Dish It Out: Let SGA Know You Support Dish Reuse on Campus

Post contributed by Liz Stanbrough, Graduate Student in Civil Engineering.

Do you want your student organization to save money and reduce waste? Then please petition SGA for a dish reuse program through their Auburn Answers platform. When asked, choose DINING (first option), and copy the following text. Feel free to add/change/etc.

I would like to see Auburn University leadership take a more defined position on sustainability. I am excited about a community dish program that Tiger Dining is planning to implement for on-campus student meetings to help us reduce waste. I want to express my support for this initiative as well as challenge Auburn leaders to match and exceed the efforts of the students organizing the dish program. I also want to see SGA create a dedicated sustainability role to lead awareness events and implement real sustainability initiatives on campus in tandem with Auburn offices.

If you want more information or have questions please contact Liz Stanbrough.


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Director’s Corner: Humanity’s growing ecological footprint: “the only measure which tracks how much nature we have – and how much nature we use.”

“If we did to our bank account what we have been doing to the Earth’s natural capital we would have been bankrupt long ago.”

~Christina Figueres, former Executive Secretary, United Nations Frameworks Convention on Climate Change

Planet Earth has over eons generated a vast endowment of natural capital, which the World Forum on Natural Capital defines as “the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water, and all living things.”

Natural capital is the source of human existence and our capacity for thriving. Everything we do is ultimately derived from the endowment of natural assets generated and sustained by the Earth.

Endowments can last forever if they are managed properly. A fundamental tenant for managing an endowment that needs to last forever is to live off interest generated and avoid dipping into interest-generating principal, and in the case of natural capital, avoid contaminating it as well.

The reasons for this are obvious: spending more than the limits of our income puts us in debt. Reducing the size of an endowment reduces its capacity to generate income; contaminating the stocks of air, water, soil, and other living things weakens the endowment even more. Keep this up long enough and, no matter how large and productive, the endowment will eventually weaken and collapse.

This is the situation we are now facing. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and as the population has correspondingly exploded, humanity has been tapping and contaminating our natural capital endowment at an ever-increasing rate. We are now at the point where evidence is starkly clear that our seemingly immense and inexhaustible endowment is in fact very limited and under extreme duress.

Ecological Footprint Image
Credit: Global Footprint Network

Since 1970, humanity has been accumulating deficits of natural capital. Each year since and at an ever-increasing rate we have taken more resources than the Earth can regenerate, and produced more waste than the Earth can absorb – the most globally damaging waste being excessive greenhouse gas emissions – annually reducing Earth’s capacity to support life as we know it.

We know this because of an accounting tool known as the Ecological Footprint, “the only measure which tracks how much nature we have – and how much nature we use.” The Ecological Footprint was developed in 1990 by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees at the University of British Columbia and is managed by the Global Footprint Network (GFN).

To draw attention to humanity’s overuse of nature, GFN created Earth Overshoot Day, which “marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year…. Earth Overshoot Day is computed by dividing the planet’s biocapacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth is able to generate that year), by humanity’s Ecological Footprint (humanity’s demand for that year), and multiplying by 365, the number of days in a year:

(Planet’s Biocapacity / Humanity’s Ecological Footprint) x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day”

Earth Overshoot Chart
Global Footprint Network National Footprint Accounts 2019

The chart to the right shows the inexorably growing natural capital deficit since 1970, as Earth Overshoot Day occurs earlier and earlier during the year. In 1979, Earth Overshoot Day occurred in late October. 40 years later, in 2019, it occurred on July 29.

According to GFN’s Public Data Package, humanity is using the equivalent of 1.75 Earths; and if everyone lived like the average American the estimate is that it would take 5 Earths to support the human population.

Human population – 2.5 billion in 1950, 7.8 billion today – combined with increased consumption and degradation of natural capital explain why we face a climate crisis, why so many ecosystems are under duress, and to a large extent why there is so much societal turmoil globally.

The Global Footprint Network has calculated each nation’s ecological footprint, and offers an ecological footprint quiz that each of us can take to determine our individual footprints. We have the information and tools at hand to understand individually and collectively how much nature we use, and how much nature we can use and stay within the ecological limits that allow life to thrive.

As GFN points out, “The current trend is not our destiny.” We know everything we need to do to reduce our ecological footprint and restore Earth’s capacity to generate natural capital, which are the same things we need to do to reverse global warming and stabilize the climate.

