Author Archives: ellthistle23

Connecting to Our Community: What We’ve Been Up To

sustainable city.jpgWe’ve been having a busy and thoughtful time here at the sustainability house as the end of the semester begins to rear its beautiful, ugly head. When we embarked on this year-long course of problem solving sustainable living, it became clear to us that reaching out to our campus community was of utmost importance. Having support and interest greatly affects our course because it justifies allocating us more resources and it strengthens our programs, but beyond this, we have a greater intention. We believe this is a seminal time in the lives of students, as they are beginning to live more independent lives, are being exposed to vast amounts of new information, and are beginning the journey of truly creating who they are. It is a perfect time to have them confront their unquestioned assumptions and begin developing a more informed and contemplative paradigm. The perspectives and habits developed by students at this point in their lives will be influential for years to come, and will affect how they interact with the world, engage in their careers, and even teach their kids. This is why we believe it is so important to garner an understanding of our interdependence and influence in the natural world and impart an ethic of care to our peers. We want to contribute to building a thoughtful generation that confronts the challenges of our time. Such a large part of doing that is affecting people individually and making this education fun and rewarding.

We kicked this semester off with Blake’s Sustainable Living Roundtable, a weekly discussion group about the environment and living sustainably. While we’re still developing a following, a few students are participating in this process, which for us, is always a success. Hopefully, this meaningful way of engaging with community and the environment will continue to be a tradition for the groups of house members yet to come.

Last week, Sam hosted a Baking event with delicious vegan alternatives to everyone’s favorite desserts. While mixing and baking these fun recipes, attendees were educated on the value of going vegan and resources to do so. Check out her blog post, “Vegan Baking Event & Answering ‘Why Vegan?’” to learn more about this awesome event and going vegan!

On Tuesday, we had a very interesting experience meeting with various leaders of Albright at the CSS Meeting, which is centered around missions of sustainability and stewardship. Here we presented the apex of our efforts as a house: The Sustainable Dorm Living Initiative. This is a three-part plan we have developed to help accomplish our goals of creating a more sustainably oriented student culture here at Albright. The first aspect is an addendum to the Community Living Guide, a small booklet given to every student living in a dorm. This section has a forward delineating the importance of living sustainably and Albright’s mission for students, and following this will be a number of ways students can live sustainably. Our second part is a number of infographics that will be placed in high-traffic areas of the dorms. There will be one placed in bathroom stalls with ways to conserve water in the bathroom, one going over all the rules of waste disposal and recycling placed over communal waste containers, one for conserving in the laundry room, one with a general list of lifestyle habits in the common rooms, and lastly, a small infographic for the students to place in their actual dorm rooms. We feel these are great ways to show students that Albright cares about sustainability and it gives them actual tools to start changing their lifestyles. The final aspect of our project is an event in each of the dorm buildings. With this we will be doing a craft, discussion session, and be giving away reusable water bottles and grocery bags. For us this is a great way to affect individuals and plant the seeds of transitioning to sustainability.

We’re all looking forward to Regina’s event this Sunday, the annual Spring Permablitz at the Albright Sustainable Garden. This is an opportunity for students to literally get their hands dirty, connect with the earth, and engage in sustainability with their peers. We will all be preparing the garden for a healthy and successful growing season, but what’s even better is that Renee’s 13th and Union event will also bring local elementary students in to be part of this process. During the week following the Permablitz, Renee will be leading tours of the garden for a number of classes and teaching students about agriculture and soil science, all culminating in wildflower planting in our new terraced plots. Reading is an impoverished urban city so it is always so rewarding to get these students outside and connected to the natural world, while still inside the city limits. It is our hope to not only affect our peers but also the younger generations!

To finish off the year, we’re working on a brand-new initiative to reduce the impact of end-of-the-semester move out. We’ve seen repeatedly that students will put perfectly utilizable items in the trash. Instead of letting them go to waste, we’ll be working with Goodwill to set up donation boxes at the dorms. In addition to this, we will be holding a clothing swap for all students. If they bring items they don’t want anymore, they can trade them for items other students have brought. Anything leftover will be donated to Goodwill instead of taking up landfill space!

