Communitywide sustainability resource offerings keep evolving

Contact: Jeanne Baron
After mounting a bike part on a special vise, Pikaart replaces the oil in his suspension forks.

WMU Senior Ben Pikaart regularly makes use of equipment available to him in the Open Bike Shop.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Seeds planted by Western Michigan University students almost a decade ago and nurtured by their peers ever since are bearing fruit for today's members of the campus and Kalamazoo communities.

Thanks primarily to a self-imposed sustainability fee adopted in 2010, students have built a strong and growing infrastructure that makes an evolving array of sustainability resources available to not only themselves, but often to members of the on- and off-campus communities, as well.

The student-led campaign to establish the fee resulted in WMU becoming Michigan's first higher education institution to adopt a "green fee" to support campus sustainability. The move was instrumental in creating the Office for Sustainability in 2011 and continues to solidify the University as a national sustainability innovator and leader.

"The Office for Sustainability is geared toward students who pay the sustainability fee because they fund most of our work. This means our projects change as we hear from students and student government leadership and follow their concerns," says Justin Gish, project manager for the sustainability office.

"Many resources already are available, and recent changes in how some are being provided are assisting my office with meeting its goals to help WMU fulfill and increase its sustainability commitments while building a learning community that works to create a culture of sustainability and improve the quality of life for all."

In addition to students, both the campus and local communities are benefitting from the culture that's being created. Major examples of the resources available because of it are described below. To learn more about the offerings, visit the Office for Sustainability, located on the corner of West Michigan Avenue and Howard Street, or call the office at (269) 387-0941.

Bicycle Resource Hub

Smucker using a screwdriver on a bike wheel's chain assembly.

Molly Smucker, a sustainability office student employee, hones her repair skills by working in the Open Bike Shop.

An Office for Sustainability clearinghouse, the Bicycle Resource Hub focuses on nonmotorized transportation education, advocacy and policy efforts.

It includes a weekly Open Bike Shop from 1 to 5 p.m. every Friday in the sustainability office. When changes to the shop schedule occur, they are posted on the office's homepage and social media accounts.

Anyone may bring in their bikes during the bike shop and repair them under the guidance of expert student mechanics. Tools and bike stands are available to use free of charge. For a small fee, bike owners may purchase on site incidental items such as tubes, chains, brake pads and cables. Bike owners need to bring with them the other parts or materials they might need.

Of note for WMU students, the hub reinstituted its bike rental program this past fall after a lengthy hiatus. All WMU students who pay the sustainability fee once again have the option of renting a bike through the University to get around campus and Kalamazoo. Bikes can be rented for a modest fee, and those students who pledge to ride this bike to class in lieu of driving their car can rent the bike for free. Bikes are available first come, first served each semester, and there are a limited number of bikes available.

Community Garden

Three students planting a long row of tomatoes.

Student workers get tomato plants in the ground after starting them indoors for this garden season.

The WMU Community Garden located off of Howard Street behind WMU's Stadium Drive Apartments is now under the auspices of the Office for Sustainability. Gish notes that the newly institutionalized facility began as a student project receiving grant funding from the sustainability office and had been run informally by a dedicated group of volunteers for the past nine years.

"The sustainability office looks to build upon this work, and ensure that students who desire to grow food or foliage on campus will have a space to do so," Gish says. "And for anyone new to gardening, we're working with local master gardeners to develop instructional materials."

Community members as well as students, faculty and staff are invited to rent plots in the garden to grow their own fruits, vegetables and flowers. Rental rates for WMU students per season for small and large plots are $20 and $30, respectively, and for others are $25 and $35, respectively.

Besides renting out space, Gish notes that his office plans to continue growing produce this summer for the University's student food pantry, which is a component of WMU's Invisible Need Project. Last year, the sustainability office formed a partnership with the project to grow produce to supplement donations to the pantry. It supplied more than 140 pounds of tomatoes, garlic, peppers and other vegetables, all of which were tended and harvested by WMU students.

To rent a plot or volunteer at the garden, visit the community garden webpage or contact Gish at or (269) 387-0941. Financial donations to the Invisible Need Project or Office for Sustainability may be made online through the WMU Foundation.

Eco Essentials

The Eco Essentials program, previously named the EcoMug and most recently EcoJug program, began as a giveaway of a stainless steel reusable water container to every new student who pays the sustainability fee.

Grouping of the three Eco Essentials products.The program was expanded this year to provide additional options for reusable and recyclable products. New students can pick one free item of their choice while any WMU student and employee as well as the public are able to purchase the products. The essentials package, which is intended to reduce people's reliance on single-use items, includes:

  • A new version of the water container, still called an EcoJug and still able to be used by students in campus dining halls and cafés. Since being introduced in fall 2009, WMU has given out or sold more than 20,000 of these containers.
  • A carry-along reusable bamboo knife, fork and spoon for use when eating out or consuming fast food and take-out fare.
  • A canvas tote bag to use instead of the paper or plastic bags provided by stores.

These cash-only items can be purchased at the Office of Sustainability from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Members of the public as well as WMU faculty, staff and students can buy an EcoJug or a utensils set for $5 and a tote for $4. The office also has a limited supply left of its older-version EcoMugs. While supplies last, students who pay the sustainability fee may buy them for $10 and other people may buy them for $14.

Talks and workshops

The sustainability office shares WMU and community expertise and extends its reach by hosting speakers and hands-on workshops. These events are posted on the office website and open to members of the public.

This past spring's events included a presentation about how broadly applying ecological principles can lead to better-designed societies and an eclectic Sustainability Chats series. Meanwhile, workshops covered such topics as worm composting, green woodworking, and sewing and clothing repair.

Most workshops are open to WMU students at no charge but cost $10 for WMU employees and others. Gish says due to limited available seating, many of these events cannot accommodate off-campus community members. But he says efforts are underway to open up more workshops to the public.

A listing of previous Sustainability Chats is available online.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.