Furthermore, doing what is necessary does not require sacrificing our quality of life. On the contrary, reversing these trends will create jobs and enhance quality of life across the globe. Not doing what is necessary threatens life as we know it.

GFN has identified five key areas of impact and opportunity:

  • Cities: How we design and manage cities
  • Energy: How we power ourselves
  • Food: How we produce, distribute, and consume food
  • Planet: How we help nature thrive
  • Population: How many of us there are

These five areas mirror the solutions to reversing global warming found in Project Drawdown, and in the internationally adopted Sustainable Development Goals. They are in so many ways the same solutions, solutions that offer extraordinary opportunities.

The Ecological Footprint is a practical accounting tool for understanding “how much nature we have, and how much nature we use.” With this ledger, we can be responsible stewards of our natural capital endowment. We can learn to save. Most importantly, we can learn to respect and live within the laws and limits of the finite Earth, the only source of wealth and wellbeing there is. We have no choice. As Donella Meadows reminds us with this sobering observation: “There will always be limits to growth. They can be self-imposed. If they aren’t they will be system-imposed.”

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Meetings Happen: Make A Difference in Yours

Recently our office received an anonymous request to crack down on the overprinting of materials for meetings on campus. Apparently, this person’s office prints the agenda and all the PowerPoint slides for taking notes with a cover sheet to divide each presenters’ notes. In the end, the packets end up being 10 – 20 pages of single-sided paper, often printed in color. Because they print a packet for every potential person who could attend, some of these packets don’t even get used and go straight into the recycling bin.

I admire this employee reaching out to try and make a difference here on campus, but, our office does not enforce more sustainable behaviors by cracking down on others. We do, however, share resources and ideas that you can take back to your office to try to incorporate into practice, such as these key principles of green events, which can be applied to meetings as well.

1. Promote responsible stewardship around the Sustainability Compass.
2. Recruit & include diverse audiences.
3. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
4. Aim for a zero-landfill event.
5. Share successes to educate others.

Meetings on campus can positively change through planning considerations in location, communications, materials, and waste generated.

Photo of War Eagle Bike Share Hub
War Eagle Bike Share Hub

Location, Location, Location

  • Meet somewhere close to the majority of attendees to save travel time.
  • Choose a space with a projector for the agenda and presentations to avoid printing.
  • Save time and money by holding conference calls or video chats.
  • Walk or take the War Eagle Bike Share to on-campus meetings.
  • Only use a golf cart if you need to haul a heavy load.

Communications: Be Green, Keep it on the Screen
Avoid printing:

  • Email the agenda ahead of time, so those who prefer a hardcopy can print and bring their own.
  • Have people take notes digitally or on materials they brought.
  • Project the agenda digitally or write it on a dry-erase board.

Use paper purposefully:

  • Make an accurate headcount to avoid any unused copies, should you need to print.
  • Print double-sided.
  • Reduce your margins and font sizes.
  • Use recycled-content paper.

Make the Most of Every Cup
While coffee may create alert attendees and comfort on a cold day, it can also have negative impacts. Think before you drink by purchasing in a way that avoids food waste, eliminates waste to the landfill, and supports sustainability.

  • Purchase certified coffee (Rainforest Alliance, organic, Fair Trade).
  • Let people know where to refill their water bottle and do not provide bottled water.
  • Get an accurate headcount so you don’t serve more than you need.
  • Use reusable coffee mugs, not single-use paper or Styrofoam cups.
  • Use a spoon you can wash and use again instead of coffee stirrers.
  • Make coffee in a coffee pot or reusable pod to avoid single-use K-cups.

Sort It Out
Contact the Waste Reduction and Recycling Department if you need a:

  • Recycling bin for plastic and aluminum
  • Paper recycling bin
  • Trash can for non-recyclables
Auburn Green Event Guide Cover
Green Event Guide Cover

Green Event Guide

Our Green Event Guide shares ways to minimize the negative and maximize the positive impacts of events on campus, with special considerations for holding meetings, hosting conferences, and even tailgating. It’s chocked full of tips and resources to plan, communicate, and pull off your meeting. In it you’ll find:

  • Descriptions and examples of products covered by various purchasing certifications
  • Campus resources to guide your decisions on accessibility, transportation, and waste disposal
  • Purchasing tips to minimize waste for a variety of common event items

Further Involvement
If you are an employee who would like to learn more about sustainability at work or support a change effort in your unit:

If you want to save money and resources when hosting meetings and events, please share these resources and ideas with others in your office. Thank you for working to make a difference here on campus!

