The Tree of Life—Grace McCartha

The Tree of Life—Grace McCartha

The tree of life. The tree of knowledge. The Christmas tree. The evolutionary tree. The world tree. Trees have been important and popular symbols in cultures both ancient and modern across the world. The tree of life metaphor existed in ancient Persian, Egyptian, Chinese, Norse, and North American societies, to name a few. In Egypt, the Acacia tree (Acacia sp.) was considered the tree of life, enclosing life and death within it. Trees have also been important symbols in many religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islamism, and Judaism. In Buddhism, the Bo tree (Ficus religiosa) was the tree under which Buddha was enlightened and today, many shrines are built under it. In the story of Adam and Eve, the tree of knowledge of good and evil is an important symbol in Christianity, Islamism, and Judaism. Even Charles Darwin used the tree of life metaphor when explaining the phylogenetic tree that connects all organisms through common descent.

Why do trees hold such importance for us? For countless reasons! They provide a sense of refuge and stability but they also add beauty to our environment. More practically, trees improve landscaping and increase property value. They also provide resources like food, oxygen, and wood and can provide shelter, shade, and habitat for many animals and even other plants. Trees take up carbon dioxide (helping to combat climate change) and the help reduce runoff and slow soil erosion.

Over this past year and last summer, I have been the Arbor Fellow at Furman University, working to expand and publicize the George G. Willis Jr. Arboretum on campus by labeling trees and creating a web map of tree locations. An arboretum is a collection of labeled trees made available to the public for educational purposes. They help to preserve trees, provide beautiful green spaces, and increase appreciation for trees. Furman’s arboretum has been accredited since 2014 and strives to include mostly native species. So far, there are over 80 tree species labeled and over 273 individually labeled trees. The labels include information like common and scientific names, family, and where the species is native to. The online map shows tree locations and includes label information, along with descriptions of the species’ importance and its identifying features. There are paths around the lake, by the Shi Center, by the North Village creek, in the woods by Younts, and by the Plyler science building for people to enjoy the arboretum. Furman is fortunate to have as many trees on campus as we do and by expanding Furman’s arboretum, we can foster people’s appreciation and respect for trees and nature.

Finding Happiness as an ‘Angry Black Bird’- Jordan Wolfe

As many know from the media and daily experiences, racism is still prominent and very negative in America. However, many do not know that it is also a dilemma in some environmental science fields. Dr. Drew Lanham, one of the few African Americans in the scientific field of bird watching, went against the odds and proved to the many that didn’t believe in him that he could succeed. Although he grew up in a religious family in rural South Carolina, he found his sanctuary in nature. Since he was young, his main form of worship was in the outdoors, his most sufficient form of medicine.

Dr. Lanham doesn’t believe conservation and the way we gather data about our world should be biased. White isn’t always right when it comes to preserving our world for future generations. Conservation is to love, it’s to be equally accepting, embracing, and inclusive. According to Dr. Lanham, conservation comes down to how much you care. That was his main message when he visited the Shi Center and he’s spent his whole life showing how much he cares, despite the lack of diversity and the increasing amount of criticism in his career. As a student, and now tenure professor at Clemson University, he has taught himself to not be self-limiting, to not box yourself in. Although society, and even his family, told him he shouldn’t be a birder, he persevered because he knew he was smart enough to play the game and learned to look at the world differently.

After changing his major from mechanical engineering to zoology, he thought his only job could be zookeeping. Which he told us he originally pursued, and was head deep in joyous increment three days a week. But eventually, he pushed back, he jumped the rails ethically and changed his personal mission statement: who you are, follow the fundamental tenets of being: choice, freedom and happiness. Dr. Lanham wants every individual to have their own mission statement, to be who they are and push their own limits. He didn’t want to be seen as ‘the angry black bird,’ but a respected individual. He understands the southern land he works on, and acknowledges the social problems within it and the racial history that took place. Birds don’t discriminate based on color, and humans shouldn’t either. Communication is key; for we are all so much more than we claim.

