Conservation, Waste, and the Revitalization of Urban Communities
The final Friday Forum of the semester at the University YMCA took place on November 10th. The Building a Better Environmental Movement series won’t officially conclude until April 18th, 2018, when environmental activist and 350.org found Bill McKibben speaks at the YMCA. But this talk, entitled “Conservation, Waste, and the Revitalization of Urban Communities,” was more than enough to tide us all over until Mr. McKibben arrives in April. The lecture was given by Jonathan Pereira, Executive Director of The Plant Chicago.
The Plant is a non-profit organization and food production space in Back of the Yards, Chicago. Their mission is to promote healthy and sustainable living through the development of circular economies for businesses. Pereira explained that there is no one set definition of circular economy, so it is easier to explain what it is not: it is not linear. In a traditional linear economy, inputs of raw materials are made into products, we consume these products, and then the waste is discarded. While a linear economy is simple and relatively easy to manage, it is not sustainable. As Pereira put it, “We live on a planet with finite resources, but we operate as if there are infinite resources to consume.” Therefore, the continuation of linear economies is one of the biggest crises that humanity faces.
So, The Plant seeks to solve this problem by repurposing all the outputs of the businesses it contains as inputs for others. Doing so “closes the loop” of material reuse. It is important to differentiate between the concepts of “reuse” and “recycling” when understanding what The Plant does. Recycling requires an object to be completely broken down into its components, and then rebuilt into a new object, a process that requires a great deal of energy and therefore is rather inefficient. At The Plant, the goal is to reuse outputs as they are, so this extra expenditure of energy is not needed. While recycling is obviously still preferable to discarding waste into landfills, from the circular economy perspective, it should still be the last thing next to a landfill that we want to do with our waste.
The Plant Chicago is located at 1400 W 46th St, Chicago, IL 60609. Tours can be arranged and more information can be found at their website, plantchicago.org.
On April 13th, 2018, Bill McKibben, famed environmental activist, will speak at the YMCA as the final installment of the Building a Better Environmental Movement Friday Forum series. Until then, Friday Forum will continue next semester at noon on Fridays on the topic of Art and Activism.
Campus Sustainability Week 2017
For many environmentalists, Earth Week each April is one of the best weeks of the year. Of course, we always wish that we had more than just one week a year to celebrate environmentalism and to specifically promote sustainability to those around us. As a bit of a solution to this problem, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has been celebrating a Campus Sustainability Week each October for the past several years. Sustainability Week gives us the chance to market and celebrate the many advancements this campus has made to reduce our environmental impact and protect our future on this planet.
The Sustainability Week is put together and sponsored by the Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and the Environment (iSEE), and the SSC traditionally contributes by putting on a few events of our own. This year, the SSC put on a tour of the campus’ energy farm, and hosted a screening of Al Gore’s second environmental documentary, An Inconvenient Sequel. During the tour, attendees had the opportunity to view our new Biomass Boiler, the Solar Decathlon House, and the geothermal energy test site. Meanwhile, before viewing the documentary, we had the special opportunity to view a live webcast of Al Gore himself answering questions concerning climate change from college students around the nation. The film itself, though it certainly made clear how dire our situation is, was also uplifting as Gore is confident that we are in a place globally where we our set to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Finally, the SSC also participated in the second annual Campus Sustainability Celebration. Hosted at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center, the celebration featured tables from environmental and sustainability groups across campus, amazing vegetarian snacks and cake, and an awards ceremony for iSEE’s Certified Green Offices and Facilities & Services’ Energy Conservation Incentive Program winners. While there is of course much work to do yet to make campus greener and more sustainable, the Sustainability Celebration was an excellent way to honor how far we have already come and to get motivated for the future.
Cost and Benefits of Sourcing Locally
Local sourcing of produce is a decision that involves detailed consideration before implementation. Several aspects need to be addressed. Some of this include climatic suitability, environmental impact, use of chemicals, transportation costs, etc. Relying on locally-grown foods may cause issues like the listeria outbreak, but also cause more environmental resources to be consumed for the growing of food. Growing a plant in an area with too little water or too much water will result in the farm taking on extra costs. Growing a plant in an area where soil quality is low will require extra fertilizer.
In fact, growing foods locally can have a negative impact on the environment and human health. An example from 2011 can illustrate this. A farm in Colorado grew cantaloupes as well as raised cattle. The weather in Colorado is fairly moist so that allowed listeria bacteria to grown on the skin of the cantaloupe which caused an outbreak. Cantaloupes grown in the drier climate of New Mexico would have been safer.
