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Earth Month Recap

Earth Month has come to a close, but the Office of Sustainability Initiatives was thrilled to celebrate alongside the rest of Georgia State.

We welcomed two speakers for our Sustainability Speakers Series – Lorena Mucke from Ethical Choices Program and Mandy Renova from Waste Industries. Ms. Mucke works to promote her non-profit education program that informs people about the effects of food choices on our health and the environment. Ms. Renova’s work at Waste Industries helps them fulfill their goals of exceptional efficiency and customer service. Thanks to Lorena Mucke and Mandy Renova for sharing their work with Georgia State!

We were excited to work with the Perimeter campuses on their Earth Month events as well, which included recycling drives at each campus. The Clarkston campus showed out with over 1300 pounds of recyclable materials! They brought 294.5 lbs. of paint, 414.25 lbs. of paper, 297.25 lbs. of toners, and other materials. Congratulations to Clarkston and thank you to all the Perimeter campuses for participating in the recycling drives.

Beyond our big successes with recycling and waste diversion this month, our favorite part of Earth Month was the annual Earth Week Festival. We welcomed over thirty tabling organizations, three food trucks, and thousands of students to Hurt Park on April 18th. With the sun shining and good music playing, students explored the different businesses and organizations that came to share their stories and work in sustainability. Students enjoyed great food and amazing giveaways, from succulents to t-shirts to metal straws to reusable bamboo cutlery. With the cooperation of our vendors, the waste produced by the event was either recyclable or compostable. Thanks to all who supported, participated, and visited our Earth Week Festival. We look forward to a bigger and better Earth Week Festival in 2020!

Sustainability Speaker Series Highlights: John Lanier

John Anderson Lanier, chair of the Board of Directors for Southface (one of the largest advocates for sustainable development and green building in the Southeast) and grandson of the late eco-industrialist Ray C. Anderson, gave a passionate and enlightening presentation on the benefits of incorporating environmentally-conscious practices into businesses.

Lanier shares his grandfather’s passion for environmental stewardship and clearly enjoys sharing his story with others. Ray, namesake of the Ray C. Anderson foundation which Lanier now heads, was working in the carpet industry for over 14 years when he came across a revolutionary new product in Europe: carpet tiles. In the US at the time, all industrial carpets were “broadloom”—enormous rolls of material that were difficult to transport and costly to install. Carpet tiles, on the other hand, were easy to transport and install. Their modular nature also meant that, if a tile became worn or stained, it could easily be replaced—unlike traditional carpets.

The idea inspired Ray Anderson to found Interface, the first company to produce free-lay carpet tiles in America. The move was hugely successful—Interface is now one of the world’s largest producers of modular commercial floorcoverings, with sales in 110 countries and manufacturing facilities on four continents.

While there is a clear financial advantage to modular carpet, there is also an environmental one. Broadloom carpet requires numerous cuts and seams to fit into rooms with complicated floorplans. Often, these off-cuts are too small or oddly-shaped to be reused and are simply discarded. Carpet tiles minimize the amount of cuts and therefore save not only headaches for the customer, but resources for the company as well.

Upon reading “The Ecology of Commerce” by Paul Hawken, however, Ray Anderson began to see the broader picture – and committed to taking his company’s environmental responsibility to the next level. The innovation of carpet tiles was just the beginning of a journey to turn Interface into an industry leader in sustainability.

The ambitious transformation focused first on eliminating waste, not only by using efficient tiles, but by recycling scraps as well. Reduction of emissions and use of renewable energy became the next priority. Today, Interface’s production is powered by 88% renewable energy and 58% of materials come from recycled sources—the company’s carbon footprint has been reduced by 60% as of 2017.

The cost savings resulting from reducing waste were a “low-hanging fruit,” as Lanier put it. But a less obvious effect was the value that the eco-conscious image of Interface had gained. The company became a catalyst for innovation, attracting the best talent in the industry—people who shared Anderson’s commitment to sustainability. A product of this talent pool was an innovation in adhesion. Inspiration from the gecko’s foot – an example of “biomimicry” in action – led to development of a carpet tile that could stick to the floor without the use of environment-damaging chemical adhesives. Such breakthroughs led to a cascade of effects: increasing customer satisfaction led to increased demand, which led to a tripling of profitability, which caused the carpet industry to take notice and change their ways as well.

The story of how Ray Anderson achieved incredible financial success while simultaneously fulfilling a moral obligation to the environment is truly inspiring, even to skeptics. We thank John Lanier for sharing his grandfather’s story, and for continuing his legacy at the Foundation.

Stay tuned for more great upcoming presenters in our Sustainability Speaker Series!

Congratulations to the 2019 GSURC Sustainability Award winners! 

Sustainability Initiatives partnered for the fourth year with the Honors College to award recognition to exceptional sustainability research projects at GSURC (Georgia State Undergraduate Research Conference.) GSURC is an amazing opportunity for undergraduate students to showcase their talent while contributing to the innovation that GSU prides itself on. Hundreds of students participated, and the judges were impressed with the incredible work accomplished. Sustainability Initiatives was honored to recognize the following students for their hard work in the sustainability field:

Nishant Sinha-Best Applied Project (oral category.) By designing affordable and portable spectrophotometry equipment, Nishant is revolutionizing the way that water quality can be tested. Incorporating light sensing and computing enables users to test impurities in water, specifically Lead, Arsenic, and Oil in water, opening the doors to a new era of water quality awareness and optimization.

Liv Fallon- Best Film. Liv’s film, “Elohi,” presents the story of the Cherokee people from the perspective of the Earth, Elohi. She masterfully connects her heritage with the conflict of removal following the Trail of Tears through sacred sites in Georgia and North Carolina, interviews with Cherokee citizens, and research of traditional Cherokee art forms.

Gillian Gilbert-Watson- Best Poster. Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata,) found in Florida, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean is a vital part of reef-building. It provides a habitat for many organisms but has been heavily impacted by coral bleaching, resulting from climate change. GPS mapping and digital imagery enabled Gillian to analyze the health status of elkhorn coral and found that there was widespread devastation of the coral population in 2018.

Madison Floyd- Best Overall Project. Elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata,) has been listed as federally endangered. Due to its habitat being shallow water, Elkhorn coral is susceptible to significant storm damage, that can take more than a decade to recover from. A survey of elkhorn coral in Salt Pond Bay, St. John, USVI indicates a severe threat to coral colonies based off recent hurricane damage. Madison excelled at her research and analysis of this damage, earning her Best Overall Project.

Franka Riviere- Best Environmental Justice Focused Project. Franka connects the data between lead contamination and its effects on children’s health. Many of the symptoms caused by lead exposure are irreversible. That’s why America should be doing more to eradicate lead contamination and eliminate children’s exposure to it.

December Weir- Best Applied Project (poster category.) The increase of commercialization in Coral Bay, St. John, USVI has impacted the water quality of the bay. Runoff increased site development, and other pollutants are entering the ecosystem. December uses surveys of the watershed in Coral Bay to map marine habitats to provide data to the Coral Bay Area of Particular Concern Management Plan to help develop and implement plans for sustainable change.

Chazz Jordan- Best Poster. The orchid, Stanhopea, is found in areas of Mexico and Central and South America. Through research of 86% of all Stanhopea species at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Chazz analyzed the DNA sequencing of the different orchid species to better understand the relationship between floral fragrances and pollination. By comparing DNA to Phlogenetic trees, improvements are made to plant species database and conservation surveys.