Environment at American U a priority

Organic Waste Bin

Jennie Yu uses an organic waste bin in the McKinley Building at American University. Photo credit Samaa Eldadah.

Four years away from its goal of “Climate Neutrality” but with some students skipping participation in its greening efforts, American University has pledged to continue its sustainability efforts on campus.

Students and staff  interviewed this week said the university’s commitment to environmental issues on campus including composting, recycling and the maintenance of a community garden makes it a leader in the nation.

The university “is doing a pretty good job,” said Liam Toohey, 35, who works at the Bender Library on campus.

In April, AU signed Second Nature’s Climate Commitment, a document that reaffirms the school’s goal of climate neutrality.  Second Nature assists colleges and universities nationwide with efforts to become more sustainable. The document emphasizes higher education’s role in sustainability.

Signatories “believe firmly in the power, potential, and imperative of higher education’s key role in shaping a sustainable society,” according to the document.

Five months earlier, AU joined more than 300 colleges and universities in signing the White House’s American Campuses Act on Climate agreement.

The Zero Waste Policy AU adopted in 2010 also prompted the establishment of AU’s Zero Waste Club, a group of students that takes initiative in reducing campus landfill waste, as their name explains, to zero. AU’s Zero Waste Policy has called for “reducing and diverting 100 percent of the university’s waste stream.”

Most buildings on campus, offer four different ways to dispose of materials. These include bins for organic waste, trash headed for landfills, glass and plastic recycling and paper.

But, not all students pay attention to the separate bins, and that may jeopardize whether composting materials–food waste, napkins and other biodegradable materials–are treated as environmentalists hope. In the past, the University has had issues finding a composting facility that accepts mixed materials from the bins.

“People need to pay attention,” to composting bins, said Fabiola Lizardi-Clemente,17.

Allie Goldsmith, 19, a barista at the Dav, a coffee shop in the School of International Service, noted that it has been going green for as long as she can remember, and said many students at SIS do a good job paying attention to environmental issues.

“People are more conscious here,” Goldsmith said.

A sign at the coffee shop read, “SAVE the WORLD, use a MUG! Take it ANYWHERE but please, please, PLEASE bring it back to the DAV.” Another sticker pasted at the shop said, “We proudly serve TAP WATER.”

Tucked behind the SIS building, down a narrow gravel pathway, is an herb and vegetable garden, an effort by AU’s Arboretum and Gardens team to promote consumption of locally grown produce.

The garden, according to Toohey, is open to all AU faculty, and is filled with herbs from “Stir-fry Thai Basil” to “Simply Salsa Cilantro.” Other plants include curly kale and blackberry bushes.

The School of International Service building, which is LEED-certified, is renowned on campus for being a “green place.” That means its better at reducing water and energy usage.

Other buildings, like the Kogod School of Business and the Mary Graydon Center, have green roofs, helping to cut down on water runoff and boost “energy efficiency,” according to the university’s website.