Greening the Field Museum: SUST Major Laura Miller Hill Reports on Her Summer Sustainability Internship

During the summer of 2015, several Roosevelt University students majoring in Sustainability Studies did internships or pursued study abroad opportunities in various locales around the world, from Chicago to Hawaii and from Schaumburg to Scandinavia. We’re posting their reports from the field on their activities, adventures, and advocacy work in the service of environmental conservation, sustainable development, and social justice.

Here’s another post from Laura Miller Hill, a senior SUST major who interned at Chicago’s world-renowned Field Museum along beautiful Lake Michigan.

As a Keller Science Action summer intern, my initiation into sustainability at the Field Museum began with an introduction to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification system, more commonly known as LEED. As I sat in his office on the third floor of the Museum, Sustainability Manager Carter O’Brien proudly detailed the long journey that he, the Museum’s facilities staff, the Museum’s green team (A Greener Field) and the Delta Institute took to earn the Museum a LEED Gold certification this spring. Carter is justifiably proud of the Museum’s accomplishment, for in order to achieve LEED certification, a team of dedicated individuals must work very hard to make both a physical building and working environment more sustainable.

Stanley Field Hall at the FMNH (L. Miller Hill)

Stanley Field Hall at the FMNH (L. Miller Hill)

The task of greening a 94-year-old, historically significant, landmarked building with strong cultural ties to the community and 26 million specimens and artifacts in its collections requires a huge amount of creativity to overcome structural- and age-related challenges. The age and design of the Field Museum meant that it was built long before concerns about climate change and energy efficiency were on any one’s mind, so the focus of sustainability was on both internal and external changes to the building’s operations and landscaping.

In addition, programs and policies would need to be developed to modify staff and visitor behaviors to further reduce environmental impacts without jeopardizing the climate requirements of the collections. As a result of their efforts, the Field Museum is one of only two museums in the world to achieve LEED-EB O+M Gold certification and possibly the oldest museum to receive LEED certification.

A large part of the Field’s sustainability efforts have focused on the reduction of waste produced by staff members, volunteers, interns and visitors who move in and out of the Museum every day. Although the Field Museum has increased its waste diversion rate by recycling paper, plastic and e-waste, since 2009 the Field has been on a mission to compost food and other compostable organic waste. As a part of my sustainability research, I was introduced to Hanh Pham and Greg Christian, two people who were instrumental in guiding the Museum’s efforts at reducing food waste.

The FMNH's Veggie Oil Van (photo: L. Miller Hill)

The FMNH’s Veggie Oil Van (photo: L. Miller Hill)

Hanh, Compost Coordinator at Loyola University (and according to Carter O’Brien, “the first person in Chicago I ever saw get the word compost in her job title”), helped in many ways to expand the Museum’s composting operation. Hanh facilitated a connection with Loyola’s Compost Collection Network and organized site visits of various non-profit and for-profit composting operations in the City of Chicago. While meeting at an Andersonville café, Hanh and I talked about the importance of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy and actions that individuals can take to prevent and reduce wasted food. Although a bit more time and effort may be required to change food purchasing and disposal habits, the following strategies can do a lot to reduce the massive amounts of food that is wasted and ends up in landfills:

1) Begin at the source and be smart about how much food you are buying and ordering, 2) join Zero Percent or start a Gleaning Program, 3) donate excess food to animal/wildlife shelters, 4) turn food waste into fuel by Anaerobic digestion and used vegetable oil into biofuels, 5) demystify compost so people see how easy it is to compost their own waste, and 6) be an advocate by patronizing restaurants that are We Compost Partners or encouraging your favorite restaurant to join the program. In addition, you can check out this great video about composting that Hanh and Loyola University created to spread the word about the importance of doing your part to reduce food waste.