Dr. Lanham is a professor at Clemson University as well as an active birder. Read his poem, “9 Rules for the Black Bird Watcher” here:

Let’s Talk Compost: Beautiful Bacteria – Tindall Ouverson

Let’s Talk Compost: Beautiful Bacteria – Tindall Ouverson

Nothing blows my mind more than coming to terms with the fact that so much of what we see and take for granted hinges on the world that exists naked to the human eye. Think about all of the molecular compounds that make up our physical world, from single-celled organisms to the tallest of mountains. Consider the billions of bacteria happily coexisting inside of your intestines, doing you an irreplaceable service, or the phytoplankton floating in the ocean that are a priceless source of our oxygen. The processes that happen around us are made possible by the most unassuming of participants; they are essential, but not often recognized.

Take compost, for example. That beautiful transition from your unfinished salad and last fall’s leaves to what gardeners call “Black Gold” is driven by the voracious appetites of several different kinds of small organisms. We can see the macrobes (worms, varieties of beetles, black soldier fly larvae, millipedes) but we cannot see the microbes that are the driving force behind decomposition. Without them, we’d be wading in organic matter, and soil – one of our most important and underrated nonrenewable resources – would not be able to successfully regenerate. Looking at the decomposition process at a macroscopic scale ironically misses the bigger picture, but scaling down to the microscopic world gives you the best one.

We can look at the decomposition within a compost pile as a process that occurs in phases. In the first phase, cold-loving psychrophiles kick off the party in the compost heap. The bacterial activity – eat, excrete, reproduce, repeat – slowly begins to heat up the pile from the center outwards. Macrobes are driven to the edges of the pile, and psychrophilic activity levels off. At this new level of temperature, mesophilic bacteria take over. This large category of bacteria comfortably exists in wide range of temperatures, so they end up doing most of the decomposition work in the second phase. Eventually, their hard work makes large portions of the pile unsuitable for all but the most extreme: the thermophiles. Often found in thermal springs (think Yellowstone), thermophiles can handle living in temperatures above the boiling point of water. Within the compost pile, their time is glorious but short-lived. At this point in the decomposition process, human and plant pathogens of concern die off. Within three to five days of this third phase, thermophiles use up available resources and start to become inactive when their decreasing activity levels lead to a drop in temperature. In the fourth phase, mesophilic bacteria once again take center stage while macrobes reintroduce themselves in cooler sections of the pile. As the compost matures, a type of bacteria called actinomycetes may grow in large numbers and become visible as white fungus-like fuzz. Mature compost is stable, nutrient-rich, and ready for use as a soil amendment (not a soil replacement) on gardens and lawns.

Soil management and good compost is all about maintaining a healthy soil food web; with current industrial agricultural practices, we tend to overlook the importance of biodiversity in soil. If you blanket spray fungicides and pesticide over a field, you will not only destroy the organisms that can cause crops distress but also your best microscopic tools for success. You can grow food in “dead” soil with enough synthetic fertilizer, but over time the gains of crop production and overall ecosystem health are less compared to what soils with healthy populations of beneficial microbes can do. Whether they live in a compost heap or in our soils, we need these “beautiful bacteria” because they play a huge role in regulating the ecosystems we depend on. So, show some love for the things unseen and thank the microbes the next time you throw your banana in the compost pile.

“Pack Out What You Pack In”- Will Buckingham

“Pack Out What You Pack In”- Will Buckingham

How did I get so interested in sustainability? In May 2014, about a month after I completed my freshman year at Furman, I had the privilege to travel to Hawaii with my two long-time friends from high school. The three of us set out on a journey to hike the Kalalau Trail located atop Kauai’s Na Pali Coast. The whole trail only stretches 11 miles but is rated as one of the most dangerous hiking trails in the United States. The Kalalau Valley is one of the most picturesque and natural landscapes I have come across, but it was hard not to notice that the park was littered with people and also with..well…litter.

Like other national parks in the United States, hiking in Kalalau requires a permit, which sometimes takes several months to get. This means that there is going to be people who don’t always follow that rule. But what I really didn’t understand was why there was so much human generated waste in such a beautiful natural park. To give you an idea of how bad the problem is, in January, the Department of Land and Natural Resources combined with a law enforcement team, ticketed nearly 70 backpackers who did not have permits to camp in Kalalau, arrested one person who had a jet-ski on the beach, and hauled out tons of trash and rubbish left from campers who had abandoned their site. As someone who has camped my entire life, I’ve always been taught to “pack out what you pack in.” This is when I first reflected on why people become so lazy when it comes to their post-consumption habits. Throwing away your waste takes little effort, properly throwing it away only requires a little more. If people are going to live such a high consumptive lifestyle, the least they could do is properly dispose of the waste they produce.

