Sustainable U

Changing how we live, learn and work

The Importance of a Sustainable Campus
In my September 2007 opening convocation address, I urged the St. Thomas community to look for new opportunities for sustainable initiatives here on campus, and I highlighted some of the sustainable energy projects faculty and students have undertaken in African countries.

In my remark, I shared a story about my experience at a fledgling Catholic university in Uganda. I was impressed to discover a state-of-the-art curriculum that gives prominence to sustainable resource management, particularly in agricultural studies and eco-tourism. Commitment to care for the environment, in fact, is written into that East African university’s mission statement. I realized, then, that this was a Catholic university not only in name but in fact, for its roots ran deep in Catholic social thought, which teaches that just as our relationship with the world is essential for our biological life, so is that relationship an essential component of our human and spiritual identity.

Here in the United States, the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops have taken up the cause. In a 2003 statement, they wrote: “The world that God created has been entrusted to us. Our use of it must be directed by God’s plan for creation, not simply for our own benefit. Our stewardship of the Earth is a form of participation in God’s act of creating and sustaining the world. In our use of creation, we must be guided by a concern for generations to come. We show our respect for the Creator by our care for creation.”

In that same spirit of stewardship and concern for future generations, I have found most gratifying the many creative initiatives undertaken by students, faculty and staff during the past year. Their efforts, some of which you will read about below, are but a sampling of the many active projects taking place. I am grateful for their – and your – continued work in this crucial area.

I also want to inform you that I have signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. St. Thomas will pursue climate neutrality through such steps as reducing waste, purchasing more electricity capacity from renewable sources, purchasing more energy-efficient appliances and constructing LEED-certified buildings.  Father Dennis Dease, president

What Can a Magazine Do?
Beginning with this issue of St. Thomas magazine, all five university magazine publications – St. Thomas, B., CAS Spotlight, St. Thomas Lawyer and Perspectives – will be printed on paper that is FSC certified. What does that mean? According to FSC documentation, “Products carrying the FSC label are independently certified to assure consumers that they come from forests managed to meet the social, economic and ecological needs of present and future generations.” Some of the principles and criteria applied to this certification include respect for international workers’ rights, adherence to all local and international law, prohibition of use of hazardous chemicals and equitable use and sharing of benefits derived from the forest.

Further, the paper stock we are using for the magazine will come from trees harvested at a processing plant in Cloquet, Minn., which will greatly reduce the amount of fuel used to transport our paper. And it’s Minnesota-made. Lastly, the ink used by our print vendor, Sexton Printing, is a soy-based, low VOC ink.

When you consider that we print more than 22 million pages of magazine content each year, the FSC certification can have a real impact. - Brian C. Brown, director of publications

Recycle, Recycle, Recycle
In 1987, the St. Paul Metropolitan Council offered a grant of $7,000 for colleges within District 14 that would set up recycling programs. The grant money was divided among Macalester, St. Catherine, Hamline and St. Thomas, and the UST recycling program was off and running.

Initially, the program was coordinated by five student volunteers with just a few wheeled containers and two old truck trailers for storage. In the 21 years since, the program has grown in size, equipment and workers. There are more than 1,000 recycling containers and four recycling rooms located on our campuses. Instead of five students, a team of 12 to 15 part-time work-study students gather, sort and prepare recycling for area vendors each semester.

In 2007, we recycled almost 426 tons of paper, cardboard, cans, plastic, glass, books, electronics, fluorescents, pallets, furniture, clothing and food scraps. A recent waste audit showed we are now diverting 28 percent of our waste stream away from landfills and incinerators into recycling, but we can do better. Trash audits by three environmental studies majors revealed that more than 40 percent of our trash could easily be recycled within our existing program. To increase our recycling effort this fall, the Undergraduate Student Government plans to give each incoming freshman a sustainability packet that will include information about recycling and other sustainable practices that are encouraged by the UST community. – Bob Douglas, coordinator of Recycling and Central Receiving

Seeking Engineering Solutions Near and Far
Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW-UST) was established to engage engineering and nonengineering students in sustainable development projects and to help educate the general population about ways to improve environmental sustainability.

