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alumna profile: Allie Frownfelter ’17

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Bottle Thread logo, designed by Allie Frownfelter

“I knew I wanted to start a business,” says recent Chatham graduate Allie Frownfelter, “but I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

Inspiration came little by little. In one of her sustainability classes, Frownfelter (who majored in Sustainability) was shocked by an image the class was shown. “It looked like a bunch of pixels on the screen,” she says, “but the professor said that it represented the number of plastic bottles that gets thrown out every second.”

Later, she overheard a woman expressing interest in starting a clothing line. Sustainable fashion was something that had interested Frownfelter, because it struck her as an untapped market, and because it tapped something inside of her.

“I wanted to study abroad after my bachelor’s degree, and have the least amount of clothing that could be turned into the widest array of outfits while I traveled,” she says.

“Say goodbye to wrinkles and ill-fitting shirts forever.  Our sustainable blouses are constructed with a proprietary blend of fabric made from recycled plastic bottles. The high-quality fabric is UV protected, Anti-pilling, breathable, and moisture-wicking. You could comfortably wear this shirt backpacking, though it looks even better at the office, or writing at a coffee shop in Barcelona.” – from the Bottle Thread website  

The idea of making a button-down shirt for women particularly resonated. “They’re often baggy, uncomfortable, and need to be ironed,” says Frownfelter. “I wanted to make a shirt that you could wear to work, while traveling—something that has that versatility.”

Frownfelter found a manufacturer in Southern California called Indie Source that offers a sustainable fabric partially made from recycled plastic bottles. Her sustainable clothing line—called Bottle Thread—will launch with a women’s shirt, a men’s shirt, and a dress. The clothing will be designed by Indie Source to Frownfelter’s specifications, and she will approve the fabric, cut, buttons, colors, and other elements of the clothing line. “It’s all online,” she says, “so other than the samples, I don’t have to touch anything.”

A white female with long brown hair wearing a denim jacket and sunglasses on top of her head holds up two cardboard sheets with gray fabric samples stabled to them.
Allie with fabric samples

Frownfelter came to Chatham as a transfer student from Millersville, on the eastern side of Pennsylvania. “I just fell in love with the Sustainability program,” she says. “It starts by showing all these problems we have, but also introduces ways that we can start to fix them.”

A young woman in a blue hat and olive green overalls holding a shovel stands in a stream. She is laughing, and there is snow all around.
Allie collecting stream data for one of the qualitative ecology labs.

She credits two courses in particular: Sustainable Transition Management and Sustainable Systems. “Those courses combined opened my mind to possibilities,” she says. “What they taught me was that things take time, and that you can change things incrementally.”

“You can start a business, change a system slightly, direct it into a new kind of way to go somewhere else. That’s what I’m doing with Bottle Thread.”

“During my last semester, I took a quantitative ecology class that focused on environmental statistics,” says Frownfelter. “I was never a math person, so I procrastinated taking that class.  But the timing was perfect, because I was able to overcome my math inaptitude and actually create reliable projections for investors in Bottle Thread.”

Frownfelter was able to have her company dovetail nicely with her coursework: In her Design Praxis course, she developed a logo and brand identity for Bottle Thread.  And her senior capstone project was the Bottle Thread business plan, written under the advisement of Assistant Professor of Sustainability and Business Thomas Macagno.

“The wrinkle free material saves customers on average $300 a year in dry cleaning and can be packed in your suitcase without worrying about finding an iron…. A single blouse reduces ocean and landfill pollution and is made from approximately 42 recycled bottles. Proudly made in the USA”. – from the Bottle Thread website  

“I knew I was going to write a business plan anyway,” she says. “But having the opportunity to consolidate my work into an educational experience meant that I was able to focus more on how to make the company as sustainable as possible. I don’t think I would have been able to be this environmentally focused if I didn’t have such an incentive. Instead, I probably would have focused on creating the best quality product at the cheapest cost, virtually throwing out a lot of the values I learned through my degree for the sake of efficiency because it was easier. Consolidation of the two projects helped me merge my degree into my company, which is basically the new American Dream.”

Frownfelter is also working with the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham. The CWE has been helping her with marketing and connecting her to resources including networking events. As the business expands, Frownfelter expects that she’ll be able to take advantage of more services offered by the CWE, but their input has already proven valuable. “The idea to use bra sizes for the shirts was just an off-the-cuff comment made by someone at the CWE, but I think it is a fabulous idea so I am taking it and running with it,” she says.

Bottle Thread and Company is filed as a benefit LLC, which means that Frownfelter must file an annual report with the state explaining how Bottle Thread benefits people and/or the environment.  “Being a benefit LLC allows my company to focus on things other than purely making money,” she says.

