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Trash Talk

Posted by: gregwarehj | July 3, 2015 | No Comment |

There are some things that you can’t close your eyes to once you’ve seen them. The worldwide waste problem that humanity is facing has to be addressed. The problem has been burned and buried, but the giant trash elephant in the room has to be addressed. According to the EPA, in 2013, the United States alone produced over 254 million tons of waste. Of that, 34.3% was recycled or composted. Over the last 25 years, recycling has become more commonplace and the recycling rate has more than doubled from 16% in 1990. Through source reduction, composting, and recycling, the United States has made great strides to reduce the waste produced and sent to the landfill. The goal for zero waste is to have 90% recovery of the resources that would otherwise be sent to the landfill. We are a long way from the 90% goal, but it is a goal that we can all strive for. Unfortunately, these numbers don’t account for industrial waste, only municipal waste, which “consists of everyday items we use and then throw away” (EPA). The EPA states the industrial waste is approximately 7.6 billion tons per year.


The industrial waste is linked to our municipal waste as the hidden costs behind our consumption. In order to reduce both municipal and industrial waste, we have to be active in our lives and communities. Civic engagement and sustainable living are closely tied together. In order to truly be sustainable, we have to support each other in the community. One way of supporting each other is by sharing knowledge and skills that can help create a ripple effect of lasting change and mindset altering. Reducing consumption, mindful purchasing, recycling, and composting are all great things that we can do to start a change. If we strive towards these practices and effectively communicate the urgency of the waste problem, it will hopefully be infectious to the people around us and spread from the ground up to the top.


Buy products made locally, or even learn how to make replacements of some of these things yourself. When purchasing commercially produced products, stop and ask yourself if you really need it. Chances are you won’t need as much as you think. Placing a compost and a recycling bin right next to your trash is extremely easy and takes a short time to get used to. Encourage and educate the people in your sphere of influence about the small changes that can be made in order to make a large change overall.


It’s not a big commitment and it’s only made through small changes. When we add a few slight inconveniences (that will quickly become habitual) to our daily routine, we can start to make a change that will become normal for generations to come. I dream that future generations will have the default mindset of “how can this be reused or recycled” instead of the current “but the dumpster is so far away” mindset. It will be a long process, but change is already happening. We can only do it together and I hope we can all agree that it’s face the waste.

-Arthur Phillips


Arthur is a rising senior at the College, majoring in Philosophy

Arthur is a rising senior at the College, with a major in Philosophy

under: Zero Waste and Civic Engagement
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Commons Activism

Posted by: gregwarehj | July 2, 2015 | No Comment |

I was thirteen years old when I discovered volunteer work. I was also thirteen years old when I joined my high school’s Environmental Club. At the time, these seemed like two separate events; thirteen-year-old me was just pursuing two completely different interests at the same time.

However, it wasn’t until recently that I realized these two interests – sustainability and civic engagement – were rooted in one core concept: community.


Every living, breathing member of a community has a right to work towards the betterment of that respective community. Whether natural or anthropogenic, local or global, we are part of different communities that require our participation to maintain their function. Civic engagement looks like active citizens working to realize and address social issues that face members of their society – issues like hunger and homelessness. Civic engagement needs communal collaboration in order to be effective and yield positive change and development for the community. Sustainability, too, requires this type of community-first thinking and collaboration in order to be truly effective. We live in a world that has a finite amount of resources that can be regenerated within a certain time for a certain amount of living beings. Whether we choose to believe it or not, there exists a commons from which we gather our needs. Commons activism refers to the duty we have to protect things we all share and ensure that everybody is able to at least satisfy their basic needs from the commons. Both sustainability and civic engagement use commons activism to address inequities within socially constructed systems and imbalanced cycles in the natural world.


This past week I had the benefit of attending a summit that looked at the issues facing people experiencing homelessness and how providing housing and other services can not only be beneficial for the individuals, but the community they’re a part of as well. The Office of Sustainability worked in conjunction with the Center for Civic Engagement and Aramark to help divert waste from the landfill by making the event Zero Waste. It was really interesting to see the different members of the Charleston community come together to talk about the issue and hear from representatives of organizations in other cities that work with homelessness and housing first programs.


