Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A letter from college!

A friend of mine from back in my days at William and Mary recently dropped me a line about a very green (in more than one way) university – the University of Vermont.  Marna Ashburn provided guest posts (reuseable fruit bags and 3 for 1 meat-free Friday)  here in the past, and she now updates us on how green our students can be!  Be sure to check out her blog too!

Dear Desiree,

LakeChamplainAs my son, Steve, heads off to his sophomore year at the University of Vermont (UVM), I wanted to share with you some of the inspiring environmental initiatives I saw when I visited the campus last year. (After all, the “Ver” in Vermont means “green.”)

You look through life with the lens of a scientist, while I look through the lens of a writer, so it’s only appropriate that I start by talking about the use of strategic language at the university. In the large tent where we ate our meals, they had three receptacles for clean up. “Compost” was where we placed our leftover food, cups, and plates (we used compostable plates and cups rather than Styrofoam). The second was “Recycle” where the plastic flatware and napkins went. The third one, interestingly, was not labeled “Trash” but “Landfill,” an in-your-face reminder of the end state of its contents. Needless to say, we were loathe to put anything in there. Landfill

The academic buildings and residence halls have a similar three-tier waste system. On every floor-- usually in just one location to manage critters--they have a compost container. The food scraps then get turned into compost at Green Mountain Compost facility and distributed to local farms, many of whom provide food to the university, so it's a nice circle of sustainability. I also noticed many Tech Dropoff locations where you can recycle items like burned-out light bulbs, dead batteries, and CDs. It’s nice to have them so accessible because I often carry a bag of “tech trash” in my car for weeks until I find an appropriate transfer point.

Dining Services at UVM offer only “trayless dining.” The students carry a plate in one hand and a drink in the other to their tables. This technique reduces food waste by over 40% and eliminates the need to clean trays in the dishwasher, saving water. If, like my son, you're still hungry after the first plateful, you can always go back for seconds or thirds.

Every week, the dining halls feature Meatless Mondays where they offer a vegetarian entree at a reduced price to encourage students to eat meat-free. The university has also signed on to the Real Food Challenge which is designed to increase the procurement of food that is local, ecologically sound, fair trade, or humane. To this end, they have partnerships with many of the local farms, producers, and orchards.

Bottled water is verboten at UVM, so none of the vending machines or retail outlets sell it. Instead, they offer refilling stations at water fountains and encourage students and faculty to bring their own reusable bottles. This change was introduced by students who advocated for a more sustainable beverage system on campus. (Read the full story here http://www.uvm.edu/~uvmpr/?Page=news&storyID=13129) refillStation

UVM is definitely bike-friendly and prominent bike racks are part of the infrastructure. There's also a bike share program where you can borrow designated bikes at the bright yellow hubs around campus. The program is free for the first four hours, with a minimal fee after that. All you have to do is register and sign a waiver. Also, to encourage bicycle commuting, there are showers conveniently located in the student union. BikeShare

While there’s a bus system powered by natural gas, it’s definitely a walking campus. As Steve says, “Everywhere you look, there’s a beautiful view—mountains, valley, lake. Why would you want to miss it?”

I’m so happy that the habits he learned while growing up are reinforced on a macro-scale now. His education includes daily reminders to tread lightly on the earth, and I’m certain these lessons will be second nature to him beyond the college years.

My Best,


Marna Ashburn is the author of three books about military family life, available at HouseholdBaggage.com. She also blogs about language and culture at TheHangingIndent.com

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