ISU Graduates Must “Sustain” Sustainability For a Better Future

This is my last week working full-time in the Office of Sustainability. That does not mean, however, that my work is nearly finished. Rather, it has just begun. Those who are passionate about sustainability know that it is not simply a trend. It is a way of life. It is questioning the impact of every decision you make; on other people, on the economy, and the planet. It is asking what kind of world you want to live in, and what kind of world you want to leave behind. Sustainability is not a new idea, but as we begin to experience the consequences of living as though our planet has an infinite amount of natural resources, it is more important than ever before.

I came to this position because Illinois State University not only gave me the opportunity to explore my interests, but the ability to do something about them. I did not know what ‘sustainability’ meant as an impressionable freshman. The Office of Sustainability did not even formally exist at that time. Two years and four academic major changes later, I began studying renewable energy and became an Off-Campus Senator in Student Government. Part of my responsibilities involved serving on external committees, one of which was this shadowy “sustainability committee,” charged with allocating $45,000.00 on projects to enhance the campus environment, and demonstrate the meaning of the term. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the very existence of this committee was due to the passion and hard work of an ISU student the semester prior. Dorian Moore, someone I have never met, changed my life. Moore served as Secretary of Sustainability during the 2009-2010 academic year. In that position, he brought forward a referendum to students asking if they wanted to levy a fee for sustainable campus projects. The referendum passed overwhelmingly. In response, the Board of Trustees, who had already vowed not to levy new fees, decided to set money aside to honor the will of the student body.

I enjoyed the work of the committee so much as an Off-Campus Senator that the next year I applied for and secured an appointment as Secretary of Sustainability. In this position I was charged with leading the work of the committee: reviewing applications, giving the proposal authors an opportunity to present their projects, and voting on allocating funding. The work made possible by this fund has been truly incredible. It was used to purchase a biodiesel reactor, which is converting campus waste fryer oil from the dining centers into biofuel that is run in campus fleet vehicles. The production of the biodiesel was integrated into an agriculture class that I was fortunate enough to take as part of the renewable energy curriculum. The fund also paid for an ecological assessment and oak savanna restoration plan for the overgrown patch of land in between Cardinal Court and Facilities Management.  The goal is to turn this plot into an environmental learning laboratory and recreation space for residents of Cardinal Court and the surrounding community.  The fund purchased educational materials for a water conservation awareness and behavior change program that was implemented in East Campus. Measurements of water usage showed a dramatic decrease following implementation of the program. It purchased an apiary with six beehives, prompting the creation of the ISU Beekeepers. It purchased rain barrels, and bike racks. In short, it has been wildly successful. And those were only a few of the projects in the first two years. Next year, the fund reaches $180,000.00, and will continue at that level annually.

All of this success can be traced back to the vision and determination of one student who  used his voice to make ISU a more sustainable campus. To me, the story of the creation of the student sustainability fund illustrates the difference that one can make if only he or she is passionate and works hard. In working at student government, and in my current position at the Office of Sustainability, I have found that Illinois State University has an administration that is responsive to the demands of students. But if no students speak up, how is the administration to know what they want? The administration is built on a model of shared governance. Indeed, students make up half of the Academic Senate. But that model only works if students advocate for their best interests.

As a Program Manager at the Office of Sustainability, I have been fortunate to work under the tutelage of Melissa (Missy) Nergard. She is a terrific resource for any student that wants to explore their interest in sustainability, or apply to the student sustainability fund with a project of their own. Missy has extensive knowledge of campus operations and academics, as well as general trends and practices pertaining to sustainability in higher education. The Office has hosted internships for students from a variety of majors on campus, ranging from Library Sciences, Accounting, and Psychology, to Renewable Energy. The broadness of sustainability allows the Office to accommodate a range of skills and interests. To explore yours, simply send Missy an e-mail. She is wonderful to work with.

As I reflect on my time in this Office (only two very brief semesters!), I think about all the amazing people at Illinois State University, and everything I have learned from them. One of the projects I worked on was assembling the 2010-2012 Biennial Report on Sustainability. The report provides a broad overview of campus sustainability efforts in the categories of Students, Academics, and Operations. Check it out here. Reading through it, one can feel the passion on this campus; the faculty conducting groundbreaking research on complicated waste-to-energy programs; the students hosting events to promote and educate the public on electric vehicles; the operational staff improving energy efficiency and conservation in University buildings; and the graduate students serving with the Peace Corps. In 2008, President Bowman signed onto the American College and Universities President’ Climate Commitment, indicating the University’s will to act on the most important challenge of our generation. What we need now are responsible graduates who will take what they have learned here, and use their positions outside the university to act on that challenge.

