Student Eco-reps Are "Environmental Resources"

Sustainability Committee Co-chair Christophe Bornand speaks at the third eco-rep meeting of the year. (Photo by Matt Molek)
Sustainability Committee Co-chair Christophe Bornand speaks at the third eco-rep meeting of the year. (Photo by Matt Molek)

This semester, students in the dormitories will notice a new presence encouraging them to be more eco-friendly. The presence, a group of students known as “eco-reps,” will be running a number of programs designed to make dorm residents more conscious of the energy that they use.

The program began with Richard Platt, Associate Professor of Psychology and Sustainability Committee co-chair. He has been on the Sustainability Committee for the past couple of years, and is co-chair of the Research Conservation Committee. He said that the College had a program to encourage behavior changes toward sustainability that was ending, and, he said, “I thought we needed something that was ongoing.”

Platt then talked to the students in his statistics class last semester to see if any students were interested in a proposal for a new program to encourage sustainability on campus. He said they looked at what other colleges had done from the point of view of a psychologist–that is, what was “most likely to produce behavior change.” They found the eco-rep model to be most workable.

The eco-reps’ first project of the year will involve raising awareness about “phantom load,” that is, the energy that appliances draw when turned off but still plugged in. Eco-reps will have on hand several Kill A Watt meters to measure the electricity drawn by such “vampire appliances” as televisions and computers in students’ rooms. The meters have already been paid for by the Sustainability Committee budget.

According to junior Dana Gittings, one of the students who originally helped start the eco-rep program, the eco-reps are planning a “dorm rush,” in which some eco-reps will meet in dorm common rooms and others will go door to door to perform energy audits. For students who might not have time for an audit during the dorm rush but who might want to see how much energy their appliances use, eco-reps will also have meters in their rooms so that students can stop by on their own time.

Gittings said that the purpose of the “dorm rush” is to let students know that energy auditing “is an available thing to do.”

The eco-reps are already thinking about other projects that they want to implement on campus. After the energy audits, the eco-reps want to begin an exchange of fluorescent light bulbs for incandescent ones. A demonstration of the Kill A Watt meters at the last eco-rep meeting showed that incandescent bulbs use four times the energy of fluorescent bulbs to generate the same amount of light.

Later projects include reusable water bottle pledges which could lead to discounts at the Daily Grind, signs on trash cans regarding what can be recycled or reused instead of thrown out, signs reminding students to turn off lights and water, and a permanent clothing swap where students can drop off clothes that they no longer wear for other students to pick up. The eco-reps will also be helping the Sustainability Committee introduce reusable hard plastic to-go boxes to the Great Room.

Junior Melina Vamvas, another student involved in the creation of the eco-rep program, remembered reading about one school that served breakfast in bed to the winners of an inter-dorm energy challenge. Vamvas said that such a competition between the dorms would not work now because the energy readings are not individually done by dorms yet, but she said, “I’d totally make a dorm breakfast and deliver it to [students] in bed!”

There are currently 16-20 eco-reps for the five dorms on campus, or, according to Gittings, about one per floor, excepting Dorchester, which only has one eco-rep for the entire building.

“Hopefully, the program will grow,” Gittings said.

The span of the program is also expected to grow despite the fact that the program focuses on the dorms now. Platt said of the dorms that “those seem to fit the model the best in terms of having a more open layout,” but added that “some part of the eco-reps’ role” would extend to other residence areas. Vamvas also mentioned plans to bring eco-reps to orientation.

“We still have to figure out all the kinks,” said Vamvas.

Anyone interested in the eco-rep program can come to the next meeting on Thursday, Oct. 15 in Goodpaster Hall, room 117.

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