Does Collegiate Get a Gold Star for Being Green?


The LEED plaque in the Academic Commons. Photo credit: Morgan Baxter.

Does Collegiate Get a Gold Star for Being Green?

On one side, Collegiate appears to be working toward a sustainable campus. Building the recently new Sharp Academic Commons in 2013, Collegiate ensured that it was LEED certified. According to the LEED website, LEED-certified buildings “use less water and energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As an added bonus, they save money.” Through various practices, Collegiate built the Commons building with this certification, meaning that not only the building, but also the building practices used were sustainable. Yet, while the plaque hangs on the wall, it seems a little odd that an Upper School building could receive such a title, when rumors are circulating that Collegiate does not even recycle, one of the most basic sustainable practices. When asked what Collegiate does to be sustainable, Elizabeth Harrison (‘17) responded “Well, [I’m] not positive were doing a lot. I heard that the recycling is not actually being recycled, so that’s questionable.”

As rumors often are, this one is false. Collegiate does, in fact, recycle. Collegiate recycles from one-and-a-half to two tons of recyclables per month, which fluctuates based on different events. The Village Green Fair and end-of-the-year locker emptying result in higher amounts of recycling. Collegiate has partnered with TFC Recycling, and there are large green dumpsters for the school’s recycling outside of McFall Hall, the Middle and Upper School Cafeteria; Centennial Hall, the new Lower School Cafeteria; and at the Robins Campus. The recycling brought to the plant on Mondays and Thursdays is composed of mixed materials, and once it arrives at the plant, it is filtered via single-stream recycling into its respective divisions, such as paper, plastic, and glass. The outdoor recycling bins are maintained by Groundskeeping Services, where Allison Moyer, Grounds Supervisor at Collegiate, and the six members of her team collect the recycling and bring it to the recycling dumpsters as one of their many jobs on campus.

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Photo credit:

In regards to indoor recycling, this job falls onto the students. Both the Lower and Middle Schools have successful recycling programs that get each classroom’s recycling into the main dumpsters. In the Middle School, recycling duty is split up by advisory by week. This way, the kids take an active part in contributing to Collegiate’s sustainability. Prior to the start of the 2013-14 school year, before the Middle and Upper School buildings switched between Flippen and Pitt Halls, the Middle School was responsible for recycling removal in both science buildings and the Hershey Center, leaving the Upper School students only the responsibility of recycling in their building. With the switch, the Middle School is farther from the North Science building and Hershey. For this reason, they no longer are responsible for this recycling, leaving it to Upper School students. Unfortunately, at this time, there is no plan in place for these bins to be regularly brought to the recycling dumpster at the back of McFall Hall.

Joshua Katz, Upper School English teacher, describes the situation from his point of view as seeing “faculty members that are certainly concerned with wanting to be more sustainable… and I see students who are certainly concerned with making this place more sustainable. But there isn’t a lot of communication between those two sides. And I don’t necessarily put that on the either the students or the faculty.”

Students do think sustainability is an important issue. But, as Jane Fergusson (‘17) says, “more education about the environment [is needed] because in science classes, at least in high school, there is no real dialogue on it, unless you take APES [AP Environmental Science]. And not a lot of people take APES.” While chemistry, biology, and physics are all graduation requirements, AP Environmental Science is not required, but it is one of the many options for science electives.

Kate Kinder (‘17) wonders, “Do people actually use them?” in reference to the blue recycling bins in classrooms. Of course, even if the blue bins are used, regular trash often ends up in the recycling. And she says, “I see bottles in trash cans. Do Collegiate students even care?”

This year, the two sections of APES, lead by Upper School science teacher Dr. Rebecca Hottman, have surveyed classrooms around the Upper School to see how well students do with recycling. By looking at both the trash and recycling bins, they were able to see what percentage of waste was in each form. Avery Freeman (‘18) said that trashcans were usually 3/4 full, while recycling bins were about half full. Through her class’s research, she found that “the trash usually didn’t have stuff that could be recycled in it, but the recycling usually had a lot of stuff that should have been thrown in the trash.” She also added that “but the teachers in the teacher offices did a better job of recycling than in the classrooms.” Often food wrappers and the checkered paper from the cafe ends up in the recycling bins. This can not be placed in the recycling bins because of the food material left on the paper and plastic wrappers. It is important that trash and recycling to do not get mixed up, because if they are mixed, it is less likely that the recyclables will be recycled, because then there is another step in the process where someone has to sort between the two wastes.

