University students are best known for burger flipping, drinking, and sleeping late. But while the rest of the country is focused on its financial troubles, students are becoming increasingly vociferous in greening their campuses.
A single Dorm at Sarah Lawrence, the elite East Coast college recently named the most expensive in the USA, is a microcosm of what is happening in the student community. Formerly Warren House, it was renamed Warren Green at the start of the current Semester and the 13 student-residents adopted a set of eco-rules they are hoping will spread to the rest of the dorms on campus. The college responded with a grant of $150,000 spent on measures such as insulation, water recycling, solar panels and air source heat pumps.
“The initial set of rules were modified since the start of the Semester” said Justin Butler, one of the students. “we found many more ways to green ourselves, and a few problems as well,” said Butler,20, in his senior year of a Writing and Public Policy degree. The original rules were as follows:
1. Housemates work together to maintain an eco-friendly/aware environment–including buying food and house products as a group to limit unnecessary packaging, and cooking collectively to limit electricity and gas usage.
2. No small appliances allowed in common areas or bedrooms, and each resident must commit to using appliances at off-peak hours as much as possible.
3. All garbage and recycling must be sorted, and residents share composting duties in a self- contained receptacle on premises.
4. All light and electricity usage must be self monitored, and residents commit to turning off and unplugging computers, lamps, music players, electric toothbrushes, and cell chargers whenever not in use.
5. Residents only use biodegradable soap and detergents, and all-green cleaning products throughout the house.
6. Residents commit to only doing full loads of laundry, using cold water whenever possible, air- drying clothes as much as possible, and using a clothesline.
7. Residents commit to using electric light as little as possible – doing as much as they can in the dark or in natural light, and using CFL’s where there is not LED lighting.”
The rules are strictly enforced and the College is watching the results closely to see if they can save money as well as helping the environment.
“Some of the improvements will have a quick payback,” said Micheal W. Rengers Vice President for Operations at Sarah Lawrence. “The insulation will easily recoup the cost in year one. The solar panels for domestic hot water and the on-demand water heater will take about three years. The highly efficient freezer and refrigerator will take longer but that was a choice to see how low we could get the monthly electric bill. The water saving devices have about an 18 month payback. The new heating system is about a three year payback.”
Once the new semester started other ideas were put into practice said Butler. “The Mellow-Yellow Rule” was one – : if it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down (for conserving water for toilet use). Others included
-Buying locally grown organic food as much as possible, to support local food growers and reduce vehicle miles traveled
-Reusing basic materials, like tinfoil and plastic wrap
-Taking short showers, and turning off the water when lathering
-Reusing water after boiling for watering plants or flushing toilets
-Using water from the water catchment system to flush toilets.
Butler admitted that there had been hiccups along the way. Some of the tasks had been “a serious challenge…. Line-drying clothes has been very difficult, because of cold and fickle new England weather.”
And true to the image-problem that students have – the worst backsliding had involved rising early. – “Going to the farmers market early on Saturday mornings has fallen on a few people repeatedly,” said Butler. “But we address these issues at house meetings and make plans to revamp our approach… we just haven’t developed a system that works for us yet. It’s all part of the evolution.”