College residence halls go green with students
July 15, 2008
NEW YORK – This fall, students at Sarah Lawrence’s Warren Green hall will be composting together, monitoring their electricity usage and drying their laundry on a clothesline. They will share appliances, cooking and shopping to reduce waste and energy, and use electric light as little as possible.
And rising junior Justin Butler, 20, couldn’t be happier to live there.
“It means a lot to me that the college is thinking about this really seriously,” says the co-founder of Sustainable SLC (Sarah Lawrence College), which partnered with the school on the green residence house. “It’s very different if it’s just students working for this as opposed to it being a joint effort.”
Most colleges have been environmentally conscious for years, with campus cleanups and recycling efforts that are often led by students. But now they are focusing on where students live, creating green residence halls that are becoming a hot destination for eco-minded students.
While many keep green in mind when building new residence halls, some are taking it a step further, renovating student housing to make them more sustainable and implementing programs to promote permanent lifestyle changes.
Wake Forest University has installed Energy Star appliances, low-flow shower heads and water-saving toilets in its student housing. Emory University’s Turman Hall displays energy consumption for the entire building on a monitor in the lobby. While residents can individually control the temperature setting in their room, it has to be within the university’s approved thermostat settings.
Prospective parents and students are asking about sustainability, says Mark Cunningham, director of housing and dining at University of California, San Diego, which conducts focus groups at high schools.
Colleges brag about their Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certificate from the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. There are 236 LEED-certified buildings on college campuses, and another 1,547 campus buildings are LEED-registered, which means they are pursuing certification.
Rollins College spent about $8.5 million renovating the 200-bed Ward Hall, with two-thirds raised through donations and charitable gifts, said George Herbst, Vice President and Treasurer of the College.
“We decided that rather than tear down and haul all the concrete and structural steel to the landfill, that it would be more environmentally responsible to rebuild it using the existing structure,” says Herbst. “It has common bathrooms, but the structure was good.”
The LEED system gives credit for reusing structural elements and materials, but renovating does pose challenges, says Baird Dixon, principal with Street Dixon Rick Architecture, which designed five new green residence halls at Vanderbilt University.
There is more planning involved – many old buildings aren’t built to current codes – and additional resources may be needed to restore a building to its original condition.
At Vanderbilt, which renovated and built new residence halls, finding large quantities of renewable resources, such as bamboo flooring, was challenging, and a great deal of time, energy and analysis went into determining whether to use graywater, which was ultimately rejected.
While going green saves money in the long run by reducing energy and water usage, it comes at a price, says Cunningham. Raise costs too much and students will move off campus.
“It puts a lot of pressure on us because room and board rates are part of affordability to live on campus,” he says. “You have to build a building. The greener you want to make it, the more money you have to spend on it. We look for alternative funding, but it’s a challenge.”
Some of UCSD’s initiatives include purchasing green furniture, providing reusable plasticware in the cafes and dining halls, and giving out individual recycling baskets for each resident. Furniture is handed down to nonprofits and the school purchases from local vendors when possible. Cunningham says the school uses their green initiatives to teach students about how to be environmentally conscious so when they leave campus, they think about things like using “green” flooring.
At Rollins College, the investment seems to have paid off.
“If we had another building like this, we would fill it up instantly,” Herbst says. “The students want to be there. They like the idea of the work we have done with sustainability.”