The museum provides healthy & sustainable food at the Field Bistro (photo: L. Miller HIll)

The museum provides healthy & sustainable food at the Field Bistro (photo: L. Miller HIll)

Greg Christian, owner of Beyond Green Sustainable Food Partners as well as a sustainable foodservice consultant, chef, and author, was hired by the Field Museum in 2009 to help make the restaurants in the Museum more sustainable. In keeping with the Museum’s conservation goals around the world, Greg’s 10-year Environmental Strategy set goals and timelines to improve the quality of food, reduce restaurant waste, and increase education and awareness on healthy living, with a goal of reducing energy use, improving overall water and air quality and producing zero waste. Greg is passionate about using data to inspire others in the food service industry to become more sustainable and reduce food waste, and he took time out of his busy schedule to have lunch with me at a Chinatown restaurant, where we had a lively discussion about his current role at the Field Museum.

Greg shared with me that he uses simple and common sense solutions and relationship-building to reject old and unsustainable systems and create new, more sustainable systems to reduce waste. He continued to stress the phrase “measure to reduce” to describe how incorporating the weighing of food waste into a restaurant’s routine can lead to a zero-waste kitchen. Greg continues to work with the Museum’s restaurants, Field Bistro and Explorer Café, as a consultant and a third-party monitor to implement the Museum’s Environmental Strategy.

Because of the dedication and innovation shown by the staff members that make up a Greener Field and with support from the Delta Institute, Greg Christian and Hanh Pham, environmental sustainability at the Field Museum has become a natural part of day-to-day operations and an ongoing goal for future operations. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40% of the food produced and 15-20% of the food that individuals in the United States purchase for household use are wasted every year.

The Museum’s composting and food waste initiative is on track to keep 100 tons of compostable waste out of landfills by the end of 2015, and has helped the Museum improve its overall waste diversion rate from 18% in 2013 to 34% in 2014, and up to 42% through August of this year. Since receiving LEED certification (which must be renewed every 5 years), the Museum is currently working with the Delta Institute on integrating composting into the school group cafeteria, with the intention of creating a system design that can be adopted by other institutions and schools.

When a large and historic institution like the Field Museum is able to set sustainability goals and make significant changes to meet those goals, it’s proof that a sustainable future is possible and that any business, organization, or individual can make the necessary changes to lessen their impact on the Earth.

Laura Miller Hill M15Laura Miller Hill is a returning adult undergraduate student at Roosevelt University, where she is a senior Sustainability Studies major. She spent her 2015 summer working as a Keller Science Action Center intern at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago under the supervision of Sustainability Manager Carter O’Brien. Miller Hill’s primary job was to take facts, stories and general information regarding sustainability initiatives throughout the museum and consolidate them into webpages that are both educational and easily understood by people who visit the Museum’s A Greener Field website. In a previous RU course, SUST 240 Waste, she authored this waste and environmental justice essay about Town of Pines, Indiana, for the Schaumburg’s Sustainable Future website.

Posted in conservation, education, food, museums, recycling, Roosevelt, science, students, waste | Leave a comment

RU’s Student Leadership Summit Planned for Oct. 23-25

Roosevelt’s Center for Student Involvement (CSI) is accepting applications for its annual Student Leadership Summit which takes place Oct. 23 – 25 at Camp Tecumseh in Indiana. Students who exhibit leadership skills or want to learn more about becoming a leader on campus and in their community are strongly encouraged to apply. Applications can be picked up in WB 323 during normal business hours. The application deadline is Oct 9th, 2015.

Contact the Chris Littrell, assistant director of CSI, with any questions.

Posted in activities, education, events, Roosevelt, students | Leave a comment

Chicago Idealist Grad School Fair at UIC on Oct. 5th

Students and alumni of the Sustainability Studies Program and of RU in general: check out the Idealist Grad School Fair scheduled for 5-8pm on Oct. 5th at UIC.  Here you can:

  • Learn about admissions requirements and application deadlines for graduate programs in social work, public policy, nonprofit management, international affairs, public interest law, social entrepreneurship, and many more
  • Speak with graduate admissions advisors from local, national and international universities (including our very own Roosevelt University)

The fair is free and open to anyone considering graduate school. Watch these two short videos to see why you should attend the fair and what it looks like.

