Student members of EcoRollins and the Rollins College Recycling Program. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.

Student members of EcoRollins and the Rollins College Recycling Program. Photo by Judy Watson Tracy.

Converging Paths: Sustainability at Rollins

By Warren Miller ’90MBA

Rollins students, faculty, and staff have initiated a wide range of activities to conserve energy and water usage, and to reduce the College’s carbon footprint

Sustainability has been defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Rollins’ actions toward that goal are the result of a convergence of institutional commitment, student activism, and vendor participation. And they’re changing the College in perceptible ways.

It’s hard to miss the influence of “green” practices on everyday campus life. You might start the day with buying a cup of Fair Trade coffee in the dining hall—served either in a “Reuse, Reduce, and Recycle” mug from Sodexo (the contractor that operates Rollins Dining Services) or in a biodegradable, non-Styrofoam container.

Cristina Cabanilla, director of operations for Rollins Dining Services, met more than a year ago with student members of campus groups, including EcoRollins, to explore what could be done to reduce waste. “It’s a trend across the entire country,” said Cabanilla, who previously directed operations for Sodexo at Belmont College in Nashville. “We started Green Day at Rollins to create a calendar of events to reduce waste and serve the community.”

Christina Cabanilla. Photo by Laura J. Cole '04 '08MLS.

Cristina Cabanilla is spearheading green initiatives for Rollins Dining Services, from the use of biodegradable containers to the bagging of used coffee grounds for plant food. Photo by Laura J. Cole '04 '08MLS.

Green Day has evolved into a program that extends beyond using only biodegradable containers and serving tools (such as corn-based forks and spoons) to social involvement. Last October, Dining Services held its first “Grounds for Growth” day, putting dry, used coffee grounds into bags to be used as plant food. Its “Million Meal Challenge” sells cookies for $1.25 each, of which $.25 will go to Second Harvest Food Bank to feed needy families in the area. Dining Services donates food and money to Second Harvest, as well as leftover food to the Food Bank’s subsidiary Second Helpings. “It’s so exciting,” Cabanilla said. “I’ve never had the opportunity to be so involved with community activities, and at a place that’s so into these efforts.”

Vendor activity is an area in which the College can have a huge impact in a short amount of time, said Lori Voorhees, the College’s purchasing manager. “We’re putting ‘green’ language in our requests for proposals and asking all our vendors, ‘What are you doing for our environment?’” she said.

The College has purchased hybrid cars for the administrators who drive College-owned vehicles. And the copier paper for many parts of campus operations now is made from recycled materials. “That’s a big issue,” Voorhees explained, “because 100 percent recycled paper costs $36 a case, versus virgin paper at $28 per case.”

Perhaps the biggest environmental—and lifestyle—impact coming out of the purchasing area is the new front-loading washing machines in all Rollins residence halls. “Front-loading washing machines use 15 gallons per wash instead of the 34 gallons that top-loading machines use,” Voorhees said. “With an average of about 42,900 loads per year, that’s a savings of 800,000 gallons per year. In addition to the strain on the environment, water costs the College $5 per thousand gallons.” One challenge, however, is educating students to use the two teaspoons of detergent that front-loading washers require, instead of the cup required by standard machines. That’s become a job for the LEAD team and EcoRollins.

Students Take the Lead in Campus Eco Efforts

Green Thumb

Kelly Rolfes-Haase. Photo by Laura J. Cole '04 '08MLS.

Kelly Rolfes-Haase ’09
Kelly Rolfes-Haase, who was raised primarily in Gunnison, Colorado, has been a leader in the student-led initiative EcoRollins her entire career at Rollins. She says she was motivated to do her part by a human ecology course she took with Gay Biery-Hamilton, associate professor of anthropology, who now is her adviser. The course, she said, made her aware of the ways in which people can affect the environment. An anthropology major and member of the women’s cross-country team, Rolfes-Haase plans to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Germany as a teaching assistant. “My project proposal is to study the differences in environmental efforts between Germany and the United States,” she said. “People in Germany are so much more aware of how they can take care of the environment through recycling and energy efficiency.”

A graphic image of a leaf.

Student activism has played a key role in most campus initiatives at Rollins. EcoRollins, founded in the 1990s with the encouragement of then-Vice President George Herbst, specializes in promoting recycling and showing students how to think green. “We’re trying to make it an obvious and normal thing to be more sustainable in our daily habits,” said Kelly Rolfes-Haase ’09, a leader of EcoRollins and veteran of campus green projects.

Recycling at Rollins is run largely by students, who collect the bags into which students empty their “blue bins” containing glass bottles, aluminum cans, cardboard and newsprint, and take the bags to centralized points on campus for processing. The six student recycling coordinators (up from two when the program began in 1999) are paid Rollins employees. “It’s a really fun job!” Rolfes-Haase said sarcastically. “We had to start the year by washing out the recycling bins, which had been stored in heat over the summer. Some had mold the science departments would love to have studied!”

