Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2013, 1:42 pm

Adding it up: Recent grad assesses Augie sustainability programs

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By Laura Anderson Shaw

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Photo: Paul Colletti/pcolletti@qconline.com
Amy Bandman, a 2013 Augustana College graduate, took a summer internship with the school to assess its sustainability initiatives and to help it determine ways to improve.
Amy Bandman has always been interested in sustainability. She works to reduce her environmental impact by doing easy things such as shutting off lights she isn't using and riding her bike whenever possible.

"It's fun for me," she says, adding that she enjoys seeing the savings on her gas and light bills. And because of its environmental benefits, it's a "no-brainer."

The Waukegan, Ill., native, who now lives in Rock Island, graduated from Augustana College in Rock Island in May with a bachelor's degree in geography and a minor in mathematics. Not knowing what she could do with her growing interest in sustainability, she heard of a summer internship with Augie's sustainability committee to assess the school's sustainability initiatives and jumped at the chance to apply for it.

She was hired and spent three months researching and entering data into the Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System, or STARS, a self-reporting assessment tool that colleges use to report their sustainability efforts. It is managed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

She assessed everything from efforts to reduce water usage across the 115-acre campus of 2,500 students to raising the profile of sustainability as an academic subject.

She covered 135 criteria, or credits, in categories ranging from education and research to operations, administration and planning. She looked at where the college's food comes from, whether its buildings' lights have sensors, and more.

"My goal in this project was to just create a very real assessment of where we are as a college," she says — a way to say "this is how it is, for good or for bad."

Most of the data she collected had not previously been studied systematically. Locating some of the data was fairly difficult, she says, such as the college's water consumption amounts, but she "just took it one credit at a time." Throughout the project she made connections with a variety of people on campus and in the community who helped her track down what she needed.

Bandman learned that the college is doing well with smaller sustainability initiatives, such as having an organic garden (Augie Acres, an acre of land on campus run by students that's used to grow organic produce); reusable to-go containers in dining halls; tray-less dining, which encourages students to take less food and hopefully triggers less food waste; and LED lighting in campus buildings.

Unfortunately, Bandman says much of the criteria Augie scored well on are worth fewer points than larger areas such as energy consumption. However, it shows that the college is "itching to move forward," she says. It's a "good base that we can very easily jump into the next level."

Through her research, she also found numerous learning opportunities for future students to continue researching. For instance, her research on Augustana's energy and water consumption and reduction on campus for the assessment was only "scratching the surface" of the issues.

There is more the college can do, too, when it comes to cutting back on greenhouse-gas emissions. "We haven't conducted a greenhouse gas inventory," she says, so "we don't know how much CO2 (carbon dioxide) we emit as a college." Once the college is aware of those numbers, she says, it could "set CO2 reduction goals."

Bandman's report was submitted to the sustainability committee this fall. As soon as they are made public, Augustana's scores will be accessible online at stars.aashe.org.

As for Bandman, she currently works for River Action in Davenport and hopes someday to land a job as a college sustainability coordinator. "I know what can be done," she says, "and so I want to."

Laura Anderson Shaw is a writer on staff with Radish.