These are some of the ways we felt would help build a more sustainable community on our campus. Let us know what you think! What do you think are some fun and effective ways to build community and encourage sustainable behavior?



By Ellen Underwood


Economics and the Environment: Analyzing Various Perspectives

The question of sustainable living goes much deeper than the daily changes we make in our lives to save water and energy and resources. It means confronting our individual, local, and global paradigms, it means deciding what we value in the world, how we imagine our future, and what our relationship to each other and the earth is.

Embarking on a journey of sustainable living requires a deep confrontation, analysis, and development of our ethics. This semester I am taking an Environmental Ethics course that is dramatically reshaping my perspectives and I would like to open a conversation with all of our readers about these themes. Today, I’d like to talk about an email by Lawrence Summer. He was the Chief Economist of the World Bank and signed this memo in 1991:

DATE: December 12, 1991
TO: Distribution
FR: Lawrence H. Summers
Subject: GEP

‘Dirty’ Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:

1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate[sic] cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate[sic] cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.

The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.

— Lawrence Summers
At first glance, this email appears grossly classist, racist, environmentally damaging, and a serious breach of human rights and equality. How could one justify the mass exportation of pollution to poor populations? How is that fair? Why can’t we address pollution itself instead? How could anyone believe the detrimental health effects from dirty industry are justifiable for any population? When I first read this letter in my Environmental Sociology course, I thought all of these things and I was absolutely horrified. Now, I am taking my environmental ethics course and we took a deeper look at some aspects of what was put forth in this memo.
In my environmental ethics class, we read a source discussing the meanings behind what Summers is saying. According to this, and our discussion in class, Summers is raising the point that in these poor countries, the benefit of wages outweighs the benefit of a clean environment – it is a question of suffering from death by starvation or pollution. He essentially argues that due to poverty, the demand for industry and jobs is higher than the need for a clean environment because of survival needs, that the demand for a clean environment is a function of rising income. Bringing in industry, even if it is polluting, means economic growth, which environmental controls would slow.
Akin to this argument is the discussion of sustainable development in poorer nations. Some environmentalists argue that richer nations should invest in sustainable development in undeveloped nations as reparations for the environmental destruction they have caused and as a means to alleviate poverty sustainably. But, there are arguments against this from people in these countries because many rich nations raised their standard of living through the use of cheap fossil fuels. They argue that a plan of sustainable development denies them the same opportunity to raise quality of life cheaply and quickly. So, the same could be said for those arguing to keep polluting industries out of poor countries. Does this deny them much needed economic opportunity to which the cost of pollution is something they are willing to pay? If demand for clean environments increases with income, couldn’t it be possible for polluting industry to come in and provide jobs, increase income, and down the line lead to a higher demand for a clean environment and thus the institution of environmental controls can be implemented once the control is there? Maybe, maybe not.
The the capitalist system relies on market forces, and working within this context, maybe Summer’s perspective makes sense. In the richer nations, there is demand for cleaner environments. In poorer nations, there is demand for economic opportunity, even if it has negative environmental impact (and thus negative impact on human health). In terms of supply and demand, it would make sense for polluting industries to go to those countries. The demand for the products that have a polluting production process exists, and thus either these products need to not be produced, or their going to have to be produced somewhere – who is willing to produce it?
I think overall though, Summers argument still leaves much to be desired in terms of environmental protection and human safety. But, how do we balance environmental and economic needs? I believe an important part of the solution is using market mechanisms to force industry to be less polluting and pay fair wages in all countries. A cultural shift in the consumer consciousness of rich countries may be the best approach. We must internalize the externalitites – both of the environment and labor. If the demand for ethically produced goods, being the least environmentally damaging and produced with fair wages, is present, then industry will have to modify its practices. This would mean higher costs for Americas and other rich nations, but this would reduce the gross over-consumption by requiring smarter and less purchasing due to the higher cost. Wages in rich nations could also be raised to account for the high costs. The issue would be that this greatly decreases profit for industry. While profit is the main goal of capitalism, shifting how profit can be made is necessary to have a more equitable global society. Corporations should not be making billions of dollars if they are destroying the environment and paying people unlivable wages. This kind of solution may slow growth, but it would equalize standards of living more fairly. In the long term, capitalism is an unsustainable system, but it can not be overhauled in a night. We must use the power of demand to change it for the better, and slowly transition into an overall more equitable, sustainable system.
We want to hear what you think! How do we balance economic and environmental needs? Does Summers present a valid argument or is it wholly unfair? Is providing jobs or protecting the environment more important? What responsibilities do we have towards future generations? We want to hear what you think!