The idea to create the club came from a project that Andrew DePompolo, Andre Trawick and I worked on with Dr. Greg Mowry, assistant professor of engineering. While researching renewable energy options to power a hospital being built in Dodoma, Tanzania, we thought that we could continue our work and provide opportunities for other students to be involved. Dr. Camille George, associate professor of engineering, agreed to serve as our adviser.

ESW-UST has been involved in a number of student-led projects, including a trip to Northwest Tanzania to install two solar water pasteurizers to purify water for two schools. Last year, we hosted the Environmental Sustainability Symposium, a campuswide event to raise awareness and motivate people to create a more environmentally sustainable campus.

We also were involved with the Youth Forum on Global Warming Solutions, an event that brought Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Will Steger ’66 to St. Thomas. We can do much to improve sustainable efforts on campus. One ongoing effort is to advocate for building monitoring systems so that we can measure how much energy is being used in each building on campus. This would allow St. Thomas to identify buildings with high energy consumption and try to find ways to improve them. – Steve Lay ’08, ESW-UST co-founder and president

A Brighter Christmas
The next time you grumble a bit when you’re putting up the old Christmas tree lights, think about this: You could be replacing 28,860 of them.

That’s what workers from St. Thomas’ electrical shop did last year. UST staffers Dan Hoffman, Brian Radke, Bob Haider and Joe Thompson (God bless ’em, every one) removed all of the old light strings from the St. Paul campus trees, repaired the wiring (a favorite treat for squirrels), replaced all the bulbs with LED bulbs and put the whole works back up.

In the past, the cost for powering Christmas lights was nearly $6,000. Last year’s cost was a little more than $500. The new lights dazzle with environmental friendliness and energy savings. – Pat Sirek, News Service

Energy Sustainability – On Campus and Across the State
Modern civilization requires energy. In the United States, most of the electrical energy and the energy used for transportation comes from nonrenewable and, therefore, nonsustainable sources. At UST, I am involved with several projects directed toward energy sustainability, including one related to biodiesel and another project involving wind power.

During the 2007-08 academic year I was the faculty mentor and adviser to five senior design students from the School of Engineering who worked with Crown Iron Works to evaluate a more efficient method of making biodiesel fuel. CIW donated the biodiesel manufacturing equipment, and we now have the means to make 40-80 gallons of biodiesel fuel per day.

Since biodiesel can be safely and easily made from vegetable oil, the opportunity exists for UST to use waste cooking oil to make biodiesel. The fuel could be used to run our shuttle buses and offset rising fuel costs. Since UST pays for its removal and recycling of waste cooking oil, making biodiesel from our waste cooking oil could save money and, consequently, make UST more sustainable. Biodiesel made in this manner is basically carbon neutral and hence does not generate excess greenhouse gases which can lead to global warming. Plans are being developed to find a home for the biodiesel equipment and to engage interested students in the process.

Another energy project involves grid-level wind turbines. I am active with Positively Minnesota, Department of Employment and Economic Development. One of the goals of this department is to bring wind turbine manufacturing into Minnesota for jobs and educational development. This project has significant potential since Minnesota has the necessary manufacturing base to make all of the subsystems in a modern wind turbine; furthermore, since Minnesota has significant wind power potential, this project has the ability to help Minnesota meet the 25-25 mandate for having 25 percent of our power generated by alternative energy sources by 2025. Dr. Greg Mowry, assistant professor of engineering

Food Chain
Reducing waste and finding new recycled products is always a priority for the UST Dining Service. Some of the initiatives we have already put in place include the following:

For the last 15 years our main kitchen has collected food waste for a local farmer, who then turns it into feed for his animals.

The amount of packaging for individual food items is a significant factor in whether or not we carry that item in our retail areas.

UST Dining Services is in the process of implementing C-BOARD – a menu management system that will allow us to forecast menus and portions to reduce food waste.

