Rachel Martin on Spring Composting

Spring is in the air! Plants are sprouting, the air is warmer and the compost is turning. As the assistant compost manager at the Furman Farm, my job is to manage the seven composting stations on the farm and a few larger piles off campus. With constant management, the compost is robust and healthy –aiding the newly planted seedlings with rich nutrients.

Seeing plants burst out of the ground full of color and life is not a trivial experience. As someone who had never gardened before taking this position or had really seen spring (native Floridian), I am constantly amazed at the ferocity of life in the tiny seedlings. Seeing real spring up close, especially in a garden setting, demonstrates the renewal of spring. I am fortunate to work in such a beautiful setting.


Success Begins With An Idea

As the Communications fellow at the Shi Center, it is my responsibility to promote events on campus such as CLPs that involve environmental or sustainable causes. This semester, I have worked closely with other student fellows to plan for Earth Week as well as help advocated for the Community Conservation Corps as they are representing Furman University in the Climate Leadership Awards for 2014. I have also been editing and arranging the word press blog to make it as assessable as possible to students and professors. Lastly, I have been preparing my presentation for my position here for Furman Engaged on April 11th.

Earth Week this year took a lot of planning but went very well when the week finally came. Each day there was a different theme regarding keeping the earth healthy and many talks and events were offered in light of this awareness. Monday was Electricity Day, and all the lights were turned off in the Dining hall for one hour to raise awareness of how much energy is consumed on a daily basis on campus. On tuesday, Transportation Day, a group of students got together and held a “bike parade” in which they rode their bikes around campus to show how students can help keep the air healthier by not driving to their classes. Wednesday was Water Day and a water taste test was held comparing bottled water and tap water. On thursday it was Trash Day and all of Furman’s trash left from food was piled up outside of the Dining Hall to provide a visual demonstration of how much Furman students waste in food on a daily basis.

On Student Involvement Day, Friday, we simply asked that all students be quick to recycle and turn off lights when they were not using them. When Earth Day on Saturday, March 29th came, we were more than ready to provide people with more information about the Shi Center and sustainable practices at the vendor fair in the Trone Center in the afternoon before the Water Walk. There were vendors from Greenville and Traveler’s Rest with homemade jam, coffee, and more to sell to students. Over-all the week was a success and brought in many new-commers who were interested in sustainability.

The Community Conservation Corps is doing well in the competition, but more votes are always appreciated! I have been posting relentlessly on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter trying to get people to vote for them in the Climate Leadership Award. In addition to this, I have had much success with advocating for the Shi Center and what we do here as a team. I have been working on designing posters to hang up promoting fellowship opportunities as well as continually posting about new events and articles written in the sustainability field. Over-all my work here is coming to a close and I am happy to say I have enjoyed every moment of it!


Applying Full Cost Analysis

As the full cost analysis fellow, my time of late has been dedicated to developing a template of exactly how full costs would apply to an example such as the Civilian Conservation Corps. This template consists of “public” and “private” costs. The public costs consist of costs that affect the community as a whole. The private costs consist of costs that affect a company specifically meaning its bottom line.

The cost system that I decided would work best for the template was a tier system similar to the one used by the EPA. This involves three tiers of costs for an organization. The first tier (Tier 0) consists of conventional capital and operating costs such as materials, labor and equipment. The 2nd tier, (Tier 1), includes upfront environmental costs that are known at the outset of the project as well as regulatory and voluntary environmental costs. The 3rd tier, (Tier 2), consists of contingency costs such as fines or penalties that could occur in the future. The 4th tier, (Tier 3), include the least tangible costs such as corporate image, community relations and consumer response.

My plan for the future will be to apply this analysis to a specific example. In this case, the Civilian Conservation Corps. I hope to have the date and do the analysis in time to present the results in my Furman Engaged presentation on April 11.

Traveler’s Rest takes the Spotlight

As a Shi Center Fellow at the City of Greenville, I have been challenged lately to reconceptualize what makes a place unique and how to get people on board with that image. Today Arnett Muldrow and Associates, a consulting firm working with the City of Greenville, will unveil their branding and logos for Greenville’s “West Side.” The “West Side” is an internal term used by the City referring to three distinct declining neighborhoods undergoing a rather involved comprehensive redevelopment plan. These neighborhoods are Southernside, the West End, and West Greenville. As an attempt to get people involved and interested in participating in planning charettes (also known as data collection for consultants), Jaclin and I planned movie nights, lunch and learns, and created spotlights on the importance of community branding to enhance a preexisting sense of place. As the unveiling of the “West Side” brand occurs March 21, 2014, I thought it might be nice to share a spotlight I recently wrote regarding the role of rebranding in Traveler’s Rest, especially as Arnett Muldrow and Associates are the creators of this image. It will be interesting to see how rebranding of the “West Side” will impact future investments in the area, both positively and negatively. Enjoy!

“Nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains and situated between Highways 276 and 25, Traveler’s Rest, South Carolina is an ideal place to take a break and regroup. Traveler’s Rest, or TR, historically served as a “resting stopover” for weary travelers, with some staying for months to wait out harsh winters. Due to recent attention as an emerging, eclectic, American small town, Traveler’s Rest has now become a destination to travel to rather than a place to travel through. Gradual structural and economic redevelopment along critical corridors such as Main Street served as an impetus for heightened attention and recent rebranding. Community marketing of Traveler’s Rest helps bolster community pride and establish a strong sense of place in this quaint South Carolina town.

The economic redevelopment of TR has had a notable difference in the feel, culture, and branding of the community. Growing assets such artisan shops, family owned small businesses, seasonal festivals, eateries, and outdoor recreational spaces unify TR and add to its attractiveness as a respite in bustling world. Downtown Traveler’s Rest boasts a brand all its own, full of unique places that you cannot experience elsewhere. Through working with Arnett Muldrow and Associates, economic redevelopment capitalizes on these distinct assets and has led to a plethora of many new small businesses cropping up. In tandem with economic redevelopment, rebranding serves as a communication tool unifying the growth of TR as a community by building off of TR’s intrinsic qualities, prompting people to “TRek to TR.”

Taglines such as “Get in your element” or “It starts with TR,” add value to the intrinsic properties of Traveler’s Rest, branding this small town as a place with distinctive character. Light post banners adjacent to the Swamp Rabbit Trail play off of TR’s acronym with words such as “TRavel,” “TRadition,” or “TRanquility” that build on one’s experience after visiting TR. Blue and yellow way-finding signs direct traffic and identify key places of interest, helping establish a sense of place as well as brightening Main Street downtown. Potentially overlooked, this physical branding helps establish a unified identity and further instills an already existing sense of community pride by featuring assets. Traveler’s Rest did not suddenly acquire a new identity after these efforts, but certainly unified as a brand emerged that represents what the community is about.

Branding does help establish a community’s character as it puts a word, for example, to a preexisting yet unspoken identity. This rebranding in Traveler’s Rest helps relay to visitors that it is a unique destination rather than simply a place to pass through. I personally visit TR regularly; sometimes I use the Swamp Rabbit Trail to bike to my favorite coffee shop, other times I simply go to the grocery store. Even still, the logos and rebranding of TR has definitely instilled a strong sense of pride and place within me for quaint TR. Community branding encourages others, like myself, to visit and stay to experience why Traveler’s Rest is a unique community.”

Sustainability Down Under

G’day mates!
Last fall I took my studies to Australia where I attended James Cook University in the beautiful city of Cairns. My coursework at JCU, travels around the country, and friendships created with people from all over the world made for an unforgettable and extremely beneficial experience. I chose JCU because it is very well known for its Sustainability Science program and it offers a wide variety of unique classes. Through my studies I learned about the environmental issues facing Australia and New Zealand, the history of the Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders, and I even took a field trip to the Great Barrier Reef to conduct coral research.
During my five month stay I paid close attention to certain aspects of the Australian lifestyle. Here are some of the things that I noticed (keep in mind that my observations are based solely off the areas in which I travelled in Queensland and the city of Sydney. Just like the US, people and their actions differ regionally).
The first thing I noticed among my Australian friends was their eating habits, which were so different than those of the typical American. Their food portions were small and they ate little red meat. A vegetable sandwich for lunch was not uncommon. Cooking a healthy meal was more frequent than the typical Cookout runs that I’m used to here at Furman. Snacking didn’t occur often and when it did it usually consisted of fruit such as fresh mangos or papayas. Large markets also sell local produce and seafood every week, which helps drive each community’s healthy and local eating. I saw these markets in cities all over Queensland and even in Sydney.
Next, I became aware very quickly how active they were. When classes were over and assignments were completed we were not watching TV, playing video games, or sitting around. We were always waking up early (sometimes even 6:00am on weekends) to hike, swim, play volleyball, or go to the beach. Their constant high level of activity along with their eating habits showed me that they lived a very healthy lifestyle.
Transportation in Australia was also something I found very interesting. Driving was not common at all. In Cairns the only time we drove was if we wanted to go to a creek up in the mountains or the beaches up north. Other than that there was no need because of the efficient public transportation system. The buses could take us almost anywhere for a fair price. The bus schedule wasn’t always convenient but riding the bus was the social norm and we adjusted to it easily. Biking and walking was also common in cities across Queensland and in Sydney. I saw bike sharing stations in several cities that seemed to be very effective not as recreation but rather an alternative to driving.
Another thing I noted was how seriously Australians took water and energy conservation. The duel flush toilet, which saves up to 67% of water usage, was invented by an Australian. Every toilet I saw was duel flush as they are highly promoted by the Australian government. Another initiative I noticed was water tanks, which collect rainwater for future use. These were not as common in Sydney but were extremely common in households I saw around Queensland. These water tanks not only conserve water but energy as well since they oppose main water systems that use electricity to draw and distribute water supplies. Also, power outlets in Australia have built-in on-off switches. If someone is finished watching TV, for example, he or she can turn off the outlet and conserve energy. Although I only saw the interior of five Australian homes, I thought it was interesting how none of them had a dishwasher. My close friend told me that they were not a common appliance. People may say they are most efficient in terms of saving water, however that is assuming the faucet is constantly running when washing dishes by hand. I quickly realized that this was not the case as I was lectured at a friend’s house when helping with the dishes to fill the sink with soap and water and only run the faucet when rinsing.
My last observation that I will end on was the relationship the Australians have with nature. They are constantly interacting with nature rather than separating themselves from it, which I feel many Americans do. My reflections that I described above show the true respect everyone in Australia has for the environment. This is not to say that Americans do not respect the environment, but rather our social norms are less geared towards environmentally friendly actions. I adapted to these social norms of the Australian lifestyle and hope to bring many of them back to the America, specifically the shift from driving to biking, walking, or public transportation.

