Hannah Johnston ’17, a graphic design major, helps run the campus garden. She collaborates with nearly 60 other students to create food for the community.
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We are good stewards of the environment
Susquehanna's sustainability activities illustrate our commitment to global responsibility. We know that maximizing the opportunities and recognizing the trade-offs of implementing earth-friendly initiatives are the heart of cooperative living in our interdependent world.
Recycling, the transition from coal to natural-gas powered heating (which reduced our carbon footprint by 80%), our emerging campus garden, and LEED-certified buildings are the day-to-day reflection of our community's engagement.
We are the lead institution in a coalition of groups studying the health of the Susquehanna river through our Freshwater Research Initiative (FRI), funded by the Richard King Mellon Foundation.
Our faculty and students have a long history of studying and enjoying the majestic river that flows past Selinsgrove on its way to providing half the freshwater for the Chesapeake Bay—and drinking water for more than six million people.
Thanks to a $2.25-million grant from the prestigious Richard King Mellon Foundation, our Freshwater Research Initiative and new Freshwater Research Laboratory have become the hub for a broad coalition of 34 academic institutions, government agencies and nonprofit groups dedicated to studying and improving the health of the Susquehanna. To assess stream quality, student researchers working with FRI investigators are studying trout, bass and crayfish.Learn More
Student Academics and Research
A growing focus on courses and academic programs that address sustainability issues permeates both specific majors and the broader curriculum—and not just in the sciences, but also in business and liberal arts courses. The topic can be explored during first-year Perspectives seminar courses, the required off-campus GO cross-cultural experience, in the central curriculum and in undergraduate research opportunities.
Environmental Studies Major and Minor
This new major and minor represent an interdisciplinary approach to the environment. Students explore the environment holistically by looking at the world in terms of environmental science, political science, economics, ethics, legal studies and literature. The major prepares students to enter a growing number of environmental careers in nongovernmental organizations, law, nonprofits, business and education.
For students more interested in the hard science affecting sustainability issues, the university’s Biology, Chemistry and Earth and Environmental Sciences departments also offer a number of highly relevant majors and minors. These include biology, chemistry, biochemistry, earth and environmental sciences and ecology—an interdisciplinary major and minor that is offered jointly by the Biology and Earth and Environmental Sciences departments.
Other Courses and Student Research Opportunities
Professors throughout the university continue to develop individual courses, and guide student research, that address 21st century sustainability issues. Current or planned courses and student research opportunities include:
- A marketing and sustainability management business course
- An interdisciplinary course looking at Shakespeare and the environment
- A current topics environmental studies course that focuses on nutrient and sediment pollution in the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay from the perspectives of science, environmental policies and laws
- A food security/justice community-based research project in which students are conducting a business supply-demand survey and analysis to identify:
- Supply: Selinsgrove-area entities willing to supply donated food
- Demand: identifying the three dozen churches and other nonprofits willing to provide food to those in need and to identify those most in need—including residents uncomfortable about admitting they do not have enough food
- A student-led survey of students to gauge student support for the university’s proposed solar energy farm.
Facilities and Energy
Susquehanna University’s strong commitment to sustainability guides the construction and operation of all of its campus facilities.
We have several LEED-certified buildings on campus, including our Natural Sciences Center and two residence halls in our West Village Complex, and follow LEED standards as much as possible throughout the rest of the campus. The new Admission Building, currently under construction, will be the next to be LEED certified.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a certification program run by the U.S. Green Building Council. Buildings that meet LEED design, construction, operations and maintenance standards are resource efficient. They use less water and energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And they save money.
For example, the Natural Science Center is extremely well-insulated and energy efficient. Its well-designed windows let in so much natural light that classroom lights often do not need to be turned on. Students are also surrounded by items that contain significant percentages of post-consumer recycled material—including carpeting, tile and furniture.
Even the choice of metal rather than wooden wall studs reflects Susquehanna’s green ethos. Scraps cut from steel studs can be melted down to form other steel materials much easier than wood scraps can be recycled.
Switching from Coal to Natural Gas Heating
In 2014, Susquehanna began replacing its outdated, inefficient 50-year-old coal-fired central steam heating plant, which heated two-thirds of the campus. In its place, the university installed a de-centralized system that put high-efficiency, natural gas boilers into 18 different campus buildings. In terms of enhanced energy efficiencies, reduced impact on the environment and cost savings , the results have been outstanding:
- 40 percent more energy efficiency
- By not burning 2,600 tons of coal per year, the university has reduced its carbon dioxide discharges by nearly 80 percent.
More Efficient LED Lighting
Since 2013, the university has replaced less efficient lighting, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs and high pressure sodium lamps, with more efficient LED lights, including:
- The majority of the lights in the Student Union Building
- Exterior pedestrian lighting
- Parking lot lights
Smart controls utilize computers and sensors to adjust lighting, heating, air condition and fresh air flow—keeping buildings comfortable for occupants while maximizing energy usage. A retrofitting effort is also increasing the number of low-flow water fixtures and low-flush toilets.
Possible Solar Energy Initiative
The university has issued a request for proposals for a partner that would collaborate with Susquehanna in the construction of a 12- to 15-acre solar energy array. If approved and constructed, it would be the largest solar energy field associated with any college or university in Pennsylvania. The solar panels would feed a three-megawatt plant that would produce five to six million kilowatt hours of electricity a year for at least the next two decades. That would power between 30 percent and 40 percent of the university’s current annual electrical needs.
