Building Community: A Process of Purpose

Post contributed by Mark Wilson, Director of Civic Learning Initiatives, Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities, College of Liberal Arts

In my Introduction to Community and Civic Engagement course this past semester, two students made comments that continue to echo in my mind, long after the grades were turned in and credits received.  The comments stemmed from the class periods where we turn our Haley Center classroom into a circle for deliberation, one of the civic skills we develop in the course. Civic work can’t be done in rows; citizens have to sit shoulder-to-shoulder and eyeball-to-eyeball to work through difficult issues.

As a neutral moderator of our deliberations, I chose some particularly difficult issues, including mass shootings, America’s role in the world in a time of war, and bullying.  Issues that require deliberation don’t have just two choices.  These are complex issues, and the issue guides we use provide three options or paths we might take to make a difference, all of which are in tension with each other. So there we sit, talking through the pros and cons of the approaches, and sometimes students tell personal stories that illustrate why they are passionate about a particular aspect or challenge related to the problem.Graphic of people in a circle

One day, as I directed students to “circle up,” one student, with her head back and her arms dangling to the side, exclaimed, “Aghgh.  This class is so emotional!” She wasn’t protesting the activity, at least not for long, but she named one important reason why citizens are reluctant to build community across lines of comfort: Community building and decision making is more than critical thinking; critical feeling is required.

On another occasion, one student, reflecting on this community practice of deliberation, commented that while he enjoyed our classroom work sessions on issues, he could not imagine his hometown participating in a similar exercise. “From where I’m from, people are so certain they understand the problem and the answer,” he said, “They can’t imagine listening to understand a perspective other than their own.” He’s right, though I hope, for all of our sakes, he’s not completely right.

These two students put their finger on two important challenges to community building: 1) The willingness of community builders to put their whole selves out there, people who can think and feel critically; 2) The existence of communities where difference is not denigrated but explored, where listening is used to understand, not destroy. The first challenge might solve the second challenge, and when success is found, we will echo the ancient Greeks who called deliberation, “The talk we use to teach ourselves before we act.”

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Shooting for Gold STARS

Post contributed by Shelby Hall, Office of Sustainability Intern

This spring, Auburn will begin reassessing the campus to renew its Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, & Rating System (STARS) rating. STARS is a self-reporting assessment used by universities and colleges to measure sustainability progress on campus. The program was developed by The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education to empower leaders in higher education to take charge in the ongoing sustainability transformation.  STARS also helps to build a network for sharing information about sustainability in higher education, and provides incentive to improve sustainability initiatives and build community on campus.

Economy, environment, and society are considered to be interconnected components of sustainability, with each aspect depending on the others. AASHE defines sustainability to encompass human and ecological health, social justice, secure economy and a better world for generations to come. The goal of STARS is to convert these broad ideals into measurable objectives that can be used to monitor innovation and progress across college campuses.

There are four major STARS categories, which engage with all aspects of higher education:  Academics, Engagement, Operations, and Planning and Administration. Schools pursue credits to earn points in each category, along with optional Innovation and Leadership points, to be awarded a STARS rating.

Academics considers curriculum and research. Engagement involves both the campus and the public. Operations is a wide view of many different aspects of campus, such as air and climate, buildings, energy, dining, water, waste and transportation. Planning and Administration takes a look at diversity, affordability, wellbeing, investment and finance, and coordination and planning. The optional category gives insight to the university’s innovation and exemplary practices.  

Auburn earned a Silver rating in 2016.

There are 5 different ratings that can be awarded to participating schools: Reporter, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Three schools have recently obtained the highest honors, a STARS Platinum rating. This is an incredible milestone that gives hope to the progress of STARS participants.

Auburn last completed a STARS certification in January 2016, earning a silver rating. As Auburn begins a comprehensive assessment of sustainability practices on campus, the goal is to achieve a gold rating. Over the next year, data will be collected in order to submit a new assessment. We are excited to have the opportunity to renew our commitment to sustainability here on campus, as well as measure the progress that has been made in recent years.


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Get Planning With The Green Event Guide

Post contributed by Hallie Nelson, Office of Sustainability InternAuburn Green Event Guide Cover

Event planning is a huge task, not to mention trying to make the event sustainable. With all the considerations for timing, location, communication strategies, waste management, and more, it gets overwhelming. That’s why we created the Green Event Guide. The guide goes through the planning process step-by-step, from before, to during, and after an event with suggestions to make your event a bit greener. We hope that this makes it easy for you to host events that minimize negative impacts and maximize positive benefits. The guide includes ways to reduce waste, serve sustainable food choices, and communicate effectively without printing! There are tips for planning any event, including meetings, conferences, parties, and tailgates.

