Colleges Create Eco-Friendly Dorms

Some college students are demanding that campus housing be more environmentally responsible. Changes involve everything from switching to energy-saving light bulbs in dorms to low-flow showers to hi-tech renovations of student living space.

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Some college students want their housing to be more environmentally responsible. Some possible changes involve everything from switching to energy-saving light bulbs in dorms to complete high-tech renovations of student living space.

NPR's Mandalit del Barco visited one Southern California college campus that's going green.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: This week, freshmen at Pitzer College are moving into brand new eco-friendly dorms: three-storey buildings surrounding a swimming pool with a cactus landscape and a student-run organic vegetable garden.

Ms. JANET ALEXANDER(ph) (Student, Pitzer College): It looks a lot like a resort.

DEL BARCO: Eighteen-year-old Janet Alexander says she's excited about the three new resident halls with views of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Ms. ALEXANDER: There's going to be several gardens planted there. And it's very contemporary, very nice and new.

DEL BARCO: They're so new that construction crews were still adding the finishing touches as senior Alex Lent(ph) led students on a tour earlier this week.

Mr. ALEX LENT (Student, Pitzer College): One of the coolest features about these buildings is that 80 percent of the materials used to build it were found within 200 miles of this area. So it cut down on transportation costs and damage to the environment and stuff like that.

DEL BARCO: The buildings are painted with muted colors to match the surrounding desert. The rooftops are insulated with gardens and photovoltaic panels that generate 15 kilowatts of renewable energy.

Mr. LENT: Instead of using wood to construct the framing, modular steel was used, which was recycled concrete chips and board, carpeting and insulation. That's all recycled materials.

DEL BARCO: Each dorm room features so-called Dutch doors that can be partially open on top for cross ventilation. Lent and senior Sarah Faruki(ph) show off other energy-saving devices, such as compact fluorescent lights and specially equipped toilets.

Mr. LENT: You notice the low amount of water in there to conserve water. So here's the half flush.

(Soundbite of toilet flushing)

DEL BARCO: So it's saving water?

Mr. LENT: Yes. It's definitely saving a lot of water.

DEL BARCO: Okay.

Ms. SARAH FARUKI (Student, Pitzer College): The showers are also low-flow.

(Soundbite of water running)

DEL BARCO: The buildings are gold LEED-certified, meaning they meet strict requirements for energy and water conservation and have other environmental pluses. The students, faculty, alumni and administration worked together to plan the new green dorms.

Dr. LAURA TROMBLEY (President, Pitzer College): I'd like to live there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DEL BARCO: Laura Trombley is president of the small liberal arts college about 50 miles east of Los Angeles in the desert town of Claremont.

Dr. TROMBLEY: These are not your parent's residence halls, or even my residence hall that I remember when I was in college. It's just at a whole new level.

DEL BARCO: Trombley says the new dorm buildings are replacing older more institutional residence halls. The master plan is to transform the entire campus with drought-tolerant landscaping and storm water recycling. Trombley says the changes will save the college money and energy in the long term.

Dr. TROMBLEY: Actually, you could argue that if a college with a student population of under a thousand can be this green, why aren't others?

DEL BARCO: These days, more and more students across the country are challenging colleges and universities to think and act more environmentally responsibly, says Merrilee Harrigan. She oversees the Green Campus Program for the Alliance to Save Energy.

Ms. MERRILEE HARRIGAN (Director of Education, Green Campus Program, Alliance to Save Energy): This is the issue for this generation. So the generation that's in college now, that's recently graduated, that's in high school now, they are taking climate change on the way older generations took on the Vietnam War and civil rights.

DEL BARCO: Harrigan says college students are teaching one another to use less toxic, more biodegradable products. And while they're at it, students like Randy Gomez(ph) are changing the way things are done back home, too.

Mr. RANDY GOMEZ: I force my parents to recycle now. It was a struggle, but you cannot force them into that. You just become so much more conscious of the world as well.

DEL BARCO: Other college students may struggle with reluctant administrators to make their schools more green, but Alex Lent says being environmentally aware is part of Pitzer College's progressive philosophy.

Mr. LENT: By constructing these buildings in such a so-called green fashion, we're really making a statement like, yeah, we're serious about it and we want others to follow in our footsteps.

DEL BARCO: And that, he says, means leaving a smaller carbon footprint on campus.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

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