May 05, 2009
St. John’s University once again is making environmental
history, this time, by launching an A500 Rocket® model food
composter and thereby becoming the first U.S. university to use
The student-run Rocket was unveiled on April 22, Earth Day, at its
current location—the Marillac Loading Dock on the Queens
A Model for Achieving
“The Earth Club is playing a critical role in the feasibility study
that will enable St. John’s to look at the efficacy of food
composting on campus,” explained Frank Cantelmo, Ph.D., the Club’s
Club members with backup from the University’s team of
Sustainability Coordinators will oversee the seven-days-a-week
operation of the composter. “We hope to demonstrate how all
students can make a difference and impact their environment,” said
Ashley Brown, president of the Earth Club. Ashley is a junior
majoring in environmental studies.
The Rocket was leased by the University from a U.K. manufacturer
with intent to buy, should the Feasibility Study confirm— as
Facilities Services Director of Environmental and Energy
Conservation Thomas Goldsmith expects it to— that food composting
is a safe, sustainable, cost-effective and hygienic alternative to
overtaxing New York City’s landfills.
The catalyst for the University’s decision to identify a
sustainable way to recycle food waste is contained in the landmark
of Understanding (MOU) that St. John’s signed with the EPA in
2008. With this agreement, St. John’s became a role model for how
academic institutions can partner with governmental agencies to
reduce carbon emissions.
A year prior, St. John’s took a leadership role in sustainability
when it became one of the few New York area universities to accept
Mayor Bloomberg’s Mayoral Challenge to reduce carbon emissions by
Thomas Goldsmith and Dr. Cantelmo worked together in the selection
process leading the University to lease the A500 Rocket®.
‘What sealed it for me,” said Goldsmith, “was that it passed U.K.
health safety standards for food composting. This is critical since
we want our students to be able to handle the food compost. In
choosing the Rocket, we balanced technology, cost effectiveness,
simplicity of operation and safety.”
According to Dr. Cantelmo, student engagement and learning is
integral to the project, consistent with the University’s strategy
of changing the campus culture by making it even more
student-centered. It also incorporates the University’s Catholic
and Vincentian mission of acting as stewards of the earth.
“We value student input, we value their help in our new
sustainability initiatives and we are working on ensuring that
students get academic credit for these critical activities. We want
to increase the level of awareness University-wide about the
necessity for recycling and inspire all students to
Yes We Can!
Dr. Cantelmo sees a “charged campus atmosphere with students coming
to us asking to be involved in saving the environment.” He adds,
“It harkens back to the era of JFK when the president challenged
the country to ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what
you can do for your country.’
“Our students want to be part of the environmental solution and not
part of the problem.”
Reflecting this changing atmosphere, Ashley also voiced her
enthusiasm. “I am really excited and pleased that St. John’s is so
substantially involved in reducing its carbon emissions. I have
seen great progress during this past year in the number of
sustainability activities our club has been involved in, partnering
with equally involved faculty members.
“Right now, as students, we have a great opportunity to do
something active for the environment and we also are lucky enough
to have a laboratory —the University— in which we can see the
results of our work. The Earth Club’s mission is to heighten
awareness of the campus community about how we can improve the
environment and the Rocket is helping us do that.”
In fact, Ashley reports that student interest in joining the Earth
Club is high right now. Membership has nearly doubled this year and
during Earth Week, she said, some 20-30 more students expressed
interest in joining.
“Earth Week was a jumping off point for growing campus awareness of
what our students can do to make a difference and impact the
environment,” said Ashley.
To illustrate how pollution impacts underwater life, the Club ran a
three-hour ecology cruise on Long Island Sound for St. John’s
Led by Dr. Cantelmo, participants were able to see up-close how too
much fertilizer lowers underwater oxygen and harms marine life. “We
discussed how Vincentian service to the poor is connected with
caring for every living thing on the planet,” he said.