Over the past few years, Susquehanna University has greatly increased the amount of waste that it recycles.
From classrooms and offices to food service and residential facilities and construction and maintenance activities, the entire campus is geared to sending as much recyclable material as possible to six different recycling companies.
Near every trash can on campus, students and staff also find a green recycling can for paper, plastic and glass. The university’s recycling initiative has been dramatically expanded to also include the recycling of electronic IT component waste, such as computers and cell phones, non-lead alkaline lithium batteries and battery packs, automobile batteries, steel, copper, mixed aluminum, sheet aluminum and aluminum wire.
Our dining services’ widespread recycling program includes both paper products and fryer oil, which is used to produce biofuel. Students even have the chance to reuse their coffee and tea mugs and water bottles.
And when it comes to recycling, student initiatives count. Spearheaded by a first-year student, students have placed specially designated bins next to regular trash and recycling receptacles to collect what is normally hard-to-recycle waste—such as granola and power bar wrappers that contain plastic and metal. The wrappers are then sent to a company, TerraCycle, that properly recycles them.
Food Sustainability / Security / Justice
The university and its faculty, staff and students are committed to doing all that we can to assure food sustainability, security and justice for the both the campus and the greater Selinsgrove community. Under the auspices of the university’s Johnson Center for Civic Engagement, this commitment evidences itself in a variety of ways:
Cared for by several paid student workers and dozens of student volunteers, in two recent years the university’s 15,000-square foot garden produced 800 pounds of fresh produce—high-quality food that students then distribute to community groups dedicated to alleviating local hunger. From broccoli, carrots, onions, potatoes, squash, string beans and tomatoes to basil, cilantro, blueberries, pumpkins and sunflowers, the students seed, pot, plant, weed and harvest the produce.
To improve yields, they have enlarged the size of the garden and raised many of the planting beds. They use rain water that runs off the roof of the adjacent Freshwater Research Initiative Laboratory roof into a cistern to water the garden. To make compost for the plants, the students mix dining hall food scraps with newspaper, cardboard and straw.
Local programs that distribute the campus garden’s produce include:
- Meals for Seals, a Snyder County Coalition for Kids that provides young school children with backpacks stuffed with weekend meals
- Shepherd’s Pie at St. Pius X Catholic Church, which uses the produce in the meals it prepares on a monthly basis for local residents in need
- Selinsgrove Senior Center
Food Services to Others
Besides volunteering with the above programs, Susquehanna students work to eradicate hunger in our local community by helping with:
- Martha’s Table at All Saints Episcopal Church in Selinsgrove, which offers free meals to community members every other Wednesday.
- Monthly community breakfasts, for people in need, also at the All Saint’s Episcopal Church
- Volunteering at Selinsgrove’s East Snyder Community Garden
- Organizing an effort to enable food retailers and suppliers to donate still usable food that is beyond its shelf date to community nonprofit organizations that fight food insecurity
- Recovering leftover food from a farmers market and donating it to food banks
- Establishing a community food security group that involves both the university and local community groups and the United Way to systematically eradicate local hunger
- A one-day conference with nearby Bucknell University to determine how to maximize the impact of the produce grown at the universities’ campus gardens
The university’s dining services program places a priority on obtaining locally sourced food from nearby farmers, growers and distributors—both through its own purchases and the food it obtains from Sysco, its major food supplier.
Student Clubs & Activities
Campus Garden: Students grow fruits and vegetables and then distribute the produce to Selinsgrove community groups that provide the fresh food to those who need it most, including young school children and seniors.
Community Food Action Team (CFAT): CFAT solicits food donations from area food producers and retailers and arranges to have those donations and campus garden produce delivered to local groups serving the hungry.
Student Awareness of the Value of the Environment (SAVE): Promotes awareness and maintenance of the environment through educational and recreational activities in the Susquehanna campus and surrounding communities.
ENACTUS: This international nonprofit organization encourages students to take business-based, entrepreneurial actions to improve lives, including—in the case of Susquehanna’s student chapter--delivering meals to local residents.
Beekeeping Club: Students learn about beekeeping by caring for two hives totaling 120,000 bees—bees that increase produce yields by pollinating the campus garden’s fruit and vegetables.
Eco-Challenge: Susquehanna students participate in this annual national event, which challenges everyone to reduce their environmental impact for two weeks through a series of pledges and activities that promote environmental awareness and sustainability.
Eco-Racism Panel: Students heard an expert panel discuss why certain people—either of lower income or racial minorities, or both—are exposed to more toxic environments, such as the lead-tainted water in Flint, Mich.
Earth Week: Consists of a variety of environmental-awareness events that take place throughout the week leading up to April 22nd. It's coordinated by the Johnson Center's Sustainability Scholar and Sustainability Coordinator. Last year, they held the following events: environmental panel, documentary screening, waste awareness and river clean-up, garden party, star-gazing party and a time capsule.
Sustainability House: Among the many themed student housing options at Susquehanna University is the Sustainability House. Dedicated to sustainable living, the house’s residents plan, organize and carry out a variety of sustainability projects.
Some of these projects include the house itself—such as composting their food wastes and collecting rain water that flows off the roof into rain barrels, which is then used to water plants.
Sustainability House student residents also undertake campus-wide projects, including:
- Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which lobbies members of Congress on climate change issues
- Campus tree certification and GIS tree mapping projects
- Animal Club “spay a stray” initiative
The Sustainability House is just one of the passionate projects Josh Levesque ’18, an ecology major, is involved in.