Fair Trade coffee is served at different locations on campus. We purchase between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds of Fair Trade coffee each year.

The Grill, The Caf and Scooter’s use 100 percent recycled paper napkins. The napkins are administered through dispensers, which help to control usage.

Scooter’s uses a cornstarch-based cup for its blended coffee drinks.

We also are looking for ways to include more locally grown and organic produce on the various menus on our campuses.

This fall we will be meeting with student groups to discuss the possibility of introducing “trayless” service in the resident dining locations. The program would eliminate the use of food trays, which would help reduce the amount of excess food taken and eventually thrown out. It is a practice in place at most all-you-caneat buffet restaurants. – Todd Empanger, director of UST Dining Services

USG Creates Sustainability Committee
Last year, the University Student Government created a standing committee on sustainability. Membership is comprised of representatives from several passionate clubs on campus who share a goal of educating students, faculty and staff on sustainability issues.

The committee’s largest event took place during Earth Week, as a number of campus clubs came together to speak about how students are making a difference on this important issue. There also was an event where local businesses were invited to talk about how their companies were committed to being “green.”

USG will continue these efforts this year. The Sustainability Committee chair will sit on the Undergraduate Student Government, to help USG be more sustainable and promote continuing efforts on campus. We look forward to another year of increasing awareness and change. – Britney Bryant ’09, Undergraduate Student Government president

Purple, Grey and Green: Infusing Sustainability Into the UST Curriculum While canoeing along the Mississippi River on a perfect Minnesota morning, 15 St. Thomas faculty members discovered the many paradoxes of nature in the city: the great blue heron majestically perched among the invasive buckthorn, the gentle breeze carrying the sound of auto traffic, the enormous scale of the river basin meeting the industrial scale of Lock and Dam No. 1. The excursion was part of a faculty development workshop designed to facilitate integrating sustainability throughout the curriculum.

Workshop participants listened to, read, experienced and discussed how the environment relates to diverse disciplines. This type of workshop is essential according to Jim Farrell of St. Olaf College, “Show students that environmental concerns aren’t limited to faculty and courses in environmental studies, and that environmental issues are – requirement or not – an essential part of the general education of this generation of college students.”

More than 30 faculty from 22 disciplines have attended this workshop, designing new environmental or sustainability content for almost 90 courses. Innovations include exercises such as an observation and contemplation of nature assignment, forecasting economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions, integrating new resources and renovating courses to include a conservation theme. Dr. Elise L. Amel, associate professor of psychology and director of environmental studies

Our First LEED Building
The Anderson Student Center, which St. Thomas is planning to construct in 2010-2011, will be a LEED building. So what does that mean?

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is a third-party rating system that validates the design, construction and operation of buildings in a sustainable manner by recognizing performance in five areas: sustainable site development, water conservation, energy efficiency, materials and resources conservation, and indoor environmental quality.

There are four certification levels in the LEED “New Construction” category. A project qualifies for a level based on the number of points accrued for best practices: certified (26-32 points), silver (33-38), gold (39-51) and platinum (52-69).

St. Thomas and Opus, the architect and builder of the Anderson Student Center, are studying the appropriate certification level for the project. LEED certification by the U.S. Green Building Council can add 1-5 percent to construction costs, which can be recovered quickly through energy and operational savings.

Practices under consideration for the student center include:

Water conservation: By incorporating high efficiency and low-flow toilets and sinks, potable water use can be reduced by up to 40 percent. Other options include the use of “gray” (used) water and rainwater for irrigation and other purposes.

Energy efficiency: Better insulation, window glazing, lighting and lighting controls and more efficient heating and cooling systems would help the center become 14-25 percent more efficient than code. Other possibilities: a geothermal system that uses the earth’s mean average temperature to heat and cool the center; on-site renewable energy such as photovoltaic electricity; purchase of “green” energy from renewable sources; and passive solar techniques.

