions for upkeep in the future, the EIO will allow the college to look at its expenditures and identify areas where improvements can be made.

The third and final duty of the EIO will be to tell the story. The remaining two student interns, as well as overseeing the collection and organization of the massive store of information about energy usage and sustainability efforts on campus, will be responsible for the creation of “written and electronic presentations worthy of distribution” with the forefront of their focus on the annual Environmental Initiatives at Maryville College Report.

This report, much like the publications produced by major environmentally-active companies such as Patagonia and Columbia, will focus on laying out the information in an exciting and understandable way. Guillaume hopes that such a publication could not only provide necessary information for Maryville College itself to look at but could also be utilized as an incredibly viable tool for educating and recruiting students.

“More than anything else, I want it to be cool. I want it to be something that the Admissions Office sees and says ‘We have to show this to students.’”

Besides addressing many issues with availability of data, environmental efficiency and diffusion of information, the EIO promises to be an incredible tool for students at the college as well.

The three student interns who form the body of the office itself have been chosen for “their abilities in written, oral, and/or visual communication and data analysis as well as their interest in sustainability initiatives.” The work they will be doing at the EIO gives them an incredible opportunity to utilize these talents in a professional, lasting way.

The creation of a publication such as the annual report Guillaume has proposed and the acquisition of so much information in such a usable, lasting form will provide the students with a body of work they can show off to employers for years to come.

In addition, the work done at the EIO will provide a place for students interested in environmental sustainability to formulate and develop senior theses. The data provided will make this process far more feasible than ever before and promises to continue its use in years to come.

“The cool thing about the Environmental Initiatives Office, is that the program itself is sustainable,” Guillaume said, “The office is self-perpetuating.”

Following the initial year of expenses provided, Guillaume believes the program will sustain itself through the savings it allows in energy usage. As the proposed yearly budget for the EIO is less than 1% of current annual energy expenditures at the college, this sustainable format should be easy to upkeep. And the expenses saved through the improvements made possible by the work of the EIO should build upon themselves, accruing a larger workable budget with each passing year.

“This new project that we’re starting over in the Environmental Initiatives Office is exciting for a lot of reasons,” said Hannah Kirby, the freshman environmental studies major who will be heading the green side of the initiative.

“We’re basically putting together a comprehensive summary of the environmentalism efforts here on campus, along with pictures and quotes from students, and turning it into a recruiting tool for the college.”

Kirby, who had initially considered other green-forward schools such as Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, came to Maryville for its sustainability initiatives but admits they were not easy to find. For all the wonderful work MC does in environmental awareness, most of the story is as of yet untold. Kirby, Guilliame and the EIO hope to change this.

“Hopefully, prospective students will be as excited as I am about going green at MC, and current students will gain more awareness about what’s going on here on campus and what they can do to help,” Kirby said, “It’s really amazing in a lot of ways. The work the Environmental Initiatives Office is doing at Maryville could bring about some real, substantial change.”

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