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New AU Course on Personal Resilience & Sustainability

Post Contributed by Dr. Nanette Chadwick, Academic Sustainability Programs Director

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” ~Mary Oliver, A Summer’s Day

Academic Sustainability Programs is offering this semester a new 1-credit course, SUST 4900 Personal Resilience and Sustainability. This course arose out of an understanding among our sustainability instructors that Auburn students would benefit from this type of course offering. In this course, students will interact with each other and an experienced instructor to develop and celebrate aspects of personal resilience in the face of major local to global-scale changes that are confronting human society now and in the near future.

This new course will meet for an hour each week, with the timing to be determined by the schedules of enrolled students. It will focus on What is Resilience?, and will offer training in taking care of ourselves and others on a changing planet, in building community around the intention to live sustainably, resourcing in nature, creativity, and ourselves, and in learning deep ecology and practical skills.

If you have space in your course schedule to take 1 more credit this spring, consider this unique course that will explore individual wellbeing at it relates to the sustainability compass. Sustainability Compass Poster

This course can be used as a free elective, or as elective credits toward the Minor in Sustainability Studies in the area of Environment. It could be combined as an elective with our other 1-credit courses listed at or, with study abroad or other types of credits, to create 3 minor elective credits.

We are excited about this new course offering. Contact the instructor Dr. Marilyn Vogel if you have questions, or to receive a copy of the draft syllabus.

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Director’s Corner: The Necessary & Inevitable Transportation Transformation

“The industrial age of energy and transportation will be over by 2030.  Maybe before.”  Tony Seba, Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation

Is it possible that a transformation to sustainable energy and transportation systems is right around the corner?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2017 the transportation sector accounted for the largest portion of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, at 29%.  Electricity generation was a close second at 28%.

Internationally, transport accounts for about 20% of global GHG emissions however globally emissions are on the rise as increases in passenger and freight volumes are growing and are expected to continue to grow through 2050.

So transportation is a significant contributing source of GHG and is projected to grow at a time when the world must do all we can to stop GHG emissions and reduce atmospheric concentrations well below current levels.  In October 2018, the Washington Post published a story on a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that humanity has about a decade to make drastic changes to reduce GHG emissions before the climate reaches cascading tipping points beyond which our current way of life would not be possible.

Something has to happen.

Enter Tony Seba, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and instructor in Entrepreneurship, Disruption and Clean Energy at Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program. He is convinced we are on the cusp of what he calls a “clean disruption of energy and transportation,” which is the title of the book he wrote in 2014.  You can watch a talk Seba gave on this subject in 2018 in Boulder, CO.

He presents a compelling case.  Regarding automobile transportation specifically here are just a few of his observations and predictions:

  • Electric vehicles (EVs), ride-sharing, and autonomous vehicles mean that the world of everyday auto transportation will look entirely different in ten years.
  • Electric vehicles are 5x more energy efficient than those powered by internal combustion engines (ICE); 10x cheaper to “fill up”; 10x cheaper to maintain.
  • EVs will contribute to grid storage of electricity.
  • Individual ownership of autos will plummet.
  • By 2025, ICE vehicles will no longer be competitive with EVs.

Seba explains that cell phones, personal computers, and the Internet started as distinct products serving different markets. Their unforeseen complementary natures became interwoven and accelerated mutual adoption in society and together they transformed the world.  Mostly for the better.

In the same way, according to Seba, solar energy, electric vehicles, and self-driving cars are disruptive technologies that will interweave to exponentially amplify each other and completely change auto transportation – and energy production – to be much more sustainable across society, including making transportation more affordable for everyone. Within the next ten years.

Of course, Seba has much more to say and goes into significantly more interesting and promising detail in his book and lectures.  And because this column is about transportation I am not going to address what he has to say about the near-term transformation of the energy market away from coal, oil, natural gas, biofuels, and nuclear, and the rapid widespread adoption of solar, wind, and other renewables.

All of this is driven by market forces, not government regulation.