Despite the negative odds, the Sustainable Student Farm, an initiative that was started in 2009, is thriving at the University of Illinois campus. It is a 5-acre vegetable farm that grows 35-40 different crops for the campus community and teach students about vegetable production and organic practices. It is managed by 2 managers who are employees of the Crops Science Department and has student volunteers who get a taste of what work on a vegetable farm is like. They also have student employees who get to be more involved in the day to day operation of the farm. The hands on learning experience is a valuable type of educational experience and one that often is not included in the university experience.
The goal for the farm is to benefit primarily the student body. They wish to be a place where students can learn about diversified vegetable production. They also sell 85-90 percent of what they grow directly to the dining halls for student consumption. The rest is sold at a farm stand on the quad for the general campus community.
There are several benefits associated with sourcing produce locally. It vastly lowers the carbon footprint of food if it is grown near where it is eaten rather than being shipped across the country. Complex food systems are going to be inherently more stable (especially in an increasingly unpredictable climate) than relying on one part of the country to grow all of the food. Food locally grown can be done so in a way that will allow the produce to be developed for flavor and nutrients, rather than for ship-ability; allowing for many of the important nutrients in food to be more present in a locally produced product. It also has the potential to improve the local economy if we are able to have food production and processing and sales in a local region to create jobs in an “industry”that is vital for healthy communities.
The future of the farm is largely to continue to grow the program in a number of different ways; They want to be able to incorporate more classes into the farm, and have certain parts of the farm essentially completely managed by students. Ultimately, they wish to develop a part of the farm to be used for experimentation to grow more food on campus.
The farm is always looking out for volunteers, and even hire students. They are also willing to work on collaborative programs and projects too. For more information, visit their website at thefarm.illinois.edu.
Using Sustainability as a Marketing Tool
“Being sustainable is more than just buying ‘eco’. It is an unshakable commitment to a sustainable life.” – Jennifer Nini
The marketing department of any company is probably one of the most creative as well as dynamic departments. They are constantly re-working their marketing strategies to create campaigns that resonate with their current audiences alongside attracting newer customers. One of their major responsibilities is keeping up with current trends and figuring out a way to integrate them into their marketing strategies. With increasing environmental awareness amongst the millennial generation, sustainable marketing is coming up to be a popular marketing strategy.
There are several ways through which organizations can use sustainability as a marketing tool. The idea is to focus on saving the world and giving back to the environment. To entice people with this, companies must highlight the community aspect of their efforts. This shows the company’s commitment to the environment and the world around them. Some possible strategies that can be employed include cutting down on packaging, using more efficient energy procedures such as long lasting light bulbs, focus on recycling and reusing materials, and more efficient use of raw materials. The target audience for such campaigns is individuals of any age groups that are environmentally conscious. An upcoming medium to facilitate the sustainable marketing strategy is social media. Sharing stories about the impact of the sustainable initiatives is a great way to engage consumers.
Bevier Café on campus is a great example of using sustainability as a marketing too. They promote the use of locally sourced products from the Student Sustainable Farm and the Meat Science Lab. They are working on using social media giveaways to showcase their reusable to go program. This mainly targets campus professionals and students. In the future, they plan on showcasing the indoor herb garden featuring hyper locally sourced herbs in the menu. They are also helping with an aquaponics system which they hope to work into their marketing strategy. Their mission is to use the Café as a platform to teach students and guests of some of the amazing sustainable initiatives here on campus.
Written by Dhwani Jain
Neighborhood Approaches to Environmental Justice
On September 29th, the fourth installment of this semester’s Building a Better Environmental Movement Friday Forum lecture series took place. The week’s lecture was called “Neighborhood Approaches to Environmental Justice” and used a panel format instead of the traditional lecture format. The panel was moderated by Ross Wantland, the Assistant Director of the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations, and featured guests from two different neighborhood action groups in the Champaign-Urbana community: the Lierman Neighborhood Action Committee and the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign.
The Lierman Neighborhood Action Committee (LNAC) works to improve the neighborhood around Lierman Avenue and Washington Street in east Urbana. The neighborhood has been a historically low-income area that is largely ignored by the city government. LNAC co-founders Robin Arbitar and Gabe Lewis represented the group, and listed a number of issues with the neighborhood that they are working to have addressed. They include: the loss of 199 out of 250 apartment units on Lierman Avenue, an increase in renter occupied housing over owner occupied, a lack of sidewalks, fencing put up in residents’ walking paths, and poor biking areas, bus stops, and lighting. Since LNAC’s founding in 2009, the group has sought to empower residents through a variety of community engagement efforts. Lewis, a lifelong resident of the area, shared how LNAC had given the community a voice it did not have before, stating: “Who speaks for us? We do.”