Indoor environmental quality: It would be enhanced by using low- and no-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints, sealants, adhesives, carpeting, fabrics and composite wood products.

Conservation of materials and resources: Seventy-five percent or more of demolition and construction waste materials could be diverted from landfills by recycling those materials and returning them to the manufacturing process. Recycled materials and rapidly renewable materials such as bamboo, cotton, wool, grasses and farmed woods also may be used.

Opus has constructed more than 15 million square feet of space that has been LEED certified or is in the process of certification. Opus’ corporate headquarters expansion in Minnetonka will be a LEED gold building with a geothermal heating and cooling system.

More than 15 LEED-certified buildings are in Minnesota, including the St. Paul Police Department Western District office and a St. Mary’s Medical Center building in Duluth (both gold) and the life sciences building at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (silver). – Doug Hennes, University Relations

How Safe is Our Drinking Water?
The use of pharmaceuticals in human and veterinary medicine is extensive and increasing. A story by the Associated Press that received a lot of attention (March 10-12, 2008) highlighted the detection of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supply of at least 41 million Americans.

Some of my lab work with students in the Chemistry Department focuses on understanding the environmental transformation reactions (chemical or biological reactions that result in the contaminant being broken down into new chemical compounds) and potential ecological impacts of pharmaceuticals that have been found in natural waters.

Several St. Thomas chemistry and biochemistry students have performed research with me over the last three years, primarily focused on antibacterial compounds. For example, in summer 2008, five students worked full time on projects such as determining the importance of sunlight in breaking down certain classes of antibiotics and studying the potential long-term effects of antibacterial compounds and their transformation products on environmental bacterial communities.

Students in Environmental Chemistry incorporate this work and other environmental research into course projects that include writing letters to elected officials, analyzing environmental regulations and making policy recommendations. Dr. Kristine H. Wammer, assistant professor of chemistry

Leading Research on the Impact of Perfluorochemicals in Nature
Efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle by the St. Thomas community are important to improving environmental conditions, but so, too, is research by scientists to study the impacts when environmental contamination occurs. Several researchers at UST are involved in such studies. One of the projects on which my research students and I are working is to study the fate of perfluorochemicals (PFCs) in the ecosystem around Lake Johanna in Arden Hills, Minn.

PFCs are compounds that were used to make protective coatings for textiles and paper by various manufacturers before they were phased out beginning in 2000 after evidence suggested they were accumulating in nature. For example, they have been measured in many lakes in Minnesota and throughout the world. They also have been measured in human blood, and studies are ongoing as to the impact they may have on human health.

Our study focuses on how PFCs make their way through the food chain. By measuring concentrations of PFCs in water, sediments, plants, invertebrates (bugs), small fish and big fish, we can learn about contamination of what part of the ecosystem impacts the rest of it. Measuring PFCs in these samples is very complex and requires the ability to selectively detect PFCs without interference from the other compounds that are present in much higher concentrations.

Sophisticated chemical instrumentation is required to perform these measurements, and the UST Chemistry Department is well equipped to do so. We were recently awarded a Major Research Instrumentation grant from the National Science Foundation and purchased a liquid chromatograph, a tandem mass spectrometry instrument that allows us to measure PFCs as well as (or better than) any lab in the world.Dr. Tony Borgerding, associate professor of chemistry

It's Easy Being Green
The Green Team is a club that actively works to spread awareness about environmental issues on and off campus. The club serves as a tool for students to learn more about sustainability issues and work with others to bring about change.

The club holds many traditional events each year, including the semiannual Mississippi River clean-ups and trips to arctic explorer Will Steger’s homestead in Ely, Minn.

The Green Team also helps host a symposium focusing on a specific environmental theme each year for Earth Week. Last spring’s symposium focused on sustainable food and agriculture. We took a closer look at the social, environmental and health impacts of our food choices.