Seba’s book leaves unaddressed long-haul trucking, ocean freight, and air travel, which have significant GHG impacts.  But the prospects he does describe are credible, exciting, and heartening, some much-needed positive forecasting during a particularly dark time on the sustainability front when so many trends are headed the wrong way, and amplified by wrong-headed policies at the federal level.

And let’s be clear: market forces alone will not save us.

We need thoughtful policies and programs coordinated at every level of government, nationally and internationally on our interconnected world, to solve the planetary emergency of climate change and the social, economic, and environmental crises related to it.  Which means we need policy makers who represent the public interest and the common good.  Which means electing policy makers who serve the common good.

We need a social contract with each other to act from our common humanity and our shared values, working across difference using the processes of deliberative democracy to envision our desired future and commit to creating it.

Change can happen quickly, for better or for worse.  If change emerges from our shared values and commitment to the common good then the future holds great promise.  Which is why it is essential that we stay engaged over the long term, inspired by our “better angels,” laser-focused on achieving the outcomes we want, and nothing less.

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Co-Creating a Sustainable Economy–Our Conference Takeaways

Here in the Office of Sustainability, the goal of our internship program is to transform our student interns into sustainability practitioners who are equipped to lead others in solving the sustainability challenges our world is facing. One of the most powerful professional development experiences we provide is the opportunity to attend the premier conference for sustainability in higher education. Hosted by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the 2019 conference’s theme was Co-Creating a Sustainable Economy. The diversity of interests from those in our office resulted in a wide range of takeaways from the conference, which we would like to share with you.

Benjamin Boehle: Design Specialist, Student Staff

The greatest takeaway I got from attending the AASHE conference was the amount of support for sustainability and like-minded peers I met. This incredible opportunity to hear from world-class speakers and countless people I could learn from was such an eye-opening experience. While there may be much resistance in areas that are still with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, there is also a feeling of hope that was left upon me. This feeling of striving to do better to correct these global climate issues is a powerful, life-changing amount of inspiration and drive. The takeaways given back from AASHE and the attendees were wonderful and I hope each year there is a growing number of advocates and activists for sustainability.

Beatriz Carmona: Data Analyst, Student Staff

Prior to attending AASHE, I wasn’t aware of how widespread campus sustainability offices are around the nation. Interacting with other sustainability interns, from offices in small community colleges or large land grant universities like us, was incredibly refreshing. I focused my sessions mostly on zero waste packaging ideas and food waste repurposing, and it was great to learn how other campuses have implemented fresh, student-sparked ideas in their spaces. Both of the keynote speakers also charged me with change-making energy. Varshini Prakash spoke about her experience as an undergraduate that led her university’s successful fossil fuel divestment campaign, and more recently co-founded the Sunrise Movement which has helped raise tremendous public support for the Green New Deal. Bill McKibben, author and co-founder of the first planet-wide climate change movement “,” shared touching images of people from all corners of the world who feel the impact of climate change much more quickly and severely than many of us here do. The conference has provided me with a multifaceted testament to the saying “one person can make a difference”, and a reminder that if we all do our part, what we can accomplish is insurmountable.

Taylor Kraabel: Employee Engagement Coordinator, Student Staff 

Perhaps the most thought-provoking and worthwhile session I attended was “Green in a Red State: Working in Conservative Environments”. Initially, I assumed this session would be a haven for sustainability advocates from conservative environments to air our grievances and frustrations. However, I found this to be largely untrue. Instead of griping about all the things we could not do or change, the session focused on appealing to our audience and methods to reduce the many stigmas around sustainability. One of the major topics of discussion was the general miseducation we encounter when we talk about sustainability. It is a common misconception to think sustainability is simply about recycling, reusable water bottles, etc. when in fact that does not even begin to cover sustainability’s scope. Brainstorming and sharing with others on how to promote the wellbeing, economic, and social aspects of sustainability was incredibly beneficial.

We also discussed the idea of utilizing the systems already in place at our respective institutions to promote sustainability in a way that appeals to our cultural climates. For instance, several universities have adopted creative ways of promoting the Sustainability Compass and giving students a say in what sustainability initiatives the university undertakes. The opportunity to discuss our sustainability efforts with like-minded individuals provided new perspectives to problems and innovative ways to incorporate sustainability in our conservative environments.