–Matthew Tomlin


Tweet @SustainISU to Celebrate Earth Day

While some people may be more excited to celebrate national “Dance like a Chicken Day” (May 14) or “Talk like a Pirate Day” (September 19), on April 22, Illinois State University’s Office of Sustainability will be celebrating our favorite holiday, Earth Day. This special day dedicated to our beautiful planet is not only a good reminder that you live on Earth, but it also provides transparency for our Office. We spend a ton of time in our office working on projects that affect students, but Earth Day provides an opportunity to interact with them.

We have been working all Spring semester on a variety of events that will happen throughout the month of April, but it took a bit more time to develop our Office’s big Earth Day campaign. This year we decided to engage students through a medium that is most familiar to them: social media. Gathering students together to work on a project in the middle of a school day, right before finals, may be difficult, but that doesn’t mean students at Illinois State don’t privately celebrate this day. For this reason we are asking that ISU students get on Twitter and tweet @SustainISU; telling us how they are celebrating Earth Day.

As an undergraduate at ISU, my friends and I used to make a point to get together and enjoy a meal outside on Earth Day. Another friend of mine used the day to plug recycling to anyone that would listen (although I think she may do this on a regular basis). While I have the opportunity to share some of my experiences here, I want you to share your experiences with us on Twitter. Using 140 characters or less or a photo, you can tweet @SustainISU at any point on April 22, 2013. The best part about this—you’re doing something for our campus and planet, AND you have the opportunity to win eco-friendly prizes. Our Office will be randomly selecting students that tweet in to win prizes such as our grand prize: a Schwin S1 cruiser-provided by Bloomington Cycle and Fitness, and several others (solar jars, gift cards, etc.).  

This is our first foray into social media campaigning, and we’re looking forward to meeting many new students by enhancing our online presence. Social media is not only appealing to us because so many students are on websites like Facebook and Twitter, but because it provides an opportunity for our Office to be even more sustainable. Other than creating some signage to market this event, we’re keeping our carbon footprint down by keeping everything online. And our gifts are designed to keep your carbon footprint down: the bike provides transportation to campus and around the community, the solar jars provide a renewable source of energy, and the gift cards support local businesses that use locally made products.

Obviously we hope that our Office receives recognition and attention for putting together a Twitter contest, but we also hope to develop relationships with students. I’m excited to read the tweets we will receive on April 22, but what I’m really looking forward to are the tweets we receive on a daily basis.

For information and rules about our Twitter contest visit the Office of Sustainability’s webpage.

–Jordan Goebig

You Are What You Eat-Food Justice at ISU

I love food; all kinds: meat, dairy, fruits, vegetables, ALL OF IT! And yet, while food has been a lifelong love affair, it is only in the past few years that I began considering the political, social and environmental consequences of what I fiendishly devour. Eating is one of the most intimate ways we interact with our Earth. And we do it typically three times daily, meaning we are constantly making decisions that influence how, where, and under what conditions our food is grown, and how the animals we eat are treated.

Think about buying a banana from a local grocery store in winter. Obviously, that banana didn’t grow here. Probably, it came from South America. Think about how much you paid for that banana. Then consider that banana was shipped thousands of miles, either by sea or by air. Consider that someone was paid to pick that banana. How much do you think they were paid? What kind of life do you think they live? I am sometimes discomforted by how little I know of the people behind the food I buy. Globalization has made it much harder to know who exactly is picking your berries (yes, bananas are scientifically classified as berries…Weird, right?!?). It has also led to an unsustainable food system fueled mostly by petroleum, a finite resource polluting our atmosphere and leaking into our oceans, lakes, and rivers.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the grocery co-op in Champaign. What a wonderful shopping experience!! I love how much of the food is sourced regionally and locally. They even had Ropp cheese, which is produced on a farm right outside Normal. The experience at the Champaign grocery co-op inspired me to purchase ownership shares in Green Top Grocery, the local co-op starting up in Normal. The co-op model not only sources more food locally, but it creates a sense of community. Since it is owned by members of the community, decisions made regarding the co-op are much more democratic. There is also a primary focus on education, worker’s rights, and local food security because co-ops are built upon the values of openness and social responsibility. In short, it is the kind of grocery store I would feel good about buying my food from.