Community-first thinking is an important part of active and engaged citizenship and sustainability; it is the lens through which we view the world. However, it is only the first step; it is what we do with what we’ve seen with that lens that makes a lasting impact.

Maybe thirteen-year-old me didn’t know exactly what she was getting herself into when she joined the Environmental Club and started volunteering, or maybe she did. Either way, twenty-one-year old me sure is glad for the journey, the experiences, and the sense of knowing, with certainty, that communities can sustain themselves long after individuals expire.   

-Nicole Fernandez ’16


Nicole is a rising senior at the College, with a double major in Biology and French and Francophone Studies, and a minor in Environmental Studies

Nicole is a rising senior at the College, with a double major in Biology and French and Francophone Studies, and a minor in Environmental Studies

under: Zero Waste and Civic Engagement
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Thank You

Posted by: holmesbc | May 1, 2015 | No Comment |


As I sit on my 3rd flight within 36 hours, I figured this would be a good of time as any to write my blog post for this semester. This post isn’t about a certain topic or event that I attended, but it’s more of a reflection of my time at the Office of Sustainability. With my classes coming to a close and my internship ending, I wanted to take this time to look back since I will be walking across the cistern in 19 short days.


In early December of 2013, I got an email that would change my life in ways that I had no idea. I had been offered an internship with the College of Charleston’s Office of Sustainability to run the Sustainable Greek Initiative for the following semester, something that fit both my interests and my experience as an active member of Kappa Alpha Theta. I had accepted the position and in January 2014 I started what has become the most amazing journey I have been on. I learned so much my first semester with the office and as it turns out, this sustainability thing is kind of awesome and has captivated me in every sense of the word.


Flash forward to the summer of 2014 when I had finished my first semester working at the Office of Sustainability. I was moving to a new apartment when I found out that we had been accepted to present at AASHE that October in Portland, OR. I’m pretty sure I was shaking when I found out, and rightfully so, AASHE is a BFD. The summer of 2014 I also applied, was accepted to, and attended the Summer Institute on Sustainability & Energy at University of Illinois at Chicago. I won’t go into much detail other than it was probably the best 2 weeks of my life. Not only was I learning about current issues in sustainability and energy in an amazing city, but I made incredible friendships with interesting people from around the country. My blog post from last semester was on SISE and it can be found here.


So now here I am. I’m on a plane flying back to Charleston after being in Chicago to present my research at the 2015 SISE Alumni Spring Symposium. I’ve presented at national conferences, attended amazing lectures, made incredible connections, and all in the past year and a half. 18 months ago I would have never thought I would be searching for jobs in the environmental policy field, let alone be flying to Chicago to present my personal research so I don’t know what my life would look like, or where I would be without the Office of Sustainability. This office has given me the opportunity to grow as a person, a young professional, and as a friend. I’ve learned more about myself than I ever could have imagined and for that I can only say thank you. Thank you for the constant support and guidance. Thank you for teaching me that failure is an important part of learning, just like coffee. Thank you for helping me find my path and for letting me know it’s okay to wander off that path sometimes. Thank you for the laughs and the stress and the chaos and the experiences. Thank you for giving me a chance.

-Virginia Whorley ’15

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under: Blog, Office Staff, Virginia Whorely

Worms are Cool: Vermicompost, pt. 2

Posted by: holmesbc | April 28, 2015 | No Comment |

Worms: a faceless animal that to most after the age of five is of little interest. I felt about the same way until around six months ago when my friend Simon and I applied for and received money from the College of Charleston’s Office of Sustainability to start vermicomposting on campus. We got 2,000 Red Wriggler Worms to help break down the schools compost. I went from being disgusted by looking at the worms to petting them like one does to their beloved furry friend.   I am in awe of what these tiny creatures can do! Here is what I have learned from putting my hands in the dirt with worms:


Worms will eat just about anything.