Frownfelter hopes to begin shipping on July 1. As of now, Bottle Thread items are likely to be available in white, black, and steel. And a Chatham purple.

 

RecycleMania comes to Chatham

Chatham University is again competing for international recognition as a leader in campus waste reduction. RecycleMania is a friendly competition between 350 colleges and universities. For eight weeks, progress is measured by the Chatham University Office of Sustainability. Those weekly checkpoints are compared against institutions, nationally and internationally, to determine weekly winners. The goal is to promote waste reduction and encourage students to think about where the products they use every day are going. Chatham has been rated comparatively well in the past few years, but we know the numbers can improve.

This year, in conjunction with the Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge, the Office of Sustainability has introduced the use of an app–Joulebug–which measures sustainable practices in real time. Joulebug allows you to earn points when you save water, turn off your electricity, take public transportation or fill a reusable mug. By following members of the Chatham community, the Office of Sustainability can develop a better idea of which departments, students and staff are saving the most. It provides an entertaining dynamic to the competition.

In some ways, Chatham is at a disadvantage. Our students, faculty and staff are so diligent in recycling and composting that the baseline is already high. Statistics are measured against that starting baseline. Schools that do not regularly recycle often see huge spikes during the competition–spikes which begin to wane in April. Chatham’s spike is less pronounced, meaning that our efforts are consistently good, getting even better during the event. Compost-ready cups and on-site recyclable collection contribute to Chatham’s edge.

While Chatham does exceptionally well, we cannot get comfortable. In 2015, a social media engagement campaign was included in the benchmark competition. Chatham’s constant uploads were crashing the system. Some colleges and universities were posting direct, if a little aggressive, challenges directly at Chatham’s campaign. The result: Chatham won the competition. In total, with a 66 percent recycling rate, the Cougars made it into the top 15. Last year, Chatham’s composting program brought us to seventh place in food organics. This year aims to improve those numbers. Student participation is necessary to bring those numbers up.

Chatham University Office of Sustainability Director Mary Whitney believes that last year’s success can be replicated,

“Chatham students have an opportunity to prove that last year’s RecycleMania win was no fluke! Remember to compost your cups lids and straws from Cafe Rachel!” she says.

What you can do:

  • BYO: Bring your own containers. Water bottles, thermoses and coffee cups all make a difference in waste recording. Yes, Chatham’s dining services offer compost-ready cups. In the ecologically responsible long run, however, reusable containers will better help the environment. If you must use a disposable water bottle make sure that it is recyclable. Which leads us to…
  • Break it down. All recyclable materials will be measured. In this competition literally every ounce makes a difference. Batteries, glass, cardboard, plastic: if it can be recycled, it should be recycled.
  • Donate. Chatham’s Office of Sustainability is proud of its Greenfund initiative. Students and organizations on campus can apply yearly for a Greenfund award, which encourages green practices and initiatives in the campus community. Dining services allow students to round up their meal costs to the nearest dollar. The extra cents go to the Greenfund.
  • Stop the suck“Vampire” electronics continue to draw power. Sometimes electronics in their “stand by” mode continue to draw power. If you can turn them off, we suggest that you do. Bonus points if you can take the time to unplug!
  • Download the app. The Joulebug app is a fun way to see how you compare to others in your sustainable behaviors. Download the app, include Chatham in your username or bio, and follow your friends to start making an impact.

For more information on the competition, and to check the weekly scores, visit the RecycleMania website. For specific Chatham information, follow the Chatham University Office of Sustainability Facebook page and check their twitter updates at @ChathamSustain.

 

Mary Whitney Leads Chatham’s Drive Toward Carbon Neutrality

Mary WhitneyMary Whitney, MPPM, PhD, Chatham’s Director of University Sustainability, is an Ohio native who has lived in Pittsburgh since 1982, spending the last 15 years in environmental education, working primarily with citizens, teachers and their students.

As sustainability director for Chatham’s campuses, she leads collaboration on sustainability practices at the university, works to help Chatham meet its carbon neutrality goals, and teaches systems and societal transitions in the Falk School of Sustainability and Environment. Thanks in large part to Mary’s leadership, Chatham is recognized as one of the top five universities in the world for sustainability as measured by The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System™ (STARS).

We sat down with Dr. Whitney to discuss the state of sustainability at Chatham and her role in advancing the University’s goal of carbon neutrality.

Q:     How did you get interested in the field of sustainability?