The 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign is based in Champaign, in the neighborhood surrounding the intersection of 5th and Hill Streets, which is also a low-income area. Until 1953, AmerenIP operated a manufactured gas plant at this intersection. The site is now an empty lot, but around ten years ago it was discovered by residents that it was toxic. A myriad of chemicals (including benzene, naphthalene, and ethylbenzene) have contaminated the site, and residents of the neighborhood live in direct contact with them. The neighborhood has very high rates of cancer, many of which become shockingly aggressive and untreatable. Since the Campaign’s inception in 2007, the group has provided education on the site to the community, forced Ameren to clean up the property, and engaged the US EPA, who are testing homes for indoor vapor intrusion. However, there are still many goals to be reached: homes are still at risk for this vapor intrusion, off-site contamination has yet to be cleaned up, and there is a toxic pipe that needs to be investigated and cleaned up.
The passion and determination of both groups was palpable. Neighborhood issues impact peoples’ immediate lives more directly than many larger scale political issues, but are often not considered as important to fight for. As Robin Arbitar pointed out, people who make policies don’t really know how they play out on a neighborhood level, so that means that residents must fight to rectify many of their issues. JB Lewis, a member of the 5th & Hill group, stated the role of residents in local problems clearly: “You have to ask questions and you have to be vigilant about what is going on in your community.” While it seems that the efforts of both groups will be going on for a while yet, it is clear neither will be giving up. Another member of 5th & Hill shared what was likely the most impactful statement of the afternoon: “When you get fighters, they’re gonna fight for what’s right.”
The Building a Better Environmental Movement Friday Forum Lecture Series will take place each Friday of Fall 2017 at the University YMCA until November 10th. On April 13th, 2018, Bill McKibben, famed environmental activist, will speak at the YMCA as a final installment of the series.
Building a Better Environmental Movement
Friday Forum at the University YMCA is a unique tradition that has been taking place at the University of Illinois for over ninety years. Each Friday at noon, a free lecture is given that pertains to a theme that is selected for the semester. Recent themes have included “State of the State” and “Breaking Down Racism.” This semester, the theme is “Building a Better Environmental Movement.” The YMCA is sponsoring this series in conjunction with the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations and the Student Sustainability Committee.
On September 8th, the first lecture of this semester took place, entitled “Standing Rock and the Power of Indigenous Youth Voices.” The lecture featured speakers from the International Indigenous Youth Council (IIYC), a group created in the midst of Standing Rock to organize indigenous youth using education, spirituality, and civic engagement. Thomas Tonatiuh Dominguez-Lopez served as the main speaker. Thomas reflected on how his time at Standing Rock and in the IIYC had changed him, and the importance of the role of indigenous youth not only in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, but in the world itself. At the time of his talk, it had been one year since Thomas had begun his Standing Rock journey. The picture Thomas painted with his words of this journey was extraordinary and vivid. Just by listening to him speak, it felt as if everyone in the room had been transported to North Dakota and was there watching each of the experiences he recounted.
Perhaps the two stories that resonated most were of the treatment of the protestors during the October 27th raid of North Camp and Thomas’ account of his arrest while he led a peaceful prayer, and was the only indigenous person present. The raid of North Camp is what rocketed the events at Standing Rock to national attention because of the brutal treatment of protestors by the Morton County police. Many were arrested, maced, beaten, zip-tied, and placed in dog kennels with numbers on their arms- which it should be noted is not dissimilar to certain things that occurred during the Jewish Holocaust.
The horrors of Standing Rock have been evident for a long time due to media coverage, but listening to them spoken of by someone who was there (and more importantly, by an indigenous person) is moving in a way that almost cannot be described. Thomas’ words were a stark reminder that there is so much work still be done not only to protect the planet, but to protect the safety and rights of so many of the groups of humans that inhabit it. The IIYC is an inspiring group that is working hard to make sure that a safe future for all comes to pass. Thomas said many things that were clearly a call action to all, but personally, the one stuck with me the most is this: “Individually we are just one rock, but together we are mountain.” This was part of a larger proverb attesting to the power of organized community action, and it is an undeniable truth. The arc of the universe may bend towards justice, but it is not individuals who bend it- it is the weight of a mountain.