As of now, Collegiate students know that sustainability is important for future generations yet have not fully embraced all opportunities to be green. The little bit of extra time to ensure trash is in the trash can, and recyclable material is in the recycling bin, is not always taken. But, many students report recycling at home. Jane Fergusson (‘17) says that her family maintains a garden and a compost pile in her backyard. “We have this cycle of food to table to back to the ground. It’s like a little circle.”

To many it seems as if Collegiate is not sustainable at all. To Upper Schoolers, it appears that Collegiate does not recycle, one of the easiest ways to be green; therefore, some people have the impression that Collegiate does prioritize sustainability. When asked what Collegiate does to be sustainable, Tiffany Crawford (‘16) was unsure but said, “maybe I’m not the best person to ask about this.” However, Crawford was not the only student to respond in this way. Overall, most kids discussed the non-recycling rumors, but other than that seemed to be at a loss about the many sustainable practices at Collegiate.

Contrary to popular belief, Grounds Supervisor Allison Moyer says that sustainability is an “initiative Collegiate has embraced.” With her team, Moyer oversees all landscaping and “everything green,” trash and recycling, snow removal, and caring for the 14 fields at Robins Campus. Like with most large organizations, Collegiate’s trash is sent to a landfill. Collegiate uses Allied Waste, which collects trash five times a week from Tuesday to Saturday. While trash removal can not be particularly sustainable, because it will be sent to a landfill, it is still an important aspect of sustainability. One of the largest impacts humans have on the environment is pollution due to trash. Landfills have layers of plastics in order to keep runoff from seeping into the earth, but even so, landfills do negatively affect the surrounding ecosystems. But trash in the landfill, even if it does pollute, does not pollute as much as litter on the street. Eventually litter will collect in the ocean. Once it gets severe, things like the the Pacific Garbage Patch are formed, where the litter gets caught in an ocean gyre. Unable to escape, the trash concentration is significantly higher than in other areas of the ocean.

A portion of the Pacific Garbage Patch. Photo Credit:

A portion of the Pacific Garbage Patch.
Photo credit: Kevin Krejci via flickr.

While trash removal does not have as many options for sustainable practices, the grounds keeping team has tried to make water management sustainable in order to protect the surrounding ecosystems. As rainwater falls on the pavement, it flows down to the bottom of the parking lot, down by Seal Athletic Center and Jacobs Gym. Here, the water runs into George’s Bluff Creek. While the water rolls down the parking lot, it picks up sediment, oil from cars, and other polluting particles. Normally, all of this would run into the creek. However, Collegiate has 23 Filterra Trees in order to filter the water before it enters the creek. As water passes through the soil of these trees, the pollution is absorbed. George’s Bluff Creek provides habitat for many plant and animal species, not only on Collegiate’s campus, but throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. All of these ecosystems are benefiting from the Filterra Trees on Collegiate’s campus, because without them pollution from cars would enter the stream, affecting the entire integrity of the community.

While the Filterra Trees are impressive, Collegiate’s water management on Robins Campus is even more innovative. Goochland County water is not used to irrigate the fields. Instead, Robins Campus was built on a slope. Because of this, all the rainwater runoff goes into a collection pond. In the summer, when the fields might not get a regular rain, this pond water is used to irrigate the fields.

Aside from watering, the grounds keepers work to make the fields appear lush but in a sustainable way. They practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM), where chemicals are only used when absolutely necessary.

During summer break, organic fertilizer is placed on the fields to make them as healthy as possible before the school year begins. Often environmentally friendly practices cost more money. In order to be sustainable but stay within budget, Moyer has created a rotating schedule where a few fields each year get the organic fertilizer. After a few years, each field will have been fertilized. This same practice is used on the main campus during spring break on the plants and shrubs. Because organic fertilizers can have a strong smell, putting it down during breaks from school allows for its benefits without leaving a manure-like smell around campus.

Not only is it important to care for the landscape in a sustainable manner, but also it is important to consider the food services at Collegiate, since this is the source for much of the waste produced.

