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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Counting Carbon

As we watch the calendar flip to a new year, we often find ourselves looking back in reflection while simultaneously making resolutions for how we might make our lives in the new year better.  We take personal stock so we can make concrete plans to build a better tomorrow for ourselves. 

Perhaps, it’s time for us to do the same when it comes to our collective selves and how we’re meeting the challenges and seizing the opportunities presented by climate change.  After all, you can look just about anywhere these days to easily witness the harsh new realities of climate change and how we’re falling short of our goals to avert the most catastrophic consequences of our addiction to fossil fuels. And while we each individually have a role to play in helping to address climate change, the magnitude of the situation requires bold and specific action from governments and organizations.  

In this spirit, Auburn has committed to carbon neutrality by 2050.  But just like we do when we make our personal resolutions, we must first take account of our actions from years past, before we can move forward with concrete actions in the future.  In this instance, that means conducting a greenhouse gas inventory.  

Graphic representing scope 1, 2, and 3 greenhouse gas emissions.
Source: Greenhouse Gas Protocol.

Given Auburn’s size and complex amount of activities, completing an inventory requires the participation of people from across campus.  In fact, our office gathers data from over 15 different campus units and from a range of people within those units who manage and report on various data points.  A few things we collect data on probably wouldn’t surprise you, like electricity, natural gas, refrigerant use, and travel. But we also gather data on a few things that you might not think of like fertilizer use, waste sent to the landfill, and livestock, among others.  We then take all the gathered information and use the Sustainability Indicator Management & Analysis Platform (SIMAP) to generate a report detailing our scope 1 & 2 emissions and a portion of our scope 3 emissions.  

It’s important to note that our inventory isn’t perfect.  First, we aren’t actually reporting on all university-based activity.  Instead, we’ve chosen to focus on the main Auburn campus, which means we’re excluding both the positive and negative impacts that come from university operations around the state of Alabama.  Second, we also aren’t reporting on all sources of emissions for the main campus. Like most institutions, we so far haven’t captured information on all of our scope 3 emissions. Finally, some of the data we collect doesn’t directly align with the way we must enter it into the SIMAP tool, particularly when it comes to travel.  As a result, we have to make some assumptions and in some instances knowingly overestimate our emissions.  

Regardless of these limitations, our inventory does give us a sound understanding of how our choices as an institution, and as the individuals within it, impact climate change.  Such information will be critical to formulating our new resolutions and targets when we look to take further responsibility for building a better tomorrow by updating our Climate Action Plan in the near future so as to move us closer to our 2050 goal.  

Graphic depicting total greenhouse gas emissions of Auburn University by fiscal year.

Graph depicting fiscal year 2017 greenhouse gas emissions for Auburn University by emission category.

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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: Solar Power & Climate Change–Closing the Emissions Gap

“We are like tenant farmers, chopping down the fence around our house for fuel, when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy—sun, wind, and tide.”  Thomas Edison in 1931, as quoted by James D. Newton

On November 26th, 2019, the United Nations Environment Program released its Emissions Gap Report 2019.  The gap the report describes is the one between where greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are, where they are headed, and where they need to be to maintain a stable and safe climate.

In a nutshell, the gap is way too big and it is growing.  According to the report, global temperatures could rise as much as 3.9 degrees Celsius, or 7 degrees Fahrenheit, by the end of the century.  The internationally stated goal for global temperature rise is 1.5 degrees C, or 2.7 degrees F.  The stated absolute upper limit of temperature increase that we can reasonably tolerate is 2.0 degrees C, or 3.6 degrees F.

Areas in the northern latitudes have already seen temperature increases above 2.0 degrees C.

Accompanying the report was a statement released by Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. In part, that statement reads: “Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions.  We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated.”

So now what? I have written before about Project Drawdown, which identifies the top 100 solutions to global warming.  Project Drawdown’s research discovered that humanity is already doing – on a small scale – everything we need to do to reverse global warming and draw down GHG concentrations to a safe level.  We just have to dramatically and quickly scale up what we already know how to do.  Viewed through this lens, Project Drawdown sees the climate crisis to be an opportunity to do things differently and in the process restore a safe and stable climate while creating millions of new and sustainable jobs.

Several ready-made solutions identified by Project Drawdown relate to solar energy.  At least three of them present great opportunities here in Alabama.

One is building more large-scale, or utility-scale, solar farms for large-scale energy users like Auburn University.   According to Drawdown: “When their entire life cycle is taken into account, solar farms curtail 94 percent of the carbon emissions that coal plants emit and completely eliminate emissions of sulfur and nitrous oxides, mercury, and particulates….Currently .4 percent of global electricity generation, utility-scale solar PV grows to 10 percent (by 2050)  in our analysis…. That increase could avoid 36.9 gigatons (36.9 billion tons) of carbon dioxide emissions, while saving $5 trillion in operational costs…—the financial impact of producing energy without fuel.”  And solar energy has become very inexpensive.  Wow!

