A new wave of sustainability on campus with Sustainability Coordinator Jim Murphy

Marisa Lenardson – Online Media Manager

Making a change could be as simple as shutting lights off when you leave a room, using a metal straw, or throwing food you don’t eat into compost bins. Small changes to our daily lives may seem insignificant, but in large numbers, are substantial to maintaining a sustainable environment.

Jim Murphy is the first person at Rhode Island College to have the title of “Sustainability Coordinator.” He oversees green initiatives on campus. “I’m definitely having fun” he says, noting that this is his sixth or seventh year in the position. He eagerly provided information about the progress RIC has made.

There has been an addition of new trash, recycling, and compost receptacles in Donovan Dining Center. Murphy describes Donovan as “a great partner to green initiatives.” One of the biggest challenges to come is changing behavior in Donovan to nurture people into separating their food waste. Starting in January, a team of students will be employed to advise other students, faculty and staff on what items go in each receptacle.

From our compost bins, food waste will be supplied to an anaerobic (without oxygen) digester that will start running in January/February. This machine will convert waste into a slurry which a certain bacteria consumes and thus emits methane. The methane gas is captured and converted into electricity. Food waste collected from the college will create enough renewable energy to power 5,000 homes. Additionally, this also eliminates food waste from going into the landfill which will free up about 20% of space.

Food prep scraps–all fruits and vegetables that Donovan uses for the salad bar–are also being composted in a bin at the greenhouse. In addition to these scraps, leaves, dead plants from the campus garden, and shredded old Anchor newspapers are used in the compost. The Environmental Club hopes to use that compost in the campus garden next year.

Overall, Donovan is very keen on being green. Donovan switched to paper straws in September and are slowly transitioning to compostable cutlery. The paper plates in Donovan are compostable and brown bags used for take-out meals are made from recycled materials.

While recycling is critical, the elimination of waste is a greater task. Plastic water bottles are one of the most notable examples of this problem. Across the campus, 25-30 water bottle filling stations have been installed and continue to be any time a water fountain needs to be replaced. All stations feature a counter to keep track of bottles saved. So far, 500,000 water bottles have been saved on campus.

Donovan has been a big proponent of solar panels placed on top of the building which were connected to power sources last Friday, Nov. 23. A final inspection and sign off from utilities are all that is left before the panels go live in a week. The 110 Kilowatt array will produce about $25,000 a year in electricity.

RIC’s campus captured via drone, photo courtesy of Dr.Charles McLaughlin

Jay Jerue, the Director of Facilities and Operations, explained the need to leverage savings in order to pay for energy conservation projects. This compensates for the installation of LED lights, motion sensors, solar panels and more which has around a four and a half year payback. RIC has spent $15 million in energy projects in the last two years.

The Environmental Club aspires to turn the campus into an Arbor Foundation Tree Campus. This recognition of dedication to campus environment would consist of having a tree advisory committee and a plan for placing, maintaining, and removing trees. Many of the facets need for an Arbor Foundation Tree Campus have already been developed by green initiatives.

Murphy lit up with excitement while talking about the incredible year with RIC’s bees. There are three hives: Queen Latifah, Queen Beeatrice, and Queen Elizabeeth.

At their lowest population per hive, there are normally about 10,000 bees. However, when they came out in April this year, they were about 20,000 strong, the healthiest Murphy has ever seen them. Around 275 lbs of honey have been pulled from these hives. Some of the honey has been given to Donovan, which they use to make a honey mint salad dressing for the salad bar. (The mint comes from the garden behind Fogarty Life Science.)

Dean Faiola is executive chef at Donovan and co-advisor to the Environmental Club. He was involved in pilot study with other colleges in state to test a software called “Phood.” This program allows Donovan to track what food they’re making at specific times and what is left over. The data can be reviewed and used to reduce food waste. For example, on Thursday mornings, Donovan was making a surplus amount of scrambled eggs. Now they make less. It is about the prevention of creating excess and saving money on food and labor.

Students need to know about sustainability. “When you graduate, the information that you have acquired in your major is going to be very useful for whatever job you have. But also, being sustainability minded is also a factor,” Murphy says. “Students right now don’t necessarily need to worry about what kind of lights they have or what that temperature set point is – but when they start paying that bill,” he laughs, “it becomes extremely important to them.”