Certified products, green buildings and sustainable interiors are among the subjects that communicators in our industry write about with fluency and confidence. Ours is an audience eager for this news, using this content to drive more innovation. What happens when our audience has spent four years immersed in sustainable living, even cultivating, harvesting and cooking their own food? Do we alter our approach for graduates who as students worked and studied in buildings where they could monitor energy performance or water consumption in real time? Should these experiences among college graduates entering the workforce now and in the coming years affect how we communicate?
It would seem that getting acquainted with college ‘greenlife’ programs would help in starting to frame answers to these questions. We know the stories of college life that were entertaining then and somewhat embarrassing later—the difference is that greenlife offers useful lessons now made even more valuable as the years go by.
Ecovillage at Berea College
Berea, Kentucky, is approximately 115 miles southeast of Louisville. Like most drives to smaller towns, it would be shorter if it could be made in a straight line. Those who make the trip to Berea College will find an oasis of sustainable living among the rolling hills of eastern Kentucky. Here, students live in a residential learning complex called Ecovillage. This unique community within the Berea campus meets housing needs for student families with childcare and a living/labor opportunity for students interested in sustainability. Life at Ecovillage is learning by doing, where residents have hands-on experiences in environmentally-responsible living. The statistics tell the story: 75% reductions in energy use and per capita water use; on-site treatment of wastewater to “swimmable quality” according to the Berea website; and recycling, reusing or composting of at least 50% of waste. The Ecological Machine uses “advanced wastewater treatment technology” in a sustainable water treatment process. Residents in the 50 Ecovillage apartments learn sustainable living practices that range from composting to carpooling and making their own green cleaning supplies. Berea College has a unique financial aid program: the college pays all tuition for its students (valued at more than $100,000 for a four-year Bachelor’s degree). In return, all students work 10-15 hours per week.
Weybridge House at Middlebury College
Central Vermont’s Champlain Valley lies in-between the Green Mountain range to the East, and New York’s Adirondack range to the West. The valley is Vermont’s most heavily populated region and it’s most agriculturally productive. No better location might be found in Vermont for emphasizing the message of “eat locally-grown food” than Middlebury College’s Weybridge House. For the last twenty years, Weybridge House has had up to 17 occupants during the school year. Residents share the responsibilities for cleaning, cooking, tending to the house’s vegetable garden and sourcing food from the surrounding farms and dairies. Residents do more than harvest and eat the goods. Recently they filled the house’s freezers to capacity and put up 300 canning jars. Spring and Fall ‘feasts’ for students and citizens of Middlebury are very popular fixtures on the house calendar. The Weybridge experience connects with courses at Middlebury examining ways the federal farming laws present a “one-size-fits-all” approach that is at odds with the scale of Vermont’s farms. This course and others give Weybridge residents experience in obtaining, preparing, preserving and eating food produced using sustainable practices, as well as the realities that exist beyond the campus environs. The 350-acre campus is a 50-mile drive to the southwest of Montpelier, Vermont. According to the college’s website, the school is “nationally known for programs in environmental studies.”
OSCA at Oberlin College
Cleveland, Ohio, hit its peak population of one million residents in 1950. In that same year and about 35 miles to the southwest, the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association was formed at Oberlin College as an alternative to college-sponsored dining and housing. Nicknamed OSCA (pronounced “AH-skuh”), it is today the second largest student-owned and student-operated co-operative housing association in the country. (The largest is the Berkeley Student Cooperative.) Co-opers (as they are known) do all of the cooking, clean up, food buying, composting and other tasks within the association’s nine buildings. Co-opers are expected to do more than just pay their bills and complete their work: they are responsible for participating in the decision-making processes for planning and finance, and to be considerate of fellow co-opers. Consequently, as OSCA literature suggests, co-opers learn through experience and acquire skills they would not get elsewhere at the college. Some are elected to office within their building or within the association, or selected as a committee chair for food buying or bread baking. OSCA literature punctuates the adventure, stating that “besides praising the co-op’s good food, reduced costs and warm community, current and former members of OSCA describe their co-op experience as being a vital part of their education … members learn valuable lessons in self-governance and collective decision-making”. OSCA buys from local farmers as much as possible, and emphasizes education and community outreach. Co-opers take lessons about the principles and techniques of cooperation, both economic and political, to the citizenry surrounding the campus. Oberlin College, situated on a 440 acre campus, is “unified by a commitment to social justice and a willingness to confront social issues”. The website adds that Oberlin “produces more PhD’s than any other liberal arts college.”
As many colleges and universities across the country are reaching for gains in energy efficiency without sacrificing campus services, one non-profit organization exists to chart their progress. GreenReportCard.org is the only independent evaluation of sustainability in campus operations, says the organization’s website. Colleges can be evaluated in 9 categories for their commitments and actions toward energy efficiency and sustainability: Administration; Climate Change & Energy; Food & Recycling; Green Building; Student Involvement; Transportation and three more categories related to endowment and investment priorities.
Oberlin College A
Middlebury College A-
Berea College B+
Check out the website for more information. You might even search for the grade received by your alma mater.
The data is speaking louder every day, and those who advocate specifications following the data alone are speaking louder, too. Not merely the certifications, but the scorecards behind the certifications so that specifiers and end user understand how the certification was achieved. This might be a winning approach, especially if we consider the environmental sophistication educated into the graduates of Berea, Middlebury and Oberlin through coursework and hands-on experience. What they have is more than academic. They have essentially operated green businesses, negotiated contracts for sustainable goods and even made their own green cleaning supplies and raised their own food. These could be our decision makers and end users of the near future … or today.
In writing this post, I have made extensive use of the websites for Berea College, Middlebury College, Oberlin College, Weybridge House, OSCA and GreenReportCard.org. Any misrepresentation of these fine organizations through editing is inadvertent and unintentional.