Critics of the present food system have written entire books on the concept of “food justice.” Robert Gottlieb, Director of the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute, and Anupama Joshi, Co-Director of the National Farm to School Network, recently published a book literally titled “Food Justice,” that attempts to catalogue the hazards, abuses, and inequities inherent in the current industrial and increasingly globalized food system. They define the food justice movement as an attempt to equitably distribute “the benefits and risks of where, what, and how food is grown, produced, transported, distributed, accessed and eaten.” The book charts the rise of the movement, whose inception they trace to the release of Edward R. Morrow’s documentary, “Harvest of Shame,” in 1960.

Food is at the intersection of our personal health and wellbeing, and the health of our planet. We tend to eat more fatty, sweet, and salty foods when we experience negative emotions and more nutritious foods when we experience positive ones. In addition, the volume of food we eat is affected by our emotions as well. The Mayo Clinic discusses this “mood food” phenomenon on their website:

“Although some people actually eat less in the face of strong emotions, if you’re in emotional distress you may turn to impulsive or binge eating — you may rapidly eat whatever’s convenient, without even enjoying it.

In fact, your emotions may become so tied to your eating habits that you automatically reach for a treat whenever you’re angry or stressed without stopping to think about what you’re doing.[1]


I’ve been there on more nights than I care to mention. In undergrad, I would sometimes drive my car to Steak n’ Shake to inhale a double-cheeseburger and fries on nights before a mid-term or final, washed down with the supplementary chocolate shake, of course. So how does my emotional eating affect the planet? It takes far more energy to raise a pound of meat than a pound of vegetables, meaning that carnivores like me put more stress on the planet’s natural resources.

While this kind of eating is disturbing and widespread, and certainly contributes to the country’s obesity epidemic, perhaps more disturbing is the number of low-income communities of color that lack access to healthy, affordable food. The effect of this disparity is clear. As reported in a recent study by PolicyLink, a national research institute, and The Food Trust, a nonprofit organization advancing access to nutritious food, “adult obesity rates are 51 percent higher for African-Americans than whites, and 21 percent higher for Latinos.” The report continues stating, “improving access to healthy food is a critical component of an agenda to build an equitable and sustainable food system. It is time for a nationwide focus to ensure that healthy food choices are available to all.[2]” Co-ops, by bringing communities together around food security, could play a crucial role in solving this social problem.

University Housing and Dining Services brought chef, author and activist in the food justice movement, Bryant Terry, to campus Monday to speak in the Brown Ballroom of the Bone Student Center. Mr. Terry is the author of “The Inspired Vegan,” which explores interconnections between food, storytelling, music and art, while also sharing recipes, cooking techniques, and strategies for making nutritionally balanced meals. Terry says that one’s values should drive his or her diet.

“I ask myself, ‘what kind of world do I want to see? How do I want animals, and the environment to be treated?’ My answers determine what I pass up,[3]” he said.

Creating Your Own Campus Garden

Living on, or near, a college campus can be frustrating-even with the perks of a central rec center and all-you-can-eat dining center-we all long for a little privacy and lots of green space. Although I’ve moved off-campus and into an apartment, the opportunity to actually enjoy a yard is still something that I dearly miss. When I visit my parents I find myself taking the dogs out more, dragging my little brother on walks, and actually offering to help my dad around the yard. I know that I probably won’t be able to enjoy these things in my own place for a few more years, but over the past few months I realized that I can’t always wait for the green space to come to me. Sometimes you have to make it happen.

I had always wanted to grow a few of my own vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Over the course of a few months, I began to collect materials to build my own indoor garden. It was shockingly simple and cheap, and along with my significant other (and family), we were able to collect wood scraps and plant containers (recycled jars). We already had the necessary tools and nails, so the only purchases were soil, seeds, and smaller containers to start the seeds in which cost less than $15.

The box took about an hour to construct (thanks to my Dad and boyfriend, Adam) and another hour or two to arrange everything and actually begin the planting process. This is something I have thought about for at least a solid year, but it only took a few hours to do once we took action. Adam and I kept our garden box indoors over the last week, because as every knows, Illinois weather can be pretty temperamental in April. However, the beauty of this box—is that it is easily transferred outside once it warms up enough. Although I may not have a large yard, I now have a bit of green space I created myself. In just a few weeks, we’ve already begun to see the benefits of our work. While $15 and a couple hours might be a stretch for the average college student, imagine how much money and time you’ll save on shopping for fresh produce – instead of a costly trip to the store, a quick trip to your patio or balcony can yield armfuls of fresh fruits and veggies, meal after meal. So what are you waiting for?

