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Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability - Sustainability at Wake Forest

Sustainability at Wake Forest

Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability

Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability

drink wine/ save the planet/ feed the hungry

March 4th, 2014

Contributed by Elizabeth Barron                 WFU ’93, Lecturer in French

In the interest of sounding a little less unbearably flippant, I did change the official title of this February 2014 WFU conference to “Viticulture and the Environment,” but in my head and heart it remained “drink wine/ save the planet/ feed the hungry.”

The drinking wine part was expertly handled by Olivier Magny, a Parisian wine specialist who started his own wine tasting school after graduating from a top business school. He led a group of faculty, students, and one alumnus in a wine-tasting, following a talk by Professor Wayne Silver on “The Neurobiology of Wine Tasting (and Smelling).” So we drank a little wine. That was the easy part.

Magny’s work seems to have started from a sense of pleasure, but his own study of wine also led him to an awareness of the conditions in which grapes are grown and more specifically, soil health. He writes in his book Into Wine, “Studying how vineyards were farmed has helped me grasp that the importance of the soil actually goes far beyond wine, and that the implications of mistreating it are also much more far-reaching than we think.” Farming practices have the biggest impact on soil health, and there is much that deserves to be questioned in our current agribusiness practices. These issues are addressed in a rather international light in the documentary “Dirt,” which a small group of us watched together and then discussed. The politics behind agribusiness practices are daunting at best. In the spirit of a hummingbird analogy put forth by this film, both WFU EH&S Technician Justin Sizemore and Dr. Anne Marie Zimeri had ideas for addressing our individual carbon footprints.

I like to think of the following ideas as “Dr. Zimeri’s Eco Challenge.” Anne Marie Zimeri is an Assistant Professor in the Environmental Health Science Department at the University of Georgia. One of the courses that she teaches is a first year seminar in which she gives her students an assignment to collect and record data related to behavior changes they make to lower their environmental impact. She has the students select a pledge topic according to their own interest, related to one of the following areas: 1) Vegetarian / vegan 2) Transportation 3) Single use disposables 4) Composting / packaging 5) Water conservation 6) Electricity 7) Local / organic. For example, if students were electing to go vegetarian or vegan for a week, they would include before and after data relating both to how much meat they consume, and to the food miles, water use (in the production of meat vs. vegetables and fruits) and carbon footprint. More detailed information on this will be part of an upcoming publication by Dr. Zimeri. Like the hummingbird, we can only do what we can do in decreasing our impact, one rain barrel, solar water heater, backyard garden and bike ride at a time. So we learned a little about saving the planet.

It was the welcome presence of Shelley Sizemore, Assistant Director of Campus Life and Service that allowed me to add feeding the hungry to the list. Technically, we only fed our hungry selves that night, but I learned more about some ongoing campus and local efforts, including Campus Kitchen that distributes prepared but unserved food through local agencies including the Shalom Project, an outreach network started by Green Street United Methodist church that provides food, clothing, medical services and networking to the community. Wake Forest also has its own garden that both provides Campus Kitchen with fresh produce and also helps Wake Forest students (and I would add, faculty) better understand and influence the social, environmental, biological and political consequences of food production and consumption. So we could be part of feeding the hungry, if we’re not already.

I like the three-fold nature of my not-really-the-title-except-yes-it-is, because it reminds me of just how interconnected everything is. Even starting from the position of a possible urban sophisticate enjoying his or her own glass of wine can logically lead to soil health, then to the importance of environmental stewardship, then to food production and distribution. So, next time you swirl and sip, think about where the contents of your glass were originally grown.

Bottoms up.

For more musings on the theme “Drink Wine/Save the Planet,” visit Dr. Barron’s blog.

A Theological Approach to Sustainability

January 28th, 2014

When thinking about theological education, sustainability might not be the first word that comes to mind. The Wake Forest Divinity School, however, is currently adopting some changes that will influence sustainability learning outcomes for their students.