Patience Ray: Communication Specialist, Student Staff

At AASHE, I learned that sustainability isn’t only about the environment or saving the planet. It’s also about renewable energy and savings, healthy economies and individuals, protecting our agricultural resources and staying ahead of the competition. Pursuing renewable technologies as a university will give us the education and “the knowledge to work wisely and train [our] minds and [our] hands to work skillfully.” Sustainability is Auburn’s path to a bright future. AASHE helped me understand that sustainability should be at the root of every decision. Our research and what we invest in as students and as a university is what will make us leaders and changemakers in the ever-evolving social and financial markets. And if what we invest in builds a better world for all, we will be known for our “honesty and truthfulness.” I’m inspired to believe in a university that sustains its community and looks to the future. Because we can be a university that truly “believe[s] in [our] Country, because it is a land of freedom and because it is [our] own home, and …[we] can best serve that country by “doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with [our] God.” We believe in sustainability–it’s in our very creed. “And because Auburn men and women believe in these things, I believe in Auburn and love it.”

Ferrell Sullivan: Outreach Coordinator, Student Staff

This was my second year attending AASHE. Just like last year, it is a burst of energy, ideas, and shared goals. One of my favorite things I felt enlightened by was the constant stream of new and interesting ideas to reach out to students and the community. Whether it’s catapulting pumpkins after Halloween into a compost, starting a Free Store to encourage students to reuse and donate rather than landfill their own items, or creating a vulnerable conversation on campus about what students think, know, and feel about climate change. AASHE gave me excitement instead or nervousness to speak up to our very conservative board of trustees about changing how our campus implements sustainability and how they need to be transparent with their spending. I feel back up by hundreds of others that it is possible that I can make a difference on my campus especially with student power. This year also inspired me to get more creative with diversifying our events, reaching out to certain niches of people within our campus such as an idea of giving out menstrual cups to the women on our campus to start a conversation on waste. This year really gave a sense of clarity that everything we do, everything we shift, every conversation we start really does matter, but we need to do more.

Mike Kensler: Director 

Each year when I attend the AASHE conference, I am struck by the collegial, collaborative, mission-driven energy that permeates the conference.  Sustainability work requires facing many deeply troubling conditions and trends for people and the planet. At the same time this work requires resilience and openness to finding new ways of thinking and acting that can transform our world for the better.  This conference provides the opportunity to openly acknowledge our deepest concerns, and mutually acknowledging our fears is a healing experience.  At the same time, I always leave reminded of this community of colleagues and learn of exciting innovations and accomplishments on campuses and in communities around the world.  I leave buoyed with a new sense of possibility and resolve.  AASHE Executive Director Meghan Fay Zahniser reminded us, “Just because it seems impossible today doesn’t get us off the hook.”  Exactly.  Staying on the hook has for many brought new realities into being that were once deemed impossible.  Nelson Mandela is one who would know.  He said “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”  The conference theme this year was Co-Creating a Sustainable Economy, one that creates wellbeing for all.  All of us in the office returned re-energized to stay on the hook, contributing what we can to make a sustainable economy a reality.

Jen Morse: Outreach and Communications, Staff

One of the most inspirational sessions for me was a panel on ‘Cutting Through the Noise’, or how to get your sustainability-related stories heard by a broader audience. One of the panelists was from SUNY Geneseo’s top communications office. Similarly to Auburn University, they have many stories to share related to their work around the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Their communications office compiled videos, news, projects, and initiatives of the college and alumni from across campus and throughout the world, dating back to 2011. Using ArcGIS they created an interactive storytelling map where visitors can view stories and media by location around the globe or by the SDGs. While hearing initiatives and results from a multitude of universities at the conference was very uplifting, I especially found inspiration from those of SUNY Geneseo. The effort of framing their accomplishments around the SDGs was executed by their central communications office. While their sustainability office did have a role to play, this amazing interactive interface would not have come to be without the insight and support of upper their administration and central communications office. Here at Auburn we are also working to address the SDGs by becoming a member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). More about Auburn joining the SDSN and connections to the university’s strategic plan are shared in the March 2019 Director’s Corner: The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are ‘No Little Plans.’

Amy Strickland: Program Manager, Staff

I had the opportunity to participate in a special type of session at this year’s AASHE conference called a “Deep Dive.” In this session, we spent about 4 hours hearing from and brainstorming with leaders from Procurement offices at two major research universities. By spending so much time on one topic and with subject matter experts, those in attendance gained a nuanced understanding of the role and responsibilities of Procurement professionals and how sustainability can enhance and support their work. Given the many intersections between sustainability and matters related to procurement, like the supply chain, costs of ownership, and disposal concerns, it’s easy to see how our office can work hand-in-hand with our Procurement professionals to advance both Auburn’s economic interests, but also support key advances around the Sustainability Compass.

