Professor works for sustainability internationally

Christina Bryson, Staff Writer

Bosnia, the Philippines, Switzerland, Denmark, Senegal, Spain, India and Colombia are just a few of the countries TJ Eatmon, assistant professor of environmental science, has traveled to through research sustainability.

This past July, Eatmon attended the Pan-American Advanced Studies Institute at the Universidad Del Norte in Barranquilla, Colombia.

“It was a three-week workshop that brought together faculty members and graduate students, who were doing research on sustainable manufacturing, from North America, Central and South America, to think about how we might be able to come together and collaborate with each other to improve the way we think about sustainable manufacturing,” Eatmon said.

Sustainable manufacturing, a practice endorsed by the Environmental Protection Agency, is meant to minimize environmental impact in manufacturing processes while also conserving energy and natural resources.

“There’s not always a clear understanding of what sustainability means,” Eatmon said. “In a very narrow view, that could mean as much as eliminating waste from the manufacturing process itself. From a more holistic view, it could mean ‘what is the role of the company in the community it surrounds’ and ‘does it have a responsibility to be a certain type of citizen in that community?’”

Most recently, Eatmon traveled to Samsø, Denmark where he attended a conference at The Energy Academy in September.

“Samsø […] uses wind turbines to produce more electricity than it actually consumes and as a result, it sells excess electricity back to the mainland,” Eatmon said. “I went to a conference last month where they were thinking about moving from best practices, because they really are a model for sustainability to the world, to next practices, what’s the future for them?”

Chosen to be Denmark’s Renewable Energy Island in 1997, Samsø became completely self-sufficient, with energy to spare, 10 years after the challenge. Denmark is a global leader in climate and energy initiatives and Samsø continues to place challenges upon itself, with the most recent concept being fossil free by 2030.

Eatmon will be returning to Denmark with Beth Choate, visiting assistant professor of environmental science, and students participating in the Northern Europe EL seminar in May 2014. The seminar will travel to Germany, Denmark and Switzerland to explore sustainable development in Northern Europe.

“While we’re in Northern Europe we do visit at least one manufacturing site,” Eatmon said. “I know we visit a place called Schmalz, in Germany, that manufactures equipment that uses vacuum seal technology. While we’re there they highlight a lot of developments they’ve made in using solar energy to increase the sustainability of their process.”

Many of these issues, brought to attention through Eatmon’s travels, are also addressed in courses provided through the college, especially concerning the aquaponics initiative through the environmental science department.

“It’s great to be able to visit to many of the places that we talk about in our courses and to bring those experiences back into the courses to share with students,” Eatmon said.

Beginning in the fall of 2008, aquaponics systems have been a high point of interest for junior seminar projects. Aquaponics combines plant and animal growth in one process.  Waste from fish or other aquatic animals supply nutrients to plants—grown above the aquatic tank—which in turn purifies the water.

From these projects, aquaponics systems have been installed throughout Carr Hall.

“I’ve been using aquaponics systems to provide students with hands-on opportunities to practice critical thinking and problem solving and communication skills,” Eatmon said. In the junior seminar we’ve had students design the aquaponics system you see in the lobby, and they designed the system in the lab.”

These projects go into the local community as well, as seen at the Meadville Market House, where a 250-gallon system operates year round.

The environmental education class also uses aquaponics systems to educate sixth graders in Crawford County. Miniature systems were installed within the school district to promote sustainable practices that Allegheny students personally teach in the classrooms.

Other initiatives started by junior seminar classes include a business plan that allows Allegheny to sell food to Parkhurst, a website to communicate sustainability past the college community and a lifecycle analysis system.

“We, as a department, we touch so many different aspects of sustainability,” said Eatmon. “Sustainability is a very broad term that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.”