Green rooms strengthen drive for sustainability

Eliminating energy 'vampires,' composting waste and monitoring all play roles

Photos/Susan Chaityn Lebovits

Lilian Medford ’14 shows off a worm-filled compost bin in common area of the Thinking Green floor.

Geneva Boyer ’14 opens the door of her Hassenfeld residence hall and points out a few of the things that landed her a Green Room Certification -- the compact fluorescent light bulbs, the smart power strip, the reusable water bottles. She is one of 450 students on campus so far to have pledged to reduce their impact on the environment. A round sticker on her door shows everyone who passes by that Boyer is committed to living a sustainable life.

As interest in sustainability soars on campus, additional resources are emerging, including Thinking Green, the first environmental floor, and a new Building Dashboard that shows the university’s electricity use in real time.

Boyer is also an Eco-Rep, a peer educator who shows others how to live while respecting the environment. She holds up a power strip, an extension cord of sorts with five outlets and a master switch that can be turned off when particular appliances are not being used. It prevents "vampire” items like cell phone chargers and computer printers from sucking electricity all day long.

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Plants are perched all around her small single room. Connecting with nature, Boylan says, is an important way for her to stay connected to the environment.

Reusable shopping bags sit on the shelves and a recycling bin collects old paper that could otherwise wind up in a landfill. Compact fluorescent bulbs shed light on her desk, which is arranged near the window to take advantage of the sun.

To earn a green certification, simply log on to the Green Room and choose 15 of the 25 listed sustainability-oriented actions that you either currently engage in or that you pledge to take over the course of the year. They range from using cold-water settings for laundry, which eliminates heating, to opting for reusable coffee mugs.

Green housing

The Thinking Green floor, located in Deroy, this year became part of the Common Cause Community, which brings together new students who share a similar interest. It is comprised of 21 freshman and one CA with a focus on environmentalism.

 “It’s really easy to be environmentally friendly so I thought that there’s no reason not to do it,” says Maya Himelfarb 15. “Anything that you do helps, and I really wanted to make a difference.” Himelfarb recycles, watches her meat intake, uses a hand towel instead of paper towels and takes shorter showers.

 “I became interested in sustainability after taking environmental chemistry in high school,” says Himelfarg. “Most of my friends are on this floor. It’s a lot of fun.”

Every week the floor comes together for a group activity, such as planting vegetable container gardens and maintaining the floor’s worm-composting bins. They will also be participating in the Charles River cleanup, picking up trash and removing invasive plants.

Lilian Medford ’14 is a second year Eco-Rep and the CA for Thinking Green. The California native grew up among giant redwoods near the ocean.

“Nature is very much a part of the society that I come from, purposefully thinking about how current actions will affect future generations," she says. "Coming to Brandeis last year was a little bit of culture shock and I’m happy to be an Eco-Rep and help inspire more sustainable-minded things on campus.

The idea for such a floor originated with Cecelia Watkins ’11 and Emma Green ’13, recipients of Brandeis Sustainability Fund support for their initiative to increase campus-wide composting. The Department of Community Living became involved and the floor was created.

Boyer says she feels that although Brandeis is a pretty environmentally friendly campus, people don’t always understand the magnitude of the environmental problems.

I think Eco-Reps are trying to address that so that we become a more environmentally literate campus,” says Boyer. “Ultimately this is one of the biggest issues facing our world today.

Building Dashboard

Now the Eco-Reps and other environmental groups on campus have the Building Dashboard to help educate the university community about how much energy is being used on campus. It was unveiled earlier this month in the Shapiro Campus Center.

“A number of schools have building dashboards and they found that it really reduces energy use per person,” says Janna Cohen-Rosenthal ’03, Brandeis' Sustainability Coordinator.

The dashboard, which had a $26,000 up-front cost to cover software engineering, currently monitors electricity use in six locations: Massell quad, which has four buildings and houses first-years; the Village, which houses juniors, seniors and the mid-year class that enters in January and the Shapiro Campus center. There will be additional charges if the system is expanded to monitor additional buildings.

The Building Dashboard can be accessed from personal computers. Once logged on viewers can choose to make sustainable commitments, then post them to their Facebook pages to spread the word.

The Dashboard is a result of a project application submitted to the Brandeis Sustainability Fund last year by Sam Porter ’14, who felt that having smart meters would reduce energy use through education. He located the technology at Lucid Designs.

Leanne Ortbals ’11 is an Eco-Rep working to engage students in the new dashboard. She says that since coming to Brandeis she has become passionate about sustainability.

I became a vegan and began composting at my family’s home in St. Louis, Missouri,” says Ortbals. She also spent a summer interning with EcoSet, a Los Angeles based company that works with film production crews to make them more eco-friendly.

“Now that the system is in place we’re going to monitor it to see if it makes financial sense to invest in more buildings,” says Cohen-Rosenthal. “It will be fun and interesting to see the difference between the energy use of a typical residence hall, apartment style living and a campus center. For the next phase I’d love to throw in more buildings like a science center and academic areas.”

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