How To Create Your Own Garden Box


  1. Find an old window to use. Recycle from an old home, ask around, or your best option might be to check out an antique store.
  2. Purchase or collect wood. I would recommend trying to find out if someone you know has some wood scraps (recycle!) before purchasing some from a store. Worst case scenario you can purchase scrap lumber from nearly any local home improvement store.
  3. Measure the dimensions of the window—then get handy. You are going to need a few tools to do this project, but it’s simple enough that anyone can build! You don’t need any professional skills to nail pieces of wood together. If you are getting your wood from a store, measure the window beforehand because they may be able to cut the wood to size for you—saving you some time! Also, when considering the height of the box, think about what you will be planting and how high it may grow. Our garden box is the perfect size for herbs, but we will have to move our vegetables into larger containers as they grow. We were originally going to go with just herbs, but I love tomatoes!
  4. Consider what you’ll be planting in. Recycled jars and coffee cups are the perfect size to start your plants in!
  5. If you are using a planter that may leak—you will want to layer the bottom so that the water doesn’t soak through and rot the wood. We reused some of the plastic that our seed containers came in to collect water for us.
  6. Get planting! You can purchase the soil you want from many local stores. We just went with a basic kind, but remember that certain types of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and plants may require different soil types. Also, make sure you actually read up on each plant!
  7. Pray to the sun and water gods. Take care of your plants and garden box—and reap the benefits in a few weeks or months!

–Jordan Goebig (with a cameo by the always adorable, Elway Marshall)

indoor garden large

Local Businesses Building Sustainable Futures

In today’s world, environmental degradation is a huge concern that we have to take control of. Big contributors to these environmental damages are the businesses that we rely upon to produce the products that we need to function with our daily activities. Sustainable practices are starting to become a hot commodity not only locally in Bloomington-Normal, but nationally and worldwide. Since I go to school at Illinois State University, I’ll focus on the local part of sustainable practices instead of getting into the big picture of the worldwide stuff.

By having the Office of Sustainability on campus, Illinois State is starting to get the word out to the student population. The staff and interns are passionate about what they do, and it shows with the increasing awareness of sustainability throughout the campus and the city.  A huge breakthrough for business majors in particular at Illinois State is with the new minor, Business Environment and Sustainability that just started this semester. Now business students get the education of how a sustainable approach can not only help prevent the destruction of the environment that we live in, but also help save money for these particular businesses.

To go along with the Office of Sustainability, a huge contributor in helping the local communities in Bloomington-Normal is the Illinois Green Business Association. According to their website, there are currently fifteen business that have been “green certified” with the most recent being the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel and Conference Center and many more in process. To further the proof of how much of an impact the ILGBA has had, an article in Greenbiz ranked them second behind the California Green Business Program for the Green Seal Degree of Trust.  With the help of the Illinois Green Business Association, our community and the surrounding communities are taking necessary steps to becoming energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

Although there are many so-called “green businesses” out there, consumers have to be careful when searching for sustainable products that they want to purchase. Since becoming a “green business” is such a hot topic right now, greenwashing has become a relatively large problem. If you don’t know what greenwashing is, it is the act of businesses promoting themselves as being environmentally friendly when they really aren’t. This is an attempt to trick consumers into believing they are environmentally friendly which can sway them into buying the products or services that they provide. With a little research into how a company performs their daily activities, you will be able to see if they do or don’t have an environmentally friendly approach.

With the widespread topic of sustainability occurring, companies all over have either accepted sustainable practices or preached they have. Locally, many of our businesses have taken the step to becoming sustainable. While some have completed the step, others are in the process, which is an encouraging sign for the future of our area. If the businesses around us become sustainable entities, hopefully the people in the community will follow. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “the future depends on what we do today,” so hopefully we are doing the right thing.

–Aaron Schmelzle

Unite Redbirds Against Vampire Power!

Electricity is ubiquitous in the developed world. We rely on it for our lighting, appliances and entertainment systems, and often heating and cooling. Living in the United States, it is hard to imagine going even a single day without electricity. At the same time, it is equally as easy to forget how many people in the world do not have access to it: an estimated 1.5 billion, roughly a fourth of the world’s population. Concentrated disproportionately in Africa and southern Asia, they constitute 79 percent of the population of the 50 poorest nations on Earth.[1]

There are a number of forward-thinking, fast-growing organizations in the United States devoted to giving “power to the people.” In early February, the ISU Renewable Energy Society hosted a speaker from We Care Solar, an organization that delivers portable solar suitcases to parts of the world without electricity. These devices power critical lighting, mobile communication, and medical equipment. The speaker, Shannon Fulton, is a graduate of the Renewable Energy major at Illinois State. Fulton demonstrated how the suitcases work. One electrical device in the suitcase allows a pregnant mother to hear her baby’s heartbeat when pressed against her stomach. Maternal mortality remains a significant cause of death in the developing world. According to Fulton, this instrument is a big draw for getting pregnant women to come to the medical clinics. Once there, medical staff can run additional tests to evaluate the health of the mother and unborn child.

