End-of-year reflections from MN Greencorps member, Aaryn Wilson

2018-2019 was Augsburg’s second year hosting a MN Greencorps member in the Sabo Center. These positions have brought new perspectives and learning to us through the incredible young people who serve and have expanded Augsburg’s community as they go out into other professional experiences, taking what they’ve learned and who they’ve met here with them. We will especially miss Aaryn’s thoughtfulness around complex sustainability topics and ability to see areas for improvement with our waste systems.

students and staff perform waste audit
MN Greencorps member, Aaryn Wilson (left), finishes a waste audit with student intern Reiss Williams and graduate fellow Blongsha Hang

Hi, my name is Aaryn Wilson and this past year I served as Augsburg’s Minnesota GreenCorps member. The Minnesota GreenCorps program is affiliated with AmeriCorps. The program places AmeriCorps members with host organizations around the state to assist communities and local governments in addressing a variety of statewide needs, aiming to:

  • Reduce solid waste and increase recycling in Minnesota communities.
  • Reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) and other air pollutants.
  • Reduce water runoff and improve water quality.
  • Assist community members to take eco-friendly actions.
  • Increase community resilience and build local capacity to respond to the threats of climate change.
  • Train new environmental professionals.

During my time at Augsburg I mainly focused on reducing solid waste and increasing recycling efforts already in place. To do this I had a lot of help from the Environmental Stewardship interns, staff, faculty, and students on campus. Some highlights from the year include:

  • Showed the film Wasted! The Story of Food Waste in the fall semester of 2018.
  • Conducted three waste audits on 12/10/2018, 1/31/2019, and 8/6/2019. To learn about two of the waste audit’s we did feel free to read this article written by the Echo.
  • During the month of March, I participated in Nexuses Tapping the Potential of Community Engagement series. After the workshops I would share what I learned with students and staff at Augsburg.
  • Performed a number of waste sorts at the Commons just by simply standing near the three bin system and directing people as they through away their waste.
  • With our two Step-Up interns we waste mapped the three bin systems around campus. We noted where there were bins missing and were more could be added. This was done over the months of June and July. Overall only a couple areas on campus could be modified for more effective bin placement. Contact Allyson Green for full report.
  • Participated in a training with A’viands staff on 1/11/2019 to teach them how to do waste sorting, organic recycling, recycling, and trash correctly.
  • Led a training with Staff Senate folks about waste reduction on 12/19/2018
  • Led a training with Residence Life (RAs) about waste reduction on 1/7/2019
  • Conducted one-to-one meetings with students, staff, a custodian, and another volunteer member serving at Augsburg.

Overall my most memorable experiences from my service year was doing the waste audits along with having conversations with people about what they thought belonged in or didn’t belong in the organics, recycling, and trash receptacles. I had a great experience overall and will miss the awesome faculty, staff, and students here at Augsburg the most. Thank You for allowing me to serve.

Sustainability vs. Festivals

By Briana Mitchel (’19)

With summer on its way (eventually!), festival season is around the corner. Festivals are a great way to hear a variety of music, meet different people, see some films, and just have an overall fun experience. For people who stay on the site of the festival, or just come for a few days, they often have to bring their resources for the duration of their stay,  and oftentimes these things are left behind. The lack of proper clean up after festivals as well as the exorbitant amount of people on a patch of land is detrimental to the environment. It is so harmful that it can have lasting effects on the area, and it is extremely difficult and rare for the area to return back to the state it was in prior to the festival. An example of the harmful relationship between festivals and the environment is Woodstock. This monument brought hundreds of thousands of people, but it also meant that there were hundreds of tons of litter. The trash was relocated to the town’s landfill and little to nothing was recycled because with all the mud and people walking around, the items were contaminated and unable to be recycled properly. With festivals of different kinds being popular worldwide, it is important to make changes now to prevent this.