I am amazed to what I will put in the feeding bin and see completely digested by the worms. All types of fruit and veggie scraps, eggshells, tea bags, coffee grounds, newspaper, junk mail, cardboard, and leaves are consumed by the worms- and the list goes on. (We have noticed that the worms tend to avoid citrus peels, due to the acidity). If it was once growing from the ground the chances are they will eat it, and eat it fast! One worm can eat up to half of its body weight in one day.


Worms love each other.

Their companionship comes in more ways than one. The first is their obvious desire to reproduce. The worms reproduce around every 3-4 months, doubling their population. This allows for us to expand the system by adding more stacking bins so the worms have additional space to inhabit and new food can be added to the bins. Worms also support each other when they are stressed. If the temperature, moisture, or food content is too extreme, the worms ball up around each other as a method to protect one another from the poor environment. This is a helpful signal for us to check in with the systems variables and adjust as needed.


Small creature can have big effects.

This does not just apply to worms. Many other creepy-crawlers are attracted to the worm bin. Some critters have a neutral effect such as larvae and fruit flies. Fruit flies are a nuisance but will not directly harm the worms. The larvae actually act similar to the worms and decompose the food with high-quality castings. Lately mites have been enjoying our worm’s food. Mites can be seen crawling on the food scraps and look like little red-brown dots crawling around. When this happens, we pick out as much of the infected material as possible. Mites will not harm the worms but will eat their food.


Dry worms grow- just add water!

When we received the worms, they were about the size of my fingernail. After no food or water for a couple days in the mail, the worms had shrunk. After assembling the bin and adding appropriate bedding for the worms, we left them alone for a few days to adjust to their new home. When we checked on them next the worms were almost unrecognizable! They were darker in color and some were as long as my pinky finger. This amazing survival technique showed me the durability and evolutionary intelligence behind such a tiny creature often regarded as simplistic.


Imitating worms isn’t just for the dance floor anymore.

Dealing with waste issues, our world needs other solutions than filling up landfills. Taking nature’s own systems, proven to work through years of evolution, and using them to solve problems is where future technology is headed. Using worms to break down food and paper waste is natural, efficient, and easy. These worms are showing me how breathtaking this natural process can be. We do not need machines and chemicals to accomplish daunting problems. Sometimes the answer is right beneath our feet- we just need to look!


And an obligatory worm selfie:worms


-Makenna Coon, ’16

under: Guest Bloggers

#CofCMoves: Alexa Thacker Moves by CARTA

Posted by: holmesbc | April 8, 2015 | No Comment |

How do you move? Do you walk, bike, or use public transit? Join the Office of Sustainability and participate in the College’s first official event celebrating the different modes of transportation that the College community uses to commute to campus. On April 9th, during Sustainability Week, let us know how you move by using #CofCMoves and why you move the way you do!

We asked Alexa Thacker of the Office of Institution Events why she rides CARTA.IMG_6052

Office of Sustainability: What is your role at the College and how long have you worked here?
Alexa Thacker: I serve as Facilities and Events Support in the Office of Institutional Events and have been at the College for 11 years.
OOS: Why do you bus, bike, walk, and/or carpool rather than driving?
AT: I take CARTA for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it’s convenient and a perk of working at the College, and I don’t have to worry about traffic and downtown parking and expensive garages.  I can get work done or read a book and relax on the bus ride instead of having to focus on the road and the nutty drivers around me.  It also reduces wear and tear on my car, saves on gas, and helps me feel better about my footprint since I’m not just one more person driving to work alone.
OOS: How long have you been doing so?
AT: Approximately 6 years
OOS: How far do you commute daily?
AT: 20 miles round trip
OOS: What are the benefits to commuting by bus versus driving alone?
AT: Besides the reasons I mentioned above, I get to catch up with folks that I might not normally get to chat with while we’re waiting for the bus.  It’s also sometimes an extreme exercise in patience, especially when the bus is running late and you have obligations that are being impacted.  But I figure I’ve usually been placed in the situation for a reason, and I just need to look for the positives in it.
OOS: What do you value most about the way you commute?
AT: Being able to catch a few extra winks of sleep while on the bus.
OOS: What is the biggest challenge you face as a commuter?
AT: Late buses!  Particularly when the weather is not perfect and you’re standing out at the stop and can’t get information from the CARTA dispatcher about when the bus may be arriving.
OOS: What are some improvements you’d like to see?
 AT: A major improvement that has already helped is the online Bus Tracker.  When I first started riding, CARTA had some sort of notification system that was completely useless; I think it actually only existed in name only.  The Bus Tracker gives a much more accurate time frame of arrival and departure times at a certain stop, yet I do think they could add in text notifications or warnings that indicate when a bus is in an accident or has broken down along with an ETA of next service so that we can make alternative arrangements as necessary.
OOS: Would you recommend this method to others?
AT: I do.  Most people are surprised when I say I take a bus to and from work.  I think it’s great.  I, however, can only speak to using the Express Bus and the DASH Trolley system.
OOS: Do you have any fun commuting stories?

