From praise in various forms received from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), an organization that has repeatedly called upon the expertise of Jesse Pyles, Unity’s sustainability coordinator, to the growing coalition for sustainability within the College community, sustainability at Unity College is high profile. In his three years as the sustainability coordinator Pyles has helped develop a robust campus sustainability program that has attracted a measure of regional and national attention. The three-person sustainability office includes Pyles, Martin Maines, Campus Recycler, and Sara Trunzo, Food and Farms Project Coordinator. They’re working on waste diversion, campus food, emissions accounting, building performance and more with a keen eye on student learning.
A Growing Force on Campus Founded in 2008, the office has grown exponentially to provide students with valuable hands-on learning opportunities that enhance their studies. This year fifteen work-study students are employed by the sustainability office, and they’ve previously hosted a contracted professional sustainability fellow and student interns. For some on campus, a fully staffed sustainability office validates Unity’s strong environmental mission. The office emphasizes student learning while expressing the College’s values regarding the natural world. Their work helps Unity College “walk the walk,” as some say, and in so doing provides a measure of leadership that at times pushes the boundaries of conventional thinking. This is what an environmental college should do, they say.
Leading-Edge Thinking is Encouraged One successful leading-edge sustainability project completed for the fall 2011 semester was the construction of TerraHaus, the first student residence hall in the United States built to the Passive House standard. This standard is widely considered to be among the most energy efficient building standards on Earth. TerraHaus residence hall uses passive solar techniques to heat the building with sunlight, requiring little or no active heating system. “The TerraHaus was a great achievement for our campus – not just in its superior energy performance, but the way we approached the design and student engagement process,” Pyles said. “We were able to involve students and other constituent groups early and often in the design phase of the TerraHaus. We even taught a ‘Passive House’ class that connected the building performance characteristics of the TerraHaus to state home weatherization incentives for members of our local community.” Another recent project, “Pastured Poultry for Food Security,” was recently featured in a Kennebec Journal article. Unity College FFA students have partnered with Waldo County Technical Center’s FFA students to raise chickens on Unity’s campus for local hunger relief efforts. Recently several sustainability successes at Unity College were featured on the AASHE Campus Sustainability Perspectives Blog, a leading sustainability blog focused on American higher education. AASHE’s latest review includes sustainability at Unity College. The review quantifies successes in the higher education sustainability movement while looking at the challenges ahead. Unity’s sustainability program is comprehensive, seeking to engage the entire College community on a daily basis in projects large and small.
Progress is an Every Day Event The activity of the sustainability office is quite varied from day to day. One recent day, staff and students in the office hosted a visiting high school group, built a compost bin, collected and sored recycling from every building, conducted a site assessment for a new campus greenhouse; completed student employee evaluations; drafted a blog post on building energy use; scheduled a campus onion transplanting; reviewed raw footage for a sustainability tour video; planned for an upcoming community meal; piloted a new online greenhouse gas inventory calculator … and more. “We want to emphasize that the sustainability work of our small college is really an important tool for delivering a meaningful education,” noted Pyles. “Our academic focus on the environment predisposes Unity College to sustainability in operations. But we also want all of our students to have a rich experience that emphasizes multiple facets of sustainability and complements any course of study.”