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February 26, 2020, Adrian, Michigan – Even during this year’s mild winter in Michigan, work in the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ permaculture area and in other areas of sustainability continue to grow and blossom. Sisters and Associates heard about these efforts – and were encouraged to do their part – during the Winter Sustainability Update recently offered by Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Sustainability Office; Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist; and Joel Henricks, Director of Facilities and Grounds.

Sister Corinne set the tone by reminding the Sisters and Associates of the Congregation’s 2016 General Chapter Enactment on Sustainability, to “sacrifice to mitigate significantly our impact on climate change and ecological degradation.”

“We look at that [Enactment] through certain lenses, certain areas,” including energy, food, purchasing, transportation, waste, and land care, Sister Corinne explained. “We’re trying to continue to find ways to change our behavior for the positive.” She cited a Sister who spoke of the “million little things” that can be done to preserve the environment, such as using cloth rather than paper napkins. In that vein, Sister Corinne encouraged the Sisters and Associates to ask themselves, “What are the little things that matter, that we can do?” and to take those little actions.


The greenhouse at the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Motherhouse Campus will soon be renovated to include a heated seed bed.

Jared focused his presentation on answering a common question: What does he do during the winter? He pointed to the many projects taking place in the Congregation’s permaculture area, including: 

  • Renovating the greenhouse with the addition of heated seed beds to allow him to grow more plants from seed.
  • Constructing a second worm bin to house the worms that work to compost campus organic waste, eventually bringing the combined population of the Congregation’s vermiculture worms to a quarter of a million.
  • Learning about beekeeping under the mentorship of a local beekeeper.
  • Revamping of Permaculture’s social media presence through a new Instagram account with the help of Social Media Specialist Ashley LaVigne.

Looking ahead, Jared noted that Barry University and Siena Heights University students participating in the Environmental Leadership Experience in May will build a rain garden of native plants near the Weber Retreat and Conference Center parking lot to address an erosion problem. Also in the works, he said, are workable test kitchens to discover ways to prepare the novel fruits and vegetables grown in the permaculture area.

Energy Consumption

Ice storage tanks allow the Congregation to create ice during off-peak hours to cool buildings during the day.

Joel reviewed some of the ways that the Adrian Dominican Congregation is reducing its energy consumption on the Motherhouse Campus. 

Efforts have included replacing conventional lighting with LED lighting; upgrading the chiller so that ice is manufactured during the night – during off-peak usage hours – and sent by day through the pipes to cool campus buildings in the summer; and the use of a stack economizer to divert boiler exhaust and use it to heat water.

Joel also recommended a few ways that people can reduce their energy consumption: relying on natural lighting rather than electricity on sunny days and lowering the heat by one or two degrees during the winter. Cumulatively, he said, if many Sisters lower their thermostats, “you’re talking about a very significant impact” on reducing energy usage.  

Practices and Programs

Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Sustainability Office, speaks on the campus recycling efforts.

Sister Corinne reiterated her focus on the “million little things” that can be done to reduce the damage to our environment. 

“We have to disengage ourselves from the use of plastic,” since few plastic items can be recycled locally, she said. She also encouraged the Sisters and Associates to speak to managers of the grocery stores where they shop, asking them to reduce their use of plastic packaging. 

Sister Corinne also spoke of two returning programs in May: the River Raisin Festival on Wednesday, May 6, 2020, to teach local elementary school students about the local environment, and the Environmental Leadership Experience for Barry University and Siena Heights University students, May 11-21, 2020.

Feature photo: Jared Aslakson, Permaculture Specialist, prunes one of the fruit trees in the permaculture site’s edible forest.

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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.

Corinne Sanders, OP    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:

  • The creation of a pollinator garden, which has attracted monarch butterflies.
  • The improvement of a rain garden created last year. “We’re very happy with the results,” Jared said. “The garden holds more water for longer, and drains the driveway much more quickly,” and has attracted diverse wildlife through the plants that grew in the rain garden.
  • Educational outreach through weekly sessions with honors students of Siena Heights University and through the annual Environmental Leadership Experience for Siena Heights University and Barry University students.

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.



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