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Visualizing Sustainability

MICA's Green Campus an Extension of Studio Work

Posted 07.15.10 by Juxtapositions Editors

Art and design have the power to transform society, and MICA’s students want to be relevant and effective in their fields, from applied to fine arts," foundation faculty member Hugh Pocock said. "Being involved with and educated in important issues, such as sustainability and social engagement, are real practices that prepare them for the future. 

Green Wood Working course

For artists, who have long used their work as a platform for engaging society, practicing sustainability is just as much a means of expression as is producing a creative piece based on that theme. The working definition of sustainability is the capacity of a community to meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. And for prospective college students, it is a way of living that is increasingly important; in a survey by the Princeton Review of 10,300 college applicants, 63% said that a college's demonstrated commitment to the environment could affect their decision to attend.

The result of the Princeton Review survey isn't a surprise to Timothy Millner, associate vice president for facilities management and a member of MICA's Sustainability Committee. He explained, "The College's current focus on sustainability was sparked by student interest in developing a recycling program on our campus. The summer of 2007, we formed a recycling committee and, by October, became the second college in Baltimore to implement single-stream recycling. That recycling project evolved into the Sustainability Committee and a long-term commitment to reducing MICA's carbon footprint."

Bikes are encouraged as a means of transport throughout campus.Student participation has expanded across the MICA community. Millner continued, "The committee's work involves departments across campus, from Operations and Student Affairs to the team at Parkhurst Dining Services, and students are extremely active in groups such as the Sustainable Food Project, and Students for a Sustainable Campus, who recently launched the MICA Bike Share Program."

Some greening initiatives are highly visible, such as the newly launched Bike Share program, which supports cycling as a sustainable form of transportation by giving all full-time students at MICA access to four refurbished bikes free of charge. Other prominent initiatives include the use of electric vehicles by Operations staff and the more than 120 newly planted trees on campus. The College's newest facility, the Gateway, was specifically designed to have an energy efficient footprint, with green features that include high efficiency heating and cooling systems, a rooftop garden on the third floor that serves as a courtyard and reduces heat loss, and the use of renewable or recyclable materials throughout the building.

The College's faculty members are involved in sustainability projects as well, with a host of eco-focused courses offered across departments; and Firmin DeBrabander, chair of the Humanistic Studies Department, is working with MICA faculty members Bob Merrill and Hugh Pocock to shed light on world food safety and production during a conference they plan to host during the spring semester.

Other measures are not as apparent, but equally important. As existing facilities are renovated or repaired, the College has worked diligently to use greener systems and practices. Old dormitory furniture is donated to Goodwill rather than put in landfills; green cleaning products are used across campus; during maintenance, roofing surfaces are coated with reflective aluminum to reduce solar gain; materials such as ceiling tiles, metal studs, and copper wiring are recycled during renovations; oil burning boilers have been replaced with higher-efficiency gas boilers; and incandescent light bulbs have been replaced with more efficient fluorescent ones.

MICA's dining services team, Parkhurst, has also taken a leadership role in reducing waste. "Parkhurst has implemented a number of changes to make our dining services greener. Some of these changes may seem minor," said Libby Francis, assistant director of retail food service, "but by the sheer volume of products and food produced and consumed at MICA, they have had a substantial impact on our environment."

Parkhurst's contributions began with the recycling of fryer oil into bio-diesel fuel, its first sustainable initiative when the company partnered with MICA in 2005. Ongoing efforts include the use of local produce and suppliers for other specialty products; the use of degradable utensils and food containers; tray-less dining, which reduces food waste and saves water; and the composting of cardboard, paper, and food waste, using the resulting soil on campus grounds. Another initiative is the Reusable Coffee Mug program, which allows customers at the numerous cafés on campus to fill their reusable coffee mug of any size for the cost of a small coffee--Fair Trade, certified organic, locally roasted coffee at that.

