New Leaf: Leading by example

Efforts made by NY colleges help city go green
By Lindy Almony |
Art by Victoria Van Arnam

I have visited Ithaca, NY for the past two years, and feel inspired by the environmental efforts made by the city. The wholehearted attempts at awareness has helped Ithaca greatly reduce its environmental footprint and created a town full of environmentally-conscience residents.

Ithaca’s population is 30,000 residents, and nearly 27,000 of those residents are students at Cornell University and Ithaca College. The sizes of both colleges in Ithaca are much larger in population and campus size than Flagler College. This brings me hope that Flagler College students and faculty can continue to make great efforts at our quaint campus.

As St. Augustine and Flagler College continue to increase social consciousness and environmental stewardship, they should look to Ithaca, NY as an excellent example of a “green,” environmentally-friendly city.

Ithaca ranked second in “Best Green Places to Live,” in Country Home magazine in April 2007. It was also ranked as the No. 1 “green commuter” city by AARP magazine in September 2008, which reported that 16 percent of Ithaca residents walk to work. This is the highest percent in the country.

College campuses often make headlines with their sustainability innovations. Ithaca College is home to one of the first 100 buildings in the world to receive platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. This is the highest level granted by the U.S. Green Building Council. The building was constructed from local materials and packed with enough solar energy capacity to power the entire facility. There are even plants located on the rooftop that collect rainwater to supply the building.

Ithaca College’s endeavors have been noticed. The College Sustainability Report Card is a website that provides in depth sustainability profiles for hundreds of colleges in all 50 states and Canada. Ithaca College received a B+ while Cornell received a B on the 2010 sustainability report card.

The College Sustainability Report Card website noted that Cornell University is currently invested in renewable energy funds. The university has also published a comprehensive sustainability action plan.

One of the impressive efforts made by Ithaca College is through its dining services. Food purchases are made from 16 local farms and dairy farms. Roughly 10 percent of its annual food budget is spent on local purchasing alone. As you drive around the small town you realize how much support there is for sustainable local agriculture.


All dining halls on Ithaca College campus are trayless. Going trayless decreases waste, conserves natural resources (namely, energy and water) and reduces the introduction of pollutants into the water table.

According to a study by ARAMARK about trayless dining, “trayless dining supports the Triple Bottom Line principle, providing environmental, social, and economic benefits.” Implementing the trayless initiative saves 300 pounds of compost per day and approximately 100,000 pounds of compost are saved per year.

These stunning statistics may have encouraged Flagler College to make some environmentally friendly changes of its own.

Flagler dining services went trayless several semesters ago.  In February 2010, Executive Chef Keith Atkins was interviewed about “green” efforts made in the dining hall. He commented that the dining services deemed trays a waste of water and a luxury.

In addition, he said Flagler dining services uses cleaning products that are environmentally safe. The products used to clean tables and serving surfaces, dish soaps and hand sanitizers are all “green” products.


Another successful effort made by Ithaca College is a new composting system of all pre- and post-consumer food waste. There are three compost bins placed in the food court. A large bulletin is on display over the compost bins, explaining what is compostable and what should be thrown in the trash.

A few students at Flagler College are working to implement a similar composting system. Dining services said they are committed to participating as the project moves forward.

Restaurants in Ithaca (where you throw away your own garbage) often include three receptacles: landfill, recyclables and compost. Many restaurants that I visited offer this seemingly complex garbage disposal process. It is however quite easy. They each provide signs around the receptacles explaining exactly what can be composted, what can be recycled and what is left for the landfill. I actually found it quite exciting to participate in composting. I have never been exposed to in Florida. I even caught myself hollering at my boyfriend not to throw away his compostable waste into the landfill trashcan. Who knew throwing away waste could be so exhilarating?

Another location where patrons were asked to compost their items was at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market. All food vendors at the market provide corn-based P.L.A. (polylactic acid) products that are compostable, unlike the plastic utensils we are familiar with.

The signs on the compost bins read, “All food containers and utensils sold here can be composted. Even if they look like plastic!” They request that you only trash items that cannot be composted, such as, styrofoam, plastics and bottle caps.


Along with the dedication of many restaurants to compost their food and utensils, I noticed an impressive effort by Cornell University to promote recycling. I visited several buildings across the campus, including Cornell Law School, Cornell Business School and one on campus bookstore. Everywhere I looked there were recycling bins provided. I loved it!  In most cases, there were separate recycling bins for papers, plastic and cans. Their dedication to recycling is clear.

Here at Flagler, I scanned each floor of Proctor Library for bins. Excluding offices, classrooms, study rooms, or computer labs there were a total of 27 trashcans. The recycling bins ended with a very small tally on my list.

On the first floor, there is one bin for plastic/glass/aluminum and one bin for paper. Next to the copy machines I observed two trashcans overflowing with papers, no recycling bin in sight. On the third floor, there are two large bins for paper recycling and one bin for plastic/glass/aluminum. The second floor, which provides the most study carrels and tables for students to work at, has 15 trash cans and zero recycling bins.

I glanced into several trashcans on the second floor, and sure enough, I found aluminum cans and plastic bottles. I removed the items and relocated them to their proper home.

I do not know how many students are willing to walk upstairs, or downstairs, to recycle their cans and bottles. Chances are, if they were right next to our work stations, we would all feel inclined to recycle more. It seems unacceptable to me that recyclable items are leaving this campus to go live in a landfill for their lifetime.

At Cornell University, I visited Hughes Hall dormitory at the law school where they provide each student in a suite one trashcan and two recycling bins for waste. At Cornell, there are signs posted along the halls, in the elevators and on the bins informing students how to properly organize their trash/recycling items and what proper receptacles to dispose them in. This really seemed to encourage students to recycle.

Drew Rolle, a student at Cornell Law School said, “I really did change my habits. Having two recycling bins standard in each dorm made it easy for me to start recycling from day one. The dorm dumpsters had separate bins for each recyclable, so I just did it all with my trash take out.” Rolle said that he recycled much more than he did as an undergrad at the University of Central Florida.

I spoke with two residents of Flagler College to learn about the recycling program inside the dorms. As it turns out, there isn’t one. Michelle Guthrie and Brian Miller, both freshmen and business majors, said that neither Ponce Hall nor Lewis Hall are supplied recycling bins.

If St. Augustine and Flagler College spent a little more time and effort on green initiatives, it would be inevitable that our environmental footprint would be greatly reduced. I believe that the population of Flagler College is an intelligent and powerful group. Collectively, we have the brainpower, information and passion to make truly valuable changes in our lifestyle.

I hope that efforts that the city has already made will continue to bring great change to our area. Small and easy changes now will bring much larger rewards for the future.

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