AT: One time I was just zoned on my way home in the afternoon; I have no idea what I was thinking about.  But I climbed aboard the bus, recognizing the driver.  I didn’t pay too much attention to the folks riding, though a few looked new.  We get to the interchange on Meeting and instead of taking a right to Mt. P, the driver goes left.  I’m thinking, “what the heck?!”  It’s then that I realize I had gotten on the wrong bus and was on my way to North Charleston; the driver was covering a different shift and I didn’t look to see which bus was which.  So I ended up riding all the way to the North Charleston K-Mart and back downtown to the Charleston Museum and got on the next bus to Mt. P.  I did get quite a bit of paperwork done that afternoon during that detour!

under: #CofCMoves, Alexa Thacker, CARTA

#CofCMoves: Brian Scholtens Moves by Bike

Posted by: holmesbc | April 2, 2015 | No Comment |

How do you move? Do you walk, bike, or use public transit? Join the Office of Sustainability and participate in the College’s first official event celebrating the different modes of transportation that the College community uses to commute to campus. On April 9th, during Sustainability Week, let us know how you move by using #CofCMoves and why you move the way you do.

We interviewed Dr. Brian Scholtens of the Biology Department about why he bikes.IMG_5912

Office of Sustainability: What is your role at the College and how long have you worked here?

Brian Scholtens: I am a professor in the Biology Dept, and have been at the College for 23 years.

OOS: Why do you bus, bike, walk, and/or carpool rather than driving?

BS: I bike to work when possible.  That ends up being dependent on my schedule and the weather.  I enjoy biking to work for at least two reasons.  It is a great way to build exercise into my day, and it also reduces my carbon footprint.

OOS: How long have you been doing so?

BS: About 5 years.

OOS: How far do you commute daily?

My ride was about 8 miles each way until we moved to Harbor Walk.  Now it is about 7 ½ miles.

OOS: What are the benefits to commuting by bike versus driving alone?

BS: Great exercise and reduced carbon footprint.

OOS: What do you value most about the way you commute?

BS: I like the exercise and time to think without electronic interruptions.

OOS: What is the biggest challenge you face as a commuter?

BS: The biggest challenge is my schedule, which varies enough that I can’t always carve out commuting time.

OOS: What are some improvements you’d like to see?

BS: My commuting route is quite nice, with good, off-road bike paths.  Others, that would like to bike, aren’t so lucky. Every street and road improvement project should include planning for safe bike paths, not just a lane marked on an already existing road.

OOS: Are there any myths about your method of transportation that you’d like to address?

BS: None that don’t have some grain of truth.  It can involve danger if you don’t have safe bike paths.

OOS: Would you recommend this method to others?

BS: With appropriate bike paths, absolutely.  Each person needs to carefully evaluate the route that they will ride.  Currently, Mt. Pleasant residents are very fortunate with the bike lane on the bridge.

OOS: Do you have any fun commuting stories?

BS: I sometimes keep track of the number of people using the biking/walking lanes on the bridge.  On nice days there are often over 100 people on the bridge at any particular time.  I think this illustrates how much demand there could be for other well-designed biking/walking lanes in and around Charleston.

under: #CofCMoves, Bike, Brian Scholtens

#CofCMoves: Martin Jones Moves by Bike

Posted by: holmesbc | April 2, 2015 | No Comment |

How do you move? Do you walk, bike, or use public transit? Join the Office of Sustainability and participate in the College’s first official event celebrating the different modes of transportation that the College community uses to commute to campus. On April 9th, during Sustainability Week, let us know how you move by using #CofCMoves and why you move the way you do!

