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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published October 13, 2011

Since the Board of Trustees of the University approved the Climate Action Plan in May, 2009, the annual green house gas (GHG) inventory of the University has been trending downward. The calculated 2010 emissions were 8.9 percent below the 2007 baseline. These reductions are roughly on par with the stated goals set forth in the CAP, and that document has proved to be an able guide.

Over that same time, the Sustainable Duke website has indicated some mission creep. In addition to the objectives of the CAP in reducing emissions and reaching carbon neutrality by 2024, there are now robust sections that cover campus initiatives in other areas like dining, waste, water and purchasing.

This totally makes sense.

The CAP was created as a direct response to President Richard Brodhead’s signing of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2007. Sustainability, however, means more than just climate to a school’s operation, reputation, ranking and service to society.

This year, the president-appointed Campus Sustainability Committee, of which I am a member, and its many subcommittees have been directed to move beyond climate and focus some energy on the creation of a Sustainability Strategic Plan (SSP).

In addition to getting a few more points on the next Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS) rating submission in three years, an SSP has the potential to empower unexpected change. In the same way President Brodhead told me last year the CAP led the University to end its use of coal.

In the same way the CAP measures greenhouse gas emissions and set a target for carbon neutrality, the SSP will derive its success from the identification of reliable data streams and clear, articulate goals that can be measured.

The areas into which the SSP has the power to move however, (eg. purchasing and waste) are decision areas that quickly become decentralized into Duke’s many schools, departments and buildings. This will provide a major challenge like those already being tackled in the area of personal transportation.

In addition, without the same unifying commitment from ACUPCC that led to the CAP and similarly-focused plans at schools across the country and world, the SSP must navigate a less-defined space.

Though several peer and neighboring institutions including Yale, N.C. State, Princeton and Purdue have published SSPs, they are each slightly different in their approach and scope. Duke will be the same. Instead of crafting a holistic SSP over the course of a year, like was done with the drafting of the CAP, a couple choice areas have been selected, to be followed by additional areas in later years.

This year’s primary areas of focus are: a) water and storm water and b) transportation. The secondary area is waste reduction/recycling/composting.

The first focus, water and Storm water, is a policy area that is under central administrative control and has garnered heightened interest since the severe drought of 2007. A large user education effort was made at that time, and compliance with state and local regulations will dictate storm water management requirements. This is a safe, easy category to include in the first year. It is also regionally relevant if not particularly progressive.

The second area of focus this year is transportation. This topical area seems redundant, however, as it is covered under the CAP, and a subcommittee and a working group already exist to address the stated and evolving goals and challenges.

Finally, as a secondary focus area, a new subcommittee will form to consider materials management on campus including recycling, waste and composting. Waste management—and recycling in particular—is an often-lamented underachievement on Duke’s campus. This newly formed subcommittee has an opportunity to challenge that reality, but it’s not likely to be easy. The current waste management system is of the decentralized variety and therefore rife with political and bureaucratic implications.

Not included in this year’s list of focus areas are dining and purchasing. Dining in particular is a highly relevant topic area right now with the West Union renovation and growing food awareness on campus. It’s likely that these areas will come later, I just hope the prime opportunity to start to address them specifically, and sustainability in a holistic way has not passed.

The SSP has the power to change Duke in unexpected and positive ways. Let us make sure Duke is open to the possibility.

Liz Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her column runs every other Thursday.

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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published September 1, 2011

I started the day out in Page Auditorium, surrounded by first-years who were eagerly introducing themselves and comparing the size and location of their dorm rooms. Many of them had a green book with white writing splashed across the cover: their summer reading assignment.

In an attempt to follow-up on my column last Spring about the book, “Eating Animals,” by Jonathan Safran Foer, I attended both sessions of the author’s speech to the first-year students, then sat with a FAC-led discussion group after each lecture.

The unprompted discussions surrounding the book may have reached deeper and more complex places than those I observed. Yet, the gist of this book’s impact was clearly evident and it ran the spectrum.

Some members of the Class of 2015 were uncomfortable, bored or otherwise turned off by the book. Some didn’t finish it, or claimed to have been unmoved. On the other hand, approximately 60 to 70 percent of the freshmen I spoke with said they had altered their eating habits significantly, had tried for at least some time to be vegetarians or had become full-fledged vegetarians.

It would therefore seem that Foer was extremely successful in his argument. I agree with him from an environmental perspective, Foer has the facts in his corner. Factory farming is bad, and that’s not even getting into the health or animal welfare issues associated with consuming meat.

But what bothered me most all day were the things Foer did not talk about. Foer’s seems to assert that the best way to address the problem of factory farming is to become a vegetarian. Though I understand space in the book was limited, this is simplistic. In a sense, it is the opt-out method. The book not only does nothing to address the factory farming issue culturally (a word Foer never uses), it also under informs.

One student in each question and answer session asked Foer why he stopped shy of veganism, that is, before fully personally confronting the factory farming of all animal products. Time, and that he’s not perfect, was the general gist of the response. The answer hardly seemed satisfying, although certainly, as he also pointed out, it was more approachable than an academic or logical explanation.

He also did not talk about the sourcing of the alternative option he presents, namely vegetables and the attendant issues related to their industrialized production. While arguably less impactful than animal product production, industrialized vegetable agriculture should be no less of a concern to the truly engaged and thoughtful eater.

Those who entered Foer’s discussion were presented with a local way to get further involved: a bookmark with the website: http://sites.duke.edu/food/

As the sun was nearing the treetops, I was headed toward one such center for engagement (also described on the website), the Duke Campus Farm, a sustainable, organic, demonstration farm with the motto: farm to fork, student to student. Foer’s choice to remain silent about vegetables wasn’t going to stop me from learning about them.

In the space of a three hour “workday,” I learned a lot—like how to prune basil, pick corn and what was making the tomato plants look dead but still productive (blight). I also learned about corn smut, a fungus that attacks the corn kernels making them appear engorged.

While I was harvesting your Marketplace meal of last Friday (no smut included), I also bonded with my fellow farm workers, who were a bit more practiced and knowledgeable. I eventually found my cherry tomato picking rhythm, but I would probably not cut it in a competitive work environment.

And then there was a rustling under the leaves of the sweet potato patch. A bunny. It was impossible to see unless it moved. The others came with sticks and a strong conviction that the bunny must go, but whether to relocate it or kill it was an open question. For several minutes we puzzled through the ridiculous notions that the bunny would go lightly into the proffered bucket for relocation, or when prompted, opt for a ride in the snare tarp instead of escaping under it. Meanwhile the bunny had other plans entirely, and it elusively outmaneuvered the big sticks, buckets and tarps making a clean getaway back the way it came.

So it was that the day’s literal and philosophical puzzle boiled down to that age old question: To kill or not to kill the bunny? And, how?

Liz Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her column runs every other Thursday.

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