Day/Time: Monday, Oct. 5th, 5-8pm
Place: UIC Forum, 725 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago, IL

Hosted by the University of Illinois, Chicago, Department of Public Administration and the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

Posted in activities, degrees, education, events, students | Leave a comment

The Pope as Environmental Advocate

Editor’s Note: As the Pope gets ready this morning to address the US Congress in Washington DC, it’s worth noting that his public statements and official writings on climate change and the human relation to nature have created an unprecedented global dialogue on these pressing ecological issues. The pontiff’s critique of capitalism and technology is both politically challenging and refreshingly rigorous given the imperatives of climate change, environmental injustice, and persistent global poverty. Here we reprint an essay by Rebecca Bratspies of New York City, originally published on The Nature of Cities blog on 23 Sept 2015.  

Pope Francis visits the United States in late September 2015.  He will speak in Washington, D.C., New York, and Philadelphia, including an address at the United Nations and to a full Congress. His visit will be an opportunity for reflection and—who knows—might possibly be a turning point in the United States’ long, tortuous debate about climate change. The Pope’s recent Encyclical on the Environment and Climate Change, Laudato si, was certainly a welcome acknowledgement that an unimaginable crisis is upon us. His urgent appeal not only recognized the immensity of the sustainability challenge we face, but also called for immediate action.

By situating a duty to care about environmental degradation squarely within the Catholic religious tradition, Pope Francis may have shown us a path beyond the political and ideological thicket that has for too long stymied any genuine public conversation about climate change here in the United States. As Rob Verchickput it, Pope Francis has the power to “vouch” that climate change is real, that it is happening now, and that urgent action is required.

With any luck, his visit to the United States will give him many opportunities to be the climate change “voucher” we so desperately need. Speaking directly to the likes of Oklahoma Senator Inhofe, the infamous “Senator with a snowball,” the earnest chemist turned priest might be able to open hearts and minds too long closed to the frightening changes going on, and to the deep injustice that climate change perpetrates against the most vulnerable among us. Barring unforeseen catastrophes, Pope Francis’s words will dominate the news cycle. That means that he has a unique opportunity to focus global and national attention on the looming ecological catastrophe that is climate change, and to bring its tragic consequences into the popular media’s 24/7 coverage of his visit.


Catholic Church England and Wales/

I was recently asked by Newsday to reflect on what I would say to Pope Francis. What came to mind immediately was a line from the New Union Prayer Book: “No longer can we tear the world apart to make our fire.” For me, this line from the prayer welcoming the Sabbath encapsulates the sustainability challenge—how to meet the needs and aspirations of 7.4 billion people while also keeping our impact on the earth within planetary boundaries.

As a species, we are failing miserably in this task. We poison our air, land, and water to “build our fire,” while pumping alarming amounts of carbon into our atmosphere in the process. Unchecked, human exploitation of the planet has created environmental “haves” and “have-nots”—permitting a “throwaway” lifestyle for the few, while leaving billions in abject poverty.

This disparity is as true within nations as it is between them. Looking more closely at how just one or two pollutants affect people in a single city can help make the distributional justice concerns clear. The New York metro region as a whole ranks unfavorably high for air pollution—the 12th worst metro area in the country. In 2014, Queens, the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island all received F grades from the American Lung Association for ozone pollution. The health impacts New Yorkers suffer because of these unacceptable levels of pollution are nothing short of disastrous. According to the New York Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, ozone and particulate matter, two common pollutants from combustion of fossil fuels, are directly responsible for 3,400 premature deaths in NYC each year. For perspective, that means that on average, eight to ten times as many New Yorkers are killed by just these two pollutants as are murdered in any given year.