The Building A Better Environmental Movement Friday Forum Lecture Series will take place each Friday of Fall 2017 at the University YMCA until November 10th. On April 13, 2018, Bill McKibben, famed environmental activist, will speak at the YMCA as a final installment of the series.
Written By Laura Schultz
Free Bike Maintenance Classes and Upcoming Bike Registration
Bike at Illinois, in collaboration with the Student Sustainability Committee, organizes free Bike Maintenance classes every Monday at the Campus Bike Center. The program strives to answer basic questions about bike maintenance and safety. Attendees learn useful skills that include: reading PSI, using bike pumps on and off campus, what to do in emergency fill up situations, information about brakes and bike consumables, chain checker tools, lubrication methods, and quick releases. The class also explains bike traffic safety.
We asked Lily Wilcock, Active Transportation Coordinator, about the inspiration behind this program. Initially, Campus Bike Center volunteers taught specific biking topics that catered to niche community members, but were not applicable to the mass student body. At a few instances, Lily had students tell her that they had a flat tire, so they would ride the bus to class until their parents agreed to buy them a car. On checking the statistics, Lily found that the average American household spends about $10,000 on cars annually.
“A flat tire is something that takes literally 5 minutes to fix, so why not have classes to teach students that?”, thought Lily.
If the classes receive a good response, there is potential to get additional funding and have bike maintenance offered as a full-time class through campus recreation. “Bicycling for me is not only about environmentally sustainability but also economic sustainability”, says Lily.
She also addressed the importance of bike registration, for those that use bikes in and around the Champaign-Urbana community. Having a bike registered simplifies stolen bike recovery and major maintenance issues. The university also requires bike registration and provides the service cost free.
One of the upcoming events at Bike at Illinois is Light the Night, on September 26th. Volunteers will hand out free bike lights to students that do not have them. There will also be bike registrations happening alongside, so make sure to stop by!
For more information about Bike at Illinois, make sure to follow their Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Bike.Illinois/. They will also have an updated website by the end of the year, so stay tuned!
Written by Dhwani Jain
Fresh Press: A Problem Free Paper Project
Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting with Eric Benson, who is one of the founders of the incredible project that is Fresh Press here at UIUC. If you dont already know, Fresh Press is an agri-fiber paper-making lab on the Illinois campus that explores how a collaboration of farmers, artists, designers, and academics can revitalize a manufacturing industry in the Midwest. They collaborate with the Sustainable Student Farm (SSF) and the Woody Perennial Polyculture (WPP) site, and aim to grow student opportunities through individual and collaborative research and public engagement efforts.
This idea for the project came to life in 2012 after it received funding from the SSC. Professors Steve Kostell and Eric Benson came up with the idea after spending some time wondering if paper made from agricultural residue or “waste” could help make the paper industry sustainable. They thought that by switching the supply chain from the forest to the farm, they could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, restore wildlife, and help American farmers. Turns out, they were right.
Since then, the project has grown exponentially. They now have a lab located in research park where they make paper from a variety of different wastes from the farm harvest, like corn and soy stalks, tomato or eggplant vines and native prairie grasses. What I found most incredible about this project is their dedication to sustainability in every possible way. They are not only conscious about their environmental impact in the creation of the paper itself, but also in every other step of the process as well. From the Sustainable Student Farm to Fresh Press to the South Quad, their paper only travels a total of 4.4 miles emitting about 4 lbs of greenhouse gases (if we drive!). Compared that to tree-fiber paper which has to travel around 2.700 miles from the Boreal Forests in British Columbia Canada to paper mills in Wisconsin and finally here to campus, you save 2353 lbs of greenhouse gases by transportation from entering our atmosphere.
Additionally, if one factors in manufacturing, their paper continues to prevent even more greenhouse gas emissions. This is because the paper and notebooks are handmade by a small group of dedicated and talented students who believe in hard work, beautiful paper, and and a better future through economic and environmental sustainability. They are undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Illinois who not only hand pull sheets of corn, soy, or prairie grass paper, but also plant, weed, and harvest them on the sustainable student farm.