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Protecting the Quarterback & Protecting our Earth

Contributed by Auburn Athletics Student Communicator

Harrell Marquel Offensive LinemanOffensive lineman Marquel Harrell knows he has an important job when he lines up on the field: protecting the quarterback. That’s a job he puts his heart and soul into, but there is another job he considers equally important off the field: protecting our earth.

“I do my part by taking care of the little things,” Harrell said. “I do not litter, and when I see trash on the ground, I pick it up and throw it away. I make sure I recycle what is supposed to be recycled and do the best I can to help the earth.”

Harrell is a defensive lineman’s worst nightmare as he protects the line with his 6-3, 309 lb. frame. He wants folks who throw their litter on the ground to feel that same size of his disappointment when they do.

“I just don’t understand the purpose of littering,” he said. “I go around and tell folks to clean up their mess, but I see people throwing trash out of their car and I just can’t believe it. You are going somewhere that has a trash can, or you can wait until one is nearby where you can throw everything away.”

Harrell wants to see folks do good for the planet because it is the right thing to do, but he also wants to know that his family has a bright future ahead, not trouble on the horizon.

“I want to see the place cleaner so that my kids and grandkids can grow up in a healthy environment and not be worried about the world being in a crisis so they can grow old,” he said. “The world is warming up and we see the ice caps melting, so we need to take better care of the planet. Let us start here in Auburn or you’ll have to deal with me.”


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How to Recycle and Repurpose University Property Instead of Sending it to Landfills

Contributed by Robert Griffith, Ag Land & Resource Management, College of Agriculture

ALRM Overhead Google Image
ALRM Overhead Google Image

Ag Land and Resource Management (ALRM) provides construction, earth preparation, irrigation systems, AG building repair, roads, and ponds in support of the College of Agriculture (COAG) and the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station (AAES). In the fall of 2018, ALRM was directed to begin the process of moving to north Auburn to make way for the new East Alabama Medical Center Complex. Over the years, a large compilation of excess construction material and equipment from past projects had built up on the nine-acre property.

Robert Hensarling, ALRM Director, chose to try to recycle and repurpose as much of these supplies and equipment as possible rather than have it buried in a landfill. Through this effort, almost all of the excess was either recycled or repurposed. What follows is a list of the people and organizations that supported the recycling and repurposing effort.

Bill Capps at AU Surplus Property is an invaluable resource for repurposing excess property at Auburn University. They conducted over 60 individual auctions through These micro-auctions ranged from an Alumcraft Boat that sold for $255 to a lot of Cattle Gates that sold for $620 to a parts room cleanout that sold for $933.23. Most of the micro-auctions not only kept the excess out of the landfill, but the work to pick up and clean out the location was accomplished by the purchaser.

Pallets of blocks and bricks for donation
Pallets of blocks and bricks for donation

Bill also authorized donations to Chewaclca State Park and Lakepoint State Park, as well as the Alabama Highway Patrol. The donations included pallets of concrete pavers, blocks, landscape supplies, and items like an ice maker. ADECA – Alabama Surplus Property collected numerous vehicles and construction equipment, which they provided to other state agencies or sold through public auctions.

The Auburn University Library and Kreher Preserve/Nature Center also participated in the effort. Jennifer Lolley arranged to have workers collect pallets of excess building supplies to support the construction of their learning center. Tommy Brown at the AU Library Special Collections & Archives helped identify several historically significant items for the library archives. Finally, university vendors recycled several dumpsters of scrap metal and old tires.

ALRM’s recycling and repurposing effort resulted in:
1) micro-auctions making thousands of dollars for the COAG,
2) saving thousand dollars in landfill tipping fees for the COAG,
3) keeping hundreds of yards of excess out of the landfill.

If anyone has questions about how to get started, Bill Capps is a good place to start.

