Green Dorm Rooms Get Students on the Right Path

Sustainability as a Lifestyle Lesson Plan

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Jocelyn Breeland is communications director for Residential and Dining Enterprises at Stanford University.

Casey Roe is outreach coordinator at Sustainable Duke.

Meggie Patton is academic and student engagement coordinator at Brown University.

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Posted: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 10:00 am

As universities and colleges work to become more sustainable, administrators are looking for ways to educate – and encourage – their students to adopt “greener” lifestyles.

Consider the thousands (upon thousands) of students on each campus across North America, and the impact of students adopting a more sustainable lifestyle is quite significant.

Through environmental education and outreach, there is an “opportunity to facilitate generations of students in learning to lead sustainable lifestyles not only on campus, but for decades to come in their future communities,” said Jocelyn Breeland, communications director for Residential and Dining Enterprises at Stanford University.

One of the best ways universities and colleges can educate the student population about sustainability is to lead by example. A number of Brown University’s residence halls have achieved LEED certification. Stanford takes a similar approach.

“We have made infrastructure changes throughout our 350+ residences that make it easy for students to reduce their energy and water consumption and reduce waste,” Breeland said.

As a visual teaching tool, some universities and colleges have created model “green” dorm rooms to use as an example. Duke University in North Carolina sets one up during the summer, when prospective students are on tours with their families. It includes a packing list of sustainable items to bring to campus with them, such as organic bedding, LED lighting, smart power strips, energy efficient appliances, drying racks for clothes and environmentally friendly cleaning supplies, laundry detergent and personal products. Brown University offers a virtual “green” dorm room to interested students as well.

Duke University has 30 volunteer Dorm Eco-Reps on its first year campus to administer the Green Dorm Room Certification to their peers.

“Residents complete a checklist about their daily behaviors related to sustainability, receive a prize for participating, and meet with their Dorm Eco-Rep to discuss how they can lead a more sustainable lifestyle,” said Casey Roe, outreach coordinator at Sustainable Duke.

Brown University’s approach to dorm room sustainability was to develop a pilot program where “facilities management provided efficiency upgrades to a targeted dorm while simultaneously educating its residents about the upgrades to their building and the personal choices they can make to save energy,” said Meggie Patton, academic and student engagement coordinator at Brown University. “To increase student awareness of resource consumption and personal responsibility, our office funds an annual energy savings competition called Brown Unplugged. Individual residence halls are metered for electricity use over a baseline period and then compared to the competition period. Students can see their residence hall’s progress year-round via this user-friendly dashboard.”

Beyond the “green” dorm room, universities and colleges also can help facilitate sustainable living decisions with outreach campaigns. This might include signage, social media, events, giveaways and more. Students can be encouraged to help reduce water use by shortening shower times, running full loads of laundry and reporting leaks, Breeland said. Opening shades to bring in natural light and adding plants also are good ideas. Something as simple as water bottle refilling stations, as well as recycling and compost bins in each dorm and across campus, also makes a sizable difference. Stanford University even publishes a Student Sustainable Living Guide with plenty of suggestions.

Empowering students to take action can be one of the most effective strategies in encouraging sustainable living on campus, and long term. Participating in university and college clubs, campus-wide campaigns and initiatives, as well as student job and research opportunities geared toward green living helps students develop leadership skills and work experience, while learning the value of sustainability.

“We have seen consistent growth in students interested in volunteering for sustainable projects and student membership in environmentally-focused student groups,” Patton said. “We assess student awareness each year via the Brown is Green survey, which doubled in respondents over the past two years. Notably, we saw increases in ‘the importance of climate change as a defining issue of their lifetime’ and ‘recognition that being involved with sustainability programming in college will make them more marketable when looking for a job.’”

Duke University has a Green Grant Fund, which provides seed funding for students’ sustainability ideas. Past funding has been allocated to a bike-powered concert, solar compacting trash and recycling bins, a sustainability walking tour using a folding pocket map and more. Duke also offers student internship programs, where students design and lead their own campus projects, as well as a campus farm, which has had more than 700 undergraduate volunteers.

Brown University runs the Brown is Green initiative, which integrates students into planning various campus sustainability programs and events. Students have led the outreach effort for a composting pilot on campus, completed a recycling assessment for Greek housing, planned the annual energy competition, spearheaded a donation collection program, audited the dining footprint and more.

And every year, Stanford University hires eight to 15 student interns who conduct research on sustainability challenges and implement or test solutions. For example, two graduate student interns identified compatible LED light alternatives for Stanford’s fluorescent fixtures, calculated the return on investment for installation, and surveyed student satisfaction with the change in light quality. Students also are actively engaged in student and campus groups dedicated to sustainability efforts. Duke University has 24 clubs focused on sustainability, such as Food for Thought, Environmental Alliance, Campus Sustainability Fellows, Duke Students for Sustainable Living and more.

From Duke, Stanford and Brown to Boston University, Notre Dame and University of South Carolina, campuses across North America are committed to encouraging students to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle in their dorm rooms and in their future.

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