By Ethel Howley, SSND
Solar panels have appeared at Villa Notre Dame as a welcome sign that we will be using less energy from carbon-based fuel and relying more heavily on renewable energy from the sun. Visitors and passersby will undoubtedly inquire about the presence of the giant sun-catchers in our backyard. This will give us the opportunity to educate about Laudato Si’s message of care for our common home, as well as help others to see and understand the positive impact that renewable energy sources have on the health of our planet and her communities of life.
Over the past few years, Villa Notre Dame’s staff have initiated several other practices which also support the planet’s sustainability and the health of our local SSND community. Food Services and Housekeeping have been doing much toward preserving Earth’s water, air, and soil for future generations. These measures may not be as easily detectable as the solar panels, yet they are making a critical contribution to the process of caring for Earth, our home.
Director of Food Services, Emil Cerno, maintains three basic policies: reducing waste and water use; using biodegradable items when possible and purchasing Fair Trade and Fair Food products in order to avoid purchases that could inadvertently support child labor and slave labor.
• Automated pre-measured soap and sanitizers are used in dishwashing and floor cleaning. These reduce the amount of chemicals and of water being used in the day-to-day sanitation practices of the kitchen.
• At meetings held at VND, pitchers of water and iced tea are now provided, rather than canned soda, bottled water, and bottled fruit juices.
• Occasionally it is necessary to use disposable plates, cups, bowls, knives, forks, and spoons at VND, but now, only biodegradable, corn-based ones, are utilized. The VND inventory of plastic items is gradually being replaced with china or corn-based products. Similarly, plastic stirrers are being replaced with wooden ones.
• Ever motivated to do what he can to promote justice in the supply chain of VND, Emil Cerno has made Fair Trade Coffee, regular and decaf, as well as Fair Trade Tea, available in the dining rooms. In the same way, tomatoes and fish consumed at VND are sourced from reliable companies that pay fair wages to their workers.
Emil says, “We have to save the Earth and look at what we can do to help this process.” He will continue to search for more ways, because he is motivated by his young sons, and he cares about the generations to come.
In the Housekeeping Department/Environmental Services, Director Danuta Jankowska aims to maintain environmental awareness through the responsible use of maintenance chemicals, recycling practices, and energy efficient machines. Danuta says, “We want to develop a healthy environment and we need to conserve on water and energy in order to have enough for the future.” Some of the housekeeping practices in use at VND include:
• Microfiber Mopping System – chemicals are mixed with water according to manufacturer’s specifications and then applied to cloths used under the mops. This procedure reduces water and chemical use while eliminating cross contamination because a clean cloth is used in each room.
• Solution Centers have been installed for mixing chemicals used in cleaning floors and other portions of the buildings. These solution centers also reduce the quantity of water and chemicals applied.
• An automated floor scrubbing system which carries the mixed solution used to clean large areas is also in use at VND. This protects employees from carrying large containers and reduces injuries. The machine also dries the floor quickly which all but eliminates the risk of falls by sisters and workers.
• The use of pressurized chemicals in aerosol cans has been minimized. We know the aerosol can is one of the contributors to the depletion of the planet’s ozone layer.
• All paper products used in VND are made of recyclable material (paper towels, facial tissue, toilet tissue).
• All plastic, paper, glass and can products are recycled according to State of Connecticut regulations. However, residents and employees at VND need to increase their compliance with these measures and dispose of their items in the appropriate receptacles. Plans are in process to reduce the number of plastic can liners that are not biodegradable.
• New energy efficient washing machines were installed in the main laundry at VND with automatic detergent distribution. These new machines also save water and energy that are determined by the size of the load.
Salesmen from VND’s main suppliers work with Danuta in bringing new solutions and new practices to the care of VND’s environment. These new developments are critical to our care for creation.
We at VND are grateful for the commitment and leadership of Emil and Danuta to our care for creation and to the principle of integral ecology that is so central to Pope Francis’s beautiful encyclical, Laudato Si’. As Francis has written: “When we speak of the ‘environment’, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves, or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it, and thus in constant interaction with it. (139)