Green Room Service

Story posted January 24, 2013

The Bowdoin College Sustainability Office recently implemented a sustainable room certification program that recognizes students who commit to a variety of sustainable living practices. This includes commitments to reductions in waste and energy use, as well as dining hall choices and laundry practices. In conjunction, students can have a member of the sustainability staff audit the energy conservation of their room. The audit examines lighting, heating, refrigerators, and cooking implements to help students maximize the efficiency of their energy use. The Sustainability Office has worked closely with the Residential Life Office to circulate the dorm room certification forms across the first year residence halls and college houses.

To get a room certified, all of its occupants must commit to at least 20 of the 26 sustainable living practices. Upon returning the signed and completed forms to their residential hall’s Eco-Rep, the room receives an official certification door seal. Since implementing the program in November, 35 rooms totaling over 100 people have participated in the dorm room certification.

Eric Chien ’14 is responsible for the certification and auditing programs. We sat down with Eric and asked him the following questions:

Q: What prompted you to start this?

I was interested in developing a program that pulls together all of the behavioral change messages that have been advocated over the years into a single document. More than that, I wanted students to feel like they were being recognized for the commitments they were making and for sustainable living to be out in the public for people to see. With a physical certification seal on their door, students can be reminded of their commitments daily, as well as see which of their peers are making similar commitments.

Q: Describe the response.

Three months in, we have directly advertised the program to approximately one third of enrolled students at the college. Participating rooms are spread across half of freshmen residence halls and college houses, with some limited participation by rooms in upper classmen housing. Room energy audits have not been as popular with only a handful of students requesting an audit for their room.

Q: What’s next? Do you see this program model expanding?

The goal for the immediate future is to continue to increase the participation in the program. This will include additional advertising to freshmen and college house residents, but also beginning to reach out to the other residential halls around campus. As the academic year winds down, it will be important to develop a way to continue to engage next year those students who have made commitments this year through some sort of recertification process.

Q: What behaviors do students embrace and what shifts in behavior seem insurmountable?

For most students committing to reductions in energy consumption by turning off lights or shutting down their computers is no problem at all. Additionally, students are also surprisingly willing to reduce the amount of meat that they consume (despite past controversy over the issue). However, fewer people have committed to some of the space consuming practices like hang-drying clothing.

Q: Name the most outrageous thing you have encountered on one of your auditing or certification visits.

I heard of an instance when, upon learning that their neighbors failed to live up to one of the lifestyle practices on their certification form, a student removed their neighbors’ certification seal from their door until they followed through with everything they committed to. Just some innocent, environmentally-geared, vigilante justice.