By Nicole A. Benally, Ph.D. Student, Forestry & Conservation, UM BRIDGES Trainee
How does the University of Montana manage to feed the brains and stomachs of their students, but still prioritize eating healthy, local, and sustainably? Anastasia Orkwiszewski manages the two gardens on UM campus which produce over 3,000 pounds of produce each year on 1/2 -acre of urban space. Each year the gardens have over 60 different plant varieties, which include vegetables, fruit trees, and flowers.
About 1 out of every 3 bites of food exist because of pollinators and pollinators support diversity. On the gardens you will find an apiary also known as a beehive, native plants, and the use of cover crops during the fallow season. Although the gardens are not “organic certified” the practices of growing the produce are by organic production methods.
Speaking of using organic methods, say hello to “Poppy,” “Haxel,” “Kiwi,” “Mabel,” “Etta,” and “Duckleberry Fin”. These six garden workers are Welsh Harlequin ducks who jobs are to greet people, control pests that infest the gardens, provide natural fertilizer, and produce about 600 eggs each year.
Not only does UM dining services grow some of their own food, but support local farms and ranchers and organic products, such as coffee. Food is tastier and more diverse than ever at the “all-you-can-eat” UM cafeteria. In efforts of sustainability, UM dining reduce waste by recycling materials and composting as much pre-consumer and post-consumer waste that they can capture. Beyond food, the UM dining services also use delivery bikes to reduce fuel consumption on campus. It is estimates that these bikes reduce 150 gallons of fuel a year and cut carbon emissions by 1.3 metric tons.
In addition to the work of growing produce and feeding the hungry stomachs of student, the UM Dining services enjoy giving tours of their sustainable operations and proving educational tools for their students. So when and if you have time, see the amazing work of the UM Dining services!
If there was a beauty contest for buildings on UM’s campus, the Payne Family Native American Center would be in the running for the grand prize, while the Emma B. Lommasson Center would not have even entered the competition. Lommasson, as it’s colloquially referred to, is a boxy, generic looking building. There’s nothing particularly offensive about its design, but it’s far from inspiring.
The Payne center, however, is beautiful. The outside design of this building, surrounded by native xeroscaping, beckons you in. Once inside, impressive pillars of wood draw your eyes upward to a round skylight that complements the circular design of the window filled room, which is designed to be reminiscent of a teepee.
The aesthetics of these two buildings, strikingly different, emphasizes an even more important difference: their energetic efficiency and environmental sustainability. Lommasson is touted as the least energy efficient building on campus, while the Payne Center is among the most energy efficient.
It’s really no wonder. Construction on Lommasson began in the 50s and ended in the 60s, while the Payne Center was completed a mere 10 years ago, in 2010. When it was being built, energy efficiency and sustainable design were not priorities. In fact, the design and construction of this building was decided by the lowest bidder at the time of the project. Its mechanical systems (central air and heat, for example) are not efficient, it’s not well insulated, and the design is not cohesive; a wing has been added to the original building. All of these factors make its upkeep and annual operating costs expensive.
The Payne center, on the other hand, is a LEED certified building, the first to be constructed on campus. LEED, which stands for “leadership in energy and environmental design,” is a certification program that provides independent verification of a building. This allows for the design, construction, operations and maintenance of resource-efficient, high-performing, cost-effective buildings. The Payne center features energy efficient lights, occupancy sensors to save energy, passive solar heat panels, and native plants used in landscaping to reduce water needs. These measures, among others, result in a building that, according to UM’s sustainability team, is 42% more energy efficient than standard buildings.
LEED buildings, including Payne, typically come at an increased upfront cost, as compared to conventional building designs. But proponents argue that the upfront costs are offset over time by the more sustainable design and energy efficiency.
This illustrates a relevant question that comes up often in our newsfeeds: how do we actually assess the cost of sustainable development? This debate comes up often during discussions of the Green New Deal, a congressional resolution that lays out a grand plan for tackling climate change. Part of the plan calls for increasing energy efficiency in current and future US structures. Advocates insist that the measures laid out in the resolution, while costly, will be offset due to future savings. Opponents focus on initial costs, which are admittedly high.
Beyond multi-billion dollar government initiatives, we face similar choices daily in our own lives. Just the other day, I stood holding a $20 reusable beeswax food cover, mentally weighing out the pros and cons of such a sustainable product, versus traditional plastic wrap. Whether it is daily consumer choices, government spending, or two buildings on the University of Montana’s campus, an assessment of upfront costs must consider not only lifetime savings, but impacts to the environment, which typically only add to cost offsets when they are factored in.
Fortunately the University demonstrates that prioritization of energy efficiency and sustainability is possible, even in the face of economic stress. More than just a beautiful spot to spend the afternoon working on your laptop, the Payne Center serves as an important reminder that when it comes to making decisions about how to move forward in a way that is environmentally responsible, we have options. It’s important to think through the upfront cost of development and consider future offsets and positive impacts to the environment to adequately capture the costs of development. Gone are the days when the shortsightedness of times past- when the lowest bidder won rights to build- are justifiable. The two buildings on UM’s campus- Lommasson and Payne- illustrate the conflict well, and serve as an important reminder of the choices we will continue to face as we navigate an increasingly uncertain future.