Sustainability Office Celebrates Milestone, Earth Day

(published April 22, 2016)

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Office of Environmental Sustainability will hold a special event every month until the end of the year. Earth Day Field Day is the next event and is taking place today, April 22. It will feature environmentally-themed outdoor activities. The event coincides with the end of Ecolympics, which the office coordinates yearly.

Anyone can organize an event for Ecolympics, which was founded in 2004, but the office oversees implementation of the two-week-long energy-saving competition and helps to co-promote it. Campaigns by ResEd and the Adam Joseph Lewis Center’s Poop Campaign have been among the most notable, and the city itself began participating in 2014 when Oberlin Public Schools joined in on the games.

Bridget Flynn, OES’ sustainability coordinator, said Oberlin elementary and middle school students are “crushing it” this year.

The aim of the field day is to reduce electricity use for an hour across the majority of the town. In order to achieve this, the OES has added tug of war (with recycled rope, of course), “pin-the-leaf-on-the-tree,” jump rope, hula-hooping, hopscotch and a materials toss, in which participants sort materials into trash, composting and recycling bins, to the agenda.

It will also feature a 10-yard race in recycling bags, fitting with the 10-year theme.

“[The goal of the event] is to help people have a good time, be outside and do active, fun things,” Flynn said.

OES was founded in 2006 as the Committee on Environmental Sustainability under former College President Nancy Dye. Its creation was prompted in part by the College’s 2004 environmental policy, which was adopted by the Board of Trustees in March of that year.

“Oberlin College must be a responsible steward of the environment,” the statement said. “As such, the College will seek 1) to reduce the rate at which it contributes to the depletion and degradation of natural resources; 2) to increase the use of renewable resources; and 3) to consider other measures that can enhance the physical environment in which we live.”

“This is a faculty-led committee, but it has a very diverse group of people who belong to that committee, so there are staff, students, faculty members and community members as part of that committee,” said Meghan Riesterer, the office’s assistant vice president of energy management and sustainability. “And so, that collection [of people was] a major supporter of making sure there was an administrative function for working on sustainability issues.”

Dye was one of 12 founding members of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2006. The ACUPCC, which is supported by groups such as Second Nature, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and ecoAmerica, established guidelines for Oberlin and its peer institutions to improve campuswide sustainability.

“[In 2014], the Alliance for Resilient Campuses was created as a complement to the ACUPCC,” Riesterer wrote in an email to the Review.

Oberlin College’s Environmental Policy Implementation Plan went into action that November. The plan seeks to bring to fruition Oberlin’s commitment to become carbon neutral by 2025.

Aside from taking the helm on carbon neutrality, the office also presides over the allocation of renewable energy credits used for matters external to the College, such as student transportation over academic breaks. RECs are generated when a community produces one megawatt-hour of electricity from a renewable energy source. According to Riesterer, the College has halved its carbon emissions since 2007.

The department of two full-time and one part-time staff members thrives on contributions from student interns, whose specialties lie in various areas of sustainability. The interns are involved in areas such as the Green EDGE Fund, sustainable purchasing and the shift to carbon neutrality.

OES also sponsors private readings about sustainability and supports student organizations and initiatives like Campus Dining Services Recyclers, Oberlin Animal Rights, energy justice, food justice and the Real Food Challenge working group.

“Any group that reaches out to us, we will support,” Flynn said.
The office also supported the installation of Oberlin’s solar array, which lies north of the athletic fields and spans approximately 10 acres. The most recent addition to the solar field included a lighting upgrade. It addressed around 80 percent of outdoor lighting, according to Flynn.

“[The lighting upgrade] is saving the College a lot of money and utilities, making it safer for employees like changing light bulbs up in Mudd,” Flynn said. “Instead of doing that every few months, they do that every few years now.”

The office also began one of the first retrocommissioning projects on campus.

“Essentially, it’s doing a deep-dive of a building to understand the way it was designed to function, the way it functions now and the gaps in between the two so that the building can run as optimal as possible,” Riesterer said.

So far, only the Science Center has been evaluated.

The office’s last event during the academic year for its anniversary is the intern team’s final presentation of its research and reports. It will be the first public presentation of this information. The office is brainstorming for the Fall and plans to invite people from the rest of the region for a larger, composite event at the end of the year.

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