Environmental movement on campuses growing quietly, steadily
December 28, 2002
BURLINGTON, Vt. — The University of Vermont’s embrace of the environmental movement has turned nearly everything on campus green — even John Orr’s 1985 blue Mercedes.
When Orr fuels up the diesel car, he tops off the tank with five gallons of recycled vegetable oil from local restaurants. The bio-fuel additive is part of a class project aimed at improving air quality.
The effort is just one example of how Vermont and a growing number of schools are employing cutting-edge technology to protect the environment.
“It’s a movement that is very practical and very important in terms of walking our talk,” said Vermont environmental studies professor Stephanie Kaza.
At Vermont, the movement is evident in a big composting program, the 500 solar panels on top of the campus heating plant, and the vegetable oil experiments by Orr and other student-chemists.
“Where the whole campus is involved, more and more ideas can spring up,” Kaza said. “And you feel like you’re not some strange crunchy-granola kid.”
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Next fall, Warren Wilson College will open an “EcoDorm” on its Asheville, N.C., campus.
The $1.2 million residence hall is built almost entirely with reusable and recycled materials, such as wooden farm fences that were turned into siding.
Solar fuel cells will convert sunlight into electricity and heat. Runoff from the roof, funneled through a converted 10,000-gallon railroad tank car, will provide water to the building and grounds. The dorm will also feature composting toilets and waterless urinals.
Best of all for students hit with sudden hunger pangs, all the property’s shrubs and other plants will be edible.
Jared Zyskowski recently spent a year living in an enviromentally compatible home on the campus of Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif. A highlight of the student’s stay at the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology was the stationary bicycle that powered the blender that mixed his almond-milk breakfast concoction.
Although Zyskowski does not foresee Americans moving toward pedal-powered appliances, he does believe other aspects of the movement — especially energy conservation — will seep into the mainstream.
“In the future,” he said, environmental awareness “will not be an option, it will be a part of life.”
Kaza said that environmental awareness is already second nature to college students, who were taught to recycle newspapers, cans, bottles and plastic in grade school.
The National Wildlife Federation last year commissioned a report card that rated environmental education at colleges and universities. Schools got high grades for energy efficiency, efforts to upgrade water efficiency and landscaping. They received lower marks in transportation and environmental course offerings.
“Unless students are taking a biology course, they are very unlikely to learn about environmental issues,” said Kathy Cacciola, coordinator of the National Wildlife Federation’s campus ecology program.
Still, the report card did not capture the enthusiasm with which some students are working on ecological projects.
Upon learning that vegetable oil had proved an unexpectedly efficient bio-fuel supplement, the Vermont students responded like football players celebrating a touchdown, with shouts and high-fives.
“If you get the ball rolling in a sheltered environment,” said Scott Gordon, the assistant professor of inorganic chemistry supervising the project, “then you can take it out into the cold, cruel world.”
On the Net:
University of Vermont Environmental Council: http://www.esf.uvm.edu/envcncl/
Warren Wilson College: http://www.warren-wilson.edu