Kenyon has a longtime commitment to respecting the environment, from its local food sourcing to a focus on sustainability in classwork, including a new course that includes the installation of solar panels on campus.
The movement has a new leader at Kenyon. Director of Green Initiatives David Heithaus ’99 is charged with promoting sustainability throughout the College and overseeing green-spaces land management. Heithaus continues his role as director of facilities at the Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC).
Heithaus answered questions about his first six months tackling his new responsibilities. “I’m a tree-hugger,” he said. “I care about the planet.”
How do you define sustainability?
There’s a reason that this is the Office of Green Initiatives instead of the office of sustainability. It’s one of these words that mean everything and nothing. Sustainability is about ensuring that there’s a planet to give to the next generation, which in turn will be able to give it to the next generation. It’s doing things in a measured, purposeful way that allows for basic human necessities.
What is an example of how students take the lead in the areas you oversee?
They’re the enthusiasm. They want to be part of the solutions. A likely priority for my office in the next few years is getting us to a point where we’ve signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. We would not be where we are on the issue without students.
One requirement is a carbon calculation, which looks at direct and indirect ways Kenyon contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions. It looks for data back to 1990, so statistics classes will love this: working on projections. It’s extremely comprehensive, and it will spit out our tons of emissions per year. That’s when we start to make a plan to address those things.
How can Kenyon improve recycling?
The way I would like to see recycling go — and this has been a priority for the Sustainability Council, for Student Council, for the ECO (Environmental Campus Organization) — is a well-thought-out, strategic, consistent and ubiquitous rollout. We’re starting this year with a pilot program in all first-year dorms. New bins are in the rooms.
Recycling is kind of hard right now. There are a bunch of different kinds of bins and every single sign is different. It’s confusing. The change in thinking won’t happen without the students being on board and making it simple, simple, simple and not nagging or scolding. My vision is that anywhere on campus that you can throw away trash you should be able to recycle. Everywhere. Inside. Outside. Everywhere.
How will your overall efforts be integrated with curriculum?
That’s really my primary interest and charge. We have a suite of fantastic raw material for high-impact educational experiences. Between the BFEC and the Kenyon Farm and Philander Chase (land trust) and the Rural Life Center and the (Kokosing Nature Preserve) green cemetery, there’s an awful lot for disciplines to delve into.
My mantra is if we’re doing something relative to research, data, sustainability, land management and not trying to involve students and faculty, we’re missing opportunities. All these things exist to support the College’s core academic mission.
There’s an awful lot of good energy out there right now on green initiatives and community partnerships. My goal is to build a framework that harnesses it and really plugs it in.