The morbidity effects are even more striking. These pollutants are responsible for more than 2,000 asthma-related hospital admissions, and over 6,900 asthma-related emergency room visits, each year.

These statistics are grim and getting worse. And, the distribution of this environmental suffering is staggeringly unequal. Asthma rates rise dramatically as income goes down. In New York, asthma rates for those with annual household incomes below $15,000 is more than double the rates for households with annual incomes exceeding $75,000 (15 percent versus 6.8 percent). Over 17 percent of African-American children suffer from asthma, compared to 8.7 percent for white children and 11 percent for Latino/a children. Children under four years of age from low-income areas are more than four times more likely to be hospitalized for asthma than children from high-income areas. Here, in these few statistics about the relationship between one disease and one or two pollutants, we see the entire climate justice problem writ small.

The Pope has been an eloquent voice for the current and projected victims of climate change. Over the next few days, he will have the biggest possible platforms from which to try to turn that eloquence into action. Pope Francis will address the entire world as he opens the United Nations Sustainability Summit.  He will then speak to the United States during an unprecedented address to a joint session of Congress. The Pope’s remarkable popularity with Catholics, non-Catholics, and, indeed, even with atheists, suggests that his words will matter.

Both addresses will give Pope Francis the opportunity to make real the crises of climate change. The ice is melting, the seas are rising, and we are on track for catastrophe. Those suffering first (and perhaps most) contributed least to the problem and benefited least from the development and exploitation that got us here. Pope Francis can help every-day Americans appreciate that climate change is far more than an esoteric scientific question—it is an immediate, moral one. He can breathe life into New York’s asthma statistics, and bring home the grave environmental inequalities our lifestyle creates.

I hope that Pope Francis will use his American visit to emphasize that while sustainability is a question of survival, it is also a question of justice—environmental justice. Billions of people live in penury, contributing virtually nothing to the planetary crisis, while we privileged few tear the world apart to make our fires. The children of New York deserve more; the children of the world deserve more!

Rebecca Bratspies
New York City
Reprinted from The Nature of Cities

Posted in climate change, ecology, ethics, news, policy, pollution, social justice | 1 Comment

In a Time of Extinction, a Call to Life: Music and Spoken Word Performance in Rockford IL, Sept. 28th

In a Time of Extinction, a Call to Life”
Monday, September 28th, 2015, 7:00pm
Rockford Theater
323 Park Avenue Rockford, IL 61101
Sponsored by Severson Dells Nature Center
Call 815-­335-­2915 for reservations
Free and open to the public!

Kathleen Dean Moore

Kathleen Dean Moore

Author/Philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore and Concert Pianist Rachelle McCabe combine to present a very moving and powerful presentation on the theme of extinction. Their collaboration began when McCabe heard Moore speak about climate action, a speech that she heard as music. They are both convinced of the power of music, and of the need for more powerful calls to action.

“Frederick Nietzsche wrote that we have art in order not to die of the truth,” Moore says. “This performance is art that allows us to tell the terrible truths about global warming and mass extinction, in a way that enters into peoples’ hearts, rather than breaks them.”

Rachelle McCabe (photo: OSU)

Rachelle McCabe (photo: OSU)

Both the creative process and the performance are unusual, maybe unique. McCabe chose the music and performs a powerful interpretation. Moore has *written to* the music, weaving words into the silences between the variations, creating an echoing conversation, a call and response.

Supported by Forest Preserves of Winnebago, Wild Ones Rock River, University of Illinois Extension, Sally and Jim Roberts, Forest City 350 Climate Coalition, Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Kathleen Dean Moore is one of the Northwest’s best known nature writers, winner of the Oregon Book Award and the Pacific Northwest Bookseller Award. Her recent co-­edited book is Moral Ground: Ethical Actions for a Planet in Peril. Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emerita at Oregon State University, she speaks around the country  about the moral urgency of stopping a global carbon catastrophe.

