Green Campus keeps going and going…
Students in the Green Campus Program energize their peers about energy reduction
A semester studying abroad proved a wake-up call for Amelia Gulling. Life in Alicante, a small Spanish city south of Valencia, was worlds away from Chico and what she’d grown up with as an American and native Californian. Gulling lived in the heart of the coastal city and traveled by bus to a university where she studied Spanish. When she returned to her apartment on the fifth floor of a seven-story building, she took the stairs.
Somehow, she adapted easily to surroundings where automobiles were a luxury and elevators were for those who physically needed them.
“We walked everywhere,” she said. “We were just always walking,”
Life in Spain wasn’t any better or worse—just different, Gulling insists. But the differences weren’t subtle, and that became more apparent when she returned to the United States last July.
Generally speaking, she said, Americans are given to convenience, some might even say obsessed with it. But many of these everyday customs create a lot of waste and are bad for the environment.
Shortly after her arrival in Chico, Gulling, a 22-year-old senior, joined Green Campus, a university-recognized student organization devoted to campus energy conservation. The program is funded by the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit that in turn receives funding from Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
Green Campus began several years ago at UC Berkeley and is now represented on 12 California campuses. Chico State students started a program about two years ago and have been working ever since to get their peers in conservation mode.
Gulling concedes the campus has a lot to learn when it comes to conservation, but the university seems ripe for the challenge.
“I think everyone here has that same goal: to create a sustainable future,” she said. “We’re really lucky at Chico State.”
Many arms of the university are helping the process, working in collaboration with Chico Green Campus. In one of its earliest projects, the group partnered with the Associated Students Food Services for a program that rewards those who bring their own cups to campus. Via “green cup cards” at all A.S. food outlets, patrons who use a reusable cup six times receive a free refill of coffee or soda and are entered into a raffle.
One of the biggest projects by Green Campus came last fall when the students targeted one of the areas they identified as having a large amount of wasted energy: many of Chico State’s computer labs. They installed special software on campus computers that would turn off those left sitting idle. The effort, Gulling said, will save the university about $30,000 annually.
“It’s just energy conservation when it’s needed,” she said. “It’s so simple, but it’s so effective.”
Dennis Graham, vice president for business and finance at Chico State, said the university is very pleased to work with the students, who he said bring an innovative look at campus conservation. In fact, the university is looking into offering loans to the group for certain projects that would be repaid through the resulting savings.
The idea is indicative of the campus’ commitment to reducing its greenhouse emissions and educating students and the community about how to join the cause.
“It’s what each of us does individually that makes a difference,” he said.
Most recently, Gulling has been working with residents of the Chico State dormitory formerly known as Konkow II. The 16-person suite located along West Sacramento Avenue was chosen last year to be outfitted with energy-saving appliances, electronics and lighting, and sustainable-living products. With donations from several national retailers as well as local vendors such as Ginnos and Chico Natural Foods, the house is now equipped with several Energy Star appliances such as a stove, dishwasher and flat-screen TV, along with a variety of eco-friendly products, including soaps, pot-holders and utensils.
Gulling and the residents of the house invited the campus community and the public into the residence—now officially Sustainability House—on a recent weekend to show off the new digs. As the folks who visited the dorm realized, the energy-reducing methods are anything but primitive-looking. There is really no tell-tale sign of the program, said Gulling, who made sure to give facts and figures on the specifics of how much energy is saved by using the appliances and by switching out the house’s incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent lights.
Professor Mark Stemen, adviser of Chico Green Campus, credits the organization with raising the student body’s awareness on energy usage and for becoming the largest program out of the 12 participating universities. The group, he said, conducted research and helped campaign for a recent campus initiative that will save the university $150,000 a year by adjusting the thermostat by just a few degrees. The student body voted last month on the measure, approving it by an 82 percent margin.
While funding for the dormitory project initially was for one room, Stemen said the group members took it upon themselves to expand the scope. The resulting Sustainability House is a terrific way to reach out to the student body. Behavioral changes lead to behavioral changes, so even the smallest steps can make a big difference in the long run, he said.
“Turning off the lights won’t save the world, but knowing that you should and why just might,” said Stemen, who teaches environmental studies.
Another distinction held by Chico State’s Green Campus program involves the diversity of its membership. Stemen noted how the students come from all walks of the campus.
Gulling, an English major who writes the organization’s newsletters, said the group is at an advantage with its cross-disciplinary experience. The program is run by five students with the help of 12 interns. Gulling credits her colleagues for their contributions to the program and encourages other students to join the effort. All it takes, she said, is an interest in sustainability issues.
“I didn’t need to be an environmental major to care about this.”