This year I’ve had the privilege of working as the Waste Audit Fellow at the David E. Shi Center for Sustainability. The core of my work consists of conducting waste audits by collecting and measuring waste samples from residential and institutional buildings within Furman’s campus, and to analyze the data itself. I work alongside four other Furman students and sustainability professor Dr. Weston Dripps. Our objective is to develop a Waste Management Plan that could achieve zero waste on campus, contributing to the carbon neutrality goal set for 2026. I’ve learned so much working at the Shi Center and gained invaluable hands on experience in the growing sustainability field.

Phasing out Bottled Water- Logan Richardson

Phasing out Bottled Water- Logan Richardson

Americans use about 50 billion plastic water bottles each year, but only about 23 percent of those are recycled. This means that more that $1 billion worth of plastic is wasted annually. Plastic water bottles are harmful among many aspects including social, economic, and environmental issues. The bottled water industry is tricking consumers into believing that their water is somehow elite to tap water by using phrases such as “pure” and “enhanced” and images such as mountains and rivers on their labels, while the two largest producers of bottled water, Pepsi’s Aquafina and Coke’s Dasani, simply bottle municipal water. The price of bottled water is up to 10,000 times the cost of tap water with bottled water costing $116 per month and tap water only 15 cents per month. By producing these bottles, we waste enough energy to power 190,000 homes and enough oil to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year. These plastic bottles can take between 400 and 1000 years to decompose, and 90% of trash in the ocean is from plastic.

Last year, a group of students and I began the process of phasing out bottled water at Furman University. Our ultimate goal is to completely eliminate plastic water bottle purchasing on campus, but we first must accomplish multiple smaller steps. Last year one of our primary goals was to educate the student body about the harmful affects of bottled water. We hosted a Cultural Life Program (CLP) featuring the documentary Tapped, which takes a behind-the-scenes look at the unregulated world of the bottled water industry by examining the lives of communities affected by these corporations.

One of our biggest accomplishments in this process so far has been implementing a water bottle tax to help fund projects to mitigate water bottle usage. My group met with Becky Vuksta, the director of auxiliary services, and she was willing to place a quarter tax on all bottles in the vending machines and on plastic water bottles in the Pala Den. This tax has been in affect since April 1, 2014 and collected in a sustainable fund. We have recently used this money to purchase a water bottle filling station in Plyler Hall. This is the first of these stations in the Townes Science Center and makes using a reusable bottle much more convenient.

In the near future we would like to continue implementing these bottle filling stations throughout campus to include one in each academic building. Another main goal is to reach out to the athletic department. We hope to first extend our quarter tax to bottled water in all athletic facilities to increase our revenue in order to expedite our purchasing of new bottle filling stations. Under the current system, students are not allowed to bring outside bottles into the stadium, forcing them to purchase overpriced bottled water. We hope to collaborate with officials to allow empty reusable bottles into the games and insert a filling station in the stadium. My group also aims to eventually provide reusable water bottles to all incoming students so that everyone will have the opportunity to live more sustainable. This will definitely be a long battle, but we are very passionate and motivated to continue this important project in our future years at Furman and hope to phase out bottled water completely in the upcoming years.

The Horrors of the Clothes We Wear – Jordan Wolfe

Ever heard of sustainable fashion? I hadn’t either until about a year and a half ago. To be honest, I thought it was very strange that it’s not on most people’s radars. This is because every member of society wears some form of clothes (hopefully) and many of us tend to even own too many clothes (guilty). In fact, our skin is the largest pore on our body, so shouldn’t we think about what we’re putting on it? These were the types of questions I was asking myself while I was studying abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark my junior year. Copenhagen is the hub of forward sustainable initiatives and has taken great strides as a leader in sustainable apparel. Sustainable fashion was everywhere; so much that they honestly just called it fashion. They really put great care into their clothes and treat those that made them with respect. Since I’ve gotten back to the states, I have been working on my senior thesis, focusing on radical transparency in the sustainable fashion industry and companies knowledge and value of the textiles in supply chains. It sounds like a lot and it is! Therefore, I decided to take advantage of this blog post to enhance the minds of our consumers on a very important, but not talked about enough issue. You are the consumer, by the way.

