Sustainability at Vanderbilt

Care for Community

Dan Russell, sustainability coordinator intern for Auxiliary Services, works to responsibly steward—and help others steward—natural resources on Vanderbilt’s campus



Dan Russell, wearing a green shirt, against the backdrop of windows
Dan Russell, sustainability coordinator intern for Auxiliary Services (John Russell/VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY)

By Bonnie Arant Ertelt

As the Earth’s atmosphere grows warmer and creates conditions that provide challenges for food production and water resources, “living sustainably” has become something of a catchphrase. What does it mean? Put simply, it means to take responsibility for our use of the Earth’s natural resources. At Vanderbilt, on a large scale it means carbon neutrality, or reaching a balance between the amount of carbon emitted and the amount absorbed from the atmosphere, a milestone Vanderbilt achieved in 2020 and has maintained since. For Vanderbilt Auxiliary Services (Campus Dining, Printing Services, Mail Services, Catering, Card Services, Concessions, Conferences and Events, and the Bookstore in the Division of Administration), it means having someone like Dan Russell, sustainability coordinator intern, teach the Vanderbilt community about how people’s individual choices in using these resources can affect our urban patch of Nashville and the planet on which we live.


Russell is a transplant to Nashville who moved here in 2017 from his hometown of Marion, Iowa, to pursue music. He became interested in sustainability through his first  jobs in Campus Dining as a dishwasher, server and cook. “Campus Dining was one of the earliest torchbearers for sustainability at Vanderbilt,” Russell said. “Seeing how they worked with composting, recycling, limiting food waste, and then bringing in NetNutrition and Fusion menu management systems to work toward more accurate measurement and guidance for ordering food, working with more local producers—all of that really clicked in my brain that Vanderbilt was taking specific steps toward sustainability.”

After a brief hiatus in 2020, Russell returned to work at Vanderbilt Printing Services in September 2021 as a printing project coordinator. By this time, he was pursing his bachelor’s in environmental sustainability through an online program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. As graduation neared in May 2023, he and his supervisor, Sean Carroll, worked with Kiley Stokes, senior human resources director for Auxiliary Services, to create Russell’s sustainability internship. He began last July.

“One thing I really appreciate about Dan is the passion he brings to the area of sustainability. I’ve found that if I can get out of the way and fuel what drives my staff, we’re a lot more successful as a team.”
–Sean Carroll

“In my time with Printing Services, I saw what sustainability meant from a different angle. So, it was really both Campus Dining and Printing Services that inspired me to go the route of sustainability with Vanderbilt,” Russell said.

Carroll, senior director of Auxiliary Services, said that Russell quickly became “a utility infielder for us,” to use a baseball metaphor for that team player who can do just about anything. “I didn’t want to lose him,” he said, “and that’s where the internship idea came from. We’d never done that before, and since Dan has been with us, he’s made a pretty big impact.”

For Auxiliary Services, the environmental sustainability impact can vary from area to area—from the food that is served to the pieces that are printed and mailed—and “the positive impact in sustainability is huge,” Carroll said. “Since Dan’s been with us, we’ve uncovered opportunities in every area, from big initiatives like finding local food suppliers for Campus Dining to the way we produce Commodore Cards for Card Services. For example, we’ve moved from physical plastic cards for every student to mobile credentials across campus. That’s saved a lot in petroleum products and energy consumption.

“That’s one thing I really appreciate about Dan,” Carroll said, “is the passion he brings to the area of sustainability. I’ve found that if I can get out of the way and fuel what drives my staff, we’re a lot more successful as a team.”


Practicing what he preaches

Russell also pays close attention to the sustainability efforts of the companies from whom he makes purchases in his personal life, such as the drumsticks he uses as a drummer. “It’s a wonderful company that partners with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture to replant trees and reforest with each stick purchase,” he said. “They’ve planted thousands of trees over the years.”

Running is also a passion for Russell, and he buys shoes from companies that work to eliminate single-use plastic packaging, using recyclable materials instead, and reduce emissions in their transportation and delivery process. “I put my money where my mouth is,” he said. “I think it’s important, even just the little things you do, like supporting companies that really work toward sustainable efforts. That’s as important as hands-on approaches.”

Russell loves his job for the contact it gives him with so many types of people in the departments across campus. “It’s such an eclectic blend of individuals,” he said, “and it makes coming to work every day fun and exciting.

“I firmly believe in the good of people,” Russell added. “And from the standpoint of sustainability, it takes everyone to make these initiatives work. It’s a lot of work, a balancing act. But it’s the concept of wanting to leave things better than how you inherited it. It’s about care for community, and care for other people and understanding that we’re all inhabiting this crazy floating rock together. We’re in this to build a better future, not just for ourselves, but more importantly for the next generation.”

Read more about sustainability at Vanderbilt and the FY23 Sustainability Report.

WATCH: 5 Vanderbilt Campus Dining sustainability efforts you should know

WATCH: 5 sustainability efforts you may not know about at Vanderbilt (Part Two) 

Look for these sustainability events for the Vanderbilt community during Earth Month.