As an office “charged with moving Keene State College to become New Hampshire’s premier undergraduate institution for leading, educating and demonstrating visionary sustainability,” the Office of Sustainability is rolling out new initiatives this year and in the future to do just that.
Senior environmental science major, geology minor and Eco-Rep Justin Landry said the sustainability department on campus has really changed since he first started, meaning as whole, they’ve done some great things for our campus.
Just last year, Keene State made national and international headlines for being the first college in the country to switch out a portion of the heating oil used to heat campus. Previously, the campus used No. 6 heating oil, which was a dark black fossil fuel. Director of Campus Sustainability Cary Gaunt said it’s the most polluting heating choice known to mankind, but historically, many places in the region have used it. In effort to find a carbon neutral product that didn’t emit greenhouse gases and was fully renewable, used and refined vegetable oil entered a trial period at Keene State.
Thirty-six percent of of Keene State’s campus was heated with purified waste vegetable oil this past year, but currently, Gaunt said they want to step up their game even more. Although the exact amount is still being negotiated, Gaunt said they’re hoping to use between 50 and 70 percent of the vegetable oil to heat the campus, almost twice as much as last year.
“We don’t want to go 100 percent…because just to be safe, any campus this size…you really want to have multiple heating sources just in case there’s a problem on the supply chain anywhere along the line. So we’ll never probably go 100 percent, but I hope we can get up to about 70 to 75 percent of this renewable used heating vegetable oil for our heat. When we do that, that’ll take us leaps and bounds to getting a much better score for greenhouse gas emissions,” Gaunt said.
Additionally, Gaunt said the Office of Sustainability is actively researching other renewable ways to heat our campus. For example, the University of New Hampshire uses natural gas that comes from the landfill in Durham, which is considered a renewable carbon-free resource as well. Gaunt said KSC is looking at similar sources that we can use.
Gaunt said, “So our goal is…we don’t have a date yet, but our goal is that in the next number of years, certainly by the middle of the century, that we would be 100 percent renewable heating, so that’s one thing that we’re actively pursuing and I think that’s one of our highest priorities truthfully.”
Another initiative the Office of Sustainability has rolled out this semester is in effort to reduce our footprint and minimize our campus waste. In order to do this, the Eco-Reps have taken over the Zorn Dining Commons (DC), encouraging students to compost their food waste. For the past five or six years, according to Gaunt, the dining commons composted their kitchen waste, which included organic vegetables from the kitchen, such as carrot tops, potato peels and other forms of vegan waste.
However, the state of New Hampshire presents some barriers on how to handle food waste; more specifically, the state doesn’t allow industrial composting of dairy and meat waste, which prompted Gaunt to form a new partnership in Vermont.
In hopes of eventually becoming a zero waste campus, Gaunt said Keene State has contracted with Windham County, which is across the river in Brattleboro, Vermont. “[They] are doing some very innovative things on how…you compost food waste, well we call it post-plate waste, whatever you scrape off your plate, bones, chicken skins, the whole gamut…and really this will almost double the amount of waste that we compost…[and we] will have complete food waste composting in the DC and then next step would be Lloyds and that’s going to be huge too,” Gaunt said.
Currently, Keene State diverts about 30 percent of campus food waste, meaning it isn’t sent to a landfill. With complete food waste composting in the DC, Gaunt said our campus should get up to diverting 49 to 50 percent of our food waste. “Our goal, of course, is zero waste, which means between 90 and 100 percent will eventually be diverted. That’ll be challenging because we’ll have to get an all hands on deck thing, but I’m excited by the food waste composting because it’s really innovative.” Gaunt said.
When it comes to sustainability, Gaunt said they like everything to come full circle, or “cradle to cradle” they call it, meaning that product gets completely reused and it never enters the waste stream. The kitchen scraps from the DC, as well as all the leaf litter, grass clippings and other things they pick up around campus is composted here at Keene State and then the compost is used to supplement in any of the flower beds and in the mulch under the trees, for example, according to Gaunt. All of it has been handmade and hand-grown right here. Gaunt said, “We buy practically nothing in terms of fertilizers from anyplace else…we just make it all here.”
In addition to the operations side of things, Gaunt has also been working on making sustainability at Keene State an area of distinction by leveraging our current programs and taking them to the next level. Gaunt said this year, the office is working to implement a possible sustainability minor, as well as some certificate programs.
Gaunt explained, “We’re trying to develop, in conjunction with the academic departments and the provost, a series of certificates and also some professional trainings, CEUs, through continuing ed, on sort of the emerging green areas that Keene State shines in. So I think this year, we’re aiming to get a sustainability minor, I think we’re aiming to get a certificate program in recycling coordinator and also a certificate program in high performance building….We’ve done a lot of really innovative stuff that people can really learn from and then get a certificate or a professional continuing education credits….We want to actually create some new offerings that will help people specifically get ready for the workforce and also be of interest to professionals that are already working that want to come to learn more.”
As if Keene State wasn’t sustainable enough, in May, the college was recognized as one of nine U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools nationwide and was the only institution to be selected from New Hampshire. According to Gaunt, the Chancellor of the University System of New Hampshire Dr. Todd Leach called and suggested we apply for the award. After completing the lengthy application, Gaunt found out we won at the state level and then went on to win at the national level.
As an Eco-Rep, senior Landry wants to emphasize the Ban the Bottle campaign, which he said has been going on for five or six years now. “That [Pepsi] contract is up for reconsideration pretty soon…so we’re hoping that the school will decide to ban plastic water bottles or not renew the contract for plastic water bottles…. I think that would be a huge step. There’s some towns that have banned plastic bags and stuff and there are some towns and colleges that have banned plastic water bottles, but we would definitely be one of the first colleges in the nation to actually do that, it would be great.”
Jessica Ricard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org