A:      I grew up in the country, free to roam and enjoy nature.  As I got older and the strip mines got closer and closer to my home, I saw the damage that was being done to the environment, including the farms and woods around my house. It was then that I began to realize that our energy needs were going to completely overwhelm the natural world that I love so much.  I started looking at ways to make energy hurt the world less.  Sustainability is exactly that – the ability to sustain ourselves on this planet without overwhelming the planet’s ability to provide us with good living conditions.

Q:     Why is it important for a university like Chatham to become carbon neutral?

A:      Carbon neutrality is the goal of balancing out an institution’s carbon emissions with reductions and purchasing green power, etc. Chatham’s goal is now to be more than carbon neutral – we are working to have zero-net energy.  In other words, we want to make as much green power as we use.  We also are looking at net-positive energy, where we make more green power than we use, and put that out onto the grid to improve conditions for everyone.

Q:     Please describe what you believe are the top priorities for Chatham in terms of reaching carbon neutrality in 2025.

A:      We do annual greenhouse gas audits to get a good idea of where we are in terms of our institutional carbon and methane emissions.  Over half of our annual emissions come from our electric use, since the grid in our region is primarily coal.  So we are prioritizing electrical efficiency across all campuses – installing LED lighting in all buildings and outdoors, adding motion sensors to turn off lights, and more.  These are all very simple-to-implement strategies. Our next largest source of emissions is our transportation – both the campus fleet and also the cars belonging to faculty, staff and students.  To address this, we have added shuttles to move more people per trip, given everyone a free bus pass, connected our shuttles to the bus way, provided bike rentals and a bike repair shop, offered car-sharing, and more.  There is more to be done, and it will take more than just Chatham working to solve that problem – it’s a public policy problem in many ways.

Q:     It stands to reason that as a University increases its physical footprint – sheer area, number of students – its carbon emissions footprint would increase as well. Yet it seems that the reverse happened here – as we grew and expanded, our carbon footprint shrank. How did that happen?

A:      That’s close – what has happened is that we have reduced our net CO2 emissions. We went from 8,705 tonnes of gross CO2 emissions in 2007 to 14,573 in 2015, which is an increase of 67 percent, much of that due to increased electric and fuel use during the construction of the Eden Hall campus. But our net emissions went from 7,246 tonnes to 5,751 tonnes in the same timeframe – a reduction of 20%.  This is due to our extensive composting program, forest preservation on our campuses, purchasing renewable energy credits for our electricity use, and making our own solar electricity and solar hot water.

We look at emissions as a ratio to the number of students or the total square footage of our campuses as a way to measure how we are doing over time while taking growth into account. For example, between 2007 and 2015, we saw a 14 percent increase in student body, as well as a 14 percent increase in our campus square footage, due to new construction and purchases of existing buildings. Yet at the same time, we showed a 32 percent reduction in electric use.  This is because we have designed in the latest in green building technology for any new construction, and have made as many energy efficiency upgrades as we can to existing buildings. We expect to see continued reductions as we enter into our first full year of solar electric production at Eden Hall.

Q:     What are the top three programs being conducted by Chatham from a sustainability standpoint?

A:      We look at our operations, our academics and our engagement when we measure our efforts. In operations, our energy efficiency program has been ongoing since 2007, and we have been buying green power since 2000.  Our compost program was one of the first for an urban campus, and we have committed to using all compostable products in our dining operations.

In academics, we have an entire school – the Falk School – devoted to sustainability. Here we are able to take everything we’ve learned and share it with the world. We have our campuses as living and learning sustainability labs, our faculty has expertise and shares research for sustainable systems, and our students get to put it all into practice.

My current favorite public engagement project is a joint project between the Black Student Union, Parkhurst Dining Services, Zipcar and 412 Food Rescue. This great program was designed by the students of BSU to rescue food that would otherwise go to waste for people in the community – a great sustainability project!  Parkhurst provides the food, 412 Food Rescue organizes the locations for donations, Zipcar provides free car-sharing for student rescue drivers, and students give their weekend mornings to collect and deliver food. Chatham’s Green Fund pays for other expenses, like containers.

Q:     Chatham is one of the highest ranked universities in the world for STARS, what does this mean and why does it matter?

A:      STARS is a sustainability ranking system developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.  The system’s purpose is to provide a consistent and cohesive way to track, share and benchmark sustainability initiatives.   It is designed specifically for universities and looks at sustainability across academics, operations, engagement with communities, and planning/administration.

Any level of STARS recognizes a significant sustainability achievement, and having a gold rating means that we have made a concerted and effective transformation of our university for sustainability. The recognition is public, and that matters more than just having bragging rights. What truly matters most about the rating is that it proves to others that transforming an institution for sustainability is not a crazy future-dream but a reality, achieved through patience and a deep commitment, more than deep pockets or temporary enthusiasm.

