One of the many No Mow Zones that have been established around campus. Photo by Faith Delamarter.
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The President’s Sustainability Strategy Group (PSSG) is introducing new biodiverse landscaping to campus. No Mow Zones, or areas of the university landscape that will be left unmowed, are joining the campus rain gardens, farm, bioswales, forest and prairie spaces as part of the Butler University Sustainability and Climate Action Plan (BUSCA).
Biodiversity on campus allows many different native species to thrive, which creates balanced ecosystems. According to Dr. Julia Angstmann, the director of the Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability (CUES), biodiversity is important because it helps conserve native species and protect the ecosystem from invasive species.
“The No Mow areas are focusing on increasing plant biodiversity,” Angstmann said. “However, as you’re increasing plant biodiversity, you’re improving insect biodiversity and animal biodiversity because plants are the foundation of ecosystems.”
BUSCA’s main goal is to reduce the university’s negative impacts on the environment and reach a gold ranking, or over 65 points, on the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) in 2024. STARS points are earned by implementing sustainable practices. Butler reached a bronze ranking in 2018 and a silver ranking in 2021.
A big part of reaching BUSCA’s goals is decreasing chemical usage on campus, which has previously been achieved through practices such as chemical-free farming. In 2022, efforts to involve more faculty and fast track sustainability initiatives resulted in the PSSG being formed. The PSSG, headed by University Relations Associate Bethanie Danko, includes faculty and staff from multiple departments, including CUES, university operations and financial planning and budgeting. The PSSG and James Conner, the grounds supervisor on the university operations team, created a plan to incorporate the No Mow Zones after CUES presented them with data on chemical usage in the landscaping.
“Butler’s acreage serves as a public park to many thousands of visitors every year,” Danko said. “With a westernmost border so close to the White River, we need to be part of the solution to nonpoint source and runoff pollution into our waterways, rather than part of the problem. One of the most effective ways Butler can approach this is to shift our landscaping practices.”
Not only is the university taking steps to be more sustainable, but CUES is working to make students, faculty, staff and the public aware of the importance of sustainability, especially on college campuses. This includes having signs that show where intentionally biodiverse areas, like the No Mow Zones, are on campus.
Payton Gallowitch, a junior biology and Spanish double major, is currently an intern at CUES. She is working on a project to create a tour of campus that would look at all of the sustainable features on campus, which is another way to educate people on the importance of sustainability.
“For my internship, I’m working alongside another student, and we’re trying to design a tour of sustainable features on campus,” Gallowitch said. “So, for example, the tables with the solar panel charging are something that would be on our tour.”
Gallowitch is impressed with the biodiversity projects that Butler already has and is even more excited about the addition of the No Mow Zones. She hopes that in the future more of the campus will include low-maintenance landscapes and native species.
“I think we’re doing a really good job of keeping natural spaces natural,” Gallowitch said. “I think we also need to utilize all the spaces we currently have, and make sure that it’s not all manicured and curated. We have a lot of open grass fields, which for some people is ideal, but that’s not diverse.”
According to the 2019 BUSCA Addendum, the university wants 20% of campus landscape to be low maintenance and made up of native plants. PSSG is still currently working on an inventory of the landscape as well as an inventory of the 2022-23 greenhouse gas emissions. In 2021-22, campus greenhouse gas emissions saw a 1% decrease. No matter what the most current inventory shows, they have plans in place to include even more biodiversity and sustainable landscaping on campus.
“The university intends to take on an even greater overhaul to ‘re-wild’ parts of its landscape through native and nontraditional planting,” Danko said. “ … Butler has a unique opportunity to help redefine what an American residential college campus ‘should’ look like, promoting a landscaping aesthetic that doesn’t require as many lawn chemicals to maintain properly.”