Sustainable Projects on Muhlenberg College Rooftops

The rooftops at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA are full of fish and green vegetation!
Food Production on the Science Building
Tilapia are bred sustainably in a rooftop greenhouse on the Shankweiler Science Building. The idea for a tilapia farm grew out of a class, Sustainable Solutions, taught by Dr. Richard Niesenbaum, professor of biology and director of the sustainability studies program.
As part of this class, students were exploring issues related to sustainable food production in urban environments and were challenged to develop a solution to meet nutritional, environmental, and economic needs within the city of Allentown. Students explored ideas for re-using an abandoned industrial brewery in Allentown and became interested in developing the site for sustainable urban food production.
They came up with the idea of developing and then built an urban aquaponics systems that use biological filters and plants to keep the water healthy for the fish. The fish and plants are an environmentally friendly, locally produced food source, and the fish waste can be used to produce methane, which in turn can heat the water for the fish or be used as composting materials for other crops.
Science students at Muhlenberg have worked on designs for scaling up production and business students have conducted marketing and financial studies, and produced a business plan that embraces the concept of “eco-entrepreneurship”.
A Green Roof on the Student Union
Another rooftop on the Seegers Union sports a green roof, a system that uses vegetation to absorb moisture and helps reduce precipitation runoff, improves building insulation and absorbs carbon dioxide that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.
Inspired by a visit to the LEED certified building of the local electricity utility, Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL), students in the Sustainable Solutions class proposed the green roof for a new addition to the Union. PPL helped with funding and students designed the plan and provided the labor.
Learning Beyond the Classroom
Dr. Niesenbaum believes that learning about sustainability must move beyond the classroom, and that campus policies, architecture, and facilities can serve as additional teaching resources. Muhlenberg College supports a campus greening committee and an Office of Campus Sustainability whose primary purpose is linking academic and non-academic sustainability initiatives. All of the projects are promoted, developed, and monitored with student input.

When asked if any students had made life choices as a result of their work, Dr. Niesenbaum replied, “Yes. Many of the experiences we offer have been transformative for our students.  They have influenced students’ decisions about future study, career options, and everyday living. Recognizing that people and the environment are interconnected and that you cannot protect one without the other has been central.”

For more information about sustainability initiatives at Muhlenberg,visit: http://www.muhlenberg.edu/main/campuslife/sustainability/


(Photos: Muhlenberg College website)