At the end of the spring 2013 semester, a group of Divinity School faculty participated in a retreat centered around the question “What would it look like to have a curriculum that takes full advantage of the places where we are located?” The result will be a gradual transformation of the curriculum to reflect what many refer to as a “place-based” education. By definition, place-based education is rooted in the unique culture, history, and ecology of the community.

The Divinity School has since introduced new courses that take full advantage of the place where we are located. For instance, in a class on worship and liturgy, in which the professor teaches about baptisms and communion, the students have been able to connect these sacred rituals to the place in which they are located. The class began with a trip to the Salem Creek, followed by a visit to the Water Treatment Plant. Divinity School Dean Gail O’Day notes that these trips aid the students in viewing water in a different way; they begin to think about the water theologically and have a newfound appreciation for it as a resource. The class also took visits to a community garden and a local winery in order to fully understand these resources from cultural, ecological, and theological perspectives.

This unusual approach to graduate education appears to be incredibly beneficial in several different ways. As expected, taking advantage of the “place” element of education has a positive impact on the students’ learning and in their preparation as leaders who understand issues members of their communities are facing.  Jill Crainshaw, professor of worship and liturgical theology, explains that effective religious leaders must be “deeply immersed in and knowledgeable about the people, history, and patterns of the particular places where they serve.” This curricular approach emphasizes the importance of a connection and understanding with the surrounding community, in hopes that they will take this strong foundation with them to the communities where they will serve in the future. According to Dean O’Day, “The better they understand the complexity of the world in which they live and in which they are going to serve, the better able they are to make informed decisions about what’s good for their community.”

The new curriculum also seems to instill a passion for sustainability and caring for the Earth. Dr. Crainshaw explains that through these place-based classes, students appear to develop “cosmocentric sacramentality” in which they “begin to see the many ways in which the world around them – both inside and outside of the walls of the church – is sacred.”  In this way, the Divinity School is not only shaping individuals who care for the people they are serving, but also about the environment they call home.  Dr. Mark Jensen, who received a grant from the WFU Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability to convene the curriculum retreat, is a leader in the ongoing curriculum changes. He says that an essential part of achieving their mission of developing “agents of justice, reconciliation and compassion” is exploring themes of sustainability and instilling the idea of the interlocking contexts of natural and built environments. Jensen quoted environmental writer Wes Jackson saying that we all need to “become native to the place in which we live” and take lessons from ecosystems that work harmoniously.

The developments across the curriculum complement a strong existing interest in sustainability within the school. An environmental theology student group called EcoTheo has grown in popularity over the past several years, convening regular meetings, contributing time to service projects, and working to incorporate principles of sustainability into everyday practices around the school. At their bi-weekly community lunches, students and faculty now use reusable plates and silverware, which the students wash, and food scraps are collected for composting after each meal.

A Food, Faith and Religious Leadership initiative offers to “equip religious leaders with the knowledge, skills, and pastoral habits necessary to guide congregations and other faith-based organizations into creating more redemptive food systems, where God’s shalom becomes visible for a hungry world.”

The Wake Forest Divinity School’s leadership is shaping the future not only of the communities in which its graduate students will serve, but of the wellbeing of life on the planet.

By Andrea Becker (’16), Staff Writer

Master of Arts in Sustainability

December 10th, 2013

A new Master of Arts in Sustainability offered by Wake Forest’s Center for Energy, Environment & Sustainability (CEES) will give students and early to mid-career professionals the diverse skillset they need to carve out a place in the burgeoning global sustainability marketplace.

The MA in Sustainability is a distinctive interdisciplinary one-year program that combines coursework in the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, management and law. The program is currently accepting applicants for the Fall 2014 semester. Read more…

Solving Problems across Disciplines

December 10th, 2013
Screenshots of the prototype application

Screenshots of the prototype application

This past fall, undergraduate health communication and software engineering students were asked to work together to design an application that would improve accessibility around Wake Forest’s campus.

From wheelchairs to long boards, students considered the unique ways people maneuver around our 340 acres each day. One student team chose cycling, a theme proposed by the Office of Sustainability that supports our campus-wide transportation demand management goals. The collaboration showcases the advantages of faculty working transdisciplinarily to solve big problems and the benefits of engaged learning for sustainability.

