For RHS, Sustainability Means Responsibility

For RHS, Sustainability Means Responsibility
Published On: September 24, 2018

The clock strikes one on the Thursday afternoon of spring semester finals week. Minivans and flatbed trucks begin to line the turnaround driveway of East Akers Hall. Students pack Spartan-green pushcarts full of Ikea decor and other first-year materials that made the past nine months unforgettable. Tented areas outside the hall begin to fill with discarded cardboard and plastic beneath signs that read “Pack Up. Pitch In.”

Later in the day, when the chaos has passed, a team of MSU Surplus Store staffers swoop in and collect discarded shelving units and broken-down cardboard boxes students left behind as they vacated campus. 250,000 pounds of material is collected, expertly sorted through and transported to a location on campus where it will be reprocessed to benefit the university’s environment.

MSU’s Division of Residential and Hospitality Services (RHS) takes delight in doing tasks just like these to display its genuine care for students and the environment.

“It just makes sense that MSU is a green institution,” says Sustainability Officer Carla Iansiti. “We’re all about the environment already, so why don’t we just add on to those things? It’s been a very exciting and rewarding position and to have students be a part of it.”

Iansiti helps carry down initiatives created on a university-wide level, such as the Be Spartan Green campaign, and applies them to RHS. Because RHS covers such a significant portion of on-campus activity, there is a greater responsibility to be sustainable and responsible.

“You see sustainability in little pockets of things around campus,” Iansiti says. These pockets include landfill diversion, cost avoidance issues and being responsible for the students RHS serves. There are programs in place on RHS’ end that aren’t necessarily apparent to students on an everyday basis.

Facilities Supervisor Charlotte DeVaney is a symbol of all the behind the-scenes work that occurs every day on campus. Devoted to earth-friendly practices, she oversees and promotes recycling responsibilities for East Neighborhood.

“I really love being a part of an organization that puts recycling at the forefront of thoughts and events,” she says. “It isn’t just a thought; it’s a top priority.”

Large university-wide events, like residence hall move-in and move-out, could easily have detrimental impacts on the environment, but RHS has made it known that these kinds of obstacles won’t deter them from making environmentally responsible choices.

RHS runs several waste-free events each year, including the RHS Team Member Appreciation Picnic and the first-year student welcome event, Sparticipation. In 2017, the picnic had a diversion rate of 89 percent and more than 300 pounds of leftover food was given back to the surrounding community and donated to the Greater Lansing Food Bank.

Move-in and move-out days may pose threats to sustainability practices, but passionate team members like DeVaney work day in and day out to ensure the best practices are in play.

She remembers an especially notable trip to the MSU Surplus Store where she felt in awe of how passionate so many people on campus felt about recycling and being sustainable. Meandering through the aisles and seeing an entire section devoted to do-it-yourself projects where heaps of buttons were available for crafters, she took the moment to self-reflect and ask herself what more she could be doing to repurpose materials throughout the residence halls she oversaw.

It was that moment when she began to see ordinary, abandoned structures for the potential they had.

“I repurposed ancient telephone closets into accessible recycling stations for students,” she says.

And DeVaney’s solution to excessive landfill use during move-in and move-out?

“My team and I didn’t set out dumpsters this year,” she laughs. “I didn’t even give that as an option.”

Though these ideas got some laughs, they are the epitome of what RHS Sustainability stands for. Her team worked relentlessly to pursue DeVaney’s vision and successfully achieved the highest rate of diversion seen in 2017. A total of 80 percent of materials during move-in were diverted from landfills and recycled or repurposed on campus.

“It’s very exciting to be able to contribute in a positive way and influence so many people,” she says of her team’s relentless hard work.

Another example of that hard work is the close-list food waste process where food waste from dining halls is sent to the Student Organic Farm and converted into compost. The compost assists garden growth and allows RHS the ability to purchase vegetables directly from the university to serve in dining halls. Other noncompost viable waste is transported to the Anaerobic Digestion Research and Education Center where food waste becomes energy used for fueling various structures located on the southend of campus. Additionally, there is a push to create campus buildings with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification in mind.

Developing buildings that become LEED certified is the responsible way to build. All of Brody Neighborhood is LEED certified and 1855 Place, opened in fall of 2017, is looking to gain this designation as well. Iansiti explains every component built into the structure —the paint used, sealant chosen and amount of daylight let into the building — is taken into account. LEED-certified buildings like Brody Hall, which diverted 72.2 percent of materials in 2017, achieve incredible results toward being sustainable.

“Sustainability is showing students we are responsible,” Iansiti says. “We want students to know that we’re safe here, to know that we’re taking care of them as far as food and the environment.”