Millner said, "The measures taken by the MICA community are making a difference. We've saved energy, lowered water consumption, reduced waste, raised awareness, and saved money. And the efforts are ongoing. MICA will begin receiving at least 10% of its electricity supply from renewable resources such as wind and solar energy in 2012, utilizing renewable energy credits. We're also considering ways to use solar energy on campus and are expanding our fleet of electronic and hybrid vehicles to further reduce our dependence on gasoline."

Students, who helped initiate the green movement across campus, remain actively involved participants in sustainability efforts. The student-run MICA Sustainable Food Project, for example, includes an urban garden adjacent to the Fox Building, a non-profit worm exchange for indoor composting, beekeeping efforts, and a farm stand from July through September on Cohen Plaza, with proceeds going back to the garden.

The MICA Sustainable Food Project garden

Miranda Pfeiffer '11, an interdisciplinary sculpture major and a co-founder of the student group, said, "The garden's goal in the short term is educational. Most of us involved recognized a need to learn to grow our own food. And with MICA alumni like Greg Strella of Great Kids Farm or the Baltimore Development Cooperative, which works at Participation Park, it's reasonable to think that the skills we learn here may mature into larger projects."

"Our yield is currently modest, but in the next few years, it would be wonderful to supply campus dining or local organizations such as homeless shelters. And our garden is quite visible; being so close to the light rail means that innumerable Baltimoreans pass by every day. Sometimes they wave at us; sometimes I meet people outside of MICA who tell me they've seen me watering the plants. We like to think that our garden can serve as an inspiration to others."

Photo captions:
(Top) Students in Ken Martin's Green Wood Working course use the city's unwanted, discarded lumber for their projects.
(Middle) Students bike around Bolton Hill to save gas costs and emissions including borrowing them from the student-run Bike Share program.
(Bottom) The urban garden adjacent to the Fox Building educates students about food sustainability through efforts such as composting and beekeeping.
(At right) Starting from the raw lumber, Susie Skripkina‘s final project for Green Wood Working becomes contemporary sculpture.

Related Stories

Visualizing Sustainability Image Gallery

More images of MICA's Sustainability efforts

Campus Greening, by the Numbers

  • 41,540 pounds of material used as compost for MICA's landscaping and gardens
  • 11 tons of paper from across campus recycled each year
  • 30 cubic yards of ceiling tiles and 45 cubic yards of metal studs and old conduit recycled from Bunting, while 2,240 pounds has been steel recycled from the Studio Center
  • 100% of the steel structure, bricks, concrete, and copper wiring from the old auto repair shop at the site of the Gateway was recycled during construction, and granite foundation blocks and pavers were reused throughout MICA's campus
  • 70,000 forks, spoons, and knives used on campus each year are now fully degradable
  • 6,000 gallons of water, nine tons of food waste, and 1,300 pounds of dishwashing detergent saved annually from tray-less dining
  • 2,000 pounds or more of items go to Goodwill rather than local landfills when students move from dorms at the end of each academic year



Eco-Focused Course Offerings at MICA

Baltimore Food Ecology Documentary Project

A collaborative project between MICA and the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, students at MICA research and produce a short documentary investigating the past, present, and future of Baltimore food systems.

Climate Change and Sustainability

As climate change presents the global society with the need to establish new criteria for industrial and social production, students are asked to examine and imagine the roles that artists and designers will play in this process.


This course asks students to consider the role played by non-humans in the field of cultural studies, social theory, philosophy, and literature.

Deep Ecology: Literature of an Environmental Ethic

Students explore the literature of ecological consciousness and an emerging environmental ethic through the works of Thoreau, Lao Tzu, Aldo Leopold, and Peter Singer.

Sustainable Graphic Design

This continuing studies course provides an introduction to the various facets of sustainability and explains how these principles can be applied to graphic design through the use of sustainable paper, ink, and printing practices.

Green Wood Working

Students partner with Baltimore's urban planning forestry division to collect unwanted lumber for use in the production of sculpture and gain an understanding of the urban landscape and the application of raw materials.

Wacked Wood final project