We asked Professor Martin Jones of the Math Department why he bikes.IMG_5975

Back when I was in graduate school, I bought a ten-speed steel frame bike.  It was a fairly top-end bike back then.  I still have it and ride it everywhere today.  In 1997 I was getting ready to spend a sabbatical year in Costa Rica.  I decided to sell a lot of stuff including my television and my 1976 Pontiac Catalina.  I hardly ever drove that old bomb.  It had grass growing under the tires.  One time I started it up (a feat in itself) and turned on the AC.  A family of ants had made a nest in my AC unit and they came blowing out the vents.  When I got back from Costa Rica in 1998, I just decided to do without a car.  It was the best decision that I’ve ever made other than going vegan.  I live downtown, so my commute is only about five minutes, but I use my bike to ride everywhere, Folly Beach, Mt. Pleasant, to go shopping, and for fun.  The freedom of not being tied to a parking space is one of the great things about biking.  Also not having to pay car insurance, repair bills, parking and for licenses is pretty nice.  If I need to go out of town, I rent a car. Yes, I face some challenges.  The connector is not really suited for bike travel.  There is so much debris in the breakdown lane.  I would hate to think what would happen if I were riding there when some of that stuff came flying out of someone’s bass boat.  Also, drivers in Charleston at times seem pretty hostile to cyclists.  I think everyone who drives a car should spend a day riding around town on a bike just to see what it’s like to have to avoid debris and drainage grates while trying to negotiate traffic.  I don’t think most motorists realize what a challenge cyclists face.  The laws are written so that cyclists have to follow the rules that cars follow, but this is for the cars’ convenience, not the safety of the cyclists.  I would love to see improved bike lanes around town and over the bridges.  It would certainly encourage more folks to bike to work.  Despite these challenges, I think biking is great exercise and a very convenient and environmentally friendly way to commute.


under: #CofCMoves, Bike, Martin Jones

#CofCMoves: Nancy Whirley Moves by Bike

Posted by: holmesbc | April 2, 2015 | No Comment |

How do you move? Do you walk, bike, or use public transit? Join the Office of Sustainability and participate in the College’s first official event celebrating the different modes of transportation that the College community uses to commute to campus. On April 9th, during Sustainability Week, let us know how you move by using #CofCMoves and why you move the way you do!

We interviewed Senior Server Administration of IT Nancy Whirley about why she bikes.IMG_5988

Office of Sustainability: Why do you bus, bike, walk, and/or carpool rather than driving?

NW: I bike to work for many reason – it is economical, less of an environmental impact than driving, great exercise and I love to cycle.

OOS: How long have you been doing so?

NW: I started riding from home in 2010 after I moved to West Ashley.

OOS: How far do you commute daily?

NW: About 7 miles each way.

OOS: What are the benefits to commuting by Bus/Carpool/Bike versus driving alone?

NW: Along with all the reasons I listed above – just being outside and enjoying the beautiful place we live.

OOS: What do you value most about the way you commute?

NW: Having the opportunity to see things you miss in a car – the sunrise on the Battery- watching dolphins while riding over the bridge.

OOS: What is the biggest challenge you face as a commuter?

NW: Drivers that don’t believe I should be on the road on a bicycle.

OOS: What are some improvements you’d like to see?

NW: More accommodations for cyclists and pedestrians.

OOS: Would you recommend this method to others?