Some factors that affect the environment include transportation, plastic usage, and water usage. When it comes to multiple day festivals, it is common for people to stay on site to avoid having to drive back and forth, or people do decide to drive back and forth. Regardless, the constant use of cars for transportation, as well as the power needed for those concerts emit large amounts of CO2 into the air. Fuel from these vehicles (a nonrenewable resource) are constantly used. This also plays a part in the stay on the festival site. When people stay on the site, by sleeping in tents, RVs, or cars, the grass dies quickly only leaving dirt. This is because of the number of vehicles and people present there. A possible solution for these problems are not allowing people to stay on the campsites and providing public transportation for large parties.

Plastic usage is a severe problem, and frequently the plastics that are left from the visitors end up in landfills. Single-use items (such as water bottles, straws, food trays, cable ties, and toiletry items) are brought for convenience; however, those items are  most likely left behind when their usefulness is complete. Melinda Watson, the founder of sustainability charity RAW, said: “Recycling is important, but it is far from the solution.” Sorting trash and recycling is just a bandaid to the issue, and just because waste bins are present does not mean that they will be used. A way that festivals can help is using multiple usage items such as metal straws, refillable water bottles, and reusable utensils.

Water usage is a necessity at festivals to make sure that the festival goers are staying hydrated and cool during the hot and long days. However, often times these designated areas have water running constantly and at excessive amounts. To change this, festival planners need to change the way that water is available for the people, but I’m personally unsure how to achieve this difference. The dynamic between festivals and the use of sustainability and regard for the environment needs to change before more damage occurs. However, here are 10 great environmentally friendly festivals that you can check out!

Current ways that some of the festivals are changing to be more environmentally friendly ranges from offering incentives like merchandise to people who recycle, using composting toilets, and providing on site activities that will turn their energy to electricity. Although these things are an amazing start to being sustainable it is important that these festivals continue these activities while also making a push to constantly change.

What does the possible Border Wall mean for the ecosystem?

By Briana Mitchel (’19)

The debate about the possible building of the border wall has been very tense since the election of President Trump, but a frequently overlooked problem is the effect that this may have to the ecosystem around the building site. The wall itself will separate the migration of some animals that would usually cross between the two countries without a problem. This will make food resources scarce for animals like jaguars, ocelots, and the Mexican gray wolf, and with these animals already struggling population-wise, the border wall could further these animal’s risk of extinction. The wall would  break up naturally formed habitats for these animals who have been essential in maintaining the food chain in an ecosystem that existed before humans drew a border through it.

According to a 2016 analysis of data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “More than 100 animals that are listed as threatened, endangered or candidates for such status under the Endangered Species Act from coast to coast could potentially be impacted by Trump’s proposal.” In addition to those mentioned above, among these animals are migratory birds. With the 30 foot wall in place, it will make it difficult for birds to migrate properly which will, in turn, affect the reproduction of the birds that are in the vicinity and may lead to more endangered animals, further weakening the ecosystems that we all depend on for our wellbeing. According to Vox, “The new sections of fence under contract are slated for the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas and will cut right through a federal wildlife refuge, a state park, Native American gravesites, and the National Butterfly Center. Conservationists and wildlife managers consider this region to be one of the most ecologically valuable areas on the border.” With the blatant disregard of those who reside there – humans, ancestors, and animals – it is important that this is talked about at least in our community if it is not going to recognized by the President. However, to make a change that is generational it first has to be acknowledged by our President. This barrier will prevent animals from accessing food and water, disrupt migration and reproduction, and change the way animals interact with each other, forcing  adaptation to survive. Adaptation is a consistent part of life for human and nonhuman inhabitants of this planet, but we have the power to make decisions that support life rather than force a fight for survival.

The building of the border wall will be detrimental to all species and have an almost horrific domino effect to all animals and will, in turn, hurt humans as well, as our own well-being depends on thriving ecosystems. Much like national geographic suggests from this list of ways the border wall could disrupt the environment, it shows that this one action is contingent to various aspects of the environment. Check out the link below! https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/01/how-trump-us-mexico-border-wall-could-impact-environment-wildlife-water/

Existing border wall and jaguar movement corridors.
Existing border wall and jaguar movement corridors. (Source: Defenders of Wildlife, cited in “Trump’s Border Wall ‘Catastrophic’ for Environment, Endangered Species: Activists” NBC News)

A Sippy Cup Crisis On Campus?

