The issue of sustainability touches almost every part of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). It’s woven into the University’s core values as well as the day-to-day activities of campus itself.
It’s demonstrated every time a bee hovers above landscaping sown with native perennials. Or when an empty soda can tossed into a break room recycling receptacle makes its way to the new Recycling Center. Throughout October, the Office of Sustainability showcased a few of UMB’s green initiatives that make these things happen.
October is celebrated nationally as Campus Sustainability Month, and to mark the occasion, the Office of Sustainability hosted a series of events that engaged and educated the campus community about the many ways UMB is striving to protect the environment.
Elizabeth Main, MPA, director of the Office of Sustainability, explained, “While UMB works year-round to integrate sustainability into its operations and culture, we celebrate Campus Sustainability Month during October by hosting special events to bring sustainability awareness to the forefront of the minds of students, staff, and faculty. Campus Sustainability Month is the peak of our fall programming and allows us to engage with the UMB community on a number of sustainability topics.”
One of those topics is urban beekeeping, which showcased one of UMB’s newest environmentally friendly initiatives.
This past spring, a beehive was installed on the seventh-floor green roof of the Health Sciences Research Facility III (HSRFIII). Part of efforts to make campus more hospitable to a variety of pollinators, the project complements ongoing work with ecological landscaping — and brings more bees to the downtown area.
Bill Castro, owner of Bee Friendly Apiary, maintains the hive at HSRFIII as well as those on the rooftops of the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) and at the nearby Royal Sonesta Hotel. During Campus Sustainability Month, he led “What’s the Buzz,” a standing room-only educational session that allowed members of the UMB community to learn about urban beekeeping before getting a closeup look at the hive on the green roof.
During the event, he explained how bees are able to survive — and even thrive — in Baltimore’s concrete jungle.
“With all these large buildings in lower downtown, you wouldn’t think bees would be able to find nectar sources. I wasn’t sure whether they would do well when I put the first hive in over at the hotel, but the bees immediately started bringing nectar in and producing honey,” he said. “Putting the hive here on the seventh floor, I still thought of it as another experiment. Would the bees do well? Would they not do well? And the hive here, it’s so full of honey, it's difficult to even lift it up anymore.”
He pointed to several types of trees that dot the local landscape, including Japanese pagoda, crepe myrtle, and maple, that provide bees with an ample amount of pollen. He also noted that bees are responsible for pollinating many fruits, vegetables, seeds, and nuts essential to human diets, and that with a pollination radius of up to five miles, they play a vital role in the health of urban ecosystems.
“Bees work as a kind of barometer for local environments. If a colony of bees is plopped down in a certain area and they do well in that area, that’s good for the environment. Even in cities, there are niches inside of local ecosystems where bees can thrive and survive,” he said, before adding, “I think to modern humans, with all the hustle and bustle around us, nature is a second thought now. It's nice when organizations like UMB try to make sustainability a front-line topic, because, realistically without nature, we would have a hard time surviving on this planet.”
Another event featuring recent sustainability efforts was the Recycling Center Open House, which gave the campus community an opportunity to learn about UMB’s newest building.
In addition to touring the facility, participants at the open house took part in an engaging question-and-answer session with staff from both Environmental Services (EVS) and the Office of Sustainability. Among topics discussed was the self-service system of waste collection currently being rolled out across campus, where centralized bin stations and standardized signage are helping decrease waste stream contamination.
The conversation spurred attendees to ask how their offices could reduce waste while hosting events — and as it turns out, the Office of Sustainability maintains a list of “Green Eats” catering vendors.
“The Recycling Center is about the end product, which is waste, but our office is also trying to address the front end of the cycle, which is procurement,” Main said. “To that end, we have a list of green caterers on the Sustainability website under the ’Get Involved‘ tab. Those are caterers within a two-mile radius of campus, and we identify those who use local sourcing for food, those who provide vegan and vegetarian options, and those who offer low waste, whether that means bulk packaging to minimize packaging waste, or compostable materials.”
She added, “We also have guidelines on how to host green events, split into small events and large events, for people who want to ensure the footprint of their event is as little as possible.”
Over the course of the open house, attendees also gained insight into unique aspects of the facility, including the fact it isn’t just a hub for recycling. The building houses redundant electrical infrastructure that can provide emergency power to campus if needed.
Other details discussed were the use of ecological landscaping outside the center, which uses pollinator-friendly native plantings that also assist with stormwater management, as well as the facility's "daylighting” — windows purposefully incorporated in its design that, as a matter of equity, give all staff access to natural light.
Vanessa Harrington, MS, SHRM-CP, director of security and compliance in the Department of Public Safety, said she attended the open house because sustainability is part of her own belief system. She added that learning more about UMB’s efforts in the area was enlightening.
“I have children and grandchildren, and it’s important to me to leave the world a better place. It feels good that the University is doing this,” she explained. “It’s great to work at a place that reflects your own core values in making the world a better place.”
Campus Sustainability Month included a Campus Cleanup that drew a crowd of dedicated volunteers who headed to points across campus armed with bags, gloves, and grabber tools in a quest to #KeepUMBBeautiful. A semiannual event held each spring and fall, the latest cleanup garnered 127.33 pounds of trash collected over four hours — with a side view mirror and crab shell standing out among more standard refuse of food wrappers and discarded cigarettes.
Among those helping clean campus was Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, president of UMB. Other participants included Tom Hockensmith, MSIT, executive director, central administration information technology services, who paused briefly from his task to share his reasons for lending a hand.
“I’m on campus a lot, and I have staff on campus, so it’s important to help keep it clean,” Hockensmith said, before adding, “My 10-year-old daughter hates litter. She’s even gone around our neighborhood to clean up. I thought doing this was a good way to support her.”
Another widely attended event was “Let’s Grow Together,” an educational session focused on the benefits and care of indoor plants. Held at the School of Nursing in collaboration with the Office of Enterprise Risk Management and URecFit and Wellness, it included a small plant giveaway.
Victoria Meadows, MS, manager of the Enterprise Risk Management Program, led the “Let's Grow Together” gathering. She reflected, “This event was important because it gave the UMB community an opportunity to learn about the benefits of house plants and how to take care of them. It was especially important to me because being an individual that loves house plants, I wanted to ensure that when the audience members walked away, they had the knowledge they needed to take care of house plants. It brought me so much joy to see how engaged the audience was in learning and they appreciated the opportunity to take home their very own baby house plant.”
In addition to Campus Sustainability Month events and activities, specialty recycling collections — for books, batteries, ink/toner cartridges, electronics, and plastic bags/film — were picked up throughout October in the Campus Center and Lexington Building lobbies.