One of the greenest colleges in the country, Westminster still has room to improve

Bridger Layton, a junior environmental studies major, works alone into the night in Westminster College’s Environmental Center. Bridger is a fellow at the center and said he is currently researching new projects the center could undertake. Photo by Cole Schreiber.

Bridger Layton, a junior environmental studies major, works alone into the night in Westminster College’s Environmental Center. Bridger is a fellow at the center and said he is currently researching new projects the center could undertake. Photo by Cole Schreiber.

The Princeton Review ranked Westminster College as one of the greenest colleges in the nation in its 2016 edition. However, based off the college's eco-container program and STARS survey, some at Westminster think the college has taken steps backward instead of forward.  

Westminster was once known for having a mandatory eco-container program at the Shaw Student Center. But after losing too much money on the containers, Ryan Leonard, Bon Appétit's general manager, said the program had to shut down. 

"We have lost 3,540 eco-containers," Leonard said."If they are being lost, stolen or thrown away, that really defeats the entire purpose of the program." 

The eco-containers will never decompose and can be reused for years. Eco-containers are environmentally friendly compared to disposable fiber containers, which decompose over a long period of time, Leonard said. 

After the mandatory eco-container program failed, students can now choose to make a one-time payment of $5.50 for an eco-container or pay a reoccurring 75 cent fee for disposable containers. 

The new eco-container program is similar to what Bon Appétit used before it introduced its mandatory eco-container program.  

"Before the eco-container program, the number one source of waste was disposable food containers from Shaw," said Kerry Case, director of Westminster's environmental center. 

Case said the change back to a non-mandatory eco-container program is concerning. Bridger Layton, a junior environmental studies major, agreed. 

"I think that the fiber containers will become a large source of waste once again," he said. "[It] seems like there is already a cultural shift back to disposable [containers as] the norm."  

However, Leonard said Bon Appétit had no choice but to make the change. 

"This is the best solution with the timeframe that we had," Leonard said. "What needs to happen is a culture change." 

Students were not only stealing eco-containers but also weren't leaving them in designated drop-off locations, which made the containers prone to damage and difficult to find. 

Leonard and Layton both said they think students will now leave plates and other dishes across campus like they once did with the eco-containers. 

"Since the beginning of the semester we have lost 1,000 metal forks," Leonard said. "Where do they go?" 

The current program is only a temporary fix, and Leonard said Bon Appétit hopes to have a revamped program in place by next fall. 

Case said the original change to a mandatory eco-container program was one of the factors that helped Westminster become a "Green College" on The Princeton Review's "Best 381 Colleges" guide in the first place.  

Case said Westminster also landed on the list because of the biennial survey called the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), which analyzes the college's environmental progress. 

"We do the STARS assessment every other year," Case said. "It's our total points from that assessment that help us land on lists like the Princeton Review." 

STARS tracks how much the college impacts the environment—from how students get to school to how efficient the buildings on campus are.  

Westminster's last STARS assessment surveyed 147 undergraduate students. Of those students, 77 said they drive to school alone. The STARS survey is assumed to represent the entire college, where almost 53 percent of students drive to school alone and 25 percent walk or ride bikes to campus.  

Case said this is a major environmental hurdle Westminster has to overcome. 

"One of the things that I think is a bigger improvement to campus than the eco-containers is all the students knowing that they have a free bus pass," Case said. "Every student I.D on this campus lets you ride the bus system, FrontRunner and TRAX for free."  

Case said she thinks students underutilize this.  

"Our research shows that most students are aware of it but not using it" Case said "Some of that is because the bus system to our campus is challenging." 

To discourage driving, Westminster began charging for parking passes around five years ago. 

"We saw a big drop in the amount of students driving to campus," Case said. "Putting in the parking fee is the biggest thing we have done to drive down the greenhouse emissions from campus."  

Brent Olson, an associate professor of environmental studies, said Westminster is working to lower its carbon footprint, which in turn may help improve Salt Lake City's air quality. 

"We have made all the easy improvements as far as grounds and facilities that we can make," Olson said. "Now we are working on big improvements on facilities. We are trying to make Meldrum more efficient." 

The cooling system on top of the Meldrum Science Center, which cools Meldrum and Converse Hall in the summer, is extremely inefficient, Olson said. 

"Every time Converse needs cooling down, it has to fire up this massive chiller on the top of Meldrum," Olson said. "It doesn't make sense to fire up this huge chiller every time a room in Converse needs cooling down."   

Olson and Case said the student body has the power to make changes on campus and to keep the college's ranking as one of The Princeton Review's greenest colleges. 

"Most of the credit of Westminster being recognized as a green school needs to go to Kerry Case and the students at the environmental center," Olson said. "They do things such as keeping track of our greenhouse gas emissions and making sure we are recycling."