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September 27, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – In light of the recent United Nations Summit on Global Climate Change and a symposium sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters on sustainability and resilient communities, Adrian Dominican Sisters listened to an update on the Congregation’s sustainability efforts. At the same time, they were encouraged to examine their own daily practices and discern what they could change to benefit Earth.
The presentation was delivered by Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Office of Sustainability; Joel Henricks, Director of Facilities and Grounds; and Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist.
Left to right: Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Sustainability Office, offers a presentation on waste management; Joel Henricks, Director of Facilities and Grounds, talks about campus energy usage; Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist, provides an update on the campus permaculture program.
Addressing the issue of waste and materials management, Sister Corinne emphasized the importance of reducing consumption of the world’s goods, of making conscious decisions about what to buy in light of its effect on the environment. The next step, she said, would be finding the best way to handle the waste: reusing or recycling the materials.
Much of Sister Corinne’s presentation focused on the new recycling regulations in Adrian, Michigan. “The biggest change is that in plastic we can only recycle what’s labeled 1 and 2,” she said. “It’s a big challenge to see what I can buy. I now have to look at something and ask myself, ‘Am I still going to purchase that with the plastic that goes to the waste, or is there another way to satisfy that need?’”
Sister Corinne warned against trying to recycle something that is not permitted and that would contaminate the recycling collection, forcing all of the items in a particular bin to be taken to the landfill rather than to various recycling facilities.
Sister Corinne had advice on how to decrease consumption: bring containers for left-overs to restaurants; bring your own mesh bags to the grocery store to hold loose vegetables rather than using plastic bags; avoid excessive packaging and challenge companies who use too much packaging; as much as possible, buy items made from recycled material; and create your own personal “waste audit” to see what you discard and how you could avoid sending items to the landfill.
In his part of the presentation, Joel noted that the Motherhouse Campus has made a significant decrease in energy usage – a 24% decrease since 2013, when the installation of more efficient LED lighting at the Motherhouse began. Other actions to decrease energy usage included the installation of a chiller, which during off-peak hours produces ice that is sent through pipes to cool the buildings. Through the Consumers Energy’s Smart Building Incentive Program, Consumers Energy pays an engineering firm to audit the energy usage at the Motherhouse and to determine other ways that energy usage can be decreased.
The possibility of producing renewable energy through sources such as solar panels is being explored, Joel said. “But the very fundamental beginning is to reduce how much [energy] you use to begin with,” he added. Small actions such as turning out lights when you leave a room or turning off the computer at the end of the day make a difference in reducing energy use, he said.
In the Permaculture area, Jared noted some successful efforts. A contraction of permanent and agriculture, permaculture involves the design of land in a way that imitates the ways of nature to make the practice of agriculture more sustainable.
Jared reported on the success of the Congregation’s vegetable garden, which, in spite of the challenges of a cold and rainy spring, finally produced crops that needed very little irrigation.
He also spoke of the use of vermiculture – composting through the use, in this case, of 100,000 worms – to break down food scraps and other compostable materials use the resulting compost to enrich the soil on campus. Jared noted that, between the campuses of the Motherhouse and Siena Heights University, nearly 52,000 pounds of food scraps was collected and composted during the six months that he has served as Permaculture Specialist.
Other areas of focus for permaculture this year were:
While the sustainability efforts at the Motherhouse have been a success, Sister Corinne, Joel, and Jared still encouraged people to continue to find their ways in their personal lives to make a difference for Earth and to help restore the health of the planet and its ecosystems and creatures.
Sisters listen attentively to the update on sustainability and permaculture.