Q:     Chatham is ranked second among sustainable master’s level universities in the 2016 Sustainable Campus Index.  How did the university achieve such a high ranking and what does this mean to students, faculty and staff?

A:      Chatham has been working on sustainability from an educational standpoint for over 25 years, since the founding of the Rachel Carson Institute. We’ve been working to transform our own institutional practice for almost as long, beginning with our first green power purchases in 2000. This long-term commitment lets us make continuous improvement, and we build each year on previous achievements. We take our time to do what we think is right, review and track our progress to see if we’re meeting our own expectations, and keep working on incorporating sustainability into every part of the campus.

A powerful reason for our success is that we have a solid core of sustainability knowledge across our entire community.  It is a huge help that we have attracted so many people who include sustainability in their own work, research and everyday practice – we depend on the students, faculty and staff here to be our success in sustainability.

Q:     What do you want students to take away from their experience at Chatham?

A:     Understanding how environmental, social and technical systems interact with each other, and how to make changes in those systems.  Combine that with lots of opportunities to practice, and the confidence to go out and make those changes!

 

Alumnus profile: Scott Marshall, Bachelor of Sustainability ‘16

 

PrintProducing fresh, healthy food in a way that doesn’t deplete natural and man-made resources is a 21st century challenge that Scott Marshall has been unknowingly preparing for almost all of his life. Today, as President of Marshall’s Heritage Farm and member of the first graduating class of the Chatham University Falk School of Sustainability & Environment’s Bachelor of Sustainability program, Marshall is positioned to leverage his extensive experience in the food industry and deep love for the land to embrace the dramatically changing–and crucial–movement toward sustainable agriculture.

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Marshall with Alison Molnar (left), BA Sustainability ’18 and Sarah Daugherty (right), BS Sustainability ’18.

Marshall had begun thinking about how he could use his grandparents’ farm as a family asset in 2013, and after a job change, he decided a return to school was in order.  When he saw a magazine ad featuring Eden Hall, Marshall decided to visit Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus to explore a degree program that would help him in his family endeavor.

“I decided the best path was to focus on sustainable or regenerative agriculture,” says Marshall. “Eden Hall had all of the opportunities I was looking for. I was happy that I had the opportunity to finish my education in a cutting-edge program.”

Prior to attending Chatham, Marshall had spent 25 years in the food service industry. In early 2014, following the death of his grandfather, Marshall began working on a plan to purchase the family farm in Indiana County. The following year Marshall, his wife Lynne and Scott’s parents were able to finalize the purchase, setting the stage for the development of Marshall’s Heritage Farm.

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The independent farm is committed to producing sustainably grown, healthy agricultural products for restaurants, food businesses, and consumers in Western Pennsylvania. In alignment with its mission to support the health of family and community with quality foods while restoring biological diversity and vitality to the land, Marshall’s Heritage Farm plans to develop community workshops, educational programs at local schools, and it is anticipated that all of the farm’s products will be naturally grown by 2026. “My passion is providing clean, healthy food to the community,” explains Marshall.

Marshall’s education at Chatham enabled him to effectively launch the Marshall’s Heritage Farm enterprise. He explained, “It helped me focus on writing a business plan and building my brand. I also formed an operating entity and purchased the farm.”

He also acknowledges that the ability to achieve his goals was influenced by the support he received from faculty, staff, and friends that he encountered while at Chatham.

“I couldn’t list just one, because there were several people that influenced my time in a positive way,” he says. “All of them had an individual role in supporting my goals and success at Chatham. Never underestimate the power of listening to people who have a passion and interest in your success.”

Marshall’s commitment to agricultural sustainability is further evidenced by his work as Field Manager at 412 Food Rescue in Pittsburgh, a community organization that works to end hunger and reduce food waste.

Based on his experience, Marshall advises: “Be open to new ideas and be excited to be part of something new.” His decision to take an active role in the essential movement toward sustainable agriculture, his decision to attend Chatham University’s innovative Eden Hall Campus, and the launch of his family business all demonstrate that Marshall walks his talk.

Located approximately 20 miles north of Pittsburgh and comprised of 388-acres of farmable land, field labs, classrooms, dining halls, and residence halls, Eden Hall is one of the world’s first university campuses dedicated to sustainability education; students at this campus are immersed in hands-on education within fields such as sustainable design and built environments, community development and planning, sustainable agricultural systems, and ecological wellbeing.

Alumnus profile: James Snow, MSUS ’16

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This article previously appeared in Chatham’s Recorder alumni magazine.

