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Green Students are Well-versed in Eco-Change

College students are engaged in what universities build, where they send e-waste such as unwanted computers and whether they buy renewable energy or use LED lighting.

Find green business solutions
california business solutions April 21, 2007

Earth-friendly UCSD student activists are building a device that converts cafeteria grease into biodiesel to power their automobiles.

San Diego State University students are helping plan an expanded student union building, proposing everything from solar technology to environmentally friendly hand soap in the restrooms. And students aggressively practice recycling at Cal State San Marcos, which won a national contest this week by diverting nearly 60 percent of campus trash from the landfill.

Young idealists on college campuses have a history of throwing themselves into causes... Today, they're crusading to preserve the planet in an environmental movement that has taken on new dimensions.

Students are engaged in what universities build, where they send e-waste such as unwanted computers and whether they buy renewable energy. The activists often are spurred on by administrators and faculty committed to “greener” campuses.

" 'Reduce, reuse, recycle' was pounded into our heads when we were kids," said Ian Bevan, president of the Enviro-Business Society, an SDSU club whose membership has shot up 440 percent to 270 since September. "And when we got to college, we had to act."

Krista Francis, senior administrative analyst in auxiliary and plant services at the University of California San Diego, said students have pushed for every structure built on campus in the past five years to be energy-efficient and eco-friendly.

At UCSD, the Student Academic Services Center was built with student input and features a skylight that reduces electrical consumption, a motion detector that shuts off lights in an unoccupied room, waterless urinals, restroom tiles made from recycled glass and a special glaze on the windows that keeps the cool in and the heat out.

In 2000, the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council established standards for such environmentally sustainable construction. To date, 51 green-certified buildings have been built at college campuses nationally, and 260 are under way.

"We find that students are a major driver behind sustainability on campus," said Judy Walton, director of strategic initiatives for the nonprofit Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. "They do a lot of the research. They often push faculty and administrators to do the right thing. . . . In many cases, they're leading the charge."

Perhaps it was inevitable that environmentalism would take on such steam at the collegiate level, since the first Earth Day in 1970 has roots on college campuses across the country. The brainchild of Gaylord Nelson, former U.S. senator and governor of Wisconsin, the inaugural Earth Day inspired peaceful demonstrations by 20 million Americans at 2,000 colleges, 10,000 schools and several thousand communities.

Many of those students went on to become faculty members and administrators at colleges throughout the country, and they're using their clout to make campuses greener. They're continuing their activism and encouraging the younger generation to do the same. Several colleges have hired sustainability coordinators to find ways to minimize university impact on the environment.

At Seattle University, engineering students have built an array of solar panels that soak up enough sunlight to power an energy-efficient home for a year.

In celebration of Earth Day this weekend, UCSD students sifted through a pile of garbage Wednesday in the middle of campus to separate out bits of refuse that are recyclable.

Humboldt State in Northern California showcases a student-run campus house that uses less than 5 percent of the energy consumed by the average U.S. home.

Since 2004, 12 University of California and California State University campuses have established a student-led Green Campus Program, sponsored by the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy.

At SDSU, three student project coordinators have run residence-hall energy conservation competitions since last spring, which have generated an 8 percent savings in two residence halls. To inspire their peers, they advertise light-bulb swaps, where residents exchange their used, incandescent bulbs for free energy-efficient, compact fluorescent ones.

Students in SDSU's Enviro-Business Society waited to model clothing made of organic fabrics during a fashion show Thursday at the Aztec Center student union.

Green residence halls also are being built on some college campuses.

Students will have input on Eco-Hall, SDSU's first environmentally themed housing complex, which is in the planning stages. Patricia Francisco, director of the Office of Housing Administration, said the building would make maximum use of daylight and probably will include sensors in the common areas so that the lights go off when students leave the room. The building could feature solar panels on the roof and a floor made from sustainable materials such as bamboo or cork. Once it's built, environmental student education and activities would promote eco-friendly living.

Students in SDSU's Enviro-Business Society, or E3 club, recently conducted a petition drive for environmentally friendly features in the planned renovation and expansion of the Aztec Center student union. That would mean everything from automatic-shutoff sensors on restroom sinks and a layout that includes recycling containers to cleansers with nontoxic ingredients for janitors to scrub the floors.

Student activists are also exploring the feasibility of replacing safety lights in campus stairwells with LED bulbs and LED fixtures, as well as using sensory-activated lights that dim when nobody's around.

Students, faculty and staff members jumped into recycling efforts at Cal State San Marcos, which beat out about 200 higher-education institutions nationally this week to become third-time champs of RecycleMainia, an annual contest organized by college recycling coordinators.

To win, the university diverted nearly 60 percent of trash from the landfill over 10 weeks through recycling and donating outdated materials. The number of colleges that entered this national contest, which is sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, has more than doubled since last year.

At UCSD, there are plenty of collegiate tree huggers. Green program coordinators on campus run the Power Foul Patrol, where students pay surprise visits to the common areas of campus housing late at night and leave notices next to light switches left on. Their vigilance resulted in a 70 percent reduction in the number of notices left in one residence hall last fall.

Last year, UCSD students formed a chapter of Net Impact, a network of clubs internationally that support green practices in business. The group asked the Rady School of Management to add a course in corporate responsibility to the environment. Administrators with a similar vision obliged by debuting the elective, Sustainable Enterprise, earlier this month to about 20 students.

Another UCSD club that formed last year, the Biofuels Awareness and Action Network, has proposed a pilot program that would power a UCSD shuttle bus with 100 percent biodiesel. It would be called the Greenline.

Senior Ellie Kim, an intern with Housing and Dining Services, recently performed an audit of residence-hall untility costs that unearthed an unnecessarily high annual water bill of more than $1 million at one graduate complex. Kim, an environmental systems major, helped devise a plan to replace some of the expansive lawn surrounding the residence with native plants that require less water.

By Sherry Saavedra
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Edited by Carolyn Allen
| education | green audit | college greening |


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