Spreading the Compost Around!

Throughout this semester we have attempted to reach out to the campus community in a variety of ways. With the Permablitz, we engaged students in a service learning, community building volunteer project. This November, the Get Out the Vote Rally attracted a diverse range of students in a socially active and environmentally spirited event. The 13th and Union Tree tours engaged the younger generation with the environment. The Sustainability House Round Table engaged interested students in an intimate conversation about sustainability. With my event for the semester, I chose to make an impact with other students living in and around campus in houses.

And what might you ask is a fun and easy way to engage students in sustainable living? What else but composting! With 33 million tons of food wasted in the US every year, which results in concentrated release of harmful methane and takes up increasingly valuable space, composting is an easy way to reduce this unnecessary pressure. Even better, it produces a super rich, healthy soil additive to grow your own produce! Growing your own produce shifts dependence away from the harmful industrial agriculture system, promotes healthier lives, and connects people with the earth. Its a beautiful thing to share with people, so I set out to get my friends and colleagues involved!

Image result for compostI got 5 gallon paint buckets and put the dos and don’ts of composting right on the lid for ease of use and from there went knocking on doors! Of the 12 houses contacted, only 5 were willing to participate but I still feel getting even one person to start composting that wasn’t before is a step in the right direction. I met with one individual from each of these households, we reviewed the rules, and I gave them a sheet to hang in their kitchen with more specific rules. The excitement from those who participated was heartwarming and it showed me the value of reaching out to individuals to create the environmental change we need in the world.

We have decided to keep this event “open” by advertising the ability for houses to start composting by contacting me for a meeting. Hopefully this way, the word can keep spreading, we can get more and more people to compost, and those who participate will carry this habit into the rest of their life, share it with their children, and create a cascade of positive change.

The rules are easy! Find yourself a bucket that closes and keep it in your house or on your porch. Then throw in browns and greens. If you get a 50-50 mixture of browns and greens, your compost will never get smelly and the compost it creates with be wonderfully nutrient rich! Create a pile in your backyard or put it in a compost turner, turn the pile with a pitchfork once a week, and it a number of months, you’ll have gold! Here’s the easy layout of the do’s and don’ts of composting:

Can Be Composted

Greens (Nitrogen Sources)

  • Fruits and vegetables (whole or scraps)
  • Plants/Plant prunings
  • Eggshells (crushed)Image result for vegetables
  • Coffee/tea grounds
  • Essentially, any plant material

Browns (Carbon Sources)

  • Paper (shredded/ripped)
  • Cardboard/cardstock (shredded/ripped)
  • Leaf waste, straw, wood/sticks

Can’t be composted

  • Meat/bones
  • Dairy (milk, eggs, cheese)
  • Oil
  • bread/pasta
  • Cooked foods

With all of these events, I feel we have reached out on campus in an effective manner to start building a culture of sustainable thinking on campus. Have any ideas of other ways we can affect positive change? Let us know in the comment section below!

Watering the Seeds

imageWelcome friends! It is quite astonishing that we have already returned to Albright for the fall semester and are embarking on the third year of “grappling with sustainability.” With a new school year, we now have a new group of students carrying the torch so it is with great joy that I welcome our new sustainabile living seedlings, Blake, Regina, Renee, and Sam. As the weeks go on I am excited that all you readers will get the opportunity to learn about these intelligent, motivated students and share our journey with us.

