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UWRF devotes day to sustainability

October 22, 2009

National Campus Sustainability Day was Wednesday and UW-River Falls participated by hosting a day full of events to educate students and faculty about the importance of this topic.

Throughout the day, “green” informational displays were available for viewing in the Falcon’s Nest in the University Center.

A few highlights of the day were a webcast: “Sustainability Strategies for Vibrant Campus Communities” in the Kinnickinnic Theater, a lecture with Kelly Cain about a sustainable campus-community and a concert by Dangergrass, a bluegrass band, in the Falcon’s Nest.

Karyn Wells, student life event coordinator, said the goal of the day was to have students gain an awareness of how easy it is to incorporate more sustainable efforts into their daily lives.

Falcon Programmer Amy Aschenbrener is highly involved with the “RePlay, ReWear, and Recycle” project. The first part of the project is RePlay, which consists of student musicians performing instruments using no electricity. For ReWear, a store from downtown River Falls came on campus to inform students about their sustainable business. The recycling aspect focused on bottle tops.

Falcon Programmer Darcy Thompson brought up the fact that if water or pop bottles have tops on them they cannot be recycled.

“Most recycling companies either throw the entire bottle, or cut it in half,” Aschenbrener said, “which destroys the whole purpose of recycling.”

Thompson found out that Aveda has a recycling program where they collect bottle tops, and is hoping that UWRF can partner with them and collect students’ bottle tops.

“[These] programs put a new spin on sustainability and recycling that I don’t think a lot of students are aware of,” Aschenbrener said. “Because our university center places so much focus on being sustainable, it only makes sense to have students partake in this as well.”

Lizzie Spande, a senior environmental science major, said she thinks it is an important event to have on campus because the University is a significant component to the Town of River Falls.

“Students here are going to be directly affected by sustainability in the future,” Spande said. “It is an integral component to future development and living.”

Campuses within the UW System are working to become more sustainable. Currently, UWRF is second, only to UW-Stout, in the entire UW System in energy efficiency per gross square feet, Kelly
Cain, director of the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development, said.

“UWRF is unique to other campuses in its context of campus as a sustainable community,” Cain said, “and therefore tends to look at this issue from a very holistically integrated, systems-thinking approach.”

This campus has a goal of “going off the grid” by 2012, which refers to living in a self-sufficient manner without reliance on one or more public utilities.

The facilities management crew has been working on maximizing conservation and efficiency efforts even before talk about major renewable energy production has started, Cain said.

Mike Stifter, director of facilities management, said he is impressed with the Student Affairs program and said he believes Dining Services, Residence Life and the University Center have been
instrumental in working with students on issues as they relate to sustainability.

Stifter said he is also impressed by how much the issue of sustainability has become a part of the student experience in just the last couple of years.

“I believe the campus farms have been instrumental in teaching and modeling sustainability,” he said. “In facilities management we’ve had students take on special projects as it relates to sustainability, especially energy conservation efforts.”

Stifter also added that students have had a big role in the efforts made by the University.

“Students get a lot of credit for what the institution has accomplished on this front in recent years,” he said.

Many other projects are underway that could give the campus a boost in its goal of not only going off the grid, but of becoming carbon negative versus carbon neutral.

Cain said that some of the projects are still somewhat confidential because there is a long process to get them started.

“All of these projects have to make their way through the state building process bureaucracy,” Cain said, “and so we are a long way from the finish line, but we are optimistic.”

One project involves the addition to South Fork Suites that is being proposed with a geothermal heating and cooling system that would be extremely efficient.

Along with the variety of projects, there are a few committees on campus that focus on sustainability. The Climate Action Plan chaired by Brian Copp, and the Sustainable Campus Community Plan chaired by Claire Kilian are doing their part to get UWRF “off the grid”.

Both of these plans are ad hoc committees of the Sustainability Working Group and are each working to develop integrated, comprehensive plans.

According to the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development Web site, the Climate Action Plan will focus on reducing fossil fuel energy use on campus to carbon neutrality. While the

Sustainable Campus Community Plan will focus on integrating sustainable community development into the activities of the university.

These two plans will align with the Campus Master Plan and the Strategic Plan to achieve the Jan. 15, 2010 deadline, according to the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development Web site.