By Briana Mitchel (’19)

A hot topic that I feel like I’ve been hearing a lot about is how to best combat the use of plastic straws. A while ago, our very own Einstein’s on-campus made a step to take part in Augsburg University’s sustainability commitment by using compostable straws, but many people noted not knowing where the straws should go when tossing their waste. Recently, Einsteins changed from spendy compostable straws to a more “Sippy cup” method, as I’ve heard some call it, as well as paper straws.

cup with sippy lid
The smoothies are drinkable without letting it melt first… but it definitely takes extra effort!

I talked to some people about the change in cups as well as a someone who works at Einstein’s for their opinion. This change seemed unexpected to some but was not a surprise for customers who knew Einsteins workers. Some students were mad about the change because of preference, but some appreciated it. A student and customer at Einstein’s noted when I interviewed her,

“I don’t really like or care for the new cups all that much, but I do appreciate the thought of getting rid of plastic straw use on campus. It might be difficult for those with disabilities, so it’s nice that they at least have the straws on hand. The only difficult thing about it is that for the smoothies and blended drinks it doesn’t really work, but they have paper straws if need be. The con is that it does suck to use them if you leave the straw in the drink for a while.”

Even though the general reaction was mixed at first, it seems to be something that people do not mind now. However, in the effort to make the campus more sustainable, it has some drawbacks. Paper straws fall apart eventually in the drink, making the drink less appetizing. An Einsteins employee told me,

“I think it’s a great first step. If Augsburg’s truly committed to promoting sustainability, eliminating single-use plastics such as straws, and using compostable or recycled cups is a great start. The only challenge that is posted is the frozen drinks. The lids they’ve started using aren’t really built for someone to drink those unless you wait for them to melt.”

I agree that Einstein’s is doing a good job at becoming more sustainable and supporting Augsburg University’s commitment to sustainability. However, the quick change allowed for some messiness to come through. Sustainability is complex, and often solutions are not one-size-fits all (or one-lid-fits-all). Is there a way to reduce waste and still be able to drink smoothies without having to let them melt or having the straw falling apart?  If these things change, I believe people will have a more positive response and be willing to support sustainability efforts. Changing behaviors and habits and preferences can be slow and frustrating, and a positive response to change doesn’t happen easily. We’re adaptable creatures, though, and the urgency of our sustainability problems may require us to keep adapting and trying new things quickly!

Technology, Community, and the Polar Vortex

By Briana Mitchel (’19)

The polar vortex that happened in the Midwest has been in our daily conversation. It was not something expected or want to experience again! A polar vortex is  “A low pressure area—a wide expanse of swirling cold air—that is parked in polar regions. During winter, the polar vortex at the North Pole expands, sending cold air southward. This happens fairly regularly and is often associated with outbreaks of cold temperatures in the United States.” This was interesting to me because even though it is frequent, it’s just the first time I remember it’s been talked about so frequently.  For me, the polar vortex emphasized the importance of community when it comes to unexpected environmental experiences. During this time across my social media people were communicating to others where to find shelter if needed, how to get to places, as well as offering supplies. This kind of community allows for people to be aware of the different organizations that they can go to if they need help. The bond and conversation that is in place when times like these happen would be even more effective year round and over various topics.

The use of technology plays a big part when it comes to storms that may occur because it allows for a larger sense of community, as well as an exchange of goods and materials. Resilience is fundamental to the sustainability of a city, and I saw this through Facebook during the polar vortex. Being a part of various pages on the social media, I saw people asking for towing services, heating services, or just sharing with others where to get these resources if needed. Resilience is also important to those who may be secluded or an elder in the community. These are the people who are more likely to be harmed by the storm because of their lack of communication with others. By allowing for different circuits of communication open, it’ll prevent tragedies from happening with these people showing social sustainability. Sustainability has different realms, can be hard to define, and may be seen as scary to face. It can be showcased in various ways and I’m confident that when another polar vortex or snow storms happens, the Minneapolis community will not hesitate to help the people within it.