To kick things off during Earth Week, the Green Team created a “recyclable” sculpture in the shape of the St. Thomas arches. The sculpture was constructed with bottles and cans that were salvaged by club members from garbage cans on campus. Although UST fills a lot of recycling bins, the sculpture was a reminder that we can still do a better job. – Joseph A. Dietel ’09, co-president of the Green Team

Finding Inspiration – and Collaboration – in Iceland
In a society challenged by rising energy costs and shrinking natural resources, how might we live in a more sustainable fashion? During spring break 2008, 13 UST students and two faculty members traveled to Iceland to find potential solutions to this growing problem.

Why Iceland? The island nation straddles the boundary between two of the earth’s large crustal plates and is blessed with an abundant supply of subsurface heat. Together with its hydropower – driven by its many glacier-fed rivers – Iceland meets the great majority of its heating and electrical needs with clean, renewable sources of energy.

Geology and engineering students in my oceanography course and in Dr. Camille George’s thermodynamics course toured geothermal and hydropower plants and attended renewable energy lectures given by University of Iceland faculty. We also explored Iceland’s unique volcanic and coastal landscapes and discussed with marine scientists the challenges of fishing sustainably on the small island of Heimaey.

Our students were clearly thrilled by these experiences, and they produced course projects on topics of personal interest from the trip. Perhaps the most important outcome was the interdisciplinary communication that developed between students and faculty. Engineers began to ask geologists about earth processes that have shaped Iceland and supply its geothermal heat. In turn, geologists asked engineers how it is possible to harness and apply the tremendous earth forces on display in Iceland. We all benefited from this discussion. Dr. Kevin Theissen, professor of geology

Share a Ride with a BEAST
When Dan Thiede ’07 first heard about MACbike, a bike lending program at Macalester College, he was enthused. Thiede had been active with Bicycle Enthusiasts at St. Thomas (BEAST), and he was eager to get a similar program started here on campus. Thiede and other BEAST members met with MACbike a few times during the year to exchange ideas about the lending program and to partner for group rides, such as the first Taxman Cometh Alleycat ride on April 13, 2007. “(It) was a great time,” recalls BEAST co-founder Connor Ryan ’07. “We just put the word out on mplsbikelove(.com), and before we knew it, more than 50 people showed up.”

Thanks to Thiede and other members, the BEAST bikeshare program has been in a test phase since early June. Bikes and service are available not only to students, faculty and staff but also to those who live in the neighborhood.

BEAST isn’t out to become the largest club on campus, or require members to attend every meeting. We just want to provide free transportation for people so they’re able to get to class on time without clogging up neighborhood streets.

BEAST wants “to help build and promote a more sustainable community,” says club co-president Joe Dietel ’09. “There’s so much to see once you’re on a bike. A much larger community is accessible, and you’re free to belong to it.”

And be sure to check out BEAST’s bike cart for all your hauling needs. – Trevor Huggins, BEAST

Buy Green, Save Green
The St. Thomas Employee Federal Credit Union offers a 1 percent reduction on vehicle loan rates for the purchase of any new or used alternative fuel or hybrid vehicle which is eligible for a title at the DMV.

Payback on a six-year, $25,000 loan would be $846 less on a hybrid than on a conventional vehicle at our base rates.

Hopefully, this savings will encourage members to look seriously at the possibility of purchasing one of these vehicles, and will help offset the initial higher price of some models.

The time it takes to pay back the initial higher sticker-price with savings at the fuel pump does vary by model (per the Toyota Prius, Nissan Altima and GMC Yukon took the shortest time to offset the premium, and the Lexus LS600H, Saturn Aura and Toyota Highlander took the longest), but as gasoline prices rise, this time decreases. The Credit Union’s hope is that the reduced loan rates will make the purchase of one of these alternative fuel vehicles more attractive and affordable for members wanting to “go green.” – Adrienne Sturm, Credit Union

IRT's Quest for a Paperless World
Information Resources and Technologies hosts a vast majority of the university’s technology services on site; as such, we can quickly respond to the needs of the community as greener trends reach each business group. One great example of how this synthesis has resulted in a more sustainable business is a continual reduction of paper use through the increase of online services.