Sustainability as a group effort

                As the assessment fellow at the Shi Center I’ve had the chance to see a lot of the inner workings of campus that many students never realize exist.  More importantly to me is that I’ve gotten to meet and contact a large majority of the people on campus working in positions between facilities and admissions who often are not recognized for how much they do on campus.  People have a tendency to discuss the results of projects and work like LED lighting, effective building metering, geothermal, and our admissions standards without really thinking about what went into these.  And more importantly, who went through all of the work in order to make such possible.
                I feel I’ve been incredibly lucky at Furman to have the opportunity to get to talk with and meet so many of the people who have done so much for the campus and for campus sustainability.  Working on the Greenhouse Gas Inventory requires contacting multiple departments of the campus in order to gather the data needed to calculate the emissions associated with campus operations.   Between this and my introduction to Furman through ECOS have exposed me to so many people who work diligently to get sustainability projects passed, monitor progress, and ensure that the University continues to run properly.  Many who do this do it voluntarily on top of their actual position requirements, which only shows that they truly care about these issues.  The sustainability planning council (SPC) is a small group of these individuals who work together between facilities, students, and professors to collect information, discuss prospective work on campus, define specific goals, and work towards them on an administrative side.
                Many individuals are able to do quite a lot of the work needed to keep the campus running properly, but in order for any real progress towards sustainability I feel these types of collaborative projects are necessary.  The SPC is far from the only working group, there are many informal ones like those in facilities communicating with one another about their position and any input, professors and students talking together about campus operations, and then classes and clubs which can make such significant impacts as well.  This has likely been my favorite aspect of working on the GHG inventory, I’ve gotten to not only see and meet some of these people, but help in this collaborative effort.  I’m even more excited about the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Ratings System (STARS) which covers not only campus operations, but student efforts and classroom settings as well!

Sharing Solutions

Sometimes, as passionate people dedicated to a cause, we get too caught up in the obstacles and the hurdles we have yet to overcome. Funding is dwindling and in many cases cut for projects like Lake Restoration and management of the riparian buffer zones. Sustainability Science continues to be an unknown, something I’m reminded of every time someone asks me what I am studying here. Projects like the rain garden are slipping out of radar.

In the spirit of Sustainability Science, I believe we need to take a step back and look at what we have already accomplished. Solutions for social-environmental problems are in practice across the world, and sometimes they get overlooked. Let’s share our successes, share how we established a campus Tree Committee, share our landscaping projects, share our educational goals. These are things I want to share with my campus community, and with other campus communities who might benefit from our experiences. So often, I have seen projects on this campus come and go (and I’ve only been here four years!). We need to remember to make connections, to share, to persevere in our work to make our experiences and efforts known.

Change is achieved slowly. When I started my work here at the Shi Center for Sustainability, my efforts seemed fruitless. I couldn’t start projects without learning the systems of management across a wide variety of campus issues, and I couldn’t understand these systems before exploring the projects already in place. Developing an arboretum plan has required me to seek input of various departments, faculty, staff, students, and community members. What do we want our arboretum to look like? What do we hope to achieve? How can we use the arboretum as a tool to accomplish some of the larger goals of the university? All of these questions, and more, had so many different answers and interpretations, not to mention restraints.

As my fellowship is coming to a close, I find myself reflective of the changes over the past two years. Arbor Day events have grown in numbers, visibility, and education. The Campus Arboretum Plan is in its final drafts and will soon be sent out for review. The educational viewing deck for the Bunched Arrowhead Site is being reconstructed. Students are speaking out even more about the importance of trees to Furman’s campus, especially in regards to environmental services.

Sustainability concerns are important ones; taking care of our personal landscapes is a major area of concern for biodiversity corridors, biodiversity patches, environmental services, social corridors, financial services, educational opportunity, and so much more. Ultimately, some of the most influential work we can do with Sustainability Science issues is to set a good example by sharing our experiences, successes, and efforts. When I leave Furman, I hope to leave a legacy of landscapes being used as a unifying tool across the university. I hope that my focus can become a connecting point for others in sustainability concerns.