 

Sustain-Sip-Stories Monthly Gatherings

Eat, drink, and share stories about how environmental sustainability intersects with complex issues and our own stories! We’ll gather in the Food Lab each month to explore a new topic, grounded in a shared reading/listening and our own experiences with the topic. All are welcome! (even if you didn’t do the homework)

Last Thursday of the Month, 5-6:30pm in Hagfors 108

(Readings updated before each event – check back!)

February 28
*Theme = Fair Trade

March 28
*Theme = Zero Waste

  • Reading: Changing behaviors promises to impede plastics pollution
  • Reading: Golden Girl

April 24
*Theme = Environmental Justice

Join and share on Facebook!

Sip-Sustain-Stories event poster

Reflections on Leadership and Composting

This semester, Environmental Stewardship Education and Outreach Coordinator, Briana Mitchell, will be blogging about her experience with sustainability, choosing topics that have come up this year that warrant more research. She kicks off her blog series with a reflection on what this internship has meant for her and what she’s learned about composting from 1:1 conversations with students. Interested in the Environmental Stewardship Internships? Email environmentalstewardship@augsburg.edu to learn more!

By Briana Mitchel (’19)

What I learned:

This experience as an Environmental Stewardship Intern was something that I did not expect. I did not expect to get so close to my fellow interns, I did not expect to learn so much about composting, and I did not expect to learn how hard it is to define sustainability! I think that it is important for people to have an internship experience because it will give you a chance to explore different possible job occupations, as well as acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses. This internship really made me question what it meant to be a leader. I’m familiar with being a leader and have no problem doing so – my minor is Leadership Studies! However, I’ve been accustomed in other positions to receive a list of things to do when I got in with no chance of creativity. With this position my supervisor gave me three possible options for projects that I could work on throughout the semester. After selecting a project, I was able to work on it and adapt it to a way that showcased my skills.

The project I chose was understanding the knowledge people had about composting and sustainability then coming up with a way to show my findings. With this, I was put into a position where I had all creative freedom, something that I was not used to, and I realized I had to adapt my meaning of leadership to best fit my position. Something that helped me achieve this is placing bigger-picture meaning into my internship as well as the projects that I do. By doing this I was able to see and execute sustainability within my life and others.

This work was very meaningful to me because this was my first internship and I feel like I accomplished a lot that I’m proud of. I created something with the knowledge I got from my research methods class and was able to be creative about how I went about it. This was the first time I was able to be truly independent and I realized I enjoy independent work and maybe was too dependent on supervisors for guidance. I was aware of sustainability but didn’t know how to define it. Sustainability is different for everyone, and although it’s hard to describe, I came to truly understand its importance. I decided to push myself as well as my roommates to compost in our home and help them understand what should be in what bin. Through this internship I realized the amount of work that goes into composting correctly, and that while it is a difficult thing to understand, it takes little effort to actually do. Internships are a great way to learn about your abilities and what occupations could possibly maximize these abilities. Overall, this experience allowed me to create relationships and understand a lot more about my strengths and weaknesses. I learned to take leadership on projects through critical thinking and brainstorming which is something I was not used to doing.

What I did:

After selecting a project I was able to work on it and adapt it to a way that showcased my skills. The project I chose was understanding the knowledge people had about composting and sustainability then coming up with a way to show my findings. To gather the information, I thought about either choosing a survey or doing one-on-one relational meetings. I decided to choose one-on-one relational meetings because they’re more personable and I wanted more detailed answers as to their understanding of composting and sustainability. With these interviews I met with people for about 45 minutes, which allowed me to get background knowledge about what they see is sustainability, as well as how sustainability shows up in their lives in relation to Augsburg. I focused on five commuters and five people who live on campus, the drawback I found from one-on-one relational meetings is that you can’t do copious amounts by yourself in a short period of time. It’s also extremely difficult to get a time that works for yourself as well as other people, because to get the full effect of a relational meeting you should be communicating for about 45 minutes. From the information I gathered I was able to create a pamphlet that showed the information that I gathered. This is a project that I did independently and gathered the information independently as well which I was not used to. With previous position I was used to waiting on individuals so I can finish my part of a project and had to constantly work interdependently on others. Through these one-on-one relational meetings with students on and off campus it allowed me to create connections that I would not have done otherwise. With this pamphlet I wanted to make it simple enough to have it understandable. With this information I hope that it will help those within my department as well as those within other departments have an understanding as to what students see sustainability/composting as and its significance.