If you’re just joining us on this journey, I say thank you and welcome! This blog is dedicated to telling the story of the Albright College Sustainability House where a group of 5 students work together in the name of sustainability, both to address and change their own lives and to impact the lives and perspectives of others. We collect usage data, set reduction goals, do environmental education, explore and research sustainability topics, do large projects to improve our house, and more!

My name is Ellen and this will be my second year living in the house. I’m an environmental studies and philosophy major with a passion for sustainable agriculture and exploring the underlying and often unrecognized forces driving environmental destruction. For the past two summers I managed the campus permaculture garden (which is located right behind our house!), an experience which taught me the value and pleasure of environmental education, community outreach, and food accessibility. This summer, though, I decided to stay home and work towards making locally produced goods accessible in my own hometown by working as a manager at the “Primordia Farm Food Hub.” This is a centrally located roadside stand where we sell 100% locally produced goods from organic produce, dairy, eggs, bread and pastries, hot sauce, coffee, juice, pickles, honey, and more! In essence, a local grocery with pretty much everything you need! For me, seeing the joy this accessibility brought to people who wanted to live more sustainably, being able to participate in that, and to promote the joys and value of buying local to members of my community has affirmed and strengthened my values and has inspired me to approach what we do as a house a little differently.

While my lovely housemates will be introducing themselves in their coming posts, outright I can say they are all a passionate, motivated group. We had our first meeting between the five of us last week and with so many ideas and so much excitement, this meeting went on for two hours! As a returning member, seeing so much zeal come out and watching our bonds as housemates and project partners grow and strengthen gave  me high hopes for what we’ll accomplish this year. And oh my do we have big plans. Upon beginning our discussions, it became more than clear that we all recognized the things we and our campus need…We decided to switch our focus away from spending so much time on data collection and analysis. Instead, we want to build a strong community of environmental awareness and action at Albright as well as make truly valuable contributions to environmental improvement through fun and informative environmental education, community building, and social activism. We all have recognized that this is incredibly important work for us to do since environmentalism has continually been pushed to the outskirts as an important value by administration and resultingly our students. Building strong support and organization around environmentalism is a key to creating the change our world so desperately needs. For our environmental programs to be successful right here on campus, we must create the support we and the environment need. This year, we hope to make a lasting mark this way and we hope you enjoying reading about our successes and challenges in doing so!

In solidarity and with love,


Looking Ahead: The Future of the Sustainability House

As this year comes (sadly) to a close, I only have positive thoughts and hopes for the future. I know the joy and challenge of living sustainably has been a wonderful growing experience for all of us living in the house, and I know I especially feel all the better for it. One of the most striking evolutions of self I have experienced is the ability to critically analyze the manner in which I approach my daily life. Instead of blundering through my day to day, doing things the ways I’ve always done just because that’s the way I do them, I have instead been able to unpack my paradigm and question the forces driving me to make one choice or another. And eventually, this has become natural, a part of my daily routine. This is not to say such a method prompts immediate behavioral changes, but it’s the first step and one of the most important aspects of trying to live sustainably. As I see it, the lack of critical analysis of our daily lives is one of the very reasons we are severely over consuming and thus destroying our environment. When we step back and think about what we’re doing for just a few seconds, we can make small decisions that together make a big difference.

It’s taking the two seconds to ask – whats driving me to act this way and why and how can I do better? It’s as easy as unplugging appliances or turn off the lights, the small sacrifice to switch to fair trade organic coffee or locally grown tea, to buy food from local organic farmers instead of sub-par veggies from the grocery stores. It’s walking instead of driving or going without that over-packaged junk food, both of which are good for your health, your wallet, and the earth. It’s having open discussion with peers about ethics and what we want our future to be and spreading that critical thinking to our fellow peers.

One of the projects Tom and I have undertaken is converting the underutilized and less than aesthetic garden plots surrounding the house into a flourishing native plant pollinator garden. Instead of letting this space pass us by in our minds, we stood outside and asked – how can we do better for us and the earth. And so, we are transforming this wasted space into a haven for Pennsylvanian native plant species and our ever valued pollinators all the while beautifying our home and creating a more fertile learning ground for the students who tour the house.