As part of the first cohort of Chatham’s Masters of Sustainability program, James Snow loved “embracing the ‘newness’”. “It was a great opportunity to not only help craft the program, but also to be able to gain opportunities from something so new.” Snow said the faculty and curriculum ensured that the students were out in the field, having hands on, real life experiences. He said, “That is a critical element to being placed in a job after graduation.”

Snow is currently a project manager for the environmental nonprofit GTECH: Growth Through Energy + Community Health. With more than 40,000 vacant lots in Allegheny County, many of which attract crime, decrease property values and reduce community cohesion, GTECH’s work to transform these spaces cultivates the unrealized potential of people and places to improve the health of our communities is vital. Through this process, GTECH offers an opportunity for residents to take pride in their community and land. Play spaces, parks, community gardens, and storm water installations are some of the types of projects imagined by residents, meaning what once was a blighted liability, is transformed into a useful asset. “We focus of the intersection of community development and the economy while identifying community health issues and working on solutions,” Snow says proudly.  He was an intern at GTECH while at Chatham, prior to transitioning to a full time employee following graduation.

As Snow reflects upon his time at Chatham, one of his early classes stands out. “In one of our first sustainability classes we were assigned a watershed project that included three different hydrologic systems in Allegheny County. One was urban, one suburban, one rural. We were looking at how when you look at a macro problem, like water run off or storm water, you have to be able to work up and down the scale to find a solution. We had to study everything from what kind of community this was, to who lives here, to what’s the geography and terrain like.

It was so helpful to look at these large, complex problems and then break down the context, then put it back together to craft the solution. It’s not only about different groups, people and backgrounds, but it’s also about taking all those pieces and putting it back together for a final product,” he notes.

Chatham provided Snow with the opportunity to get out in the field and experience real world situations and environments. His experience working directly with people and all different social and economic backgrounds was critical in developing a holistic view of sustainability and community development. “Chatham is a big enough program to obtain resources, but it’s small enough to build really close relationships,” Snow says. This allowed Snow to truly understand the world he’d be working and making a difference in.

Chatham’s Master of Sustainability (MSUS) program prepares enterprising students with the tools necessary to be the agents of change that corporations, governments, and other organizations need to lead their sustainability initiatives. The program and its focus on real-world impact is inspired by environmental icon and Chatham alumna Rachel Carson ’29, whose own work over 50 years ago continues to impact the world.

undergraduate connects with local nonprofit 412 food rescue

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Natalie Jellison ’17 (left) with Chatham student Charlise Oliver ’18 on a 412 Food Rescue run

According to the National Resources Defense Council, 40 percent of food produced in the United States never gets eaten.

According to local non-profit Just Harvest, of the 1.2 million people living in Allegheny County in 2012, nearly one in seven faced food insecurity.

According to Leah Lizarondo, co-founder of local non-profit  412 Food Rescue, Chatham undergraduate Natalie Jellison ’17 is the brains behind mobilizing local universities to help solve the problem.

“She was the one who heard about us and thought it would be a great idea to rescue food at Chatham,” says Lizarondo. “And she did. She not only broached the conversation with the Office of Sustainability at Chatham, she put together the stakeholders that made it happen.”

Jellison credits a class at Chatham for sparking the idea. “We had to do projects in my Sustainability and Social Justice class,” she says. “and someone mentioned 412 Food Rescue. I thought that food was a good issue to focus on, since it’s the basis of everything. I did some research into 412 Food Rescue and started volunteering.”

Chatham students Cat Woodson ’16 and Diarra Clarke ’17 doing first official run with Anderson, Giant Eagle and Zipcar.

Since 2015, 412 Food Rescue has been “rescuing” unsellable but perfectly good food from retailers, wholesalers, restaurants, and other organizations, and delivering it to soup kitchens, pantries, shelters, schools, and other community programs.

Jellison arranged a meeting with Dr. Whitney and representatives from Chatham’s dining services, Parkhurst (Chatham’s dining services partner), and Zipcar. “Everyone was like, if you want this, you can have it,” she says. Parkhurst and the Office of Sustianability split the cost of a Zipcar membership so that students without cars could also volunteer to deliver food, and Zipcar waived the hourly fee for Chatham students on 412 Food Rescue runs.

Jellison started doing food runs on Saturday mornings, picking up food at Anderson, stopping by a nearby grocery store to collect its donation (“it’s on the way”), and dropping it off at Murray Towers, a high-rise for seniors run by the Allegheny County Housing Authority.

Maggie Fleiner '19 during the second run.
Maggie Fleiner ’19 during the second run.

“Volunteering is once per week, for an hour, at 11:30 on Saturday morning,” she says. “Right now, about seven Chatham students participate. I want to grow that number this fall to get it more organized.”

