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Local campuses engage in sustainable practices

April 22, 2010

by Elizabeth Corey

ALBANY, N.Y. – For a group of resident students at The College of Saint Rose, every day — not just April 22 — is Earth Day.  A mixture of students from the college’s Environmental Club and residents who feel a passion for “going green,” has yielded the school’s first sustainability-themed campus housing.  The end of the school year will mark the house’s first full year as a sustainable-lifestyle building

Last year, members of the Environmental Club proposed the idea for a Saint Rose campus house to be converted into a place where residents could work together with a common goal of “cutting back on water, electricity, and waste,” according to sophomore resident Brendan Peo.  The Childhood/Special Education major has lived in “the Sustainability House” since August of 2009.

“The Environmental Club came up with the idea to live sustainably on campus because it’s something that the world as a whole is trying to do,” Peo said.  ”After lots of careful planning, they were able to find a house that fit the needs of the people who wanted to live this kind of lifestyle.”

The college selected McCormick Hall on Western Avenue to become “the Sustainability House.”  The on-campus house accommodates 14 residents, all of whom, “agree to follow a more sustainable lifestyle” and “participate in programs that focus on sustainability,” according to the school’s Residence Life website.  Peo explained that this lifestyle includes water restrictors on all of the showers in the house, compact fluorescent light bulbs in every room, and three composters outside the house for food waste.  These accommodations are meant to reduce water waste, decrease electricity usage and repurpose compostable food products.

The house does not have a resident assistant living in it, and is overseen instead by Merideth MacLain, area coordinator for the college’s Residence Life offices.  MacLain provides the house’s residents with a monthly statistical report to show the change in the house’s electricity usage between last school year and this school year.  So far, Peo said, the reduction has been “significant.”  In the Feb. 8 to March 8 time span, the Sustainability House used 956 kilowatt-hours of electrical energy, compared to 1,501 kWh during the same span of time last year.

The presence of a “green” living house on campus is part of the college’s decision to sign on to the President’s Climate Commitment, meaning that as a school and a force in the Pine Hills neighborhood, the school is committed to reducing its carbon footprint.  And although the Sustainability House is not the first example of a sustainable living atmosphere in the Albany area, it is the only college in the neighborhood to have this housing option for students.

This past summer, the state University of New York at Albany revamped two of its residence halls, Tuscarora and Hamilton Halls, on the Indian and Colonial Quads respectively, to become environmentally themed living spaces.  Additionally, the campus cafeterias began offering locally grown and purchased produce, including eggplant, zucchini, squash, and cabbage from Wertman Farms in Melrose, N.Y., and apples from Bowman Orchards in Rexford, N.Y.

Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs  has also incorporated a variety of sustainable practices into aspects of the campus.  According to Erica Fuller, campus sustainability coordinator at Skidmore, the college has just completed a “comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory.”  This inventory helped Fuller find a baseline statistic about the school’s emissions.

Additionally, Skidmore has an Eco-Rep Program, consisting of 10 students who work in their residence halls to encourage students to practice sustainable behaviors and strive for energy and waste reduction.

According to Fuller, she has no problem getting students interested and involved with sustainability-related initiatives around campus.

“There’s a lot of student interest,” Fuller said.  “I think it’s a growing movement among college students, but it’s also a movement among all ages.  College students tend to be on the cutting edge of activism, and Skidmore in particular has a lot of interest in taking action.”

According to Emily Perez, secretary of Saint Rose’s Environmental Club and a resident in the Sustainability House this school year, a major goal of student living in the house is to branch out with the awareness work they do and make an impact on the Pine Hills neighborhood.

“We don’t want to be trapped in a bubble,” Perez said.  ”The Sustainability House doesn’t want to work only to improve ourselves, so for next year we are trying to instate mandatory community service projects.”  Such community service projects would be completed by all who live in the house.

The sophomore Special Education major is currently involved in Albany 350, a chapter of an international campaign to reduce carbon emissions and address climate crises.  The local chapter meets at the First Unitarian Universalist Church on Washington Avenue, just past the confines of the Pine Hill neighborhood.  Perez said that she became involved in the movement because her involvement in the Saint Rose Environmental Club and her presence in the Sustainability House still leave her with the desire to reach out into the community.

“It’s difficult to make a transition to a sustainable campus,” Perez said.  ”I’ve followed other colleges as they make their transformation and it’s amazing to see the progress that can be made.  It can’t be done without developing a relationship with the community, and that’s something we’re still working on.”

For Earth Day news from The Chronicle, see:


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