This year  in the house has been a transformative one for us, but it’s also a year that will help transform the sustainability house program as a whole. As only the second flock of students living here, we’ve been charged with the order of working out the bugs to make this house the best it can be for the years to come. Some of the most important things we will be adopting next year is personal reflections, stringent goal setting, and community building so we ensure that month to month we are continually evolving. We’ve also been able to develop more efficient methods of gathering data and are putting together an online handbook so each incoming class of sustainable seedlings will be able to start the year closer to where the last group left off.

My fellow housemates will be moving out of the Sustainability House and into new homes next year to spread sustainable living with our peers while I will be coming back to the house to carry our soon to be long tradition of sustainable transformation. I’d like to send a hearty welcome to Blake, Regina, Renee, and Samantha who will be next year’s residents! I can’t wait to continue this journey with them and all of you readers out there!


Spreading Sustainable Living: Insights from Life at the Albright Sustainability House

What kinds of approaches and challenges are there when attempting to establish sustainable homes, centers, and communities? To me, living sustainably is not just a matter of acting sustainably, it’s about building strong relationships that utilize everyone’s unique talents and cultivating community that creates and enriches the long-term goals of sustainability: creating a world that is viable now and in the future. This in itself requires a deeper look at the ways in which we can and should build community structures based around sustainability and the challenges of doing so. If we wanted to spread “sustainability houses” across our community or even in general, how does our experience here in the house help? Looking at the approaches, successes, and challenges experienced in the sustainability house provides important perspectives to consider when spreading visions of sustainable living. We have developed a number of ways of creating and maintaining a successful, harmonious, and effective communal sustainability structure, albeit not without its imperfections and questions of application in “the real world.”
We do a number of things that work very well. First, we have a house manager that serves as a central source of organizing activities, behaviors, requirements, and events. While there is this form of central leadership, each member of the house serves as a “council member,” where everyone has an equal and democratic say in what we decide to do. We have weekly meetings to discuss steps forward, challenges, and changes that need addressing, as well as to collectively work on group projects. We (as we’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts) have also created a chalkboard wall in the kitchen to serve as reminders of upcoming events and assignments and designed info-graphics for sustainability tips in each common room of the house. We also have 5 people here each with different skill sets and interests. Our majors range from environmental studies, environmental science, education, marine aquatics, philosophy, and political science. Instead of focusing on purely environmental sustainability approaches, we encourage the participation of everyone’s unique paradigms to inform and enrich our approach to sustainability. And really, environmentalism in itself is a topic that must be approached from all of these angles and more. These aspects of our home make for an effective way of ensuring that we meet our goals of sustainability, hold each other accountable and keep each other driven, continually progress and evolve in our activities, and overall create a successful program and better world.
All of these approaches provide valuable examples of ways in which effective sustainable homes through open, communal structures can be created. This is not to say this is the only way, but from this experience, I believe that approaches that only address required sustainable behavior for individuals that leaves everyone to their own devices not only leaves more room for people to not fulfill their requirements, but also falls short of what living sustainably should really mean. Living sustainably in a singular pocket is not sustainability because it does not actively work towards a more sustainable world. Yes, singular changes in behavior is important, but the challenge of sustainability is getting many to live this way – we must actively change the world or else the big changes needed will never happen. We at the house are not only modifying our own behaviors, we are also actively engaging in projects and community outreach that actively works towards creating a better world. We give tours of our house and our community garden to the local elementary school and local summer programs. We go to the local elementary school to do environmental education programs. We hold events on campus to get more students active in environmentalism and sustainable behavior. We write this blog and have created a social media presence to show what we are doing and spread the joys and challenges of this experience. I believe that any group working towards building communal sustainability must think beyond their immediate surroundings and become an active member of the sustainability movement.
While we do a number of things that I find to be integral to creating a successful and true sustainable home, the success our situation is not entirely applicable to widespread creation of other sustainable homes. In living here, we have incentive to do things for many reasons. We are living as part of a program on our college campus – our work in this house counts as course credit so we are graded and given a number of assignments we must complete. All of us applied to live in the house out of mutual and predisposed interest in sustainability. We receive (some) funding from the college to do our projects. While this is a great program that is beneficial for many parties, it exposes the challenge of how to have programs and homes like this in “the real world.” Where is the incentive for the average citizen to live in a sustainable house (whether than means converting their own home or joining a group)? It requires sacrifices, money, and active work. One must always be checking their habits as they go about their daily routine. Installing compostable toilets and solar panels is vastly expensive. Constantly engaging in activism and community outreach requires extensive work and time. Without say, a college program, government funding/incentives, or truly dedicated environmentalists, creating sustainable homes and communities is quite the challenge. But – that’s why what we do here is so important – those of us truly dedicated to the environment and/or those of us with the privilege to be a part of a college program, must always attempt to lead the way. Our lifestyles, projects, and communal outreach must serve as positive examples, shining beacons, inspiring alternatives to the status-quo.

