Serving and Protecting the Garden that is Earth

The Hope College campus buzzes with energy expended, resources in use. Students learning and living. Staff and faculty providing services, teaching classes, doing research. Classrooms, dining halls, housing and offices.

All that energy, all those resources support the college mission of educating students for lives of leadership and service. But the activity reflects another calling, too: “to care for all of God’s creation and ensure preservation for generations to come.”

Those latter words, from the Sustainable Hope website, describe a campus-encompassing movement that is making a difference at Hope and in its Holland community.

“I think a lot of alumni would be surprised at all the sustainability initiatives that are happening,” said Michelle Gibbs, director of the Holland-Hope College Sustainability Institute. A major initiative itself, the institute is a joint project between the college, the city and the Holland Board of Public Works. Sustainability initiatives at Hope range from compost buckets in cottages to 35 courses in multiple disciplines, from trayless dining to changing out thousands of lights with energy-efficient LED bulbs, from compostable food packaging to motion sensors controlling room lights. The complete list could fill pages of the print version of this magazine — which, by the way, is printed with soy-based ink on sustainably certified paper.

And here’s the compelling bottom line: “The college’s carbon footprint has been reduced considerably from its 2008 level, even though the overall acreage and square footage of campus has increased dramatically,” according to Greg Maybury, director of campus operations and chief sustainability officer for Hope.

What’s made the difference
in those 10 years?

Sustainability practices extend to new construction at Hope. The Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts, opened in 2015, earned Silver LEED certification for the way the project was managed from site development through ongoing use and maintenance.

In 2007-08, a task force launched a continuing, campus-wide focus on sustainability. Proposed in a memo to President Dr. James Bultman ʼ63 from professors Dr. Steve Bouma-Prediger ʼ79, Dr. John Cox ʼ67 and Dr. Greg Murray, the task force led to a standing Campus Sustainability Advisory Committee representing a cross section of campus interests, from student groups to faculty to plant operations.

“Having the physical plant operations folks, not just academic folks, on the Green Team, has been really important to the success of what we’ve been able to do,” providing perspective on what’s possible as well as coordinated efforts, said Bouma-Prediger, long-time chair of the team.

One example: In a recent summer Green Team summer research internship, several students interested in water conservation studied toilets on campus. “They made a proposal to the physical plant about switching out some toilets, and they did it, because it made sense,” Gibbs explained.

“Our Green Team is really fantastic, because sustainability doesn’t come from just one person, one office. It’s all of these different departments and people working together to make changes in their everyday actions. I think that’s a big part of what sustainability is.”

The Green Fund, supported by $10 from each student activity fee, finances activities like the residence hall-based Hope Advocates, summer interns and student visits to conferences. Having a standing committee and fixed funding generates continuity and effectiveness.

“We have expanded our horizon over the past 10 years to include recycling, composting and more deliberate sustainable construction,” Maybury pointed out. The Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts earned Silver LEED certification in February 2017. In May 2017, Hope’s ranking rose from bronze to silver in the Association of Sustainability in Higher Education STARS ratings.

“Lots of colleges are involved in sustainability,” Bouma-Prediger said. “Some are far ahead of us, others are far behind. We’re sort of in the middle of the pack — a little bit better than average, but still a long way to go in terms of sustainability.” Big universities, however, might have a staff of 30 addressing sustainability. “Hope has one person part-time and a bunch of volunteers. But we’ve made a lot of progress, especially in the last decade.”

At Hope, the effort is informed not least of all by faith.

“Because we’re a Christian college, our calling to work on sustainability comes from the faith commitment of the institution,” says Bouma-Prediger, a professor of religion whose academic career and five books have focused on environmental ethics.

The idea that humankind has “license for domination” over nature is a mistaken interpretation of Scripture, he said. He points to Genesis 2, which talks of how we come from the soil.

“Yes, we’re made in God’s image, but that isn’t for privilege. That’s the responsibility we have to cultivate the garden in ways that all creatures flourish. We’re called to serve and protect the garden that is the earth. That’s our calling.”

There are other reasons, too. “We’re doing it because we’re caring for creation, but we also want to care for and leave a planet that’s better than we found it for future generations,” Gibbs noted.

And don’t forget economic benefits. “They work hand-in-glove. We do what’s good because it’s the moral and right thing to do from a Christian point of view, and hey, by the way, it saves money,” Bouma-Prediger said. The return on investment of most sustainability projects is reasonably short, within 10 years.

“I have always been committed to stewardship of the many resources we have been given as a college, and the sustainability efforts by the college are very much in line with this stewardship mindset,” Maybury said. “Hope College has seen a tremendous savings in its energy costs over the course of these last 10 years. More efficient lighting, electric motors, steam delivery systems, heat recovery systems, building envelopes, windows, and weatherproofing/insulation have paid back the initial investment many times over.”

Lights in the Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse were retrofitted in 2016 to LED fixtures, cutting power use by 80 kilowatts per month and costs by about $24,000 a year. Also, LED lights last a decade or more, compared to the old short-lived lamps, saving another $10,000 to $30,000 a year.

The area’s natural beauty is another motivation. “How can one not fall in love with this area?” asked senior Kyle Funk, a Sustainability Institute intern and former Green Team member. “I want to preserve and protect my home,” said the environmental studies and management major. “So that’s what I study here at Hope, the laws and life of God’s common home for all of creation. Doing so, I believe, will allow us to make right decisions now and for the future.”

Sustainability isn’t just about energy and nature; it involves livability in many forms. Hope events enrich lives. Research by professors and students enhances the area. This summer, student interns will work with the Holland parks department on an urban tree canopy assessment. And Gibbs chairs a Living Sustainably Along the Lakeshore community education project, a collaboration of Holland organizations.

Of course, there’s more to be done. The dining service aims to buy more local products. Recycling participation needs to grow. Wind turbines and solar panels could capture renewable energy.

Hope has already “grabbed most of the low-hanging fruit” in energy reduction and recycling. Now, Maybury said, “the key activities that will have the biggest impact are awareness and education. Our student leaders have embraced these two issues and have been working diligently in educating all of our students on how they can make a difference for the future. The passion these student leaders exhibit is contagious and is vital in sharing the vision of environmental stewardship with the larger student population.”

“Being able to help students connect with sustainability projects they are passionate about is such a rewarding experience,” Gibbs said, “because I know we are helping students to become Christian leaders that will have huge impacts on the world.”

Funk, for one, is optimistic.

“If the college continues to work like it has this last decade, I believe the college will continue to be on a bright path,” he said. “I believe Hope can be a strong leader in sustainability for the Midwest, especially in terms of Christian earth stewardship. All it has to do is answer that call.”

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