Read about Bri’s findings!

intern briana mitchell

Prof. Christina Erickson Publishes Blog on Teaching Environmental Privilege

What does it mean to have access to clean tap water on demand? Fresh fruits and vegetables in any season? A park where we see people who look like us? Christina Erickson, Associate Professor of Social Work and Environmental Studies at Augsburg University, has explored and modeled this with students in the Environmental Justice and Social Change course and also in her book, Environmental Justice as Social Work Practice. While environmental justice as an academic field and grassroots movement becomes increasingly more active and urgent in changing inequitable systems and their symptoms,  Erickson reminds us, “All of us can reflect on our own experiences and contributions to these systems to begin to imagine the possibilities of change.” Read more in her recent blog: Teaching environmental privilege is integral to environmental justice.

Efforts by Other Institutions to Reduce Bottled Water

In May 2017, Augsburg approved a new Policy on Bottled Water that aims to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions and support the provision of water as a human right and not a commodity. To support policy implementation as we #LoveLocalWater, Fall 2017 Environmental Connections (ENV 100) students created projects to address knowledge gaps, resource needs, and communications opportunities. Check back each week in January as we feature a blog series on different aspects of bottled water written by one of those project groups!

By Eric Bibelnieks (’21)

Augsburg is not alone in its quest to limit water bottle consumption. Many other institutions have been trying to reach the same goal, but with different methods and varying degrees of success. As we look at these other schools’ attempts, we can highlight the nuances of this issue in order to help us find a more a comprehensive solution to the water bottle issue.

Some universities have opted to take a more gradual route in promoting tap water usage. The University of Nevada introduced a price increase of five cents for the sale of plastic water bottles, with the purpose of raising funds for new filling stations across the campus. And according to the university, “over $1,400 has been accumulated, the first hydration station has been purchased and installed in the Dining Commons, and another will be installed soon.” This is less environmentally-conscious than completely phasing out plastic water bottles, but it does create funds for the university and incentivizes tap water usage two-fold, through the price increase and installation of new filling stations.

While an outright ban of plastic water bottles is preferable within the scope of sustainability, it does come with risks. A group at the University of Vermont did a study on the effect of banning water bottled water from its campus. Rather than look at increases in tap water usage, the group took a look at the other kinds of drinks that students were buying instead of the bottled water. And unfortunately, according to the study, “per capita shipments of bottles, calories, sugars, and added sugars increased significantly when bottled water was removed.” It’s important to take into account how the vending machines will be used if bottled water is removed from them, and the University of Vermont shows us that a water bottle ban alone may lead to some unintended consequences. People often buy water bottles out of convenience, and if they are not present, then might opt for something less healthy (albeit just as convenient). Tackling the water bottle problem must include discouraging the sale of unhealthy drinks.

However, the University of Washington in St. Louis has banned the sale of water bottles, while still managing to keep the sale of unhealthy drinks in check. In fact, according to an article in The Source (the University’s center for news), “soda fountain sales have also dropped during that timespan.” It’s important to note here that the university did not simply ban water bottles, but also implemented new filling stations and improved many of their current water fountains. But a more important thing to highlight is that the university also “supports a number of initiatives that promote good nutrition.” Augsburg has already implemented new filling stations, and is well on its way to getting rid of the sustainability nightmare that is plastic water bottles. However, we may need to take a page from the two aforementioned universities, consider the other impacts of removing bottled water, and address those accordingly. Promoting healthier beverages may be a step in the right direction.

There are many ways to deter students from purchasing plastic water bottles, but clearly banning them is the most impactful method, in terms of sustainability and the environment. Water bottle production and waste is very damaging, and banning them is only way to send that message. The ban comes with risks, of course, but it’s important to tackle one issue at a time. And with such an abundance of water here in Minnesota, there is no good reason to continue allowing the sale of plastic water bottles.

students host a water taste test
Education is essential to any successful sustainability initiative. Thanks ENV100 students for your contributions!