Sustainability On Campus: A Conversation With Bob Morro and Liesel Schwarz

Walking around Villanova’s campus, you’ll probably be charmed by the graceful trees by Alumni Hall, the iconic St. Thomas of Villanova Church and the beautiful gothic style of many of the buildings on campus. I know that’s what charmed me when I visited campus. What I didn’t appreciate about Villanova’s campus, however, was all of the daily work that goes into maintaining our beautiful grounds. I knew even less about all of the initiatives Villanova supports to reflect our commitment to sustainability.

In the spirit of Earth Day, I was able to sit down with two major contributors to Villanova’s green initiatives on campus. Bob Morro, the Vice President for Facilities Management, and Liesel Schwarz, the Sustainability Manager, were both kind enough to speak with me about Villanova’s commitment to going green.

Jane: First, I wanted to get a better idea of what both of you do at Villanova. What are some of your responsibilities?

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Part of the Earth Week celebrations included a local Farmer’s Market in the center of campus!

Liesel: As the sustainability manager, I oversee all the different aspects of sustainability that we work on here at Villanova. I work with our Facilities team on energy efficiency and I work with our Grounds team on sustainable grounds management. I work with our students a lot, like on Earth Day, but other events too. We have an on-campus garden that I help manage. I (also) work with faculty to incorporate sustainability into the curriculum. One of the most important things to me is recognizing that our product is a student. We want to make sure that our students understand what sustainability is, why it’s important, and more specifically, how it relates to what they’re interested in.

Bob: We have five different divisions within Facilities Management. We have building maintenance, grounds maintenance, custodial, environmental safety and health, and design and construction. A lot what we do operationally really impacts how the University attacks sustainability. The President’s Climate Commitment cites our mission to become climate neutral by 2050. We have a central steam plant, we burn fossil fuel, so we’re trying to reduce that and become as efficient as possible in those areas, as well as encouraging our students, faculty and staff to be as sustainable as possible.

Jane: Liesel, when you try to integrate sustainability into the curriculum, do you meet with professors directly, or are there guidelines for professors?  

Liesel: Word of mouth is helpful. A couple of years ago we held a workshop – and we’re hoping to again – about how sustainability can be incorporated into what they already teach. I think on one of the biggest barriers is that faculty don’t want to teach something they’re not super familiar with, which is totally understandable. We want to give them those tools. We’ve been collecting sustainability teaching resources in a database to provide to faculty, and help them get over that hurdle and explore new options that may be available to them.

Liesel also mentioned a brand-new advisory board for green initiatives on campus. She believes that this new board will have an incredible impact on the strides Villanova is making in sustainability, stating, “We’ve started the Sustainable Leadership Council, which is made up of all senior leadership throughout campus, which is a big step for us.”

Bob added that some major influencers are in this new leadership council. “Two people – the Dean of Engineering, Gary Gabriele, and the Vice President for Mission and Ministry, Barbara Wall, are really driving the council, (as well as) people like Liesel, who did her thesis on a very similar topic,” he said. “There are maybe about 18 people on it, so it’s just getting started. That’s kind of new and developing, but I think it’s a great and overarching organization to try and gather and coordinate all the different activities the University does to support the environment and sustainability.”

Jane: So you’ve mentioned how Campus Ministry has an interest in all sustainability efforts. Do you think that Villanova, being an Augustinian school, encourages certain values when it comes to being sustainable and eco-friendly?

Bob: When Father Peter first signed the President’s Climate Commitment, he cited our spiritual and emotional leader, Saint Augustine, and the types of values he espoused when it came to issues like this.

Liesel: Even when you read the Cliff’s Notes version of the Pope’s encyclical from 2015, “Laudato Si,” it’s all centered around environmental stewardship, but also on environmental justice and helping others who are impacted by our actions with regard to climate change. It’s a nice tie-in. And Catholic social teaching is essentially what environmental stewardship is trying to be. It’s being good stewards to our environment and being good stewards to our neighbors. That’s really what we’re trying to do.

Bob: Under Mission and Ministry we have the Center for Peace and Justice, so as Liesel said, we’ve always been about social justice at Villanova, but now we’re sort of expanding that to environmental justice. That’s what I see this leaning toward.

Jane: So the new strategic plan… is all of the construction on campus a part of that? 

Bob: The new strategic plan is overarching, so you know it encompasses academics, construction, mission and ministry. The strategic plan is still in the process of being developed, and I would say it’s maybe two-thirds done.

Jane: How does this construction impact our surrounding communities?

Bob: There are a number of new impacts. First of all, we try to do all of our new construction following LEED guidelines. LEED stands for Leadership Energy and Environmental Design. We hire architects, and charge them to design to LEDD standards.

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Artist depiction for the new living spaces along Lancaster Avenue!

The largest impact we’re trying to achieve is providing housing to our students, so we can take students out of the neighborhoods. We’re taking about 1,200 students and bringing them back on campus. That’s less impact to the neighbors. The other impact of that is that those 1,200 students had to drive to school. As true commuters, students have to drive to school once if not twice a day. So that traffic, we think, will diminish. That’s not to say these students won’t drive, and junior and seniors are allowed to have cars on campus. There will be, however, fewer trips. During construction we’re also trying to be more green and sustainable, so as part of the LEED design process we encourage or require them to procure their material for components of the buildings locally, opposed to getting them in (somewhere like) California. We want them to get material from within a certain radius of the construction site. We recycle any construction waste, therefore reducing the stuff that goes into the landfill.

Jane: How do the new buildings on campus impact our University’s efforts towards sustainability?

Bob: New construction is difficult because we’re trying to reduce our footprint, but every building we build uses more energy just because it’s a new building. As we start to use up our usable land, we’ll look at different ways to meet our space needs. Renovating and repurposing existing buildings, maybe putting additions on existing buildings.

Jane: What do you think is the most significant step our University has taken to demonstrate our commitment to sustainability?

Bob: Hiring Liesel!

Liesel: Ha! I would say our commitment to going carbon neutral by 2050. That’s one of our more higher-reaching commitments to sustainability that we haven’t achieved yet, but it’s a good goal.

Bob: The carbon neutrality is part of the President’s Commitment, which encompasses different areas. Something I forgot to mention with construction is our stormwater management. Basically the goal of stormwater management is to take all of the water that falls on your site, and to take care of it on your site, not to put it in a pipe which goes to a stream which goes to a river which goes to the ocean, which with it brings the pollutants of the parking lots or whatever that catch that water. So instead, we’re trying to capture the water and use it on campus. We also have two professors – Professor Rob Traver and Professor Bridget Wadzuk – who are experts in this field. They get grants from the state and are actually currently rewriting the state of Pennsylvania stormwater regulations for how you deal with stormwater anywhere. But we have 15 sites on campus and we measure and meter that water.

From this conversation with Liesel and Bob, I was pleasantly surprised by all of the wonderful work Villanova has been doing to become more eco-friendly. I was shocked that I wasn’t more aware of this information, and felt like it deserved more recognition. When I asked them both about why students don’t know about this as much as they should, they both agreed, “It’s hard to get students’ attention.” Between everyone’s extracurricular activities, athletics, classes and work schedules, it’s hard for these initiatives to be widely known among groups that aren’t naturally drawn to them.

That being said, we don’t all have to sign up for Sustainability Club right now. As Liesel reflected, maybe we can just think about how sustainability and environmental interests are more interconnected to issues that relate to our passions, opposed to just thinking of recycling more. (But do that too.) Take note of the actions that contribute to sustainable lifestyles, and see if there is anything – big or little – that you can do on campus to incorporate them.

 

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