Some on campus, like Vice Chancellor for Administration Rich Walker, feel a personal responsibility for making the campus as eco-friendly as possible.
“It feels like we all have this social responsibility to protect this planet we’re on. I don’t want to get too preachy about it — and I can’t protect the whole planet; I can just try to protect a small piece of this corner of the world,” Walker said. “Our social footprint here can’t be so deep that it harms this part of the world for the students that are taking over next.”
Sustainability is an issue that is being thought about broadly across the university. For example, Dining Services recently put out corn-based straws as an alternative for plastic straws, and the university has multiple eco-friendly issues at the top of their campus growth points of pride.
Walker said the green improvement he wanted to see most was the complete adoption of LED lighting in every fixture at SIUE.
The university is currently in the process of converting the exterior lighting to LED, according to Walker.
The project started with the lighting in the parking lots, and is now moving to street and walkway lights.
In some of the parking lots, the tallest lights won’t be replaced immediately because new fixtures need to be installed. They will be replaced as more repair work on the parking lots occurs.
Walker also said that some interior spaces on campus are already lit with LED lighting, such as the Vadalabene Center gymnasium and Dunham Hall theatre.
“If I could wave my magic wand and make one thing different on campus, I would like to convert the entire campus to LED, inside and out. And when I say ‘the campus,’ I mean Alton, East St. Louis and Edwardsville — all three campuses,” Walker said. “Now, we’ve gotten a good step in that direction, but my magic wand is out of batteries right now.”
The next wave of interior light replacement will focus on lobby and hallway lights that are on all night.
While the lights save money in the long run, the initial cost to replace old light fixtures can be expensive. However, Walker said it was worth the investment.
“Lets face it, we’re in this business for the long haul. We plan on being around a long time, so it’s the right thing to do, but coming up with that initial cash is a process,” Walker said.
Right now, there is no timeframe for the full adoption of LED lights on any of the campuses, but new construction and renovations — big and small — will lead to piecemeal adoption, According to Walker.
“[Founder’s Hall] is going to be a much more efficient building, and use less energy, because we’re replacing these heating/air conditioning buildings,” Walker said. “We’re also replacing the single-pane windows on the building with thermal windows.”
Walker said part of the goal of renovating buildings on campus is to make the buildings more eco-friendly.
“We’re trying to make our buildings more comfortable to work in, [and] at the same time make them more efficient so that it doesn’t cost so much to run them,” Walker said.
Currently, seven buildings on campus are certified green under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design system.
The Engineering Building addition, Lukas Athletic Annex, Multidisciplinary Dental Medicine Laboratory, Science Building West and Science Building East all have silver LEED certification. Additionally, one residential building in Cougar Village has residential LEED certification, and the Art and Design West Building has gold LEED certification.
Walker said that as buildings are renovated, they will also most likely receive LEED certification.
SIUE currently uses renewable energy, or pays renewable energy investment credits, and because of this, SIUE is considered renewable energy-sourced, according to Walker.
Walker also said that he thinks the next building on campus may be heated and cooled with geothermal energy.
In a more traditionally green improvement, SIUE is also renovating the greenhouse. Walker said the project will renovate the current greenhouse, and add another one of equal size.
Walker said he would like to see the university add more solar panels to campus, and potentially even a solar field to campus.
“We’ve got a lot of land; We can collect a lot of free energy that way. The thing is, it does take a lot of solar panels to create any real results, so the payback is a lot longer. But again, we’re in this for the long haul, so if we have to wait 20 years, then so be it,” Walker said. “But, that’s an expensive initial capital outlay to wait 20 years to get paid back.”
Walker said he is waiting for the price of solar energy to drop or for another group to provide funding for the initial setup costs.
He also said he was potentially looking at placing a solar field near Stadium Drive on the land that is currently used for farming.
“Wouldn’t it be cool if SIUE was able to produce enough solar electricity to sell power back to the grid? Not only get us on 100 percent [solar] energy, but to actually supply the system with energy,” Walker said.
Dining Services is also making their own changes to help the university become more eco-friendly, according to Associate Director of Food Services Melissa McEldowney and Executive Chef Eric Ruhmann.
Some changes Dining Services is looking to implement include the removal of all plastic foam take-home containers, transitioning to eco-friendly disposable silverware and adding composting options for students, according to McEldowney.
McEldowney explained that a portion of her job is to not just seek out improvements in the products we use on campus, but negotiating with companies to make prices affordable for the university.
“We want to be fiscally responsible and be a good steward of our university dollars, and make sure that we’re doing something that we can do that will help the environment but also be [financially] sustainable,” McEldowney said.
The changes she’s currently working to implement include changing the plastic bags in Center Court to ones that are more easily recyclable and reusable, and changing the take-home containers to compostable ones.
Currently, Dining Services provides traditional plastic straws as well as corn straws that are commercially compostable. McEldowney said she was interested in getting straws made from avocado pits, but that it wasn’t financially feasible right now.
“Since there’s some issues with tariffs and the trade war with Mexico right now, [the straws have] tripled in price,” McEldowney said. “This is the best eco-friendly straw; it is mixed with plastic, but the majority of it is avocado. What’s cool about it is … avocado pits are the number one waste producer in Mexico.”
McEldowney also highlighted Dining Services’ reusable cup policies, which allow for faculty, staff and students to bring their own cups in and get a fountain soda at a reduced price without using a disposable cup.
Dining Services also has hyper-local food initiatives in the form of an urban cultivator located between Entrees and The Wok in Center Court and two beehives on campus — one on the roof of Fixins’ and one on the nature preserve on campus.
The beehives provide honey for Dining Services, but right now they cannot harvest honey from the hive above Fixins’ after the loss of its queen over the summer. McEldowney said that if they took honey from that hive right now, it might not survive the winter.
The urban cultivator grows four to five pounds of microgreens and herbs per week. The small harvests are placed out onto the salad bar or used as garnishes.
Ruhmann said Dining Services uses local products whenever possible. Some local companies they use include Prairie Farms Dairy, Kaldi’s Coffee and Louisa Food Products Inc.
Ruhmann also said that as Dining Services replaces old equipment, the newer equipment is usually more efficient. He used the bakery oven they replaced three years ago as an example. The newer model has more standby features, which cause the oven to use energy when it is not in use, but also allows for less energy use overall since it doesn’t have to reheat every time it is used.
“Generally speaking, the cooking equipment we replace with newer equipment is almost always more efficient because all the equipment designers are very cognizant of [energy consumption],” Ruhmann said.
This winter, the university plans to begin removing invasive species from the woods on campus, according to Walker.
The main culprits Walker talked about were vines beginning to overgrow trees on South University Drive, as well as Autumn Olive trees that are growing at the edges of the woods around campus, both of which threaten to overwhelm the plant life at SIUE.
“I can only shape this little piece of [the planet] that I’m assigned to, but we are educating thousands and thousands — 13,000-plus — students every year to send them out into the world to change it for the better,” Walker said.