Figure 1. Google (n.d.). [Google Maps Imagery AG Land and Resource Mgt, 925 Camp Auburn Rd, Auburn, AL]. Retrieved August 8, 2019, from,-85.5020707,334m/data=!3m1!1e3

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Reducing The Environmental Footprint of Laboratory Operations

Contributed by Steve Nelson, Associate Director Environmental Health & Safety & Kevin Ives, Communicator, both in Risk Management & Safety

Laboratories performing chemical and biological research and teaching provide a critical service to society. However, these benefits come at a disproportional environmental cost in the form of energy and resource consumption, as well as waste generation. When most people think of laboratory waste we picture waste chemicals and biological materials, as well as solid waste or trash. Granted the chemical and biological waste generated by laboratory operations make up a significant portion of the regulated waste generated by a research university, but chemical and biological waste is not the only form of waste.

Compared to office and classroom space, laboratories require up to 10 times the amount of energy to operate and use 4 times the amount of water. A single laboratory has the energy footprint of five single-family homes! With regard to energy, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and cooling) make up about 60% of the energy demand for laboratories. This is because air from a lab is not recirculated as in an office building. Rather 100 % of the air from a lab is exhausted to the outside with air exchange rates of 6 – 10 times per hour. Imagine trying to cool your home with all of the windows and doors open in the middle of summer.

But are labs inherently wasteful or are there opportunities for waste minimization, such as reducing the demand for energy and water or the volume of solid or hazardous waste generated? In order to minimize the environmental impacts of laboratory operations, we must reevaluate how we operate our labs. For example, why use ethidium bromide, a highly toxic mutagenic chemical, when nonhazardous substitutes are available? Is there a reason that a heated water bath needs to run all night just so that it is hot when you arrive in the morning? Would you leave your oven running all day so that it is pre-heated for dinner when you get home?

Since the early 2000s many colleges and universities have introduced Green Labs programs to improve efficiency, protect human health, and reduce the environmental footprint of their laboratory facilities. Each school’s program is unique to the institution but all share some common themes and initiatives. These programs address four key areas of laboratory operations relative to environmental impacts: Chemical Use, Waste Generation, Water Consumption, and Energy Consumption.

With regard to waste generation, Green Labs addresses the three areas of waste minimization: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Many programs include opportunities for recycling of laboratory plastics and other materials, which can significantly reduce the volume of solid waste generated. Worldwide, labs generate about 12 billion pounds of plastics each year. Some materials such as Styrofoam coolers present a challenge, as there have been very few options for recycling. However, the options for recycling and reuse are growing. For example, used Styrofoam from the University of Alabama at Birmingham labs is sent to a facility, which melts and molds them into polystyrene products. Other options include reusing the coolers as packaging for other shipments or returning them to the supplier. Additional opportunities for recycling include latex and nitrile gloves, electronic waste, and even some solvents.

Implementing Green Chemistry practices presents opportunities for reducing hazards in the lab as well as making laboratory practices more sustainable. The principles of of Green Chemistry include reducing the hazards of chemical syntheses and designing safer chemicals as well as reducing resource consumption. For example, if we design our chemical syntheses using nonhazardous or less hazardous materials we make our labs safer and reduce the toxicity of the waste generated. MIT’s Green Chemistry Wizard provides a useful tool for identifying less hazardous or non-hazardous chemical substitutes.

An area, which has been relatively untapped but has huge potential, is the sharing of research space and equipment. Redistribution of unwanted glassware and plasticware to other labs in the institution or the local education authorities is an example. The University of Georgia collaborates with their Local Educational Agency to distribute unwanted lab glassware and other equipment to local school science programs. Some schools such as the University of Colorado Boulder allow researchers to rent space in an ultralow temperature freezer for sample storage. This allows a lab, which has limited needs for storage, to avoid the cost of purchasing one of these freezers and saves the institution on energy demands.

Energy Star LogoMany Green Labs programs target lab hoods and ultralow temperature freezers (AKA -80 Freezer). These two items typically represent the largest energy loads in a lab and present the greatest opportunity for reducing energy demand. For the past several years, the International Institute of Sustainable Labs (I2SL) and the My Green Lab organization have sponsored the “International Freezer Challenge”. Participants in the challenge reduced their energy consumption by over 6 million kWh or enough energy to power about 850 homes. The CDC in Atlanta achieved energy reduction of more than 320,000 kWh annually through clearing old samples, which allowed removal of 44 freezers; adjusting temperature set points on 60 freezers from -80 to -70; and defrosting/cleaning of 100 freezers. The CDC estimates cost savings from this program of more than $127,000 annually. In addition, “Shut the Sash” initiatives designed to reduce energy wasted through hoods being left open when not in use have been very successful for cutting energy demands. Leaving the sash open on a single fume hood for a day can waste as much energy as three single-family homes. In addition, replacing old equipment with modern energy efficient models can also cut waste and save energy. For example, replacing an old-style, -80 freezer with an Energy Star model can save 20 kWh per day or about the equivalent of a single-family home.

