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A Greener Grinnell

For the past decade, Grinnell College has prioritized environmental sustainability, which is itself a social justice issue, in both constructing new buildings and maintaining century-old ones.

Building a Sustainable Campus

The Conard Environmental Research Area’s Environmental Education Center was the College’s first major sustainability effort. “It was a smaller building and gave us a chance to do everything right,” says Chris Bair 96, environmental and safety manager. “Plus, if you can’t build an environmental education building sustainably, what can you do?”

The Environmental Education Center was the first LEED gold-certified building in Iowa and was the College’s first building with a wind turbine, water reclamation, and geothermal heating and cooling. Now the College’s preschool and pool buildings also use geothermal heating and cooling. The Noyce Science Center and the Bear Recreation and Athletic Center have cisterns that collect rainwater. Noyce’s provides water to the greenhouse and the Bear’s is used to water the football fields.

Facilities management is also working on a number of solar projects, including the recent installation of a 20-kilowatt solar unit on the facilities management building in addition to the solar hot water unit of Eco House. “And we’re exploring the possibility of putting 200 kilowatts worth of solar power on campus,” says Bair.

Global Research and Collaboration

Six students conducted research on sustainability in several German cities during spring break. They were accompanied by Bair and facilities manager Rick Whitney, as well as Lee Sharpe, associate professor of chemistry, and Liz Queathem, a biology lecturer. In this group Mentored Advanced Project, each student focused on a different aspect of sustainability with the intent to make recommendations to the College:

  • Sophie Neems ’16 examined how change happens and what societal factors in Germany have caused increased sustainability efforts that just aren’t happening in the United States.
  • Emma Leverich 16 looked at the efficacy of a waste-to-energy process that uses biodigesters; the methane gas that the biodigesters produce would be siphoned off and burned for fuel.
  • Zhi Chen ’17 investigated the potential implementation of solar energy on campus by surveying the available space and calculating the cost of installation.
  • Ben Mothershead ’16 and Liza Morse ’15 compared the building certification programs and building codes of the United States and Germany. They spoke with several architects in both countries about their experience with sustainable design.
  • Samantha Snodgrass ’16 researched storm water reclamation and infiltration.

When the students returned, they each wrote a paper on their research and presented the papers to the local city government, the Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

Importance of Visibility

One of the major lessons learned on the trip was the importance of making sustainable efforts more visible. If students are more aware of the resources they are consuming, they are likely to do more to curb their consumption.

Many of the College’s ongoing sustainability efforts are significant but may go unnoticed by students. Each summer facilities management updates a residence hall with LED lights, low-flow toilets, and efficient showerheads. They also connect each hall to the College’s central building automation and add set points to thermostats and window sensors that shut off the heat or air conditioners when windows are open.

In Germany, virtually every hotel in which the students, faculty, and staff stayed had a display in the lobby indicating how much energy had been produced by the building’s rooftop solar panels.

Starting this summer, facilities management will install submeters in residence halls to monitor water and electricity use. The hope is that once that information is on display, students will be more aware of their consumption. There has even been talk of starting conservation competitions between halls. “Renewable energy is out there and everyone is bragging about it,” says Bair. The group also took tours of green roofs and rainwater collection features.

“On Grinnell’s campus, you’re always aware of the social justice implications of pretty much everything,” says Bair. “I’d like sustainability to rise to that level.”

Sophie Neems ’16 is an anthropology and Spanish double major from Iowa City, Iowa.
Emma Leverich ’16 is a chemistry and anthropology double major from Clive, Iowa.
Zhi Chen ’17 is a computer science and history double major from Oakland, Calif.
Ben Mothershead ’16 is an economics major from Falls Church, Va.
Samantha Snodgrass ’16 is a biology major from Des Moines, Iowa.


Coalition for Environmental Activists

Carissa Shoemaker ’14 and Stephanie Porter ’14 organized "A More Sustainable Grinnell" this December. It's aim, they said, was to bring “order, cooperation, and cohesion to the environmental groups on campus” through a discussion of current sustainability practices on campus, as well as institutional and individual goals.

The conference also marked the beginning of the Coalition of Environmental Activists, an organization that seeks to provide a space where groups and interested individuals can come together to support each other and leverage resources to make the College a leader in sustainability."

Faculty attendees included:

Staff attendees included:

The official and unofficial student groups represented included:

Other groups included the Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell—a local nonprofit microfinance group founded by students—and Imagine Grinnell, which works to improve options for environmentally responsible living.

Snacks were provided potluck-style by participating groups.

The coalition seeks to provide a space where groups can come together to support each other and leverage resources to make the College a leader in sustainability.

A More Sustainable Grinnell

Keeping track of nearly twenty local environmental groups can be difficult for the sustainability-minded student.

The student-led A More Sustainable Grinnell conference is designed to help.