“Working with the theme of sustainability was interesting,” said Jesse Akman, a junior who developed an application for cyclists with his partner, sophomore Adelina Cato, “we ended up looking at a lot of statistics about bikes saving CO2 and alternative transportation options.”

Akman, a Computer Science and Philosophy double major, took the Health Communication course with Professor Steve Giles as an elective. Cato registered because it applied to her pre-med requisites.

The application’s map-like format is interactive and specific for bike users, explained Cato. It is similar to Ride the Wake, a smartphone application developed by another computer science class that provides users with a real-time locater map for the shuttles that transport students to and from off-campus apartments and other locations.

Giles and Professor of Computer Science, Paul Pauca, realized how beneficial collaboration could be after working together on a grant proposal to develop a smoking cessation application.

“We both knew that our disciplines complemented the other,” said Giles, “but we struggled to really understand what the other person did within his discipline.”

By connecting the two classes, the computer science students were challenged to think about health problems and user interaction with an application, while the communication students learned how to develop the actual technology that makes their creative ideas possible.

Pauca, who bikes to work and stores his set of wheels in his office each morning, explained how groups such as Akman’s had to understand how different people approach biking and what major barriers might prevent them from doing so, such as motivation, convenience, or even physical barriers, like stairs.

“For me, it’s transportation, but if I am elder, I would want to make sure I take the path that is safer,” said Pauca.

Pauca’s youngest child inspired his first experience developing an application when he was diagnosed with Pitt Hopkins Syndrome. Named VerbalVictor for his son, Pauca’s program helps to reduce the high price and bulkiness of existing tools available to people challenged by the genetic disorder. VerbalVictor can be downloaded to a smartphone for just $11.99.

Though this semester’s student applications are not ready to sell in an online application store, they are still significant achievements. “The process itself has educational value,” said Pauca, “and it also allows students to create something of value to society.”

According to Giles, the goal for the application is to build it for Wake with the hope that it could ultimately be replicated for other college campuses.

“I’m hopeful we can do this again in the future,” said Giles on the coming together of the two classes, “and perhaps be more strategic in building this collaboration into other courses.”

 By Sydney Leto (’14), Staff Writer

The Real Price of Gold

November 4th, 2013

Photo courtesy of the CAMEP.

If you take a look at your hands, your wrists, or your neck, you will likely see something special, precious even. It is quite dense, glows with an almost aura-like quality, and, as of press time, costs about $1,350 an ounce. The material – gold – is familiar to all of us. Less known, however, is how it gets to us and the role of another unique metal in that process. Liquid Mercury, a toxic substance that has been phased out of equipment and processes in the US over many years, is essential to artisanal gold mining in much of the world.

On October 16th, Luis Fernandez the director of the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Ecosystem Project visited Wake Forest for a lecture on the use of mercury in artisanal, or manual gold mining and its impacts on the environment and people of the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Madre de Dios is a region of eastern Peru extending into the Amazon basin and is marked by some of the most intensive artisanal gold mining activity in South America.

The process of gold mining in the Amazon is much as it was a few hundred years ago here in the US. Water cannons are used to wash away the topsoil from small areas of forest, a few hundred feet square. This leads to extensive deforestation; a new study from Greg Asner, also with the Carnegie Institute, determined that over 120,000 acres have been deforested for gold mining in Madre de Dios and small artisanal mines have become the main culprit. After removing the vegetation and topsoil, the pay dirt is then washed through equipment to separate the gold by gravity. The problem with the pay dirt in Peru, and other areas where artisanal gold mining is common, is that the gold is present only in small flakes, not the stereotypical nuggets. So, miners use mercury to bind the small flakes of gold and concentrate them, separating the gold from other sediments. In the end, the mercury is burned off, releasing it into the atmosphere and environment. This mercury finds its way into soil and rivers, where it is slowly accumulated in crops and fish, contaminating some of the only reliable sources of food in the region.

