Green From the Ground Up
Stony Brook University embraces sustainability to grow a self-sufficient, beautiful campus
STONY BROOK, NY, April 26, 2013 - At Stony Brook, green is more than a color — it’s a way of life. Through an ambitious tree and bush planting program, vegetable and herb growing efforts, recycling measures and campaigns, and an environmentally themed celebration, students, faculty and staff come together in helping the University to minimize its carbon footprint, beautify its 1,454-acre campus and commit to a sustainable future.
All those green efforts are garnering Stony Brook recognition: For the fourth consecutive year, the University was selected by The Princeton Review and the U.S. Green Building Council as one of the nation’s most environmentally friendly colleges.
To be sure, Stony Brook takes its commitment to the environment very seriously. In the month of April alone, for example, the campus bustled with green activities. This year the University hosted its 10th annual Earthstock event the week of April 15. Free and open to the public, Earthstock is Stony Brook’s celebration of Earth Day, culminating in a full-day festival of activities that included nearly 100 vendors, music, a keynote lecture and a green pledge by students, faculty and staff who committed to reducing their own carbon footprints by embracing sustainable practices.
“It is a source of extreme pride when dignitaries, family members, members of the campus community and the external community compliment Stony Brook when they tour our beautiful campus,” said Stony Brook President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD. “I am extremely proud of the dedication and passion that Senior Vice President Barbara Chernow and her entire team bring to the environmental stewardship effort, and the way they are constantly looking for new ways to improve upon our already magnificent sustainability program.”
On April 24, staff from the Office of Sustainability and student volunteers from the University’s EcoLeaders Program planted 20 cherry trees donated by the Suffolk County Water Authority (SCWA) at the SCWA’s pump house site located on East Campus. Two days later, in celebration of Arbor Day on April 26, President Stanley and New York State Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle were on hand to help plant a stand of mostly native trees — some of which were donated by the Department of Environmental Conservation — in an area next to the recently installed North Entrance Meadow.
“The University has a very impressive planting program,” said Chernow. “Our program stands as a great example of the University’s efforts to enhance our sustainability practices, decrease our carbon footprint and beautify our campus.”
“Planting efforts like these allow the University community to come together and work toward something for the common good,” said James O’Connor, director of sustainability and transportation operations for Stony Brook’s Office of Sustainability.
When it comes to planting, the University’s program has firmly taken root. In April alone, the University planted 235 trees, 320 saplings, 328 bushes and 580 perennials, and since 2006 — when the program took off — has installed nearly 4,000 plantings, according to Chernow.
The planting program allows for new plantings as well as replacement plantings, especially when there are major losses due to extreme weather conditions, such as Superstorm Sandy, which struck the Long Island region last October. According to Terence Harrigan, Assistant Vice President of Facilities and Services, close to 200 trees throughout campus were downed by powerful winds. But the University made the best of a bad situation. “We converted many of the fallen trees into mulch, which is being used on campus this year,” said Harrigan.
Such large-scale plantings are visible proof that the University is doing its part to support its sustainability mission, but what’s going on behind the scenes may be a better indicator of just how green Stony Brook is. Indeed, most Stony Brook faculty, staff and students would be surprised to learn that the University has a greenhouse — tucked away in the Research and Development Park — and that many of the plants used throughout campus are grown there before being transplanted to their final homes.
“It’s an incredible little secret,” said Andrea Petterson, landscape manager, about the greenhouse, which was built in 2009. “For a school that doesn’t have a horticulture program, we are really advanced in what we are trying to do here.”
Petterson, who was a certified arborist before she came to Stony Brook nearly four years ago, is responsible for growing all the colorful annuals that suddenly appear in beds campus-wide in mid-May, just in time for Commencement. All this beauty comes at a cost — lower cost, that is.
One way of curtailing the cost of plant material is propagation. “We are propagating more of our own material,” Chernow said. “This year was the first time that we overwintered canna and dahlia tubers and sweet potato vine with great success.”
Another way the University is keeping costs down is through rainwater collection. The University recently installed 14 rainwater collection barrels, each holding up to 50 gallons, to irrigate plantings.
In addition to growing annuals, tender perennials and tree seedlings in the greenhouse, Petterson raises vegetables — the bounty of which is earmarked for Campus Dining Services. All the seeds for the vegetables are sourced from Long Island. In addition, a local grower provides a variety of vegetable and herb plugs to the University. On the menu this year are cucumbers, two varieties of tomatoes, dill, cilantro, oregano, zucchini, string beans and snap peas, Petterson said.
And as anybody with a green thumb knows, compost is the key to getting a bumper crop of vegetables and herbs — and that, too, is produced at Stony Brook. In a joint venture between Campus Dining Services and Campus Operations and Maintenance, more than 6,000 gallons of kitchen waste are processed annually at the Roth Dining Café, where staff separate biodegradable food waste, mix it with sawdust and wood chips, and place the mixture into a vessel to produce compost, which is used all around campus.
Composting is just one example of the University’s overall recycling efforts. Every year Stony Brook participates in RecycleMania, a two-month-long competition in which universities around the country vie against one another to increase awareness of recycling. This year Stony Brook finished first in the nation for recycling the most e-waste (old computers, monitors, electrical equipment and printers). It also had the honor of recycling the most bottles, cans, cardboard and paper out of all universities and colleges in the State University of New York system.
For the Office of Sustainability’s O’Connor, the RecycleMania victories are validation of all the hard work his office is doing to ensure that Stony Brook maintains its sustainability edge.
Some of the biggest supporters of Stony Brook’s recycling efforts are our students, said O’Connor. About six months ago the Office of Sustainability launched its EcoLeaders Program, which is made up of students from all disciplines throughout campus.
“Encouraging students to get involved with dining services, help with projects in our greenhouse and work in our gardens is crucial to maintaining a sustainable environment at Stony Brook or anywhere else for that matter,” Chernow said.
“If we can get more students involved in caring for the environment, I think our future is going to be so much better,” added Petterson.
© Stony Brook University 2012