412 Food Rescue sees Chatham as a model and catalyst for bringing the program to other universities. Jellison—who will be graduating with a self-designed major in environmental justice and a minor in business and is also pursuing a certificate in women’s leadership—is currently interning there, working to do just that.

“It’s cool,” she says. “I think that at a young age I’m doing a lot, and it’s exciting.”

Inside the Aquaculture Lab

Roy Weitzell, PhD (back row, second from right) leads a tour of the Aquaculture Lab.
Roy Weitzell, PhD (back row, second from right) leads a tour of the Aquaculture Lab.

Aquaculture—the farming of marine organisms, including fish, shellfish, turtles, and plants—is responsible for more than half of all seafood eaten worldwide,[1] and getting bigger. It’s widely seen as the most efficient way to provide protein to the rapidly growing global population, slated to reach over 10 billion people by 2050. The rapid growth in global aquaculture production has created questions of long-term sustainability in aquaculture.

Falk School Aquatic  Lab Director Roy Weitzell, PhD is ready.

The Lab is loud. Not factory-loud, but it’s abundantly clear that things are happening. As befits Eden Hall Campus, these things are powered entirely by energy generated on campus. Water is cooled or heated on demand using the geothermal heating system, electricity is generated by solar panels, and Roy hopes to eventually use Eden Hall crops to make fish pellets. Perhaps most impressively, between 98 and 99 percent of the 5000 or so gallons of water is recycled in a continual process of filtering within the Lab (the other one to two percent is used to water plants across campus or treated in the campus sanitation system and re-infiltrated into the local aquifer).

“It’s a great example of how all these sustainable systems can come together and support serious infrastructure in a relatively small space,” says Roy. The lab is divided into three main parts: fish tanks, aquaponics and research stacks.

Aquaculture tanks
The space is dominated by three large, round fish tanks holding a total of about 1500 gallons of water. Combined, they’re able to hold around 850-1000 foot-long rainbow trout. Having three tanks allows Roy and his students to research how fish-related variables (e.g., coloration, taste, texture, size, and growth rate) are affected by environmental variables (e.g., insect-based vs. plant-based fish food, amount fed, and water source). Roy notes that the lab is able to culture a range of cold-water and warm-water species.fish

Fish from the tanks will also be used by Eden Hall Chef Chris Galarza and his team to create meals for the EHC community and special products, such as a “signature smoked trout spread.” Roy also looks forward to working with the Falk School’s Food Studies Department, mentioning an Asian fish paste as a possible initiative that the Lab could help support. 

Aquaponics
Aquaponics—a portmanteau made from aquaculture and hydroponics—refers to the mutually beneficial growing of fish and plants together in one physically interconnected system. Here’s how it works:

  1. Waste is collected from the fish tank, and pumped to the growing beds.
  2. Bacteria in the growing beds transform ammonia from the waste into nitrate, which makes an ideal plant fertilizer.
  3. Plants filter nutrients (nitrate and macronutrients) from the water, and the water is returned to the tank.

“Aquaponics has a lot of backyard hobbyists. It’s very easy to do, cost-effective, and there are a lot of resources to help,” Roy says, mentioning Pittsburgh Aquaponics as one of them. Chatham’s system was built by four students in the Falk School’s Agroecology and Sustainable Aquaculture classes.

In the growing beds, plants are embedded in a bed of expanded clay pellets. “We use these because they’re very light, easy to work with, and the porous surface provides more space for bacteria to grow,” notes Roy. Come fall, students will be using the system to grow collard greens (also chard, peppers, tomatoes, basil, etc.).

Roy estimates that the aquaponics system will be able to grow 40 tilapias from one to two inches to “plate size” in four to five months. “But that’s part of the grand experiment,” he says. “We’ll be adjusting variables to see where we get the best results.”

You’re basically recreating what nature does on its own, but could never do it at this density. Growing a lot of fish in a small space lets us feed more people.”

Eventually, Roy hopes to add insects and worms to the food they feed the fish. “They’re nutritionally dense, and their larvae are an ideal food source,” he says, adding that worms in the growing beds can also help break down organic material.

Research stacks
Toward the back of the Lab are the “research stacks” – aisles of many small tanks stacked together (“sort of like a fish condominium,” Roy says) with a recirculating system.  At the moment they’re mostly empty, but Roy plans to use them to grow and display aquatic life, such as native fishes and aquatic invertebrates. “The life cycle of fathead minnows is the perfect fit for the teaching semester,” he says, explaining that they grow from an egg to a reproducing adult in only three to four months. Roy is also interested in using the stacks to expose students to other such forms of local aquatic life, such as salamanders and fresh water shrimp. The large number of tanks allow a degree of statistical rigor that lets us expand our findings to the outside world.