You can find the full guide, which includes explanations and resources, online. We also have an interactive PDF checklist that accompanies the guide, so you can track your planning process. Doing things a little differently can make a big difference. We hope this guide helps make event planning easier and makes your events greener!

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The 2017 Sustainability Picnic Gives Food, Games, and Prizes Without Leaving Behind Waste

Post contributed by Ingrid Schnader, Office of Sustainability Intern

Photo of a lizard
Creatures of all shapes and sizes enjoyed the festivities.

Auburn students, employees, community members, dogs, and reptiles gathered around a grassy clearing in the Davis Arboretum August 23 to kick the fall semester off with the 5th annual Sustainability Picnic.

After the sky cleared up on that rainy Wednesday afternoon, the Sustainability Picnic enticed the community to come outside for games, live music, and food. The event encouraged people to learn more about sustainability-related opportunities in the Auburn community by visiting the colorful booths that surrounded the space.

Interns with Auburn’s Office of Sustainability offered guests a bingo card, which they completed by visiting the tables and learning about each organization. A sleek, orange and white bike donated by Parking Services enticed guests to play the game for an opportunity to win. Players received up to three raffle tickets for every bingo they filled on their cards, but only those who “blacked out” their cards by visiting all of the organizations listed were entered to win the grand prize bike.

While guests won gift cards, t-shirts, coffee beans and other prizes in the drawing, they also picked up blue frisbees, turn them upside-down, and use them as plates for dinner. Over 350 attendees lined up to scoop some of Tiger Dining’s vegetarian options onto their frisbee-turned plate.

Photo of people eating.
Picnickers enjoyed food from Tiger Dining that featured local ingredients.

After dinner, guests had the option of keeping the plate and silverware or giving it back to be washed and reused later. If food or paper remained on the plate, the attendees walked to one of the two waste stations to separate the remains into recycling or compost bins. However, there were no trash cans to be found in order to meet the event’s “no-waste” goal.

At the event’s end, the time came to announce the winner of the bike. Although the other door prizes stole the picnickers’ hearts as well, those who excelled at the bingo game waited in anticipation for this moment. A sustainability intern stood at the mic and fished through a basket of about 20 blacked-out bingo cards before finally calling out the winner’s name. This announcement was met with a squeal as the new bike owner ran through the crowd to accept her prize.

As people began to filter out of the arboretum, the remaining plates and silverware were either placed in one of the bins at the waste station or carried home with the guests to be used again later. After everything was sorted into recycling, compost, and things to be washed and reused, only .2 pounds of trash remained.

Although people thanked those working in Auburn’s Office of Sustainability for the successful event, it was made possible with the help of co-sponsors: Tiger Dining, the Waste Reduction and Recycling Department, the Donald E. Davis Arboretum, Academic Sustainability Programs, and the Natural Resources Management Degree.

Hope to see you next year at the Sustainability picnic!

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Checking into Sustainability at the Hotel at Auburn University

Post contributed by Emily Hedrick, Office of Sustainability Intern

Photo of the Hotel at Auburn University herb garden
The herb garden nestled in beside the Hotel’s pool.

The Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center is known for its partnership with the university, outstanding southern hospitality, and forward-thinking processes for a successful business. Last fall, Conference Sales Manager Marlena Gillis stumbled upon an article about a company that collects “leftover” soap, shampoo, and conditioner, and donates the items to developing countries. Marlena saw the benefits of that process, to collect the items they have and provide for others. She shared the story with the hotel’s leadership team, and they all agreed that the hotel should look into more sustainable options offered in the hospitality field. General Manager Hans van der Reijden liked the thought of a more sustainable hotel and felt that a team could conquer this task with Marlena as their chair. With the sustainability team in place, the Hotel at Auburn University is in the process of adopting and practicing new techniques to make for a more sustainable hotel.

I work in the hotel’s restaurant, Ariccia Trattoria, or A-T, and when it was announced at our employee party in February that a sustainability team would be coming together, I was eager to join. Our first sustainability meeting was held in March, and almost every department in the hotel was represented. Together we began the nine-step quality planning process for a new sustainability initiative. We identified those that would be affected- the hotel guests, guests’ pets, employees, Auburn University and the Auburn community. We identified key factors in our movement- cost savings, reduction of environmental impact, a healthier work environment, safety, and community outreach. Then we talked about sustainable processes already in place: light sensors in the Terrace Room; the cardboard recycling; the electric car charging station; and the herb garden for the restaurant. We discussed how we can better use and promote the initiatives we have in place. From there, we began brainstorming possibilities to progress the idea of a sustainable hotel in each of the departments- administrative, sales, guest services, restaurant, culinary, banquets, engineering, and housekeeping.

