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Gustavus students dream green

From student vegetable gardens to a 15 percent reduction in campus electrical usage since 2007, Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, is serious about environmental issues. Its results have earned it a place on “The Princeton Review’s Guide to 286 Green Colleges.”

Gustavus students Harrison Blankenship and Emily Seelen are holding a Watts Up device, one of the tools used to measure energy consumption by the vending machines. The Watts Up is plugged into the outlet and then the vending machine is plugged in it. Photo provided by Jim Dontje,

“Institutions need to teach by doing,” observes Jim Dontje, director of the one-person Gustavus Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation. Dontje teaches introductory student courses, as well as coordinating the college’s conservation and environmental efforts. The teaching role helps him to get to know students and their interests.
At Gustavus, activities have gone beyond turning down thermostats and turning off lights, an interest that goes back several years. Students had plans for campus gardens; then a devastating tornado struck the St. Peter campus 10 years ago. That proved merely a bump in the road for environmental action.
Interest extends beyond the current student body, faculty, and staff. After it was determined “to-go” containers students used for their meals generated too much waste, a Gustavus alum developed containers called “GustieWare” that students use to pick up their food at the college’s a la carte food service called “Marketplace.” These containers can be run through dishwashing machines and reused.
That is just one example of the involvement of students and the Gustavus community. The college is home to the Linnaeus Arboretum, which exhibits examples of Minnesota’s natural history from three major ecosystems plus vegetation valued at over $320 million.

The Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation opened in 2007:

As director of the center, Dontje works with a “kitchen cabinet” on various issues including purchase of locally-grown and organic food. When it comes to recycling, Gustavus has an 88 percent waste diversion rate. The college was also planning to purchase two 2.5 megawatt wind turbines which would harness renewable energy and save the college an estimated $600,000 per year, but a county regulatory action blocked the project at its preferred location. Dontje is reviewing the project to see how it might move forward.
Gustavus students helped organize the Campus Energy Wars challenge, a competition among 14 Minnesota colleges and universities to determine which school can conserve the most energy in a month. On their own campus, Gustavus students developed a program called RecycleMania. Outreach efforts included obtaining pledges and holding drawings. Students actually kept track of the college’s recycling containers and determined where additional containers were needed.
The college’s Environmental Studies and Biology programs ensure that formal training in sustainability is available to students.
How do students feel about their “green” college? Ashley Hansen, who will be a sophomore this fall, took the “Introduction to Environmental Studies” course during her freshman year. She and some of her fellow students visited each of Gustavus’ dorms to measure energy use in vending machines and reported how the college power usage would be reduced by installing Vending Misers, which reduce electrical usage for the refrigeration in the machines. During the college’s RecycleMania event, Hansen worked with the Gustie Greens group to affix reminders to light switches asking that lights be turned off when not in use.
“Colleges use lots of energy and water,” she explained. “Whatever we can do lowers the environmental impact and will help in future years.” Hansen and her family are members of Spirit of Christ Lutheran Church (Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) in Ham Lake, Minnesota.
Gustavus Adolphus College is one of seven colleges and universities in Minnesota included in the Princeton Review rankings. St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, is another Lutheran college recognized. Additional information about the “green” generation at Gustavus Adolphus College can be accessed via e-mail to

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