Fernandez’s research focuses on identification of mercury contamination in fish and people in the region and his latest work has produced alarming information: over 60% of fish sold in markets in Puerto Maldonado, the capital of Madre de Dios, are contaminated with dangerous levels of mercury and 78% of people in Puerto Maldonado had unsafe levels of mercury in their bodies. Even worse, the most vulnerable population, women of childbearing age, had the highest mercury levels at 3 times the safe amount.

So, with all this bad news we ask ourselves, what can be done? What are the long-term effects on these populations? What are the long-term effects on the environment? Can the contaminated areas be reforested and, if so, how can it be done? Can the demand for gold be reduced so that it is not profitable for these small-scale, mostly illegal operations to persist? The answers to many of these questions are still unknown. There are currently few identified major health effects due to the low but chronic exposure to mercury, but cryptic effects such as decreased intelligence in children are being identified. Methods of removing mercury from the environment on a large scale are in their infancy and the gold mines are small but spread across a vast area, further complicating restoration efforts. What is known, however, is that if consumers demand safely and responsibly mined gold, as has been done with diamonds, or if they simply demand less gold, artisanal gold mining activity and the damage it causes will fade.

Contributed by Max Messinger

Perspective on Religion and Ecology

November 4th, 2013

Photo credit: Ken Bennett

As a chemistry major with an environmental studies minor, I enjoy the chances I get to take classes that depart from the sciences. I have developed a great fondness for a course I am currently taking – Religion and Ecology, with Dr. Lucas Johnston. It has made me look beyond my knowledge of the environment, beyond my knowledge of religion, and realize that human history is not necessarily a story of the conflict between religion and nature. Religion and Ecology merges what seem to be two very different bodies of study into one, examining preconceived notions, and taking a deeper look into the impacts of each upon the other.

During the first weeks of class we addressed the intimate dance between the roots of various religions and the environment. The class is mainly discussion-based, and requires students to lead two of the classes in the semester on selected readings. The readings are captivating and diverse, covering topics related to environmental history in Eastern and Western religions, American romanticism, and radical environmentalism. We also read The Story of B by Daniel Quinn and essays from American Indian environmental activist, Winona LaDuke, who spoke on campus this semester. The final project for the course is the presentation of either an annotated bibliography on a topic of choice related to the course, or an engaged project which explores the relationships between religions and their habitats.

This class has given me a chance to discuss the history of how and why religions ranging from Christianity to Hinduism to Radical Environmentalism began, and what kinds of values shape these ways of viewing the world. Religions often define how nature should be viewed and valued, whether it is claiming “dominion” over the land, or connecting with the gods that reside in rivers and mountains. Conversely, there are also cases where habitats shape religious expression.

This class has caused me to examine more closely the culture in which we live, as well as other cultures and habitats around the world. For me, it’s more scientific than an anthropology class, more discussion-based than a religion class, and more historical than an environmental studies class. It links the human species with their habitats, and explores how the values we place on those habitats shape our lives and determine whether we thrive or struggle within them.

Contributed by Claire Nagy-Kato (‘14)


For God’s Sake, Care for the Earth

October 25th, 2013

“When you die, God will not ask you how old the earth is. He will ask you ‘what did you do with what I gave you?’”

In celebration of World Food Day, the WFU Divinity School’s Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative and the WFU Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability  hosted Richard Cizik for a discussion of what some refer to as creation care, or a scriptural call to care for God’s creation.

Cizik served for ten years as Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, the top staff position in the organization. In a 2008 interview with NPR’s “Fresh Air,” he expressed support for addressing climate change and sparked a national uproar within the evangelical movement. Soon thereafter, he was discharged from his post.

In his work as the president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, Cizik is now empowered to address the interconnections between food, poverty, and climate change. He references Bob Doppelt’s book, The Power of Sustainable Thinking in saying that we cannot be good stewards of creation without understanding the systems that surround us. Global hunger is not simply a matter of inadequate distribution: floods, draught, poverty, the subjugated roles of women, and regressive global economic and agricultural policies all play a role in the inability of families and communities to access food.