Photo of electric vehicle charging station at the Hotel at Auburn University
A Chevy Volt makes use of one of the two charging ports at the Hotel.

With a list of ideas in hand, we were assigned to research the items we plan on pursuing. There are small things we are eager to fix, like having recycling bins in each department and in public areas, cleaning with “green” products, reducing our paper usage, and putting signs in the guest rooms about energy efficient options. Then there are bigger ideas we plan to research and work towards, like efficient lights, showers, toilets, washers, and dryers. These ideas will take more planning, research, and money. With the renovations of the conference center, we even talked about a rooftop garden in the future. Our ultimate goal is to become LEED-certified; thereby formally demonstrating our Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. This third-party verification draws attention to building and designing strategies aimed at improving performance for energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and conservation of resources and awareness of their impacts.

“With this team, we can use the processes that we already have in place and expand on our ideas to make an impact in our hotel for the future,” said Marlena.

I am excited to be part of a progressive group that will lead the way for the Hotel at Auburn University and Dixon Conference Center to become a more sustainable hotel for the future. There are so many opportunities for each department in our hotel to do what they can to work towards all-around efficiency. As part of this fundamental team, we will do our best to research, plan and enact sustainable practices to lead by example and push every Capella Hotel property towards a sustainable future.

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Sustainability in Action: Matt Preisser

Photo of Matt Preisser scuba diving
Matt on one of his many scuba diving adventures.

Contributed by Kenzley Defler, Office of Sustainability Intern

Born in Florida and having ten years of scuba diving experience, it’s no wonder Matthew Preisser developed a love for the outdoors. His firsthand knowledge of the polluted water and dying wildlife in our oceans also began an interest in sustainability; specifically, how these dirty conditions could be cleaned up and restored by nature to a healthy state. Matt’s passion for the environment led him to become involved with the Newport Aquarium in Northern Kentucky where he started volunteering during his sophomore year of high school. This was the first of many ways Matt acted on his concern for protecting marine environments in an overall effort to live more sustainably. A few years have passed and Matt now attends Auburn University where he is a junior in Biosystems Engineering with minors in German and Sustainability.

After coming to Auburn, Matt’s interest and involvement in sustainability only grew. He directly applies his commitment through his internship with the campus Office of Sustainability. Matt believes resistance to new ideas, often caused by lack of knowledge, can greatly inhibit sustainability initiatives on a college campus. However, he works to combat challenges like these, serving as an example in his efforts to bring about positive changes. Last year, Matt designed and created an online sustainability map of Auburn University’s campus, which helped raise awareness of the buildings, programs, and resources exhibiting sustainability right here in the area. This project, along with other work done by the office, increases acceptance and appreciation for new ideas rooted in sustainability principles. Going into his second year as an intern, Matt is very excited to continue making a difference on campus through his work.

Photo of Matt Preisser at work in the Newport Aquarium
Matt hard at work at the Newport Aquarium.

Matt’s long-held love of the coast also led him to an internship this summer with the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Seattle. There he worked to research the environmental possibilities of renewable energy; specifically doing a geolocation analysis to determine future markets for marine energy production. Matt looked at both offshore wind and underwater turbines as technologies that work well in Seattle due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean.

This position is similar to what Matt hopes to find in a full-time career upon graduating Auburn. He plans to go to graduate school to continue environmental impacts research. Ideally, Matt wants to live near the coast and follow his interests by working to further increase health and sustainability of marine environments. From his experience at Pacific Northwest this summer, Matt learned that renewable energy production is an emerging market, which must be adapted to each specific area for maximum efficiency and success.

Photo of Matt Preisser at Yellowstone National Park
Matt made sure to visit Yellowstone National Park on his way to Seattle for his internship.

While ocean-based energy production wouldn’t be the most effective approach in Auburn due to the inland geographic location, there are still viable options for renewable energy in Alabama and many great ways people can live more sustainably in the local community. Matt thinks one of the most important steps towards a more sustainable life is integrating respect into daily thoughts and actions. Respect for nature, respect for other people, and respect for the world in which we all live. As a college student, he says the principles of sustainability can be applied in a myriad of ways. While Auburn offers student organizations directly focused on aspects of sustainability, Matt believes the ideas can be incorporated into many other organizations as well. He advises other students wanting to get involved with sustainability to find something they’re passionate about like a club, a team, or an activity, and make that more sustainable. Matt sets an example of what it looks like to be more conscientious about sustainability and to make choices with intention.  If we all do this, our combined efforts will go a long way towards improving our community at Auburn and the world.



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