Join the conversation – comment below and add your two cents! What are successful ways of creating communal structures based around sustainability? What do you think people must do and be in order to be truly sustainable? How do we spread sustainable living? How do we make sustainable living appealing to the average citizen? How do we fund these projects?

Sustainability in 2016

2015-07-11 11.13.00.jpg

Hello again everyone! We welcome you back to the Sustainability House Blog and look forward to sharing this semester’s earth improving adventure with you all! After a month and a half of being free from the responsibilities of school, we at the sustainability house have returned from winter break with big plans for the spring semester. Despite our respite from being “required” to live in a sustainable manner, it seems as if the habits we adopted in our last semester are already second nature to us. While it would be quite easy to assume that upon returning to our family homes, our previously established ways of life, that all of our efforts to improve our daily habits would have flown out the window. They could have very easily, but, simple (yet surprisingly difficult to fully adopt) habits such as composting, unplugging appliances, turning off lights, taking shorter showers, and saving energy/water in general became part and parcel of our daily lives last semester and transitioning back into living at the sustainability house was barely a transition at all. Instead we have come back having our basic sustainable living behaviors in our back pockets and can focus on the fun and earth-friendly activities we have in store for this semester.

We ended our last semester with a final project that consisted of a number of exciting additions to the house. In the coming weeks we will be unveiling our info-graphics: posters for each room that portray environmental issues specific to that room and offer ways of having a reduced impact related to those issues. For example, I chose to do my info-graphic on the dining room and so, I discussed how most dishes we eat are made of foods that have traveled thousands of miles, shed light on the damaging practices of industrial agriculture, and offered the many alternatives to these earth-degrading practices such as having your own garden, supporting farmers markets, and buying organic and local foods. These info-graphics will be a great reminder to all of us living here, but more importantly, they will serve as fantastic points of discussions for our tours and make the house more tour-friendly in general. We also used chalk board paint to make one of the kitchen walls into a multi-purpose space for us to conduct our sustainability house adventures. Whether it be a place to write eco-friendly tips, maintain a central calendar, or to serve as a visual outline for our tours, this has become a very useful tool for us to conduct our business. The third project we did was create a display made from three one-gallon jugs. Each houses a different “mini-ecosystem” that demonstrates how areas with more plants, and more diverse plants, filter water much better. All of these projects served to create a more fun and interactive environment for our house tours and we can’t wait to show them off…which leads me perfectly into our plans for this semester!

This semester all of you readers can look forward to reading about the many fun activities we have planned. Our projects from last semester will be quite useful for all the tours we have planned with our local elementary school. It is really great to be a part of a community where the college and local schools have a standing relationship and that within that there is a lot of support for environmental education. We can’t wait for this opportunity pass down valuable information and skills about being a more responsible steward of the earth to the younger generations! We also have plans in the works to visit the school and do another K-cup planter demonstration (see Jess’s blog post to learn about the one we did last semester!). With earth week coming up this semester, we are also planning on hosting a clothing swap so students can trade the clothes they no longer wear for clothes they will wear! We think this will be a great way to promote alternative ways of sprucing up a wardrobe instead of going out shopping for brand new things. Plus, everything that isn’t traded/wanted will then be donated! Further down the line we will also be doing more projects to improve the house that include creating pollinator habitat in the currently unproductive plots around the house, as well as making the bathroom as eco-friendly as we can! We look forward to this semester and we hope you enjoy the coming stories about our endeavors!