This is first and foremost a teaching laboratory,” Roy says. “Education comes first; research is second.”

That’s not to say some pretty fascinating research isn’t in the cards. Inside fish ears are tiny structures called otoliths. As fish age, the otoliths lay down bands, much like rings inside tree trunks. Like rings of a tree trunk, these bands can be “read.” They can be used to determine not only the age of the fish, but also potentially abrupt chemical changes in the fish’s environment, and together with Duquesne University’s Brady Porter, PhD, that’s what Roy is interested in exploring. The plan is to start by breeding minnows in the research stacks, to minimize variables. Once the minnows are grown, they’ll be exposed to salt compounds, such as road salt, fracking brine, and acid mine drainage. The researchers anticipate that this exposure will produce telltale otolith rings that can then be used to help identify toxicity in rivers and streams.

In Spring 2017, Roy will be teaching Sustainable Aquaculture for the Falk School of Sustainability.

[1] FAO 2012. The State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture. United Nations Food and Agriculture Department

green chemistry students win $5000 innovation prize

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Randy Yakal, Christine Lambiase, and Derrick Ward

A team of Chatham University graduate students came away with $5000 to pursue their innovation at the Department of Energy-sponsored Allegheny Region CleanTech University Prize (CUP) competition, held at Carnegie Mellon University during Energy Week, March 14-18.

The team—called Saloleum, from the Latin stems sal (salt, or “ionic”) and oleum (oil)—consists of Randy Yakal, Christine Lambiase, Derrick Ward, all second year M.S. students studying Green Chemistry. Their efforts were supported by faculty advisor Thomas Macagno, PhD, Assistant Professor of Sustainability and Business and by Cierra Snyder and Tom Hall from the Falk School of Sustainability.

The project started in fall 2015, when Randy was a student in Dr. Macagno’s Leading Organizations and Projects course (BUS575). “Dr. Macagno had found out about this competition and tapped me because they needed a science guy,” he said.

Through much discussion, the team decided on an idea that worked perfectly for the competition criteria. “HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) technology was even in the drop-down menu,” notes Randy.

So what is this $5000 idea? “It’s a new compressor lubricant for a cooling unit,” says Randy. “The compressor circulates a refrigerant through the system. The refrigerant picks up oil particles on its way, and those particles get deposited inside the heat exchange lines.” Randy likens it to how arteries can become clogged, forcing the heart to work less efficiently. “The same thing happens with the compressor,” he says. “It has to work harder and longer to cool the an area than it would if the lines were clean.”

Saloleum’s insight is to replace the oil with a low vapor pressure lubricant that won’t create the same “gunk build-up.” Randy envisions it as the first in a new line of eco-friendly products.

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Click here to download a PDF of the poster. 

“The commercial building sector consumes 18% of all energy produced in America,” he says. “Of that, 32% is used in climate control. If all the buildings in the country experienced a 20% efficiency boost (the anticipated effect of Saloleum), we’d save enough energy in one year to power all of New York City for 288 days.”

The team is proud that they won the prize without a working prototype, on the strength of the idea alone. That’s why they’ll use their prize money to see if it works. “We’ve got all the theory down, now we need to walk the walk,” says Randy. “That should be soon. We’re currently in the process of speaking with a lawyer and becoming an LLC.”

Saloleum logo
Saloleum logo

The Chatham team held their own against a competitive field which included Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania, Case Western Reserve University, University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University, and others. The objectives of the competition were to catalyze clean energy technology start-ups, support educational opportunities, and encourage clean energy student entrepreneurs.

“I never thought I’d be a co-founder of anything,” says Randy. “It’s really exciting.”

Chatham’s Master of Science in Green Chemistry is the first program of its kind in the United States. Focused on delivering a truly unique educational experience for students with undergraduate degrees in biochemistry, biology, and chemistry, the M.S. in Green Chemistry program will delve into the design of products and processes that minimize the use and generation of hazardous substances.

another perk of an on-campus farm

Harvesting potatoes at Eden Hall
Harvesting potatoes at Eden Hall

“Everything we can make from scratch,” says Chatham’s Shadyside Campus executive chef Dan Dooley, “we do.”

“Chef Dan” is proud of the food he and his staff serve at Anderson Dining Hall, and with fresh beef patties, hand-breaded chicken tenders, and produce grown on Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus, deservedly so. In fact, this year Chatham was ranked 7th in the nation for best food grown and sourced locally by Sierra Magazine’s 2015 “Cool Schools” report. The rating reflects the amount of food purchased locally and the presence of sustainable practices such as composting.