Every student room has a black wastebasket and a blue bin for recycling, side by side. “That makes it just as easy to do the right thing as the wrong thing,” said Scott Bitikofer, the College’s director of facilities management.

To raise awareness about doing the right thing, each year EcoRollins and the Recycling Program team up with other student organizations to host campus celebrations of America Recycles Day and Earth Day. Last fall, EcoRollins sponsored an awarenessbuilding ping-pong tournament at the Cornell Campus Center. “We had cards on every table that gave nominal facts,” said Rolfes-Haase, “such as that plastic bags can take 1,000 years to disintegrate in landfill.”

“EcoRollins and the other student efforts have tremendous credibility on campus,” said Ann Francis ’01HH, an administrative assistant in the environmental studies department and the staff adviser to EcoRollins and the Recycling Program. “It’s not a bunch of authority figures telling students what to do. It’s peer pressure to help the planet, and it’s incredibly effective.”

A year ago, EcoRollins saw the culmination of its largest project to date: the installation of solar panels on the roof of the Bush Science Center. The proposal to install solar panels, which provide 2 kilowatts of power each day to power the building’s fluorescent lights, originated with student members of EcoRollins, who completed the project under the guidance of Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Joseph Siry.

Cool Concepts Create New Energy on Campus

Rollins’ investment in technology—in particular, its new centralized air-handling plants—may be the area in which the College becomes a leader in sustainability. A plan to replace air-conditioning units at each building with two centralized plants started 10 years ago with a plant on the east side of the campus; the second plant, near Ward Hall, became operational earlier this year.

Kevin Dixon '09. Photo by Amanda Reid.

Kevin Dixon '09. Photo by Amanda Reid.

“We’re now distributing chilled water to cool air on a centralized basis,” Bitikofer explained. “That’s allowed us to accomplish several things. We eliminated old equipment in one big move and now maintain one efficient plant. Instead of operating multiple units that ran at low loads, we now have equipment that operates at optimum capacity. The Ward Hall plant also allows us to harvest heat that’s rejected by the chiller to produce hot water and power heat pumps, and that allows us to avoid wasting natural gas in a boiler to do the same thing.”

The center of the chillwater system is a new cooling tower that uses electromagnetic precipitation to crystalize metals and kill bacteria in the water. By eliminating biocides, Bitikofer’s department also eliminated the need for antiscale chemicals to counter the corrosion caused by biocides. The cost of the tower was $30,000. Since the College was spending $3,000 a month on chemicals, and more to treat wastewater, Bitikofer estimates that the payback will occur in only eight months.

“The chemical-free, electrical field around the tower’s pipes precipitates chemicals out of the water in crystal form, which then are pulled out by a sand filter,” he explained. “Without the chemicals, after three or four cycles, the water can go straight to a retention pond, instead of into city sewers. It’s nice when something that’s good for the environment also is economical.”

The next area in which those goals will be combined is the use of sensors to shut down air-handling and lighting systems in rooms and hallways when no one’s present. When the 170 West Fairbanks Building was renovated last year, sensors were installed to control air handling. According to Bitikofer, the program will be expanded to all new construction and renovation on campus. “I believe that occupancy sensors are the next big wave,” he said. “Going forward, we’ll use them for lighting and HVAC everywhere.”

Many of the improvements designed to increase sustainability were incorporated in the $8.5-million renovation of Ward Hall that was completed in 2007 and has received national acclaim. Earlier this year, University Business magazine named Ward Hall a runner-up in its “Dorms of Distinction” feature. In addition, the Associated Press highlighted the Ward Hall renovation in an article about environmentally friendly college construction that was reprinted in dozens of newspaper around the country. “If we had another building like this, we would fill it up instantly,” former Rollins Vice President for Business and Finance and Treasurer George Herbst told an AP reporter last July. “The students want to be there. They like the idea of the work we have done with sustainability.”

Taking the Path to Culture Change

A standing committee, the Committee on Environmental and Sustainability Issues (CESI), was formed this year to develop a comprehensive plan and programs to implement it throughout College operations. Composed of faculty, staff, students, and administrators, CESI is chaired by Steve Neilson, former dean of student affairs who now serves as a special assistant to the president. “Our first task is to take inventory of all the things we’re doing now,” Neilson said. “We need to measure our carbon footprint and then develop a strategic plan. Unless we have a plan, different proposals will be competing with each other for resources.”

Sustainability ultimately requires not only a plan, but changing the philosophy and behavior of each member of the Rollins community. The challenge to organizations on campus—from the president’s office to student groups like EcoRollins—is to make people aware that “green” is the sum of everyday, conscious choices in each person’s actions. “We often have two paths—like the blue recycling bins and black garbage cans in each residence hall room,” Bitikofer said. “When you want to throw something away, which do you take?” 

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