Another solar solution is rooftop solar for homes and small businesses. If rooftop solar deployment can grow to 7 percent of global electricity generation by 2050, a reasonable expectation, that would reduce GHG emissions by 24.6 gigatons.  It would cost $453.14 billion to implement and save $3.46 trillion net operational savings.  Wow!

Solar thermal, or solar water heating, is a third solution.  According to Drawdown, heating water consumes 25 percent of home energy use and 12 percent of energy use in commercial buildings.  This simple technology has been around for a long time and can be easily installed.  Drawdown’s impact assessment: “If solar water heating grows from 5.5 percent of the addressable market to 25 percent, the technology can deliver emissions reductions of 6.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide and save households $774 billion in energy costs by 2050. In our calculations of up-front costs, we assume solar water heaters supplement and do not replace electric and gas boilers.” Wow!

The Southern Environmental Law Center reports that Alabama ranks 13th nationally in raw solar energy potential, and 8th in potential economic benefit from solar generation of electricity.

What are we waiting for?  Thomas Edison saw the future nearly 90 years ago.

By developing state policies that facilitate the rapid development of unlimited, pollution-free solar energy we can do our part as Alabamians to reduce emissions now, and in the process reap significant economic benefits in terms of lower energy costs and substantial job growth.

One important step is for Alabama to establish renewable energy portfolio standards, something a majority of states have already done. From a November 1, 2019 post at the National Conference of State Legislatures website:

States have been very active in the past year revising their Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which require that a specified percentage of the electricity that utilities sell comes from renewable resources. States have created these standards to diversify their energy resources, promote domestic energy production and encourage economic development. Renewable energy policies help drive the nation’s $64 billion market for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. These policies can play an integral role in state efforts to diversify their energy mix, promote economic development and reduce emissions. Roughly half of the growth in U.S. renewable energy generation since 2000 can be attributed to state renewable energy requirements.

Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and three territories have established RPS.  Eight states have established voluntary renewable energy goals.  Alabama is one of only twelve states that have neither renewable standards nor voluntary goals.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication conducts opinion surveys on climate change and renewable energy and maps the results.  The September 19, 2019, Climate Opinion Map for Alabama reveals that at least half of Alabamians want the governor and local officials to do more to address global warming and a majority of Alabamians support the state requiring utilities to produce 20% of the electricity they generate from renewable sources.

Again I ask, what are we waiting for?  As climate science makes clear, we need to act quickly and on a large scale.  Making the transition to utility-scale and rooftop solar energy will help us do what we must to address the climate crisis while, as the National Conference on State Legislatures says, diversifying our energy resources, promoting domestic energy production, and encouraging economic development.


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Plant Ahead Tree Project: Planting with Purpose

Contributed by Allison Foster, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences

Coming into Auburn, I had an idea of what I wanted to do but I wasn’t completely sure. My freshman year I took a Conservation Biology Learning Community class and I was exposed to ideas I didn’t really know much about, but I was interested in learning about.

I ended up changing my major to Wildlife Ecology and Management because the people I had met in that major seemed so dedicated and cared about what they were doing. This past summer I was part of a Research Experience for Undergraduates at the University of South Florida, and it focused on Weather, Climate, and Society. We had a variety of guest speakers and one that stuck out to me was Dr. Kim Cobb, from Georgia Tech. Her presentation was about little ways that you, as an individual, can lessen your carbon footprint. She mentioned an organization called Trees Atlanta and I decided to look into it.

I found out that planting trees is one of the best things you can do for the environment. There are so many different ways to reduce your carbon footprint, from the way you travel, what you eat, and what you buy. These are little things that can add up to so much more. Planting trees affects carbon emissions by removing carbon that is already in the atmosphere.

I became inspired to put on something like this at Auburn. I’m so excited to announce that at Auburn, we are having an event called PlanT Ahead where the Auburn community will come together to plant trees. This event will not only impact us locally but will hopefully bring awareness and spread elsewhere.

Learning about climate change can be overwhelming, and it can often feel like there’s no way to help. Small things can do wonders, and that’s why I invite all of y’all to join us in this event and make a difference in your community! Plant Ahead: A Tree Planting Event is taking place at the Mary Olive Thomas Demonstration Forest on January 22nd.

Register to receive pre-event safety details and to get pizza at the event.

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Constructing a Gold Standard on the Field & in the Future

Contributed by Auburn Athletics Student Communicator

Phelps Gambill ImageThe world is ever-changing as we advance with new technologies and the industries that support it. With this comes even more construction for renovations and new buildings.

How does that change co-exist with the world around us as we strive to keep the Earth green and sustainable for the future? Junior tight end Phelps Gambill is one of the many Auburn student-athletes who can help us understand our move forward into how these projects go green for a cleaner job site.