In an effort to get a sense of what the project is like from an inside perspective, I consulted a student who works in the lab. When asked why she became interested in Fresh Press, student Cynthia Liu responded:
“Fresh press gave me an opportunity to actually step into the field of sustainability which is something I care about a lot. When I saw the pictures of trash islands, and how seabird/fish’s stomach are stuffed with plastic debris, and sea turtle’s nostril has plastic straw, which made me feel so bad. And I become more aware of how serious the impacts of human action is making on animals. We seem to take everything for granted: styrofoam cups/containers in restaurants, papers, plastic bags, without thinking about the consequences before making the choice to use them. In fresh press we tried to use organic materials, even for packaging, and i just feel amazed by how pretty the end product turned out to be. The papers are made out of recycled student artworks, which were supposed to be in trash by now if we didn’t reuse it. It’s not only bringing trash back to life, but also reducing landfill pollution.”
A Brief History of the Largest Student Fee Funded Green Pool in the US
The Student Sustainability Committee first became a reality back in 2002 after a passionate group of UIUC students gathered together in an effort to create a more sustainable campus. The initial main goal was to create an initiative to advance alternative energy projects on campus, but it later developed into something much greater. The students ultimately decided that the best way to accomplish this goal was to initiate a student fee and form a committee to increase environmental stewardship, inspire change, and impact students. They sought to gain as much student involvement as possible and ultimately give students a voice when it came to energy issues on campus.
Fifteen years and over one hundred funded projects later, a lot has happened within the committee. In 2003 a $2 per semester non-refundable student fee for Cleaner Energy Technologies (CETF) was approved by a student referendum. The intent of CETF is to provide renewable energy as a portion of the campus energy portfolio and reduce campus energy consumption.
A few years later in 2010, students passed a referendum that raised the refundable Sustainable Campus Environment Fee from $5 to $14. The measure passed by 77% approval and established University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign as having the largest sustainability funding pool of its kind in the United States!
Today the Cleaner Energy Technologies fee remains at $2.00 and the Sustainable Campus Environment fee is $12.06. Each year, these two fees allow SSC to allocate just under $1.1 million to projects that promote the University’s goals laid out in the Illinois Climate Action Plan and directly impact University of Illinois students through improved infrastructure, services, and educational events.
Collectively, the committee is comprised of twelve students who are dedicated to improving the sustainability on campus. With the help of ten faculty and staff that serve as member-advisors, they meet to review and vote on what projects receive funding and check in on those projects that have already received funding. Using the two student fees, they review submitted projects and distribute funding to projects that we deem to be most beneficial to the University of Illinois. Over 100 projects have been funded through the committee since its beginning.
In short, our mission to this day is as follows: “The Student Sustainability Committee (SSC) is a student-led organization charged with the distribution of two student fees – the Sustainable Campus Environment Fee and the Cleaner Energy Technologies Fee. With the ultimate goal of making the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign a leader in campus sustainability, SSC reviews, recommends, and funds projects that increase environmental stewardship, inspire change, and impact students.”
Don’t Ditch Diesel Yet
When most people think about clean energy, many just think wind and solar. However, the truth is that with the rapid increase in technology and innovation within the last few decades, the possibilities for renewable energy have increased exponentially. Biodiesel, for instance, is one that many people are not familiar with but should be because it is leading the way in clean fuel production. Biodiesel is a renewable, clean-burning diesel replacement that can be made from a diverse mix of feedstocks including recycled cooking oil, soybean oil, and animal fats.
UIUC is participating in the development and expansion of biodiesel in many ways. On campus, there is a registered student organization dedicated to it called The Illinois Biodiesel Initiative (IBI). Their primary mission is to produce biodiesel and soap from waste vegetable oil (WVO) collected from campus dining halls in an effort to reduce emissions and promote sustainability on campus. The Student Sustainability Committee initially voted to fund the Illinois Biodiesel Initiative during its 2012-13 funding cycle; however, due IBI being forced out of their old site at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, SSC funding was put on hold. While they wait for their permanent site in the Integrated Bioprocessing Research Laboratory, IBI is currently running scaled-down production in a space in Roger Adams Laboratory.
In addition to the club, the team working on this project found that an education component would be very beneficial to spreading their overarching goals of sustainability across the campus. Because of that, they created a class that students from all disciplines can take and piloted it this semester. The objective of the class competent is to educate students on the project and hopefully increase student and campus involvement in sustainability. I had the opportunity to check out the class earlier this week. I got to see the entire progress that the oil goes through first hand, and it was incredible. The SSC plans to follow up again after they are moved into their permanent location so stay tuned for further progress and innovation updates.
In the meantime, aside from the class, there are several other opportunities to get involved with the initiative and in the club. Students can join any of the four subgroups which include production/testing, Soap (production or research), Finance, and Special Projects. They are always looking for new members from all grade levels.