Growing Green

KSU Hydroponics.jpeg

Sustainability practices keep Kennesaw State on the edge of innovation

From seeds that were planted in the early years of Kennesaw Junior College, a comprehensive and nationally recognized sustainability movement has taken root on the campus of Kennesaw State University.

“In the early days, I was part of an ad hoc group of faculty that was upset about the disappearance of some of the natural areas on campus,” said R.C. Paul, Kennesaw State’s director of sustainability. “Parking lots were gobbling up the natural areas.”

The disappearance of natural areas around campus accelerated in the ’90s, Paul recalled, when Cobb County would pave a surface lot for free, if the forest was cleared.

“We were building out, not up,” Paul said. “There was also no recycling done on campus at that time.”

Fast forward to 2007, when President Daniel S. Papp signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, making sustainability a campus priority. Recognizing the threat of global warming, the effort commits signatories to lead endeavors combating global climate change at institutions of higher learning. As part of the agreement, Kennesaw State pledges to proactively engage students, faculty and staff in measuring and reducing the carbon footprint of the campus.

“We are more than willing to do our part to help the environment,” Papp said at the time. “We want to lead by example, and educate a new generation of environmental experts that will help create positive change.”

Environmental responsibility

Paul said since 2008, there has been a “big improvement” in the reduction of greenhouse gas production on campus.

“The growth of greenhouse gas emissions has not kept up with campus growth,” he said. “Enrollment grew by about 8 percent between 2010 and 2012; greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by nearly 6 percent in that same period. I consider that a win.”

Among the measures credited with helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions are:

• Season-appropriate thermostat settings continue to be enacted;

• Christmas and New Year’s breaks have been scheduled as one continuous sequence, allowing for a more energy-saving partial shutdown during that time;

• Large parking decks are closed with lights off during breaks;

• All newer buildings on campus have been awarded LEED certification at the Silver level or above; and

• Several of the older buildings on campus have shown increased energy efficiency after undergoing retro-commissioning.

The same year President Papp signed the climate commitment agreement, Kennesaw State became one of the first universities in the University System of Georgia to complete a LEED-certified project.

“The Social Sciences Building received LEED-Silver certification in 2007,” said John Anderson, assistant vice president for facilities. “Since that time LEED certification has become an industry standard for environmentally friendly construction.”

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications acknowledge a building’s compliance with a stringent set of standards developed by the United States Green Building Council. It rates performance in five key areas: sustainable site development; water efficiency; energy efficiency; materials and resources; and indoor environmental quality.

Prillaman Hall and The Commons are LEED-Gold certified.

“We expect to achieve LEED certification for construction projects under way, including the Education Building Addition and the Betty L. Siegel Student Recreation and Activities Center,” Anderson said. “It’s just good business to build efficient, high performance buildings and to reduce waste.”

Remote parking lots with shuttle bus connections to campus and a “no idling” policy are also in effect.

“Idling produces 30 percent more greenhouse gases,” Paul said. “Drivers are required to turn off their trucks when making deliveries on campus.”

In April, Kennesaw State was named among one of the most environmentally responsible colleges in the United States and Canada by The Princeton Review. This was the third year the University was named to the annual edition of the “The Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges.”

The farm connection

As faculty, staff and students work quietly behind the scenes recycling, parking remotely and conserving energy, Kennesaw State’s student dining hall, The Commons, is garnering national accolades for its farm-to-campus-to-farm program.

On the heels of the “Green Colleges” recognition, the University won two national awards from the National Restaurant Association: the Operator Innovations Award for Sustainability and “Innovator of the Year.”

Citing its “comprehensive, closed-loop waste management program” and “farm-to-campus-to-farm” initiative, the University bested finalists Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and the U.S. Air Force. This was the first time an educational institution was selected to receive the prestigious "Innovator of the Year" award.

The University’s 5,000-guests-per-day dining hall operation harvests honey, grows heirloom varieties of vegetables and herbs on a 2-acre organic farm, and all of the food served in The Commons is either eaten or composted and then taken to one of the University’ s three farms to be used as fertilizer. Plans include programs to produce aged cheese and organic dairy, olive orchards and oil press, as well as adding chickens this fall to produce cage-free eggs.

Other sustainable initiatives at The Commons include water reclamation, aerobic digestion, composting/recycling programs and oil-to-biodiesel conversion.

“Just as students look at academic offerings when choosing a college or university, they are also looking at dining hall operations in a way they didn’t before,” said Gary Coltek, director of Culinary and Hospitality Services, which runs The Commons. “Students care about where their food comes from and what happens to it once it gets here.”

A new degree of sustainability

All of the University’s sustainability efforts culminated this fall, with the launch of a new bachelor’s degree in Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality.

The new degree program moves the farm-to-table concept from the plate to the bottom line, looking at the economic advantages of implementing sustainable practices throughout the foodservice industry. Graduates of this innovative program will be prepared to implement and manage sustainable practices in restaurants, hospitals, adult and child care facilities, food manufacturing and distribution, and hotels and airlines, to name a few career options.

Junior Kristi Ellis was an exercise science major who had contemplated transferring from Kennesaw State when she recently decided to change her major to Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality.

“I love watching the Food Network, and I love to cook,” she said following the inaugural “Intro to Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality” course. “I think I would like to be a pastry chef or a chef/restaurant owner, and this degree program sets you up for success by teaching you the business side of the industry and how to incorporate sustainable practices in business.”

Of the degree program’s 29 courses, seven are taught in the Coles College of Business.

“In restaurants, $10 billion a year is spent on energy costs, and 80 percent of that is wasted,” Christian Hardigree, director of the Institute for Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality, told Ellis and her classmates. “When you’re the leaders in the industry, you’ll have a higher state of knowledge than other graduates. We are going to show you all of the different jobs and careers that are available in the culinary and hospitality industries and how to infuse sustainability practices through them all.”

While original forecasts called for 150 students to enroll this fall, final numbers show a headcount of 210.

“For you culinary majors, we’re going to give you a skill set htat ensures you’re relevant for the next 10 years,” Hardigree said.

In addition to their formal classroom studies, students will be required to complete 600 hours of hands-on experience as they complete their course work, including 200 hours of foodservice volunteerism. The academic program is designed so students can intern with the Culinary and Hospitality Services Department.

“Students in Kennesaw State’s Institute for Culinary Sustainability and Hospitality will have opportunities here that they can’t get at other culinary schools — like bee keeping, hydroponics and water reclamation,” said Coltek. “Sustainability is what the Institute is all about, and that’s what we live here every day.”

Hickory Grove Farm

In 2013, the farm-to-campus program expanded to an additional farm in collaboration with the Georgia Department of Transportation, located in Kennesaw, Ga.

■ 25 acres – 15 cleared for planting – and two greenhouses

■ Swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, green cabbage, red cabbage, collards, squash, zucchini, sunflowers, marigolds, beans, hydroponic tomatoes, all colors of bell peppers, farm fresh eggs, cucumbers Harmony Hill Organic Farm and Apiary Established 2010 in Cartersville, Ga.

■ A two-acre repurposed pasture

■ Apiary with 25 hives Apple Springs Farm Established 2011 in Ball Ground, Ga.

■ A 40-acre spring-fed property featuring two 3,000-square-foot greenhouses

■ Greenhouse tomatoes, garlic, pumpkins, basil, beans, lettuce

The Commons

■ 2,500-foot herb garden and 10 hydroponic units

■ Rosemary, oregano, hydroponic lettuce, hydroponic basil

 

-- Jennifer Hafer