Rachelle McCabe, concert pianist and Professor of Music at Oregon State University, enjoys an international career as an artist-­teacher and as a solo recitalist and highly respected chamber musician. She has performed extensively in the United States, Canada, Southeast Asia and England, and has been heard on NPR’s Performance Today, the CBC, and PBS television.

Testimonials for the Program

“A POWERFUL blend. The music and words harmonized in a symbiosis hard to imagine before hearing it tonight. The two of you become a unique performance.”

— Brooke Collison, Oregon State University

“It was truly exceptional. I had no idea what to expect. I was deeply moved by the power, eloquence, wisdom, urgency, and insight of the presentation. The synergy of the music and the reading was brilliant. Why? Because there was such integrity in the sharing of voices. The symmetry between the two of you was magnificent. The Rachmaninoff piece (and the performance) was stunning and your language (and delivery) sent me to so many different places, mainly emotional. And that’s what I needed. Not another intellectual experience, but rather a revitalization of the emotional connection to the planetary emergency.”

— Mitchell Thomashaw, former president, Unity College

Posted in activities, biodiversity, ethics, events, humanities, presentations

88th Annual Water & Environment Conference in Chicago Sept. 26-30

Roosevelt students and faculty are invited to attend the 88th Annual Water Environment Federation Technical Exhibition and Conference, or WEFTEC 2015®, the largest conference of its kind, from September 26th to 30th at McCormick Place South, Chicago IL.



WEFTEC attracts approximately 20,000 water industry professionals who will participate in hundreds of events, including educational workshops & sessions, tours of local treatment facilities, and the community service project hosted by our WEF Students & Young Professionals Committee. The water quality industry is responsible for treating water so that it is not a threat to public health, protecting fragile ecosystems through pollution and sediment control, plus more!

The conference features a special opportunity for local students who are interested in or currently studying in the areas of Biology, Civil/Environmental Engineering, Technology, Mathematics, Natural/Earth Sciences, Sustainability, and Public Health to experience a “Weekend at WEFTEC.” Check this link for more program details.



In addition to WEFTEC, the Water Environment Federation has a dedicated membership network of students and young professionals who truly believe in being stewards for the global water community. The WEF student membership package is designed for the specific needs of students — who will become future water quality professionals — as it offers WEF student members a solid foundation on which to build their careers, develop leadership skills and gain instant credibility with water quality leaders.

Learn more about WEF student membership here.

Even if you are unable to attend WEFTEC for a full weekend, take advantage of visiting its  exhibition floor where more than 1,000 exhibitors display the latest in water quality research technology and services. The exhibition floor is complimentary for students, young professionals and academic professionals and requires a simple online registration prior to entry. Visit  for more information.

For questions, contact Dianne Crilley at

Posted in activities, conferences, ecology, events, pollution, science, students, water

Water, Sustainability, & the City: A Public Lecture by RU Alumnus Damon Williams on Sept 29th

SUST Williams Event Flyer 2015-09-29Roosevelt University’s Chicago Campus will host a public lecture by alumnus Damon Williams (BS, ’69 physics) on Tuesday, September 29 at 4 p.m. in the Wabash Building, Room 616. Though Chicago is located on Lake Michigan and thus has an excellent municipal water source (for the most part), we do not have an unlimited supply and thus need to find better ways to conserve our freshwater resources and improve the quality of the wastewater we treat and release in our Chicago area waterways.

Williams, a civil engineer who has had a successful career as a water/wastewater management professional, most recently in Phoenix AZ, will discuss wastewater treatment, water recycling, urban water conservation in arid environments, current drought and conservation measures in California, and what those issues can teach us about how we use (and abuse) water in Chicago.

The event is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served (but no bottled water — only Chicago tap!). For more information, contact Professor Mike Bryson (, Professor and Director of the Sustainability Studies Program.

This event is co-sponsored by RU’s Sustainability Studies Program and the Department of Physical Resources. Click here for a pdf version of the event flier.

Posted in alumni, cities, education, events, Roosevelt, science, water