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Know Your Campus, Part 1

Know Your Campus, Part 1

Who Are You?

Knowing yourself is important. It’s important for young adults as they try to figure out their place in the world. But it’s also important for campuses as they adopt recycling and sustainability efforts. It’s important to know yourself and to know that what worked for someone else won’t necessarily work for you. Learn from their success. Share your own successes. But understand that with all of the information sharing, you still need to adopt stuff to suit your own needs.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Every campus is a little bit different. Ironically, if you break a campus down into individual parts (e.g. traditional dormitory-style residence halls, apartment/suite style residence halls, faculty offices, departmental offices, cash-operations dining, dining commons, etc.), each individual part is actually pretty darn similar. But what makes each campus completely unique is the combination of parts, scale of the parts, the overall academic philosophy, and the fundamental business model of the campus. For the next few blog posts, I am planning to focus on some of the biggest differences and some fundamental changes those differences bring:

Commuter Campus vs Residential Campus Issue

For the purposes of this blog, I am not limiting this to strictly the % of students living in campus owned housing, but also including as residential campuses those campus-centric areas for which the preponderance of full-time students living off campus are living concentrated in apartments immediately surrounding the campus; apartments that are geared specifically to students and that would likely not exist without the campus.

One of the obvious differences between residential and commuter campuses is the difference in residence hall waste. Residence halls and the concentrated apartment complexes immediately surrounding campus are a huge portion of the waste shed of a residential campus. They are a big enough portion of the campus waste stream that seasonal variations in the residence halls can impact the overall recycling percentages of the campus. On a residential campus, you see huge spikes in total campus cardboard generation when students move in at the start of the fall semester and huge spikes in the generation of everything else when students move out at the end of the spring semester. Those move-in and move-out spikes can become almost the entire focus of your program that time of year on a residential campus. At a commuter campus, those spikes are hardly a blip on the overall campus total, though they might exist for the handful of residence halls (if any) that exist on campus. The bigger spikes on a commuter campus tend to be around office moves and retirement-related office cleanouts. And without residence halls demanding all the attention, there is often a chance to pay more attention to office-related diversion opportunities.

But having residence halls means more than just the waste generated in the residence halls. Having residence halls typically means having a residential life department, an important part of the co-curricular education on a residential campus. As such, for many residential-campus recycling programs, educational efforts in the residence halls are a major component of the campus recycling program. This typically includes not just information about how to recycle in the residence halls, but is also one of the primary vehicles for overall promotion about recycling and sustainability. Presentations at floor/hall meetings are often a major component of recycling and sustainability education at a residential campus. On a commuter campus, most of your students do not live in residence halls and are not exposed to that residential life experience. Thus you must either find other ways of delivering that educational and promotional information, do more partnering with the local municipal or county government to deliver that message, or drop those facets of your program.

Another huge aspect of a residential vs. commuter campus is foodservice. On a residential campus, the preponderance of your dining comes via one or more dining hall(s), with most students eating multiple meals per day in a dining hall. If you do not yet have a composting program, food waste from the dining hall(s) may be one of the biggest remaining slugs of readily-divertable material in your residential-campus waste stream. Although more is happening with to-go dining on all campuses, dining-services-related food waste on residential campus is generally concentrated in the dining halls. Thus, the majority of food waste can be captured from a few collection locations. Residential-campus dining is also typically based on a buffet-style or food-station-based all-you-can-eat dining model. As a result, especially at the beginning of the year, there is likely to be some excess food waste as students adjust to this style of dining and their eyes start to better align to the size of their stomachs. As a result, there may be numerous opportunities on a residential campus to affect food waste generation by looking at how food is served (portion size, dining hall layout, trayless dining, etc.).

On a commuter campus, a significant number of students may not eat a meal on campus at all. Of those that do, lunch is typically the most frequently eaten meal on campus, and is generally eaten from some sort of cash operations, whether a café run by Dining Services or food-court style private to-go enterprises operating on campus. Often these meals are taken to-go and eaten elsewhere. From a diversion standpoint, the food package may be as important as the food item itself. The fact that food items are taken and eaten elsewhere also limits the number of concentrated areas from which food waste is generated. However, if there is a primary café or food court is located in the campus center, such that it makes sense to add compost collection there, it may open opportunities to offer composting in the other meeting rooms in the campus center.

Another significant difference between residential and commuter campuses regards student clubs. I have worked with residential campuses where meetings of student groups routinely took place at 9pm because that was the only time they could meet among all of their other on-campus activities. Conversely, I have worked with commuter campuses where the campus is a ghost town after dark and at 9pm, you are more likely to encounter a feral chicken or a wild coyote than a college student. So, if your plan for success involves a lot of late night meetings of the environmental club, know that on some campuses that is likely to be a non-starter.

Another aspect of a commuter campus that cannot be overlooked is traffic flow to and from campus. The majority of students are coming to and leaving from campus every day. Depending on how many of them are doing so via public transportation, vehicle access around campus can be a real issue between classes. As a result, scheduling the pickup of containers and responding to service calls can take on a degree of difficulty that is not seen at most residential campuses. Timing a pickup wrong can lead to crews and vehicles stuck in traffic for an hour longer than expected. But this congestion can also present opportunity. If you are advocating for the use of low-speed/neighborhood electric vehicles for service staff as opposed to traditional vehicles that are too-often left idling on campus, the added congestion of a commuter campus may present an opportunity. Often these low-speed/neighborhood electric vehicles can maneuver through pathways or road shoulders than traditional vehicles cannot, presenting advantages on a commuter campus that may not be as much of an advantage on a residential campus and leading to a higher adoption rate on a commuter campus than you would see on a residential campus.

With so many differences between residential and commuter campuses, it is important to recognize that each of these campuses likely have different priorities and different pathways to success. As we often tell the young adults on our campuses, focus less on what other people do and focus more on achieving your own potential.

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Roger Guzowski

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