For many people, the word “sustainability” calls to mind images of recycling and hybrid vehicles. Both are important, but genuine sustainability goes much further: it is comprehensive, deeply rooted, as it were, in how we as a community and as individuals approach our place in the world. Berea is fortunate to have a tradition of thinking about sustainability guided by the Seventh Great Commitment, which calls us to adopt “a way of life characterized by plain living, pride in labor well done, zest for learning, high personal standards, and concern for the welfare of others.”
These same goals are reflected in the definition of “sustainability” that guides the work done by students in our Office of Sustainability, led by Joan Pauly. Their definition of “sustainability” refers to the capacity of individuals, communities and societies to coexist in a manner that maintains social justice, environmental integrity and economic well-being today and for future generations.
The college has long been mindful of the need to recycle, to reduce carbon emissions and to limit our use of electricity. Now, thanks to Joan’s team, led by Tsering Dhondhen ’17, data tracking & analysis coordinator, and with the help of Dr. Scott Heggen, lecturer in computer science, and his student Phyo Phyo Kyaw Zin ′16, we can all see the progress being made through a newly developed dashboard that tracks our efforts on a month-to-month basis. It can be accessed here.
While the dashboard shows the College’s overall progress, we are also interested in what can be achieved in single home. Clover Bottom House, the 110-year-old log house that serves as the new headquarters for the sustainability program, models sustainable retrofits for single family homes. Some features, like the use of solar panels, high performance windows and a biomass-fired generator for creating electricity, support energy efficiency, while others, like a Victory Garden and a Monarch Butterfly Station, encourage good nutrition, self-sufficiency and environmental health.
Soon, we may have the opportunity to achieve a first in the state of Kentucky, when a Tesla Powerwall battery is installed in the house. Joan believes the battery will store enough power to enable the home to be energy self-sufficient. We are also taking this initiative on the road with grant funding from the United States Department of Agriculture, enabling Berea College to become a center for energy efficiency. Working in partnership with Kentucky Highlands Corporation, the Promise Zone Board and Jason Delambre from Midwest Clean Energy Enterprises, our students will perform energy audits for businesses like grocery stores and small factories in Eastern Kentucky helping them to reduce energy costs and thereby enabling them to grow and support the region’s economy.
Lest anyone think this is all hard work, we also have a lot of fun with sustainability on campus. In each of the last two years our athletic program has organized “Green Games” in which the community, working together, takes measures to fully offset the carbon footprint of an athletic event. We celebrate at half-time (https://youtu.be/5GivUstO5xo), and afterwards the teams lead the community in planting enough trees to offset the carbon emissions from building energy use during the game and the bus travel.
And that brings to mind what we’re doing in the College Forest, but that’s a story for another blog.