According to Cizik, food and climate have become two of the most important issues to young evangelical voters. He believes that leadership on these issues requires bold action and a commitment to morally just behavior. In the conversion from climate denial to climate action, he witnesses a deny-deliberate-do-defend cycle. He sees more and more faith leaders making the conversion and answering the call to action because it is aligned with their intrinsic biblical values.

Read more about the event, and follow the thought leadership of Fred Bahnson, director of the WFU Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative in this Washington Post blog and at Salon.com.

By Dedee DeLongpre Johnston, Director of Sustainability

Green Roof Symposium at WFU

October 4th, 2013

WFU was the host site for the Piedmont Triad Green Roof & Wall Market Development Symposium in mid-September. The conference, which was organized by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities in partnership with the Center for Energy, Environment & Sustainability (CEES), brought experts from around the state and across the country together to display the newest green roof and wall technologies as well as to discuss the benefits of living architecture and how to advance the field.

Learn more about the symposium from the Center for Energy, Environment & Sustainability website.

Solar Consortium Looks to Harness Energy

August 12th, 2013

Solar energy advances in North Carolina

Rolling into the second year of the Triad Interuniversity Planning Project (TIPP) Grant, the project also entered phase two: collect sunlight in a more cost effective way, capture leftover waste heat, and convert the heat into usable energy. The Solar Consortium, a group of experts from Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem State University, N.C. A&T State University, and UNC Greensboro, has high expectations, which they are working collaboratively to meet. The overarching goal of the project is to decrease costs and increase efficiency of solar energy. The team foresees potential contributions to increased national security and economic opportunity, in the long term.

Learn more about the exploratory project in an article from the Winston-Salem Journal.

Measuring Climate Change

March 14th, 2013

On March 6th, assistant professor of mathematics, Dr. Rob Erhardt, addressed a full room of eager listeners on the topic of global climate disruption.  His talk, sponsored by the Math Club and titled Measuring Climate Change, drew a crowd from across campus, including Dr. Erhardt’s fellow Mathematics faculty, students, and staff members from the Office of Sustainability and the Wake Forest Humanities Institute.

Dr. Erhardt hoped to achieve two goals through his talk: “I wanted to show the Math Club students one way they could apply their mathematical education and I wanted to give a general talk about the science of climate change [for other members of the audience].”


The equation used by Dr. Erhardt in Measuring Climate Change.

The talk began with basic definitions of the words climate and climate change.  Dr. Erhardt, a statistician himself, proudly pointed out that the American Meteorological Association defines climate change as “any systematic change in the long term statistics of climate events (such as temperature, pressure, or winds) sustained over several decades or longer.”

After defining terms, Dr. Erhardt laid out the talk’s single equation: a calculation of Earth’s temperature based on the interaction of solar energy received by the Earth, reflectivity (the degree to which Earth reflects solar energy), and emissivity (the degree to which of Earth’s atmosphere allows radiated solar energy to escape into space).

Dr. Erhardt explained that, while solar input remains roughly constant, both the reflectivity of Earth’s surface and the emissivity of Earth’s atmosphere can change.  As Dr. Erhardt pointed out, these factors have changed since the mid-20th century, resulting in an overall increase in global surface temperatures.  Dr. Erhardt cited the conclusions of the most recent report by the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which stated “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and attributed most of the increase in global average temperature to human beings, who have increased the atmosphere’s concentration of greenhouse gasses, changing the atmosphere’s emissivity.

Dr. Erhardt went on to discuss how global climate models can predict how much temperatures will rise in the future based on different scenarios.  He also reviewed current research trends, which involve creating regional climate models and grappling with the difficulty of “single event attribution,” or attempts to take one particular extreme weather event (like a hurricane) and determine if the changed climate has increased the risk of such an event.

“Climate science can be intimidating.  I wanted to present the science in an accessible, friendly way”, says Dr. Erhardt.  He explains, “People have a general respect for scientists, but I want them to understand a little bit more about what climate scientists are actually doing, like where they are getting their data and how they are using it.”

On March 27th, Dr. Erhardt will deliver Measuring Climate Change at a brown bag lunch for the Biodiversity and Environmental Science group of the WFU Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability.

 By Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow for the Office of Sustainability