SustainAbility Newsletter

The Nature of Sustainability | Walking the Talk on Campus

Urbana University

by Steve Jones Ph.D. 

Urbana University is a small, faith-affiliated, private liberal arts university in west-central Ohio. I’ve been President here since July 2008; prior to that I served as Chancellor, University of Alaska Fairbanks for four years. I’m a forester and natural resources practitioner and scientist by training and a university CEO by chance. You’ve seen my previous SustainAbility columns in Fall 2010 and Summer 2011.

I believe that Urbana University’s rural and agrarian setting, its spacious 128-acre campus, a heritage that ties John Chapman (AKA Johnny Appleseed) to the founding of the University, and a sweeping international tide of interest in sustainability compel Urbana University to “walk the talk” of sustainability. Urbana University is the first campus chartered by the International Sustainability Council. We are the nation’s first Bird Campus USA, designated by Audubon Lifestyles. We are applying for designation as Tree Campus USA to the Arbor Day Foundation.

The Fall 2010 column speaks to Urbana’s intent to walk the talk of sustainability across four dimensions:

  • Campus “built” environment and immediate grounds
  • Campus “natural” spaces and associated “wild” environment
  • Curriculum
  • Individual well-being

We have major plans for addressing the built environment and immediate grounds – watch for updates in a subsequent column. The University’s curricular plans (number three above) include weaving the threads of ecological literacy and free enterprise-based sustainability into our liberal arts core. We are developing majors in environmental studies, environmental education, and leadership in sustainability. With restricted, donated funds we hired a new faculty member (a soil scientist) in July 2011 to lead our sustainability efforts. Again, watch for updates for curricular action and for developments in individual well-being.
Assisted by a 2009 (and continuing) grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service we are converting approximately 25 acres of previously mowed grass to native prairie (12 acres), oak savanna (eight acres), and closed canopy native cover (five acres). The prairie just completed its second growing season. The conversion has not gone smoothly, requiring repeated, targeted herbicide applications and reseeding. Non-native species held a strangle-hold on the site, with tremendous competition and plentiful seed reserves in the soil. The 2011 summer weather likewise did not cooperate. Six weeks parched our region in mid-growing season, punctuating a very wet spring and record fall rains (combined for the wettest year ever). Although we’re still not fully satisfied, we see the prairie community effectively colonizing the site. We plan a controlled burn in 2012 to assure total site capture.
Our partially shaded and full-canopy cover conversions have fought against the same forces of stubborn residual vegetation, heavy seed bank, and uncooperative weather, necessitating repeated and continuing treatments. Again, we’re seeing progress. The recalcitrant transition to native vegetation created a secondary problem – explaining to the University community (faculty, staff, students, and visitors) why the campus has large areas of dead grass and sparse vegetation! Because we are a bare-bones operation, we have not invested resources in large interpretive signage. We want the final signage to interpret what we’ve done, and not explain what we are doing.

We have three campus catchment basins, two small constructed basins to hold runoff from road and parking lot surfaces, slowing release to prevent surges to an off-campus, urban stream. We’re converting mowed grass in both depressions to native species. The third area (also constructed) covers nearly 1.5 acres at the far southwest corner of campus at the edge of our prairie. Even during the parched mid-summer the large basin held more than a quarter acre of water, a permanent pond. During the wet fall the pond expanded to well over an acre. The large basin is dominated by native wetland vegetation that captured the site prior to the prairie conversion. Small fish, lots of frogs, and other wetland fauna complete the community.
We’ve tried to make clear that we are establishing a living/learning laboratory and classroom on campus. We will create a prairie trail (mowed pathway), construct a catchment basin boardwalk crossing, and build a 12 foot observation deck above the prairie, providing and encouraging access to and understanding of this exciting habitat. The observation deck will be within full view of our football stadium, band practice field, and gymnasium; our natural areas are integral to (not unique from) our campus. We also have plans for our 15 acres of closed forest, including elimination of an obnoxious invasion of Asian shrub honeysuckle, dominating the understory to a height of 10-12 feet and shading most native forest floor species.
We have a lot more planned for sustainability at Urbana University. Among our active pursuits is establishing a full-range renewable energy demonstration: solar photovoltaic; solar thermal; geothermal; wind; anaerobic digester. We’re also planning to implement recommendations from a comprehensive energy audit. Watch for more as we get off our duffs and walk the talk of sustainability!




References and Sources used in this issue of SustainAbility Newsletter Include:

Audubon Lifestyles 
The International Sustainability Council 

Sustainability Campaign

Ford Motor Company

Urbana University

Defenders of Wildlife

The Earthday Network

Bloomberg Businessweek

Small Busienss Trends

The Dodson Group      

To learn about sponsorship opportunities please call us at: 727-733-0762
This Issue of the SustainAbility Newsletter sponsored in part by:

The Dodson Group

SustainAbility Newsletter Archive Article (random)

Recipes for SustainAbility - Pumpkin Risotto

Pumpkin RisottoThere are many risottos that can be made sustainably. Use authentic risotto rice or basmati if you prefer. Try this easy pumpkin risotto and serve it with a green salad.

Serves 4.

Fry 1 tsp chopped thyme, 1 clove garlic (peeled and chopped), 1 small onion (peeled and sliced) in a little olive oil. Add 500g pumpkin or squash (peeled and cubed into 1cm squares). Cook for 4-5 minutes. Add the rice. Ladle in stock a little at a time, every 2-3 minutes and stir often. Keep going until the rice is cooked (18-20 minutes for risotto rice). Shake parmesan over the top.

Always try and use organic or sustainably grown products!

Fast Facts

  • One gallon of motor oil can contaminate up to 2 million gallons of water. so dispose of properly!

  • Here is an example of the water we use everyday:

    3-7 gallons for toilet,
    25-30 gallons for tub,
    50-70 gallons for a 10 minute shower,
    1 washing machine load uses 25-40 gallons,
    1 dishwasher load uses 9-12 gallons

  • Here is an example of how long it takes some things take to break down:

    plastics take 500 years,
    aluminum cans take 500 years,
    organic materials, take 6 months,
    cotton, rags, paper take 6 months.



References and Sources used in this issue of SustainAbility Newsletter Include:

Audubon International

The International Sustainability Council

Pioneer Thinking

EarthCraft Homes

The Natural Step

Animal Aid

Recipes For Sustainability


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A Coalition for Good - Spreading the Seeds of Sustainability

ISC-Audubon is a coalition of non-profit organizations and initiatives that include The International Sustainability Council (ISC), Audubon Lifestyles, Audubon Outdoors, Planit Green, Broadcast Audubon, and the Audubon Network for Sustainability. 

Funds generated through memberships and donations are used to provide fruit & vegetable seeds, wildflower seed mix, and wildlife feed & birdseed to urban and suburban communities around the world. These seeds are used by communities to establish fruit and vegetable gardens, bird and wildlife sanctuaries, and for the beautification of urban and suburban landscapes by creating flower and native plant gardens.

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