“Around 20 percent of the food and beverage we buy is from sustainable and local sources,” says Anderson’s General Manager Rob Coyne. “By ‘local’ we mean about a 150-radius. Local producers, artisans, family farms.”

“I encourage my staff to get creative,” says Chef Dan. “Once we got in some potatoes and fennel, and one of my staff members said ‘Hey, there’s this soup I used to make in my restaurant,’ and I told her to go for it. It was a big hit.”

Students in Anderson Dining Hall
Students in Anderson Dining Hall

Twenty miles north of Pittsburgh, Chatham’s 388-acre, net-zero Eden Hall Campus grows produce year-round with the help of a solar-powered hoop house, a roster of Masters in Sustainability and Masters in Food Studies students, and Allen Matthews, Chatham’s director and instructor of sustainable agriculture.

“If Allen’s got it, we’ll take it” laughs Chris Galarza, who has been executive chef at Eden Hall since July.

Eden Hall feeds fewer people than Shadyside (about 40 compared to 550), and Chef Chris uses this as an opportunity to build relationships with the students there. “I ask students what they like, what they miss about their mom’s cooking,” says Chef Chris. “We like to get them as engaged as possible. Today we did a Korean barbecue.”

“We want to minimize waste, so we get creative with what we have. The other day we had some leftover salmon, so we made some salmon cakes, and then discovered that the salmon skin puffs up just like a crackling when you fry it.”

“I give my team as much as autonomy as possible,” says Chef Chris. “One time we had some nice potatoes left over, and someone had the idea of a Pittsburgh-style lasagna, using pierogis. And we smoke our own brisket, and had some left over, and we turned it into smoked brisket mac and cheese.”

Eden Hall Executive Chef Chris Galarza (third from the right) with his staff
Eden Hall Executive Chef Chris Galarza (third from the right) with his staff

“I don’t think the kids up here have taste buds,” laughs Chef Chris. “They eat some of the spiciest things I’ve ever had in my life. One of the Falk School professors, Ryan Utz, grows Chocolate Bhutlah peppers, which are eight times hotter than a habañero. We make hot sauce with that and they put it on everything. We go through a half gallon every two weeks.”

We get everything as close to local as possible. All of our dairy comes from Turner dairy – local. Eggnog, most of our veggies are from Eden Hall or local sources, squash. Braised beef cheeks from Cunningham’s Meats, pork from Hatfield’s.

“I’ve worked at some crazy cool places,” comments Chef Chris. “I’ve worked at a five-star resort, and Eden Hall is still way cooler.”

 

Eden Hall Farm Summer Recap

work and pick

Each year, campuses across the country quiet down for the summer. It’s a time of stillness, reflection, and peace.

Unless your campus includes a working farm. In that case, you’re looking at about four months of experimenting, digging, collaborating, harvesting, improvising, and most of all, getting your hands dirty. This summer while other Chatham students were interning in marketing offices, hospitals, or non-profits, Food Studies students from the Falk School of Sustainability applied themselves with vigor to their own living laboratory, the Eden Hall Farm at Eden Hall Campus.

garlicThere was an abundance of garlic this year—so much that there wasn’t enough space to cure it in the normal facilities. So, students had to improvise. The pool house offered the solution, with enough room to hang what was left.

Each season also offers the chance to hone in on what works well. This timcarrotse around, extra attention was put into thinning out the carrots that were crowding one another or showing weaker growth, giving the others a better chance to succeed. Tedious work, but it paid off: The student garden saw its best carrot crop to date.

The student garden also planted a selection of Japanese and Chinese crops this summer. One of the success stories was the hinona kabu, a Japanese variety of turnip. Using a traditional recipe, it became a great pickle, called sakura-zuke—pink like a cherry blossom.  Working with these foods also became a way to grow cultural understanding.

The Eden Hall campus is a place for both experimentation and collaboration.  Students grew rye for Wigle Whiskey, a local craft distillery in the Strip District.  With a lot of help from other regional farmers, 3200 pounds of grain were harvested, enough to make two batches of rye whiskey.  Everyone is eagerly anticipating getting to taste the results.  During the 2014-2015 school year, the Falk School of Sustainability also collaborated with Wigle Whiskey on a New Product Development course that you can read about here.
edenhall-rye

The work and pick program also had another successful season. Students and faculty volunteer, regardless of experience, to help out in the fields.  In exchange for their work, they get to take home food they’ve harvested themselves. The food may only last a meal, but the knowledge they gain is theirs for life. Consider getting involved next year, and check out the Eden Hall Farm Blog for more stories and updates.