The Greening of Campus
Grassroots efforts taking hold

By Lynn Bolt Rosendale '85

green bookThere are few iconic elements on Calvin’s campus that evoke the kind of emotion that the blue book does. That little eight-page pamphlet of lined paper with the light blue cover held together by two plain staples dredges up fear, anxiety, even trepidation in the hearts and minds of Calvin alumni and students.

That’s about to change as the requisite article for most college exams is getting a new look. The green book is taking the place of its decades-long predecessor—and for good reason.

tom van wingerdenThe green books are just part of the effort by the college’s Campus Store to be more environmentally friendly. The green books are made from recyclable materials, as are composition books, filler paper, index cards, spiral notebooks and plastic pocket folders now sold at the store.

“One of our goals was to find environmentally friendly items to sell and use in our store,” said Tom Van Wingerden, manager of the Campus Store. “Items like these have been showing up at national shows, and we’ve been slowly getting them in over the last year.”


Tom Van Wingerden, Campus Store manager, believes in offering students more eco-friendly products.

Gone, too, are the white plastic merchandise bags, replaced with bags made of compostable, recyclable, biodegradable material.

“This is an initiative that we’ve taken on ourselves,” said Van Wingerden. “But it only makes sense that at a place like Calvin this is something we should be paying attention to.”

And people across the campus are. Calvin Dining Services has replaced disposable plastic silverware with Potatoware, a cutlery made from potato starch resins that are biodegradable. Water bottles at catered events have been replaced with glass carafes and Greenware cups made of corn, which are compostable and environmentally sustainable. Recycling efforts have also been upped across the campus, with canisters for paper and plastic found at or near all trash sites.

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Grassroots efforts
Calvin engineering professor Matt Heun is pleased to see this green-based entrepreneurship. “I think you’re seeing significant grassroots activity regarding sustainability on this campus,” he said. “And it’s to the point where we’re reaching critical mass. Enough individuals are thinking along these lines that it’s becoming part of the campus culture. On their own, people are coming up with what they can do to make a difference. This is an important step forward.”

In fact, the Calvin Environmental Assessment Program (CEAP), which was the college’s first major effort to raise awareness about Calvin’s environmental impact, began just over 10 years ago as a service learning initiative.

“Our goal was to weave environmental assessment into all aspects of the curriculum,” said Gail Heffner, formerly of the service learning center and now director of community engagement. A faculty workshop with 11 attendees and projects in five courses emphasizing environmental impact were the first products of CEAP.

CEAP continued sponsoring workshops while broadening interest, and in 2001 faculty formed the environmental stewardship committee.

In 2006, that committee developed a Statement on Sustainability “to infuse Calvin’s vigorous liberal arts education with thoughtful, biblically based, practical guidelines that lay a foundation for living in a way that honors the Creator and His beloved creation.”

Since it was finalized, members of the Calvin community have stepped up their efforts in a variety of ways to honor their role as caretakers of this creation. “It goes back to our biblical mandate and how we understand who we are in God’s kingdom,” added Heffner.

Construction activity
The Vincent and Helen Bunker Interpretive Center, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold-certified structure, is the showpiece of Calvin’s recent efforts in green construction. Constructed in 2004, the Bunker Center is a largely self-sustaining entity, independent of the city’s sewer system and generating more than 50 percent of its operating energy from a photovoltaic array. Much of the center was built using recycled materials; and the most unique feature of the building—composting toilets.

“We make every effort to make things as sustainable as possible,” said Phil Beezhold, director of the physical plant. “Sometimes, because of the existing infrastructure, it’s not possible.”

Such was the case for the newly built van Reken Hall, which narrowly missed LEED certification. The project included upgraded windows, locally manufactured products, recycled materials in the carpet, increased efficiency in water and electricity use, and all of the construction waste was sorted and recycled. However, the new wing attached to the existing Kalsbeek-Huizenga Hall further complicating certification.

New project plans always incorporate remodeling the old before knocking down and redoing, Beezhold said. “Every building we have built on this campus is still here, other than the pool,” he said. “And we analyzed that to see if we could redo it, but it just didn’t make sense.”

To make room for the new Spoelhof Athletic Complex, which includes the pool, some trees from a longstanding woodlot had to be removed. “We did what we could to minimize the impact on the site,” he said. “All of the good trees were taken to a mill, and the wood will be used for benches and furniture in the fieldhouse complex.”

ada castleCleaning initiatives
Once the buildings are constructed, cleaning efforts need to line up, said Ada Castle, assistant director for services (photo, right).

“The Bunker Center started it all,” said Castle. “We had to do our part. If you build a green building but don’t maintain it in a green way, what is that?

“Once we started with it there, we decided we could and should incorporate it into the rest of the academic buildings,” she said. “It’s not just about using chemical-free cleaning supplies; it’s the process.”

Equipment has been replaced, and new systems have been put in place to increase efficiency. “Being more efficient is part of being green,” Castle said. “Not only have we eliminated chemicals, but we use less equipment, less water, less labor and less energy.” And a not-immediately-recognized-as-green goal of placing mats inside most entrances has been achieved.

“I’m becoming known as the mat lady,” said Castle. “But our goal is to keep dirt, rodents and insects out. If we keep these things out it makes our cleaning efforts that much easier and more effective.”