NW: Yes, cycling is a great way to commute.


under: #CofCMoves, Bike, Nancy Whirley

Sustainability & Feminism

Posted by: holmesbc | March 31, 2015 | No Comment |

Since I was first introduced to it, sustainability has become a crucial lens I use to examine other beliefs I hold. Feminism is no exception. I consider myself a feminist, despite some of the negative connotations the word may conjure up for some. To me, feminism is a movement for equality that ultimately benefits everyone. It seeks to liberate all people from potentially limiting definitions of masculinity and femininity and encourages us to respect each other no matter what gender we identify with. Ideally, it should invite us all to be ourselves, whatever that means to each of us as individuals, and should allow us to do so without fear of being judged by the rest of society. Outside of personal identity, wage equality and other issues, however, feminism deals with some very time-sensitive and life-or-death world problems as well, including those pertaining to the environment. This is where sustainability can urgently be applied to the movement for gender equality. Feminism should be an avenue through which we can raise living standards for people throughout the globe, while sustainable practices encourage being conscientious of the burden our growing population places on our planet and developing novel ways to work with the environment to the benefit of both humanity and Earth.

While the movement for gender equality has made huge strides in the past century, we still have a long way to go. It’s simply not sustainable to ignore or minimize problems faced by half of the population (more than half, if one counts the children many mothers are often responsible for). Environmental problems, especially those related to climate change, disproportionately affect poor women and children (according to the UN’s WomenWatch). Women in rural and/or poor areas, who are more likely to depend on natural resources for their livelihoods, face social and political barriers that make it more difficult for them to adapt to adverse changes in the environment. However, since these women are often at the front lines of these issues, they often develop their own localized techniques to help mitigate problems caused by climate change as it affects their daily lives. We could learn a lot from the way women adapt to life as a changing environment demands them to discover new ways of interacting with the planet with regard to such diverse issues as water scarcity, food security, and loss of biodiversity that lie at this intersection of sustainability and social/environmental justice.

The problems that sustainability seeks to answer require all hands on deck. Women are capable leaders, innovators and problem-solvers, and their help will be essential if we want to ensure the existence of a healthy planet for later generations. Investing in women’s health, safety and education is a surefire way to invest in and help secure our future on earth.Michaela-1

—Michaela Herrmann, Sustainability Intern

under: Blog, Guest Bloggers, Michaela Hermann, Uncategorized

Baby Steps

Posted by: holmesbc | March 29, 2015 | No Comment |
Part of the process of adopting a more sustainable mindset is reflecting on one’s behaviors and habits and whether or not they are compatible with the lifestyle changes that they are trying to make. More often than not the answer is no, which inevitably leads to a transition state where one is trying to rid themselves of old habits while they try to adopt new ones. It is incontrovertible that the current lifestyle standard of the United States is built upon unsustainable practices: we use gasoline and oil to run much of our transit and production infrastructure, we produce literally mountainous piles of non-recyclable materials that find their way into landfills every year, our factory farming systems contribute significant amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere and are the perpetrators of immense amounts of environmental harm every year, it is still widespread practice to implement land transformation practices such as deforestation and land flattening in order to build our homes and communities, etc. These are all questions that get raised when one begins to consider the question of how to live in a sustainable manner.
All of these practices have been established as culturally excepted norms, so the realization of having had a personal contribution to them can be emotionally strenuous and make the transition to a more sustainable lifestyle very challenging. Realizing that you have a problem is always the first step to ameliorating that problem though. It is the first step that for many can be an extensive trek, which is not an unrealistic expectation considering just how extensively entrenched these practices are in society. For the majority of people it is an unrealistic expectation to adopt an entirely new lifestyle cold turkey. Rome was not built in a day, and when your job requires you to drive a car to work, or you buy berries that are sold in plastic packaging so that you can eat healthily, or you buy a modest home on a bulldozed plot because you need a place in which to raise a family; it really is not feasible to expect the majority of people to adopt a new lifestyle in a day either.
In light of these considerations, I think that the most important part of transitioning to a more sustainable lifestyle is to take confidence and positive reinforcement in the small changes: such as making the switch to reusable shopping bags, riding a bicycle around town more, finding blueberries that are sold in more sustainable packaging, etc. Over time these small habitual changes will add up to have a great deal of impact when it comes to improving your life, and the driving force for that impact will be the positive self-reinforcement given from finding confidence in these changes. It will undoubtedly be one of the most effective driving forces that will allow you to roll, crawl, waddle, walk, and then run to a more sustainable future.
-William Hester, Physics ’16
under: Uncategorized

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