The bigger picture of all of this is that it’s time for fashion to be made with a more sustainable approach. Now, take a look at your hangtag. It’s likely that you’re wearing cotton or polyester, two of the fashion industry’s most popular fibers and the hardest ones to trace. Unfortunately, cotton depends on large amounts of water to grow, and polyester depends on now-declining reserves of oil and gas. Therefore, the idea behind sustainable materials is that they are less damaging to the environment to produce, consuming fewer natural resources and creating less pollution.

If you’re wondering what you can use instead of cotton, I can tell you! Bamboo, linen, hemp, and recycled polyester are great! Although they are being produced in only small amounts, they have great potential. Bamboo is quick to grow and easily renewable, and linen and hemp use less water and pesticides than cotton. Also in the industry is slaughter-free leather, flax, and recycled materials. For a college kid on a budget, I usually get the question of how they can afford to buy sustainable fashion. When you’re first starting to transition to sustainable apparel, I think it is best to start with second-hand clothing. It has already been produced and the beautiful, gently-used items are begging for a new home.

Sustainable fashion has a goal to create a system that can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the environment and social responsibility. The best of both worlds! Luckily, the era of sustainable fashion being ugly and well, un-fashionable has passed. But it is important that sustainability is better communicated so it’s not considered a compromise. If you want to shop more sustainably, it is essential to keep your eye out for sustainable materials and clothes that are made ethically. Popular sustainable brands include Eileen Fisher, H&M Conscious, Stella McCartney, People Tree, Modavanti, ThredUp, and Modern Meadow. Certifications that could be found on tags could include Made in USA, Global Organic Textile Standard, Leaping Bunny Certified, and Fair Trade USA. I can go on and on, but I will stop. I am happy to talk about sustainable fashion anytime, so please email me at if you’re interested to learn more!

Life of a Recycling Fellow-Matthew Terrell

Life of a Recycling Fellow-Matthew Terrell

Baked beans, hot sauce, dog poop, and pizza boxes: all forms of contamination I have found in the recycling bins on Furman’s beautiful campus. Contamination occurs when non-recyclable items are mixed in with recyclables items. I know what you are probably thinking, “Just pick out the non-recyclables.” Placing garbage or other non-recyclables in a recycling bin can contaminate the whole bin making it unusable. This makes all the hard work Furman’s students, faculty, and visitors do to recycle go to waste. My job as a Recycling Fellow is to monitor the recycling on campus, whether it be at school sporting events or the area in front of the PAC. When I check the recycling bins, I make sure to look for contamination. Contamination isn’t a topic that should be ignored. Luckily, I don’t find a great amount of contamination on campus, but when I do, it is normally in a recycling bin near a residential area. Whether you believe me or not, some students generally don’t care about recycling. They don’t bother to learn which items are recyclable or non-recyclable. Before I started working for the Shi Center, I can admit that I was not that knowledgeable and didn’t make an effort to recycle. But, this job and my peers have made me realize how important recycling is. I could throw out statistics that tell you how much money is wasted each year by throwing recyclables in the garbage, but that wouldn’t necessarily change things. What does matter is the effect one single person could make by simply placing an aluminum can in a recycling bin. The environmental benefits from recycling is so astronomical, that it’s hard to explain in just this short blog post. Simply put, recycling conserves energy, reduces air and water pollution, reduces greenhouse gases, and conserves natural resources.

What I enjoy most about my job as a Recycling Fellow is that I am constantly learning new things. By being around other people who are knowledgeable about recycling and sustainability, I get this drive to want to know more, so I can educate myself and others. My job is to monitor recycling, but I also learn from listening to the Waste Management Fellow and the Data Analysis Fellow. Recycling is a big but still small part of sustainability. But it is important that people are educated about the matter.

My future plans are to major in Sustainability Science. This will allow me to gain knowledge in other topics besides recycling, such as waste management, resource management, water quality, and other topics in sustainability.