The conference will provide information about the environmental history of the College, our sustainability plan, the dining hall and Real Food Challenge, and several different environmental groups.

The campus sustainability conference will be held at 1–3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, in Main Quad.  The event is free and open to all Grinnellians, including college and community members. Participating groups will be providing potluck-style snacks.

The organizers, Stephanie Porter ’14 and Carissa Shoemaker ’14, say they are trying to bring “order, cooperation, and cohesion to the environmental groups on campus.” They’ve lined up speakers and invited environmental campus groups to give a quick overview of their project and prospects.

Highlights include:

  • Chris Bair ’97, environmental and safety coordinator, will present the environmental history of the College, including what Grinnell's been working on, what's been tried, and what's feasible. 
  • Liz Queathem, senior lecturer in biology, will talk about the Sustainability Plan — what it is, who's been working on it, and what it involves. 
  • Porter and Shoemaker will present the dining hall's perspective, followed by Madeline Warnick ’16, a student evaluating Grinnell as a part of the Real Food Challenge. 
  • Campus environmental groups will present on their projects and plans.

Community organizations, including representatives from Imagine Grinnell and Poweshiek CARES, are also invited to participate.

“At the end,” says Porter, “we will break into action groups on energy, water, food, and waste to come up with concrete steps for the future.” 

For more information, email [shoemake] or [porterst].

International Students Share Tastes from Home

Every year, Grinnell students from near and far share some of their favorite foods from home in a decades-old tradition: the International Student Organization’s Food Bazaar.

This year, more than 100 chefs prepared 52 appetizers, entrees, beverages, and desserts, with recipes representing 34 countries and 6 continents.

Three recipes earned the annual Chef’s Choice Awards, presented by Grinnell College Executive Chef Scott Turley:

  • First place: Krit Petrachaianan ’17 and Serena Hocharoen ’17, Tom Yam Soup
  • Second place: Thu Htet ’14 and Zaw Bo ’17, Shan Noodles
  • Third place: Tim Hoffman ’14 and Pavlo Nikolaidis ’14, Peking Duck

Turley features winning recipes in the Marketplace dining hall in the spring.

A sample of other dishes includes:

  • Banana & Red Bean Breakfast Dish, Guatemala
  • Dovi Stew, Zimbabwe
  • Gelado Rico, Brazil
  • Tajine Sebnekh, Tunisia
  • Mousse au Speculoos, Belgium
  • Šunkofleky, Czech Republic
  • Keftedakia Tiganita, Greece
  • Papa a la Huancaina, Peru
  • Chips Mayai w/ Kachumbari, Tanzania
  • Khao Man Kai, Thailand

Philippines United Student Organization and Typhoon Haiyan

This year, in a tribute to the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippines United Student Organization (PUSO) sang their national anthem and invited food bazaar guests to contribute to typhoon relief.

Although singing the national anthem was “nerve-wracking,” says Veronica Vergara ’15, it “helped us get in touch with our Filipino heritage.

“The song speaks of the strength of our nation and that our people will do anything for our love of our country. We know the truth within the anthem, because we are doing everything in our power to help the country back in its feet even if we are far away."

They prepared four dishes that reminded them of their cultural pride. “Desserts like Bibingka and Leche Flan were cooked by our mothers or our lolas (grandmothers) for special occasions such as Christmas or family gatherings,” Vergara explains. “Yema and pastillas are a kind of milk candy we ate growing up, either bought in the streets, brought home as pasalubong, or made at home as a special treat."

About the Food Bazaar

The food bazaar is organized by the International Student Organization (ISO) in collaboration with the Office of International Student Affairs. Special thanks to the Student Government Association, Student Activities Fund, Dining Services, Facilities Management, and Fareway Grocery.

“It is an absolute pleasure to work with the ISO leadership team on this event. Kudos to Iulia Iordache ’15 and the 2013-14 cabinet for another successful food bazaar,” says Karen Edwards, associate dean and director of international student affairs.

2013-14 ISO Cabinet

The ISO Cabinet, the power behind the scenes, organized the chefs, purchased and distributed the food, and kept the whole bazaar running smoothly.

Facilities Management

The mission of Facilities Management is to provide and maintain physical facilities which meet the current and future needs of the Grinnell College community, in support of the overall mission of the College.  Facilities Management supervises all construction projects; provides maintenance and custodial services on all facilities and oversees the campus heating, cooling, water and electrical systems; provides environmental and safety compliance; and also manages carpool, keys, and grounds, including set-ups.

Heating Plant

Grinnell College's heating plant provides warmth to more than 60 buildings on campus, including 19 residence halls. Until 2002, this served as both the heating and cooling plant for the College. The cooling function was moved, and the heating expanded to add capacity for the Joe Rosenfield Campus Center and East Campus residence halls.