Growing Green

Mount News: alumni magazine

By: William Lonneman

The Mount has been going “green” for a long time, 50 years at least. Yet there’s always a need to open the windows (replacing those 1962 single-panes, of course) and incorporate new ideas. That’s what we have been doing recently, from academic programs to facilities and grounds. The result is a more sustainable college.

Green Roof

The green roof atop the Archbishop Alter Library heralded this new era. Installed in the summer of 2008, the roof holds 4,400 square feet of modules filled with live plants. A group of us made the climb up, via the roof hatch, to admire the plants. Jeff Oelker, grounds manager, practically crows when he talks about the roof: “I am very proud of it. It is in line with the mission statement of the Sisters and we are saving money, too, with the insulation factor it gives us. Plus, it’s cool that when people fly over the College they see ‘MSJ’ spelled out by the containers!”

Besides looking good and saving energy, the green roof keeps a lot of rainwater in use that would normally drain off into the storm sewer system–an aging, regionally-combined sewer system that contributes to water pollution. This investment in environmental stewardship, made possible by a grant from the SC Ministry Foundation, has really paid off.

Committing to Green

Coincidentally, right at the same time that the green roof was installed, we also welcomed a new President, Tony Aretz, Ph.D. A few months later, in spring 2009, I found myself sitting in his office proposing that the Mount become a signatory to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Tony readily accepted the principles of that Commitment, but pointed out that we didn’t really have many of the pieces in place to sign the agreement with integrity. So, he said (with a grin?), how would I like to form a campus wide environmental committee?

I left the meeting in a bit of a daze, but with a sense of excitement. I soon met with one of our research librarians, Cynthia Gregory, M.F.A., M.L.S., ’08, who had been the moderator of the student environmental group. Together we wrote the mission statement for the new Environmental Action Committee (EAC) and issued a call for members. The response was overwhelming: over 20 faculty members, staff, students, and Sisters of Charity volunteered.

Green Gardens

Since that first meeting, the EAC has been instrumental in educating, advising, acting, and (I admit) badgering the Mount community. Our accomplishments to date have included: partnering with Delhi residents to reinitiate a community garden on campus; instituting a new academic minor in Sustainability Studies; beginning a Faculty Learning Community on how to teach sustainability across the curriculum; bringing Western Wildlife Corridor’s annual Wildflower Festival onto campus, and beginning a regular series of presentations about sustainability.

In fall 2012 the EAC helped further campus awareness on a variety of issues. We worked with our Mission and Ministry Director Nancy Bramlage, SC, to host a forum on climate change; with Tim Bryant, our Ethical Leadership director, to put together a panel about ethical eating and sustainable food production; and with Karl Zuelke, Ph.D., M.F.A., Writing Center coordinator, EAC member and author, on a multi-media presentation about mountaintop removal. In spring 2013,
we organized a forum on fracking; hosted a panel of community experts on transportation issues; and invited the campus to celebrate Earth Day on April 22. In recognition of the value placed on our work, the EAC was granted standing committee status this year by the College’s Board of Trustees.

Joyce Richter, SC, ’64, taught computer science at the Mount and retired in 2007, but when the Environmental Action Committee was formed, she jumped at the chance to be part of it. “The EAC is a committed, concerned and energetic group dedicated to the sustainability of the earth. The members are delightful to be with. They don’t just talk, but are a group who do. We discuss what kind of actions relating to sustainability could be implemented at the College, research how it can be done, and plan actions and activities around this,” she explains. “The energy and commitment of this committee rubs off on me. Since I am also on the Grounds and Environment Committee at the Motherhouse of the Sisters
of Charity and on the Board of Western Wildlife Corridor, I can bring knowledge of activities and actions from one group to the other. This benefits all three groups,” she adds. Sr. Joyce, Paula Gonzalez, SC, ’52, and Winnie Brubach, SC, have all been part of the EAC since its founding. Their excitement and energy have been a great asset to the group and they, in turn, have been gratified to see the College embrace sustainability.

Green Studies

Educating our students is definitely the top priority at the Mount. The establishment of the Sustainability Studies program as a new academic minor in April 2011 was a big step in meeting this responsibility and our commitment to environmental consciousness. In its first year, the program attracted students from a wide variety of majors including business, general studies, interior design, and history.

One of the three required courses is Environmental Ethics, taught by Adam Konopka, Ph.D., assistant professor of Philosophy and EAC member. According to Dr. Konopka, the class is a place where students can explore a variety of ethical issues involving the human relationship with the natural environment. “Through an introduction to several contemporary environmental issues (such as food production, water pollution, energy extraction, and waste management), students cultivate the critical thinking skills involved in identifying and clarifying the evaluative and moral aspects associated with their individual and communal environmental impacts,” he says. The class is transformative for many students. “The course challenged me to consider my obligations to the environment,” one student wrote. “I see (sustainability issues) differently now,” said another.

Green Going Forward

In April 2012, three years after that first meeting with President Aretz, the College did indeed sign onto a national environmental commitment, the Catholic Climate Covenant, also known as the St. Francis Pledge. In the Covenant, we join tens of thousands of Catholics across the country, including 14 other colleges, in committing ourselves to pray, learn, assess, act, and advocate about the challenges we all are facing. The St. Francis Pledge provides a framework and checkpoint for us, placing the environment up front as a criterion in all that we consider. The Pledge formalizes the principles that have been guiding us.

As with the green roof, we are making long-term business decisions more consciously in light of their effect on the environment and our responsibility to future generations. “Every time there is a new construction project, sustainability issues are discussed,” says Anne Marie Wagner ’84, chief financial officer, who is a member of the Mount’s Building and Plant Committee.

A good example of this is the College’s decision to separate from the steam heat system at the Sisters of Charity Motherhouse. For almost 50 years, heat was funneled through long underground pipes stretching across to the campus buildings. While this “umbilical cord” kept us literally tied to the Sisters—it definitely was not the most efficient system. After installing gas-fired boilers in a three-phase project led by Denny Young, building and grounds
director, the College began producing all of its own heat in 2009. A recent energy analysis showed that since 2006 we have reduced our carbon dioxide output by 2,829 metric tons, the equivalent of 15 rail cars of coal! Much of this improvement is due to the heating changeover. The cost avoidance or savings from this reduced usage consumption has been over $196,000.

Fifty years after the new campus was built (and planted), changes like the heat supply, two newly-installed rain gardens and the community garden have become part of the landscape. But some things don’t change, like Omer Schwegman. Omer had worked for the Sisters, both on their farm and in the Motherhouse, and gladly took a position at the new College campus when it opened. He remembers the new saplings in their wire cages back in 1962 and still enjoys coming back to campus to visit. “I enjoyed everything about my job at the Mount, especially being outside,” he says with a smile. He recalls the variety of trees and plants put in by the Biersdorfer family, which made the campus a destination for people from around the region. Many of the original trees still grace the campus, like the dawn redwood that towers over the southeast corner of the Quad. The young trees, such as the ginkgos bordering the new Pavilion in the Quad, will undoubtedly be equally impressive in 2062. So much to look forward to at the Mount!