A Q＆A with HCC’s “Sustainable Bob”
It takes a lot of work to keep Howard Community College (HCC) green and live our core value of sustainability. We recently sat down with the champion of sustainability on campus, Robert Marietta – known around HCC as “Sustainable Bob” – to learn more about his passion for saving the planet and what the college has been doing since “sustainability” became a thing in 2007.
Q: Where did you grow up, and how did you end up in this area?
A: I grew up in Alabama and when I was 11 we moved down to Boca Raton, Florida. So I grew up in both cultures. I now live here in Columbia. I was a designer and technical director with a touring theatre troupe after I graduated Eckerd College and it ended its tour in Baltimore. My wife was already living in Washington, D.C. working in a puppet theatre. And so we decided we would just continue on together.
Q: How long have you worked at Howard Community College?
A: Since 1979, so forty years. And I’ve still got things I want to do!
Q: What got you interested in sustainability? At what age?
A: All of my earliest memories are things about going in the woods, birdwatching, hunting, and boating. My family has always been very outdoorsy. Adventures started in Alabama and continued in Florida. I joined the Boy Scouts. I actually worked at a national Boy Scout camp as a canoe guide throughout my college years in Northern Wisconsin. So that was great fun.
Q: What are some things you personally remember doing to help the Earth?
A: I started with tree plantings and other conservation actions through the Boy Scouts.
Q: What were some of the first things HCC did to be sustainable?
A: In 2007, sustainability was just coming into the forefront. You could go on WordPerfect® and it wouldn’t recognize the word! But they started something nationally called the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). A group of us convinced Kate Hetherington and Mary Ellen Duncan, who were dual presidents at the time, to sign this agreement. The college was one of the first 100 schools in the country to sign, agreeing to:
- enact a comprehensive plan to achieve climate neutrality as soon as possible;
- identify tangible actions to reduce greenhouse gases;
- and to compile progress reports and make them publicly available by providing them to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE).
There were a lot of things we were doing that we didn’t know were “sustainable.” We started the Facilities and Sustainability Team (FAST) on campus (now the Green Team). We started measuring our greenhouse footprint and publishing that. We got into recycling.
Q: Why is sustainability important to you?
A: Well, I believe that we want mankind to exist for future generations and so we’ve got to do some things to change the way we act currently in order for our next generations to be able to have a decent way of life.
Q: What are some of the bigger projects you’ve worked on to make HCC more sustainable?
A: We’ve done an awful lot outdoors. We’ve got nature trails, we have an arboretum, we have a policy where all the plants we plant are native species. The two biggest storm water projects are the restoration of the campus streams above and below the central pond. We’ve also installed rain gardens and conservation plantings to slow and filter rain water before it goes into the streams. We host GreenFest and our own Sustainability Day!
Q: What is something you are doing at home to be sustainable?
A: I am trying to get rid of all of my lawn, except in places where I want to walk on the grass. I’m working on replacing lawn with native bushes, flower beds, and rain gardens. Lawn really doesn’t help us in terms of storm water control. Water doesn’t soak into lawn, it just runs off.
I’ve also got an old freezer that I’m going to replace. I’ve got solar panels, and I compost.
Q: What are three things to think about when it comes to being kinder to the Earth?
A: Think about the Earth. Think about the people. Then, think about saving money. Because taking care of Earth, everything is going to cost money. So you’ve got to balance the three of those.
Q: What are some of your favorite hobbies?
A: Almost all of them involve going outdoors. I fish when I can. I’ve got a canoe and kayak in the backyard. I love going out on the bay, but I usually wind up in the little creeks around Columbia.
But I’m also a big Ravens football fan. I go to as many games as I can!
Q: What do you like most about working at HCC?
A: The student-focus is overarching, but the encouragement I’ve been given to follow the things I think are important – I just get a lot of support to go forward.