In the last two years, the Print Management initiative has dramatically decreased the volume of paper we use. In the first semester of the program alone we saved one million pages.

Human Resource’s Talent Management System is a hiring system that is paperless and online.

The universitywide “Request for Services” online ordering form provides many departments with paperless workflow processes.

Murphy Online has pay stubs available for all employees, grades for students, and hosts a number of forms processes that reduce the need for paper and mailings.

We also support the Blackboard online course management system with an integrated document repository for class and business group needs.

We have provided the community with services such as “Breeze-Online Meetings” to reduce the need for commuting.

IRT is finding many other ways to increase our sustainability:

The O’Shaughnessy-Frey Center Library has recently rewired the entire building to make it possible to shut off all of the lights via one centralized set of switches.

As we upgrade our network over the next few years, we will be able to turn on and off every university-owned computer remotely to save energy when they are not being used or updated.

Dell is IRT’s primary vendor for our desktop and server fleet, and recently was recognized by Greenpeace as one of the better technology companies with regard to environmental concerns. In addition, Dell has set a goal to become carbon neutral by the end of this year.

The university works with a vendor that resells or reuses all of our leased desktop computers after three years of service.

We are lucky to be able to assist other departments in spreading the good news with regard to greener practices at St. Thomas. In that spirit, we are developing a sustainability Web site that will be the university’s portal to the community, covering the green initiatives underway at UST now and in the years to come. Look for this site soon. – Joshua P. Courteau, IRT

University Relations Offers Template for Sustainable Office
In his September 2007 convocation address, Father Dennis Dease called on the St. Thomas community to think creatively about its commitment to sustainable living. University Relations responded to Dease’s call by creating the UR Green group, an informal committee dedicated to promoting sustainable practices within the department. The group, which meets once a month, formed on the heels of a half-day University Relations retreat on sustainability issues last January.

The eight UR staff members in the group already have made several small but positive changes in reducing the department’s waste and energy consumption, which include replacing all non-overhead lights with compact fluorescent bulbs; replacing paper plates/bowls and plastic utensils with secondhand ceramic dishware and flatware; and switching its coffee to Juan Ana beans from a mission in San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala (which has strong ties to St. Thomas).

We also switched our cleaning products to a nontoxic, biodegradable brand; created a used battery and plastic bag recycling collection area; programmed department printers to transition to quicker ‘sleep’ times; designated specific printers to print on the backside of “used” copier paper and switched to 30-percent recycled paper stock for all of our other printing needs.

And at all department meetings around campus (and at our annual Gainey retreat) we now request “no plastic beverage bottles, utensils or cups.”

The UR Green group hopes other departments will join us in making their own offices more sustainable. – Kelly Hailstone, University Relations

Putting the Green Into Landscaping
The St. Thomas Grounds Department makes every effort to be environmentally friendly and practice sustainability in its operations to reduce the university’s carbon footprint and secure a more sustainable future. Although many of these efforts go unnoticed, it is our continued awareness of sustainability and its impact on the future environment that ultimately makes the biggest differences.

The Grounds Department strives to recycle and reuse many of the materials that are discarded in the dumpsters on campus. For example, when a tree on campus is removed, the wood chips – unless contaminated by Dutch Elm or other diseases – are used as mulch landscape projects. We then make every effort to replace the removed trees to replenish the oxygen cycle.

In addition, all of the maintenance shop vehicles have three-cylinder engines that emit minimal amounts of carbon. We are investigating the use of alternative fuel vehicles in the future, including battery-powered vehicles.

As for our green lawns and healthy foliage, our fertilization program uses only approved chemicals and every effort is made to eliminate runoff into our storm sewer system. All chemicals are applied by licensed, trained professionals to ensure the safety of our community.

We also are investigating low-maintenance, low-water-usage landscaping. We believe that any effort made by us and the St. Thomas community makes a difference, and we are proud of the efforts we are making. – Robert Reed, Physical Plant

Next in St. Thomas Magazine