Until next time,


Cultivating Community, Service, and Environmental Stewardship: Permablitz 2015


By Ellen Underwood

In the small tract of land between 14th and Linden streets that we call home, there is something beautiful happening. Between the house and our sustainable garden, we have turned a small amount of space into a center for environmental living and learning. Nestled behind the sustainability house, right next to the experiential learning center, the Albright Sustainable Garden is without a doubt my favorite place on campus. This year was my second year running the garden and my second year watching it come to life and die away, of watching it live and breath and slowly fade, only to be reborn again the next year like a phoenix from the ashes. For me, it is a shining beacon of sustainability, a symbol of our individual ability to transition away from consumption to production, from environmental degradation to positive improvement.

Throughout the summer we provide locally grown, organically produced veggies, herbs, and fruits for the Albright community. Leftovers feed us and/or get donated to the local homeless shelter. We learn how to sustainably produce food and have better impacts on the environment IMG_0387with rain barrels, a rain garden, soil creation, resource re-purposing, and more. My favorite days though, are when we give children from the local elementary school and summer camps tours of the garden. To share the joys of food production and sustainability with younger generations, and to be met with excited, shining, and passionate faces when we do, is an unrivaled feeling for me.

But now, it is fall (and quickly turning into winter!) and the season is over. It saddens me deeply, but we were able to have one last gasp of garden fun at this year’s fall permablitz. What is a permablitz you ask? It is a super fun day of hard work that builds community, engages people in community service, and cultivates environmental stewardship. The word itself is a mixture of permaculture, which is a sustainable farming method, and blitz, indicating lots of hard work in a small time frame! Each year in the fall and the spring we call upon our fellow students to help us prepare the garden for the coming season. With winter creeping in, there was much to be done and we were met with many caring and helping hands to get it accomplished.

First, we had to pull out all the previously productive plants whose lives were now coming to an end (insert sad fIMG_0386ace here). The next step was to cover the now bare and vulnerable soil from wind and water erosion as well as fertilize it a little for the next season. We did this by placing a layer of leaves collected from the Albright grounds, a carbon source, then a layer of coffee grounds collected from our campus coffee shop, a nitrogen source, and finally a layer of hay from a local feed store in Oley, another carbon source, to top it all off. One of our main goals in the garden is to utilize resources that may have otherwise gone to waste and to source these things as locally as possible. The best part — it’s easy! Another activity was cutting back our native plant rain garden which helps it grow back better each year. The last step of permablitz winterizing was outlining the plots. First, before the permablitz, I went out and expanded the size of the plots since they had inevitably lost surface area throughout the season to the large layer of mulch we had laid down at the spring permablitz.This is especially important because part of permaculture design is to maximize space to make the area of land as productive as possible. Recently a symbolic (and very old) building on Albright’s campus, the White Chapel, was knocked down. It was sad to see it go but we found a way to help it live on. Instead of letting all the old bIMG_0394ricks from the chapel waste away at the Albright dump, we took an adventure to get a bunch of them, then used them to delineate the garden plots. This had a few benefits. First, it makes the garden look way more presentable which is important for our tours. As the bricks settle in they will also prevent some erosion in the plots that are on an angle. Now, after the fruits of these labors, the garden is clean, beautiful, and protected for the coming winter season.