“My background is in the construction industry and I am a building science major here at Auburn,” he said. “I have had a couple classes on sustainable construction, and I have worked on multiple jobs in my career focused on different ways we can get LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, which is how you get the accolades to be a green company.

“One important thing could be something as simple as ordering local materials for your job site,” he said. “You would not order parts from California if you were doing a job in Florida. You order from the same local area where your building site is, not only helping out the local community but also not burning as much fuel to transport those materials.”

Gambill is hands-on with this material and knows the cost of wasteful sites that do not consider the proper procedures to be a green company. That is why he plans on moving into this business space, eventually run a green-certified company of his own.

“I want to start my own contracting and general building/development company,” he said. “I have already had a goal set that I want every single one of my jobs to be LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified gold standard. That is my main goal and something I will always fight for as I move towards my future.”

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Campus Changemaker: Caroline Leonard

Post Contributed by Taylor Kraabel, Office of Sustainability Employee Engagement Coordinator

Caroline Leonard has successfully climbed the Auburn University career ladder. She began working as a student employee seven years ago, eventually landing a job in the Office of the Registrar as a Transcript Evaluator. Last month, she officially transitioned from this role to an Admissions Advisor for Auburn’s Graduate School. Caroline appreciates the opportunity to continue pursuing her professional goals with the Auburn family. 

Getting Involved with the Peers Network

Caroline Leonard
Caroline Leonard

Caroline’s first memory of sustainability stems from her childhood in Dothan, AL. Growing up, she and her family would bring their recycling to the local recycling plant and sort it. Since then, she has always had an interest in incorporating sustainability into her personal routine. Whether it’s conscious purchasing or volunteering for Auburn’s Green Game, Caroline says she is always open to new sustainability practices. Recently, she desires to apply this perspective to her professional life with the Peers Network. 

Since the Office of the Registrar and the Office of Sustainability are neighbors on campus, Caroline says she first heard about the Peers Network after meeting some of our full-time staff. After learning more about the program, Caroline was excited to get more involved. Although she considers herself a “beginner” in sustainability, she already practices many sustainable habits, such as using a reusable water bottle.

Since becoming a Peers Ambassador, Caroline’s favorite part has been meeting others from different departments who share her interest. Looking toward the future, she is excited to work with the Peers Network and Office of Sustainability to learn more about how she can make her workplace more sustainable.

 Working Toward Change

Currently, Auburn’s Graduate School building, Hargis Hall, is already participating in some actions that support sustainability. For instance, Caroline says a Weagle Water station was just installed in the building. Hargis also houses bins for paper, plastic and ink cartridge recycling. As an office, Caroline says they try to reduce wasted energy and water as much as possible, never leaving lights on in empty rooms and reporting things like leaky faucets right away. It is simple actions such as these that open the door to other sustainability practices. 

Speaking of new practices, one of Caroline’s goals is to cut down the waste generated by meetings and events in the Graduate School. Currently, meetings often involve printed agendas, surplus food, disposable utensils, and other items that could be replaced or modified with sustainable alternatives. For example, emailing meeting agendas instead of printing them is just one way to decrease paper consumption. There are also a few options to divert excess food from the landfill. Whether it’s through Campus Kitchens, the Share Meals app, or just encouraging employees to take home leftovers, decreasing food waste is a great way to be sustainable. Caroline plans to explore these potential change campaigns and others to determine what would work best in Hargis Hall. 

Sustainability Challenges and Inspiring Initiatives  

Like many others who have gotten involved in sustainability, Caroline realizes that one of the greatest challenges to sustainability is the growing immensity of the problem. She thinks often times people get intimidated and pessimistic about the more dire aspects, such as climate change. In other words, the classic “I’m only one person I can’t make a difference” mindset. Consequently, Caroline says this makes it much more difficult to find a place to get started with sustainability. What problem do we tackle first? Is what I’m doing actually helping? Fortunately, people like Caroline are determined to push through the immensity and uncertainty, knowing that one person CAN make a difference in sustainability. 

At Auburn, Caroline’s favorite sustainability initiatives are Campus Kitchens and some of Tiger Dining’s practices. As of now, Tiger Dining has a commitment to procure 20% of our food from within the state of Alabama and/or a 200-mile radius. This initiative addresses every piece of the Sustainability Compass: Nature, Economy, Society, and Wellbeing. Through this commitment, Auburn is supporting local agriculture, reducing its carbon footprint, providing healthier food and improving local society. On a similar note, Campus Kitchens aims to reduce Auburn’s food waste while helping those who are food insecure, addressing all sides of the compass as well. While these are by far not the only sustainability initiatives at Auburn, Caroline is inspired by how these efforts are able to address so many issues. As a Peers Ambassador, Caroline hopes to learn more about programs such as these and how to successfully incorporate them into the Graduate School. 

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