Aladin Foods Logo photo credit:

Aladin Foods Logo.
Photo credit:

In order to make food sustainably, Food Services Director Andy Harrison says that Collegiate tries to partner responsibly. With 15 vendors in total, they “try to partner with produce providers and farms and things of that nature who do things the right way. And who are sustainable in their practices.” If Collegiate did not partner with companies who prioritize sustainability, we would be helping to promote unsustainable practices. Once the food is here, Aladdin practices batch cooking. In this way, the food is made in smaller batches, so that in case there are leftovers, there is not as many as if they had cooked everything all at once. Throughout the day, seeing that an item is not as popular, batch cooking makes it so they only have to cook more when demand is high. In this way, it is important for students to scan their finger each time the go though the line. Then, the food service workers can see how much of each item is consumed, and it helps provide an estimate for how much should be made the next time that item is served.

“We try to be as sustainable as possible with knowing the amount of food we use, the amount of food we waste, and knowing where it comes from.”- Andy Harrison

By adding sauces to food right before they are served, staple foods can be used in a different dish the next day if not needed the day before. The soups provide an avenue to use ingredients that have not been used, and the chef gets to be creative. Plus, the soups are always one of the most popular items, so it is clear that Aladdin knows what they are doing. Harrison says, “We’re really lucky in that a lot of my employees have been here a long time and are very good at what they do.” Carl Williams, the lead cook in McFall hall, has been at Collegiate for 11 years, and Harrison says, “He is incredible. He does the work of three people every day. He is like an Energizer bunny. He never stops, and he is very very good at making sure that we don’t have waste.”

“And that’s not to say we are perfect, we do have things that are wasted. But we try to minimize it as best we can.” -Andy Harrison

With so many people eating in the two cafeterias, there are two people whose main job is to wash dishes, plus the machine dishwasher in each cafeteria. Collegiate uses low temperature machines that Harrison says are “designed to save water and to save energy.” Instead of heating the water up hot enough to kill germs, it uses a sanitizer that kills the germs. This way energy is not needed to raise the temperature of the water. While slightly more expensive to purchase, this type of dishwasher saves money in the long term because of its reduced energy usage.

With the addition of the Academic Commons in the fall of 2013, the Café opened to serve snacks and drinks that students can purchase before school until two in the afternoon. Harrison says “one of the things we have really aimed at is serving things in the café that don’t have a ton of waste. That’s why you don’t see a ton of plates. We are trying to serve things on the black and white checked paper.” It is important that minimal trash is produced, because the closest dumpster to the Commons is at McFall Hall. Harrison says “when we designed that menu and that café, we did it with minimal trash in mind” and while “I would like to say that [was] 100% due to waste, but a lot of it had to do with the aesthetics of this building.” Either way, the café tries to limit trash production.

An example of a re-usable lunch container. Photo Credit:

An example of a re-usable lunch container.
Photo credit: user Donmike10 via Wikimedia Commons.

Last year alone Collegiate used 50,000 plastic to-go containers. This year 450 reusable containers were purchased for teachers to use. If a teacher returns the container, it will be washed for them. With this, the number of the non-reusable containers will go down to 5000. Also, no trays are used. This means water is saved because the trays do not have to be washed. While using a tray, people are more likely to grab more food than they can actually eat. By not having trays, food waste is limited. Even so, Harrison says, “it’s amazing how much food is wasted after it leaves the lines.” Additionally, McFall Hall will be renovated over the summer and re-open when school starts in the fall of 2017. In the new cafeteria, there will be reusable cups, reducing the waste produced by the biodegradable cups that are present today.

Mr. Katz says, “I think Collegiate very much wants to be a sustainable place. And that’s good. [It is] important given the mounting environmental concern.” But he does more on his own, such as doing laundry once every other week and using travel mugs. He has considerable plans to minimize his footprint and says, “I’m going to have a compost pile and get one of those rain bins they sell at Ellwood Thompson, so I don’t have to use hose water anymore. So there is definitely more that I want to do that I feel personally limited by time and money.”

Money is always the deciding factor for companies and families when deciding whether or not to do something more sustainably, because often it is more expensive, at least in the short term. Collegiate has used its budget wisely by incorporating sustainable practices into both food preparation and landscaping. While Collegiate has many sustainable practices in place, it is odd that some students are clueless about what is going on. It is important that students are taught about the environment and how Collegiate is working to make our campuses sustainable. It is easy to listen to the rumors and believe nothing is being done, but it is essential that people learn about Collegiate’s many initiatives to make this a sustainable place.

About the author

Morgan is a Junior at Collegiate.