“By equipping off-grid medical clinics with solar power for medical and surgical lighting, walkie-talkies and essential medical devices, WE CARE Solar facilitates timely and appropriate emergency care, reducing maternal and infant morbidity and mortality and improving the quality of care in Africa, Haiti and other regions.[2]” –We Care Solar

Fulton’s story got me thinking about how often I take electricity for granted. Truthfully, until about my third year of college, I lived in what was essentially a state of blatant unconsciousness about my electricity usage. But when I began thinking seriously about it, I realized my consumption had myriad political, economic, and environmental consequences. The consequences vary depending on how the electricity is generated (whether by nuclear, wind, coal, etc.), who owns and operates the generation and distribution system (whether public or private), and the distance between where the electricity is produced and consumed. As a consumer, the absolute best thing you can do for the environment and your budget is to reduce your electric consumption as much as possible (this rule actually applies to all forms of energy).

A frightening phenomenon in the developed world is “vampire power.” No, it is not an underground movement of wannabe vampires or True Blood fans. It is the electricity consumed by household appliances, entertainment systems, and computers when not in use. Also known as phantom load, standby power, or plug load, it accounts for approximately 10 percent of the total power used in your house! When turned off, many microwave ovens, DVD players, coffee makers, laptops, televisions, printers, and satellite boxes remain on standby. Others power internal clocks, and are never technically “off” until they are unplugged. Regardless, they continue sucking electricity from your socket, not unlike how a vampire sucks blood from your veins, even when you are not using them. So, there you go. I just told you how to save 10 percent on your electric bill! DESTROY THE VAMPIRE! Unplug them. Unplug them all! Mua ha ha ha!

But this is serious, you guys. Wasted energy costs the United States an estimated $10 billion per year. How much do you think you’re spending on it? Were vampire power eliminated, the country could shut down 30 coal power plants, avoiding 50 million tons of planet-warming carbon dioxide. Save your money and protect the environment by unplugging your electronics and appliances when not in use. An easy way to do this is by using a power strip. Simply plug all your appliances and electronics into the strip, and switch it off when they are not in use. This has a public service message from the Office of Sustainability at Illinois State University. Redbirds unite!

–Matthew Tomlin

Planning for an Eco-Friendly Spring Break

Whether you are going to the sunshine state or visiting friends out of town this spring break, there are several ways one can make traveling a bit greener. Planning for an eco-friendly trip may sound a bit intimidating, but with a little planning, it really can be hassle free.  Every effort counts too. Following just one of the tips has a positive impact on the environment.

1.  Transportation: ROAD TRIP!!! Hit the road this spring break by either carpooling or taking public transportation.  Compared to driving separately or flying, this significantly reduces our carbon footprint. If your flight is already booked, make smart decisions at the airport. Take advantage of recycling receptacles, bring a water bottle to refill at the water fountain, use one napkin or paper towel, and only accept food/drinks on the airplane that you are going to eat or drink.

2. Accommodations: Stay at a green hotel/hostel/motel! Supporting an environmentally friendly establishment sends a message to competitors that consumers care about the decisions they are making in regards to the environment. While staying at a green establishment, practice green actions. Reuse your bath towel, take efficient showers, fill up water bottles, refrain from getting the sheets changed, use electricity at a minimum and remember to turn off lights and unplug devices when out of the room.

3. Food: Pack food for the trip using tupperware. When going out to eat, support green restaurants. At the restaurant, be conscious of how many napkins and utensils you use. Ask to use the same glass for your drink. Order smart and get only what you know you will eat. When in the bathroom, wash hands efficiently and use one paper towel.

Making eco-friendly decisions is a conscious effort but when practiced regularly, it truly becomes habit.  It only takes a small action to make a huge impact. Little decisions, like refilling water bottles and opting for no sheet exchange, make a difference. Even if you just follow one of the tips, it is an accomplishment to be proud of. Happy Green Break Redbirds!

–Ali McCracken