Cumulatively these types of changes can have substantial benefits in the form of reduced energy consumption and the associated emission of greenhouse gases, as well as cost savings. A pilot study at Harvard University found that shutting hood sashes in the 278 hoods operated by the Chemistry & Chemical Biology Department saved as much as $250,000 a year and prevented emissions of 350 tons of greenhouse gases. Going further, some schools have begun focusing on fine-tuning their laboratory buildings to optimize efficiency and reduce energy use. The University of California Irvine is an example of what can be accomplished with this Smart Labs approach. While most facilities have plateaued at 20 – 25% energy savings, UC Irvine is achieving 50% reductions in energy consumption in their lab buildings!

Recently, Auburn University formed a Green Labs working group to explore the potential for implementing a Green Labs program. The working group includes representatives from the Office of Sustainability, Facilities Management, Risk Management and Safety, and the Office of the Vice President of Research. If you are interested in participating in the Green Labs program or just want additional information, please feel free to email Steve Nelson in Risk Management and Safety or visit Auburn’s Green Labs webpage.

Green Lab Resources

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Recycling: It’s a Team Effort

Contributed by Hollie Lee, Department of Clinical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine

Walmart founder, Sam Walton, said, “We’re all working together; that’s the secret.” Let me tell you about our little secret! At Auburn, we are making a difference in waste reduction at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) by working together. The CVM has partnered with AU Waste Reduction and Recycling Department (WRRD), AU Risk Management and Safety (RMS), AU Office of Sustainability (OS), as well as our scientific supply vendor, VWR™, to minimize our landfill waste. Our collaborative efforts are making a significant impact on waste reduction.

AU’s WRRD has a great program for taking care of our most recyclable products. At our desks, we have blue bins for mixed paper. In more common areas, we have receptacles for plastic containers, as well as aluminum and steel cans. Flattened cardboard is collected by our custodial contractors, ABM®. WRRD provides larger collection bins that are emptied periodically outside the buildings.

AU’s RMS and OS joined forces to provide battery recycling for the CVM. OS provides the receptacles for collection and RMS provides the management and pick up of recyclable batteries. Why wouldn’t we want batteries in our landfills? When batteries begin to degrade, the chemicals may leak into the ground which can lead to soil and water contamination. By recycling batteries, we are able to keep hazardous material from entering landfills as well as using the recycled materials to fabricate new products. Ultimately, we are conserving precious energy resources and the need to collect new, raw materials.

VWR Lab Bench to the Park BenchOur scientific supply vendor, VWR™, recently began “From the Lab Bench to the Park Bench,” a pipet tip box recycling program. This program offers a convenient opportunity to recycle an abundant source of waste found in every laboratory. With this program, we are diverting hard-to-recycle plastic (typically #5) from the waste stream. This easy-to-use recycling program provides boxes for waste collection, shipment, and recycling for used pipet tip boxes. All brands of plastic pipet tip boxes are accepted. The plastic waste is ground, melted, and pelletized through extrusion by TerraCycle™ to create recycled resin. The resin is then combined with other recycled plastics to make park benches and other eco-friendly products.

This concerted effort between departments and vendors at AU is phenomenal! It couldn’t happen without essential personnel combining knowledge, enthusiasm, and collegiality for a common purpose. Reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills conserves our natural resources, prevents pollution, and ultimately saves energy.

How do the numbers stack up?

TeamPounds of Recycled Materials (Jan-Jun 2019)
Waste Reduction and Recycling Department (all of AU)670,976
Risk Management and Safety (CVM only)100
VWR/Terracycle (CVM only)455

The following team members made this happen:

  • Joan Hicken, AU Waste Reduction & Recycling Department
  • Michael Freeman, AU Risk Management and Safety
  • Cassandra Kitchens, AU Department of Pathobiology. CVM
  • Hollie Lee, AU Department of Clinical Sciences
  • Julie Woods, VWR Sales Representative for AU

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