Sustainability is certainly the new catch-word on campus. With initiatives taken both by Dining Services for future composting and by professors who have students submit work via e-mail or Blackboard, the College of William and Mary is becoming fluent in modern, environmentally friendly lingo. The Office of Residence Life has also followed suit with a new special interest housing option — the Eco-House.
“We’re trying to find ways to make dorm living more sustainable and to share what we learn with the rest of campus,” Lauren Edmonds ’11, the founder of the Eco-House, said.
Located in the basement of Landrum Hall, the Eco-House is home to 20 females and eight males. Students who live in the Eco-House abide by a mission statement, which says that they aim “to practice environmentally sustainable living while serving as a model for the campus and the wider community, and also to serve as a testing ground for sustainability proposals directed at residential life on campus.”
Before succeeding last year, Edmonds and other students had tried to get approval from Res Life several times.
“Another student suggested [the idea of an Eco-House] two years ago, and it sounded like a really good idea,” Edmonds said. “Not only was the idea of an environmentally dedicated dorm appealing, I really liked the idea of a community of students working on sustainability together. I started working on the proposal with a group of other students, and after we were turned down the first time, some other students and I kept working on it.”
Since their success, the residents of the Eco-House have been working hard to make their presence known at the College. According to Edmonds, the residents have hosted a movie screening of “Who Killed the Electric Car,” hosted a public open house on Family Weekend, and took students on a camping trip to Chippokes State Park in Surry.
This Thursday, in collaboration with the Student Environmental Action Coalition, Eco-House residents will be hosting a panel of professors to discuss climate change legislation in the U.S. Congress.
“Right now we’re working on putting together a Sustainable Thanksgiving Dinner event to take place the week before we leave for break,” Sarah Sanford ’12, a resident in the Eco-House, said.
These 28 students were chosen from an application process last spring.
“The process is really not that difficult,” Luke Pickett ’11, a resident in the Eco-House, said. “I just had to sign my name to the form, pay the deposit for living in the house, and promise to take an environmental course each semester that I live here. As an environmental policy major, that’s not hard to do.”
Students accepted to live in the Eco-House are able to enjoy a wide range of activities and sustainable living patterns. Recently, the residents hosted their own hall potluck dinner and a canoe trip to Lake Matoaka. They plan to soon install an energy meter on the floor and hope to initiate a composting program. Residents are also encouraged to work toward a sustainable lifestyle on their own.
“[For Fall Fest during Homecoming] I cooked a special desert known as Sa Num Ma Kim — it’s Burmese — for the bake sale, which is to benefit SEAC, and worked with a group of committed individuals to clean all salvageable recyclable bottles and paper from Zable Stadium after Saturday’s game,” Pickett said. “It’s an epic job, I tell ya, but I’m grateful that the Tribe side of the bleachers left a fraction of the recyclables strewn about as they did last year.”
For John Kirn ’12, life as the resident assistant of the Eco-House has been a memorable experience.
“As the RA, I see it as my job to help and create a community environment that supports residents in their personal sustainability practices and allows them to share creative ideas that can help everyone be more green,” Kirn said. “The Eco-House is in its first year, so everything we do is a new and novel action. We have little recorded precedent to build off of, but that makes it all the more interesting, as we can forge our own path to a sustainable William and Mary.”
But despite the admirable practices that the residents have adapted to their lifestyles, the Eco-House has not been forgotten in other students’ jokes. To Kirn, these jokes are offensive.
“On numerous occasions I have heard people walk by and say [laughing], ‘Yeah, they don’t take showers,’ which is totally incorrect and stereotypical,” Kirn said. “Eco-House residents don’t abstain from showering, many of us simply take more efficient showers. We can’t see in the dark either, we simply turn the lights out when we are not present or are asleep. What easier way is there to help the College save money in these hard economic times?”
No matter the jokes, the Eco-House and its residents have become a noteworthy part of the College’s community. To them, however, living in sustainable special housing has the perks of any other dormitory.
“It’s been awesome not just to work on projects with these people, but to just hang out,” Sanford said. “It’s like a freshman hall.”