April 10, 2000
Volume 52, No. 28
Building community, the green way
BY ERIC RANGUS
There is perhaps no better time of the year than spring to walk up to a tree and give it a big hug.
College campuses are no strangers to environmental activism, and Emory is not an exception. With campuswide initiatives in recycling and transportation, for instance, Emory is gaining credibility as a more environmentally aware institution.
As any environmentalist will claim, however, there is always work to do. And Emory has its fair share of energetic groups. Two of the newest--and a pair with a great deal of potential to effect positive change--are the Ad Hoc Committee on Environmental Stewardship and the Friends of Emory Forest.
The ad hoc committee came together in September 1999 at the initiative of Peggy Barlett, professor of anthropology.
The committee's mission statement is still in its draft stages, but the themes are there. They include conserving natural resources, minimizing negative impacts on the environment, serving as a living library and habitat for local species, and contributing to a more participatory and diverse community. The commission hopes to have a working document in May.
Part of the process of forming University-wide policy involves consulting with many of campus organizations to determine their needs--and pick their brains for suggestions. While the consultation process ensures a diversity of voices, it will also be time consuming, Barlett acknowledged.
"Many universities are aware that they are not giving students an adequate education about global challenges," Barlett said. "And in our operation we are sometimes contributing to environmental harm. Universities are looking at teaching, research, operations and relationships with the community. We are all becoming more aware of how to be more environmentally sensitive."
The ad hoc committee is addressing several areas of Emory's environment. Eileen Ross, a graduate student in the School of Public Health, is chair of the transportation subcommittee.
Ross got involved after she attended the committee's first meeting last fall as a representative from the Emory/CDC Bicycle User Group, an organization interested in promoting bicycle commuting along the Clifton Corridor. Since the ad hoc committee's goals were similar to Ross' graduate work studying transportation options, clean air and public safety, she signed on.
"We want to make sure that the [positive environmental] message going out [from Emory] to the community is really what's happening," Ross said.
Recently she's been working with new Director of Alternative Transportation Brian Shaw, and she is encouraged. The biggest problem she sees is a lack of information in the Emory community about transportation options.
"If it's such a big blip on the screen, why was it so hard to get information [about transportation]?" she said. "It needs to be out front and easy to access for everyday people."
The ad hoc committee also focuses on building a stronger personal relationship with nature. Members have been led on several woodland walks by Bill Murdy, retired dean of Oxford College.
The group has explored Baker Woods, Wesley Woods and most recently Hahn Woods off of Houston Mill Road. The activities are open to anyone, and walkers are taught how to identify different trees, wildflowers, native birds, animals and other features of Emory's forests.
Prior to becoming Oxford's dean in 1987, Murdy was the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Biology and served as chair of the department twice.
Not content to go quietly into retirement (he stepped down in 1999), Murdy is also on the board of another "green" organization on campus, the Friends of Emory Forest.
The Friends of Emory Forest was formed in December through an endowment approved by the Board of Trustees. One if its major strengths is its leadership. Its president, Garland Perdue, was on the faculty in the Department of Surgery for almost 40 years. The vice president is JoAn Chace, a lecturer in English and wife of University President Bill Chace.
The Friends' goal is to support general forest maintenance and the reforestation of the campus--not always in easy thing in an urban environment such as Emory's.
"The bottom line is nothing lasts forever, so you plant," said John Wegner, a lecturer in environmental studies and a Friends' board member. "We've got some really old trees on the Quad, so you start thinking about what the campus will look like in 50 years."
Wegner said that perhaps even more important than trees on campus is forest cover. The best course of action, he said, is to plant stands of trees (rather than the common parallel lines) that will grow and provide cover for animals and birds.
The two groups teamed up on Feb. 19 to restore Baker Woods. More than 80 volunteers--including a solid contingent of students--pulled 10 truckloads worth of ivy that had been choking out the woodlands' indigenous plant life (Baker Woods is home to 77 different varieties of plants).
But the task isn't quite finished; Barlett estimates that 80 percent of the ivy was pulled in February, and the organizations will sponsor another event on Saturday, April 15 to remove the rest of it from the targeted section.
"The ivy probably hasn't been pulled for 50 years," said Murdy. "There's just a tremendous diversity of species in that area."
While they weren't representing the organizations but rather the University as a whole, Barlett, Wegner and eight other Emory students, faculty members and staffers attended the Second Nature Southeast Regional Workshop in Mableton, Ga., last month. Second Nature is a nonprofit organization that helps universities focus on interdisciplinary and systemic thinking as ways to move the schools forward and raise environmental awareness.
The team developed a long-term plan for Emoryt to become an environmental leader. That plan includes creating a campus with a forested ecosystem, building a strong Environmental Studies program, conducting environmentally oriented faculty and student research, and forging a community that comes together through environmental concerns.
The Emory contingent left the conference with several creative ideas to improve the University's environment. One is to issue reusable personal drinking cups to freshmen at orientation (an idea used in several northern schools), drastically reducing waste. Another exploring the use of recycled sheetrock in new building projects.
"All of these activities," said Barlett, discussing the entire range of interests of the ad hoc committee and the Friends of Emory Forest, "contribute to building a stronger Emory community."