Once the academic buildings were in line, residence halls were next. “Our goal is to keep the highest indoor air quality possible,” said Castle. In 2006, residence halls were supplied with green cleaning products in refillable bottles.

The green cleaning effort has been noticed by others outside of the Calvin community, prompting an invitation to apply for the Green Cleaning Award sponsored by American School and University, the Green Cleaning Network and the Healthy Schools Campaign. Winners will be announced this month. Next year, the college plans to apply for certification as an expert in cleaning industry management systems.

Making recycling a habit
Probably the longest initiative at Calvin has been in recycling. Begun in the 1980s, the recycling program was part of what is now called the decade for environmental activism. It was during the 1980s that concrete evidence proved chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a chemical often found in aerosol cans, led to stratospheric ozone loss. It was during this decade that McDonald’s discontinued its practice of using Styrofoam boxes to hold its Big Macs and instead moved toward more environmental-friendly cardboard boxes. It was also the first full decade of the Michigan bottle bill, which mandates a deposit on beverage containers to promote recycling.

Following the national trend, Calvin started to recycle glass, paper and plastic. Over the next two decades, the Calvin community maintained an average record in recycling. During the 1990s, cardboard, metals and scrap iron were added to the recycling list. In recent years, light bulbs, mercury devices, Styrofoam, batteries and electronic equipment have all become recyclable material.

In addition to the expanded list, the recycling undertaking has become easier and more visible with 60 new three-bin systems added in the spring of 2008. “They are definitely friendlier to the user,” said Henry Kingma, Calvin’s recycling coordinator. “Everyone now has the ability to recycle what they want on campus,” he said. “The biggest change is that we’re getting more participation.”

The new bins offer options for glass, metal, paper, plastic and trash. “It forces people to make a choice before just dumping everything in the trash,” he said.

Students are also encouraged to recycle in the residence halls and apartments. “The fact that we attach importance to this says to our students that creation care is important—not just while you’re here, but after you leave, too,” Kingma added. “We are doing our part to ensure that students are well-versed in how to recycle and that it’s a habit they will continue after they leave here.”

rick balfourSustainable dining
Calvin Dining Services has made visible efforts in sustainable practices by cutting back on the use of plastic water bottles, ushering in the use of biodegradable utensils, cups and plates, and using unbleached paper napkins.

“There’s been an awakening in the industry that this (sustainability) is something that people want,” said Rick Balfour, pictured at right, director of Calvin Dining Services. “I’m proud to say that Calvin has been ahead of the game, and the rest of Creative Dining Services (the enterprise of which Calvin Dining Services is a part) is catching up to Calvin.”

Beyond the visible efforts, Dining Services is pursuing local purchasing; Calvin supports local produce farms, dairy farms and turkey growers.

“Students are our biggest advocates,” said Balfour. “They let us know when they like what we’re doing.

“We know that the little things that we do multiply and add up,” he added. “We feel like part of what we need to do is educate people about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Educating can be part of the effort.”

Counting the energy cost
Education absolutely should be a part of the effort, according to Heun, who was granted a half semester of release time this fall to study Calvin’s energy use.

Recent student projects in which Heun was involved include the construction and operation of a wind turbine on campus (by Calvin’s Renewable Energy Organization) and the study of the question, “What would it take to make Calvin carbon-neutral?” (by one of Heun’s engineering classes).

“Six years ago I asked my students for a show of hands if they believed that humans were responsible for global warming and climate change; I got one hand out of 25. Now when I ask that question 23 out of 25 hands go up. There’s been a massive shift in students’ attitudes in six years,” he said.

At the end of the semester, Heun is hoping to develop a reporting process for the college to track sustainability efforts in each area covered by the Statement on Sustainability.

“Humans count what they value,” said Heun. “We’re not counting CO2 emission, and that’s an indication that—until now—it hasn’t been important to us. We don’t measure the environmental cost of our activities. At an educational institution, it seems, that we should be educating students that there are downstream costs, and we ought to consider those. We can at least begin by counting”

Heun hopes to find a way to start an energy-efficiency fund that will contribute to future energy-saving projects. “We need to have a way to visualize savings from efficiency projects, trumpet the fact that we got those savings and use the money for more energy savings,” he said. “Energy has everything to do with climate change, and climate change is something that our students will have to deal with for the rest of their lives. We would be remiss in our educational duties if we didn’t address it in the four years that they are here.”

Student engagement
Students who are paying attention have noticed progress being made on campus, said Brian Schaap, co-chair of the student-run Environmental Stewardship Coalition (ESC). “Because of my involvement, I keep my eyes open for it, and I’ve noticed the effort by the Campus Store and Dining Services and in recycling,” he said.

Plans for the ESC this year include concrete issues like researching the possibility of organic waste composting for Dining Services and supporting an effort for the college to hire a sustainability coordinator.

Schaap, a senior biology major from Holland, Mich., believes that student awareness is growing, but would like students to take a more active role not just for pragmatic reasons but because their faith mandates it.

“We’re trying to be a student forum that raises awareness and tries to effect change,” said Schaap. “Calvin is a great place to be doing that because Reformed theology has a lot to say about the earth and the goodness of the earth, and it has a lot to say about how and why Christians should care for the earth.”             

Lynn Rosendale is managing editor of Spark.