The garden interns, Aly and Emily, and our garden advisor, Dr. Jennings, teamed with members of various fraternities and sororities, the biology honors club, E.C.O. club, scholarship volunteers, friends, students, faculty, and families, all coming together on this wonderful day to blitz our cherished garden. The result? A strengthening of our Albright community ties, commitment to service that benefits our community’s garden, and active participation in and learning of methods of sustainable living. It is inspiring to see so many people of many backgrounds and interests, all working together in the name of the garden. Some people don’t even know where their food comes from beyond the stIMG_0398ep of them purchasing it in the grocery store, so connecting people with a sustainable food source happening right in their community, and getting them to participate with it, is exactly the kind of thing our unsustainable world needs. In my own experience, working in the garden is thoroughly therapeutic. It makes me feel healthier and I feel a great pride in cooking food I picked from my backyard only a moment ago. I believe that the more we can connect people with this type of feeling, the more we can begin to change the damaging paradigms that allow us to fall into the trap of industrial agriculture and processed food, the closer we can get to transitioning to more ecologically friendly lives.

See below for more great pictures!

IMG_0382 IMG_0383


IMG_0397  IMG_0399 IMG_0400IMG_0384

Room to Grow: Fertile Ground for New Strides in Sustainable Living

By Ellen Underwood

As members of this wonderful sustainability house, I see us having a great responsibility. We are the leaders of conscious living, of questioning our actions, growing from our mistakes, and hoping we come out at the end with less impact on the earth. But this is easier said than done. While we represent the dedicated individuals towards sustainability here on campus, we all have our fair share of downfalls. Since our time here, I cannot say that any of us have made any major lifestyle changes in the name of sustainability and the earth. Yes, we take shorter showers and turn of all of the lights, but how much does any of that really mean? These are absolutely important actions that if everyone participated in, it would make a highly positive impact, but I can’t help but feel that if we as members of this house are going to inspire sustainable living, we must do more.

As it is said, it takes 21 days to break a habit, and with an endless supply of homework, jobs, clubs, and dishes, it is hard to focus on major lifestyle changes. But, we’re beginning to do something about it. An initiative we have undertaken is each making a list of 10 things we could improve about our lifestyle habits that would be less of an impact on the plant. We are each going to make two of them a goal per month as well as one goal for the entire house each month. On top of this, four out of five of us are in an Environmental Psychology class where each student was asked to create and implement a mini environmental research project related to encouraging housemates, teammates, etc to participate in an environmentally healthy action. Now we have four separate eco friendly projects assigned to house members for the next three weeks.

Tom has dedicated his project to making us shop as local as possible. This means going to independent stores, finding products that have not been shipped 4,000 miles, buying organic and in season, and overall paying attention to where our food is coming from. Related to this, my project has dictated no food waste on the basis that since industrial agriculture is so damaging, waste of these products, which took so much environmental degradation to make, should be avoided at all costs. Hannah has taken our shorter shower habits to the next level by setting a weekly limit that if we go past, the amount of “water” in our “fish tank” holding “Roger the fish” will decrease as an incentive to keep us under the time limit. And lastly, Aly is evaluating our habits and perspectives in comparison to other houses on campus.

These projects add a new level of participation and dedication to “greening” our lifestyles, and overall we have all changed some habits to accommodate these projects. Tom and I walked to Weis with our reusable bags and examined the origin and production of each and every product we bought, all of us have kept our showers under the time limit, and everyone has been paying attention to their consumption habits. But we still have a long way to go. Our fridge is riddled with food from weeks ago that wasn’t eaten, people are driving to and shopping at Walmart, and our shower times haven’t decreased significantly.

While initially this all seems like just a criticism of our actions, I actually only see positivity in all of this. And this brings me to my main point here. We are all normal people who have grown up and been socialized as regular members of the capitalist lifestyle. Thus, where we are struggling and not changing sheds light on the problems most people will have with greening their lifestyles. This is a tool that we will be able to use – we can see what worked to get us to change and hopefully spread that to our friends, and family, and future families, and coworkers, and more. This experience is one of learning for all of us and we cannot expect ourselves to change immediately or with ease, but that is what this is all about. We will change ourselves throughout this year and we will learn the deep rooted challenges we all face as members of a society whose values are dedicated to reckless consumption and unlimited production. It takes these initial small but hard steps that will hopefully eventually become big steps that spread, and grow, and change the world for the better.

Any thoughts?! Comment below and start a discussion about the challenges of sustainability!

Images courtesy of: