Kent State Recognized Again for Sustainability Efforts

Through multiple organizations and collaborations on and off campus, Kent State University ended 2019 as a more sustainable campus. Those who contributed to sustainable efforts worked hard to reduce the university’s carbon footprint leading to the university being honored as a finalist for the 2020 Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Campus Sustainability Achievement Award  along with the 2019 Keep Ohio Beautiful award for Colleges and Universities.

Kent State was chosen as a finalist out of about 400 submissions toAASHE. The AASHE Sustainability Awards provide global recognition to individuals and organizations leading sustainability efforts.

Keep Ohio Beautiful is the Ohio affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, a national nonprofit with a goal of keeping communities clean and green. The organization provides resources to help put a stop to littering, enforce and encourage recycling and beautify communities across America.

Multiple on-campus programs encouraging sustainability and environmental consciousness took place throughout 2019.

“There is a huge impact of the programs, of the award, hopefully it’s encouraging people that there are a lot of ways to do good in the world and there are a lot of people that contribute to all of that,” said Melanie Knowles, the sustainability manager at the Office of Sustainability.

Upon hearing about this award, Leah Graham, outreach recycling coordinator at the Office of Sustainability, decided this would be a perfect opportunity to acknowledge all of the organizations and departments on campus who make efforts to keep Kent State green.

A large emphasis is being made to address clothing and textiles at Kent State and keeping those out of the landfill, Knowles said.

Knowles and Graham found that this type of sustainable action is rarely measured and recognized. Focusing on these specific initiatives that make Kent State unique is what led them to focus on the programs they did when applying to the award.

Graham included programs from residence services, career exploration and development, the fashion school, the women’s center, community engaged learning, the construction management student organization and other student group projects and organizations.

Each of these groups developed programs that initiated efforts to increase sustainability. All of the work combined is what helped the university win this award.

“When you see the collective efforts of what all the different people and programs are doing on campus and to realize that we diverted 33 tons of material in one year, it’s a good feeling,” Graham said.

Residence services hosts the Throw N’ Go program where students can donate any salvageable items from the year to those in need, according to Yewande Moore, the student leadership coordinator for residence services.

In the spring move-out of 2019, 31.8 tons of clothing, furniture, rugs, non-perishable food and other items were donated from Kent State to the Phyllis Zumkehr Portage County Clothing Center.

The Phyllis Zumkehr Portage County Clothing Center offers gently used clothing, household items and appliances to families and individuals in need at absolutely no cost, serving over 3,000 individuals and families every month.

Kent State donated about 15% of the 215 tons the Phyllis Zumkehr County Clothing Center diverts from the landfill every year.

Other programs that encourage clothing reuse on campus are: the Career Closet, Winter Coat Drive, and the Bra Recycling Drive. The Women's Center, LaunchNet and the Career Exploration and Development Center partnered together and created the Career Closet so that students could easily and affordably get the attire they need for interviews, internships and new jobs.

The Kent State Office of Sustainability, Women’s Center, Community Engaged Learning and the Phyllis Zumkehr County Clothing Center partnered together to offer the 2018 winter coat drive at Kent State. From mid-November through mid-December 2018, Kent State collected and donated 547 pounds of winter coats and clothing, and of this 90% was donated to the Phyllis Zumkeher Portage County Clothing Center and 10% was used to create a winter warm-up station, making winter clothing items available for free.

The Bra Recycling Drive reduces textiles that would have been sent to the landfill, allowing bras to be recycled or donated for reuse. Kent State Office of Sustainability has partnered with the Women’s Center to offer bra recycling every October since 2012. Since the start of the program, over 1,000 bras have been donated and about 75% of bras collected are sent for reuse to the Phyllis Zumkehr County Clothing Center and 25% of bras are sent to be recycled to The Bra Recyclers.

“We have people who have and people who need, the amount of enthusiasm of people coming to our clothing drives, matches the enthusiasm of people who are willing to give,” said Cassandra Pegg-Kirby, director of the Women’s Center at Kent State.

Another program that offers recycling and reuse of textiles is efforts at the School of Fashion. The fashion school implemented the fabric scrap recycling program where almost 4.4 tons of fabric scraps have been recycled.

While unwanted clothing can be donated for reuse, Kent State sought a solution for recycling fabric scraps and threads. Professors and students at Kent State’s School of Fashion empty fabric scrap bins into the outdoor fabric scrap collection container. The School of Fashion also donates fabric scraps to local non-profit, the Socially Responsible Sweatshop, which repurposes landfill-destined textiles into useful items and proceeds from the sales of these items are donated to provide extra funds for food-insecure community members and other social justice projects.

Three Kent State student organizations created events to encourage clothing reuse on campus during Earth Month April 2019. Global Fashion Citizens hosted a Spring Cleaning Clothing Swap where students were encouraged to recycle clothes by exchanging items with other students.

The Sustainable Living at Kent State student organization hosted a no sew T-shirt bag event creating reusable bags from T-shirts. Communication in Global Society Course Student Group hosted a Fossil Free Fashion event where clothing could be brought to be swapped or upcycled.

These clothing drives and swaps give an opportunity for all students to help out other students and people in the community who are in need. The College of Architecture and Environmental Design, along with the Construction Management Student Organization also provide assistance to those in need in the community.

The Construction Management student organization raised $5000 to build a shelter at the back of the Phyllis Zumkehr Portage County Clothing Center, so that larger donated items like furniture would not be ruined in the rain.

“While we used materials that were new, the furniture didn’t get wet, it didn’t get thrown away, it got passed on to the people who needed it rather than ending up in the dumpster,” said Joe Karpinski, full-time faculty member and advisor to the Construction Management Student Organization.

These efforts not only benefited the Portage County community, but also benefited the students in the construction management organization. These students are expected to fulfill a community service requirement and this was the perfect initiative for these students to incorporate their future careers into a service opportunity.

While these initiatives were hosted and created by Kent State faculty, staff and students, there were multiple community collaborators that made these programs possible.

“If it weren’t for the Portage County Clothing Center, we’d have no outlet for the clothes donated. If it weren’t for businesses taking our fabric scraps and bras, they’d end up in landfills,” Knowles said. “This really truly is something raised in the consciousness of the community and I want to recognize all of the folks who contributed to that.”

As these programs continue throughout the academic year and into future years to come, the Keep Ohio Beautiful award will remind students, faculty and those in the community how impactful Kent State’s initiatives have become.

“All of these programs demonstrate Kent State's commitment to sustainability and the community,” said Graham. “We are helping the environment by reducing the amount of waste at landfills, benefiting the community by giving clothing, furniture, appliances, etc. I wanted to have a chance to recognize all these people and programs and the benefit they’re providing to the community.”

POSTED: Tuesday, November 17, 2020 03:20 PM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 11:31 AM
Leah Marxen & Jada Miles