Union has gained recognition this past week for its ongoing commitment to sustainability.
On April 17, the Princeton Review published its annual “Guide to Green Colleges.”
The review recognizes colleges that have made exceptional commitments to environmental responsibility.
According to its online 2015 Guide to 353 Green Colleges, the guide “seeks to recognize a growing number of student driven and school based initiatives on campus around environmental issues and sustainable practices.”
Schools were selected based on a Green Rating index as well as institutional and student surveys that factored in a number of indicators and related sustainability queries.
The metrics concerned renewable energy usage, recycling and conservation programs and whether there is an established formal sustainability committee.
The guide lauds Union’s U-Sustain Committee as a “mantra and a mission” at the college.
U-Sustain is the campus sustainability committee consisting of about 70 environmentally and socially responsible students, faculty and staff.
U-Sustain seeks to enhance sustainable operations at Union. Additionally, the commitee supports sustainability initiatives and educates the campus community about ways to live, work and enjoy Union in the most eco-friendly and sustainable ways possible.
The Princeton Review guide singles out U-Sustain’s campus-wide initiatives, such as expanded composting efforts in all the dining halls and á la carte dining locations in the Reamer Campus Center.
In honor of Earth Week, Dining Services followed on the heels of U-Sustain’s successful composting initiatives by taking a pledge themselves to promote further recycling and composting efforts to reduce food waste as part of the iCommit Sustainability Challenge.
So far, Union has already composted 55,500 pounds of food waste this year.
According to Heather Mendiola ’15, the extended composting efforts first pioneered at the West College Dining Hall, which then expanded to Upper Class Dining Hall two years ago, would not have happened had those locations not been a huge success.
Mendiola displays one-of-a-kind passion in her job helping people sort their waste, often referring to herself as a “compo-po.”
“I want to educate as many people as I can on how to properly sort their waste because the students here are going to go out and change the world,” she said.
Mendiola remarked, “When families and prospective students come to campus, it is a visible difference that sets Union apart from other colleges. The efforts made by current students show prospective students that it is possible to make concrete changes to reduce the amount of waste the college produces instead of simply educating others on waste reducing habits.”
Secondly, Mendiola described this “as a major step in our green efforts, because we had been purchasing compostable corn plastic products with no readily accessible place to compost them.”
The college’s waste diversion rate increased from 12 percent in 2011 to 31 percent in 2015.
Mendiola hopes that composting stations in Reamer Campus Center will pave the way for further campus-wide expansion of the composting program.
Mendiola expressed, “This composting program, since it is now so large scale, will make it that much easier for all events, and perhaps all buildings, to have composting, because we have numerous pick-up points around campus. I look forward to returning to campus one day and seeing a composting station at sports games and all events on campus.”
Other sustainability initiatives on campus involve a Dining Services Commitment to use less packaging and to recycle cooking grease.
These are two of many sustainability driven Sodexo initiatives as part of its Better Tomorrow Plan.
Sodexo’s Better Tomorrow Plan includes 14 commitments for a brighter future by focusing on three key priorities: health, community and planet.
It aligns well with Union’s commitment to promoting an ecologically friendly campus and reducing the college’s carbon footprint.
The campus dining team is dedicated to furthering environmental priorities.
Efforts include purchasing local seasonal produce, composting, waste oil recycling, fair trade product offerings, reusable to-go container programs, cage free eggs, sustainable seafood purchasing and paper and plastic recycling.
The campus dining team is constantly working to launch new initatives.
Plans include identifying target areas for achievement including sustainable supplies and reduced organic and non-organic waste.
Dining Services also launched a community board for campus groups, students, faculty and staff to share information about campus sustainability efforts.
“The Local Wall” could be a great addition to our efforts toward community building and communicating all that takes place on campus.
The project was supported by Reamer Campus Center, Residential Life and U-Sustain.
It is centrally located in Reamer, next to the O3 Café, which features 95 percent local, sustainable or organic ingredients on all its menu offerings.
Union currently spends 9 percent of the total food budget on local and organic food.
Meghan Haley-Quigley, Sustainability Coordinator at Union, is very excited about the installation.
Haley-Quigley remarks, “For many years now, Dining Services has been incorporating local and organic products, vegan and vegetarian options and taking steps to reduce waste as well as promote composting.”
Haley-Quigley added that the “Local Wall” was needed to popularize these initiatives to the campus community, and is a huge step for the college.
“The Local Wall provides information about local, organic and mindful eating options, as well as other sustainability related initiatives that are currently underway. Additionally it offers space for the on- and off-campus community to share events and information,” she said.
Mendiola could barely contain her excitement about seeing her sustainability dreams being realized before she graduates.
She remarked, “I am so proud of Union College’s current sustainability initiatives and the ones I know are in the planning and proposing stages.”