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The true cost of being green

Courtesy UMass.edu

Do you know how much electricity you use each day?

If I were to pose this question to students living in on-campus dorms, in colleges around the country, almost everyone would have no idea.

Students are not consciously aware of the vast amount of energy that they use through electrical appliances in their dorm rooms. Devices such as phone and computer chargers, clocks, microwaves, refrigerators, fans, printers, lamps and televisions all contribute to the overconsumption of energy on college campuses.

Many students go straight from living with their parents to living in a dorm, and never have to think about the cost of their energy use. As a result, they put little to no thought into the issue, and, unless they have taken a course on energy and the environment, it is unlikely that they know the environmental impacts of their actions. It is up to the colleges to raise awareness of the social, economic and environmental impacts of our over consumptive habits, and to promote positive change.

From my personal experience (and I’m rather certain I can speak for many college freshmen) moving into a dorm for the first time is an exciting and freeing experience. Parents are no longer there to discipline and scold and all there is to worry about is schoolwork: no monthly rent, no electricity bills.

Despite the cramped spaces and shared bathrooms, there are many comforts that come with living in student dorms, such as heat, cable television, electricity and water. All of these amenities are “free” to the student body. That is to say, the extent to which they are used has no direct impact on the cost of living there. However, these amenities are being abused. Despite how apparently awesome this situation seems, there are many negative impacts to this manner of living. This dorm lifestyle of limited responsibility encourages wastefulness and carelessness, and should be altered to promote energy conservation.

            This is not to say that students are to blame. Rather, it is at the institutional level that the real problem lies. Universities across the country are not providing sufficient education and programs to support change. Having unlimited usage, bearing none of the costs and not even having the chance to see the impacts of one’s actions makes it extremely difficult to feel a need to change. College campuses should be a place where students learn more than just the information in their courses. It should be a place where students learn academics as well as social responsibility.

             Fortunately, the University of Massachusetts has been implementing proactive ways to improve this situation over the past few years. For one, there is the Eco-Rep Program, which is a team of students throughout campus that strives to create an environmentally conscious student population. This program is an excellent way to produce peer-to-peer student-facilitated environmental education, and UMass has one of the largest of these programs in the country.

Also, beginning just last spring 2010, the University implemented a new Energy Dashboard Program, through which four residence halls were given information on their energy, water, and steam consumption, to see if having this information readily available causes a change in energy use. On top of this, due to the success of Eco-Rep, the University has begun looking into creating a “Green Office Program” which will consist of a staff and faculty environmental education program.

These types of initiatives should be present on all college campuses throughout the country, as they promote social responsibility by educating students about the impacts of their actions. As Martin Luther King once said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a sincere ignorance..

This information should be readily available to students, so that we can combat environmental ignorance and encourage positive change. UMass has been putting its best foot forward to increase its sustainability and decrease its carbon footprint, and should continue expanding and advancing these programs so that students around the United States can understand and look forward to a more sustainable future.

Meg Little is a UMass student. She can be reached at mlittle@student.umass.edu.

Comments
3 Responses to “The true cost of being green”
  1. Jane Clukay says:

    Someone needs to calculate the cost of running all the thousands of refrigerators and toaster ovens in dorm rooms!

  2. Ed says:

    Jane, it might not be as much as you think because of the inherent greater efficiency of smaller appliances. Do you have any idea how much electricity your electric stove draws — and you have to preheat your oven while the toaster oven has no such need. Likewise the refrigerators — if all the food was kept in one big refrigerator, it likely would consume more electricity.

    And if we didn’t let the kids have refrigerators in the dorms, we would have more dead kids — they will instead store stuff on the windowsills and I know of one case in the ’90s when a kid (sober – had been up for two days because of finals) got up in the middle of the night, went out after his orange juice and instead fell out of the top floor window of a Sylvan dorm. We know the time of death because the noise woke up a young lady in the adjacent 1st floor room (who looked at the clock before going back to sleep) and 5 hours later the janitor (an EMT on one of the hilltown volunteer ambulance crews) found him and immediately knew there was nothing she could do for him.

    Talk about “the true cost of being green” and using ambient refrigeration….

    Beyond that, there is logic versus mantra. A PVTA bus gets 4MPG — yes FOUR and I have that figure from the head of the PVTA. And a diesel engine inherently pollutes more than a gasoline one. So which is more friendly to the environment — six kids coming up from South Amherst on a bus, or in two cars, each getting 30+ mpg? Which is better — a combined 15MPG from the two cars, or 4MPG?

    In other words, you are talking three times the fuel to make the six kids ride the bus, probably five/six times more pollution (particuarly small particulates and smog-causing stuff), yet which does the university push the kids to do? This isn’t about the environment, it is about control and administrative power.

    So back to the electricity — how much is too much? And is it about that or the ability to control people????

  3. Angie says:

    Ed, I’m wondering if six students in two cars at 30 mph isn’t being overly optimistic. It’s also possible that it would be six students in six older cars that get much less than 30 mph. Better the bus at that rate (4mph? really? yikes).

    Jane, I think Ed’s six students should share one large refrigerator.

    Meg, thanks for the article. I wonder if students are ever asked to consider the energy cost of staying up studying and socializing until 2 or 3am? Do we really have to study at 2am? Staff, too, could benefit from direct feedback on energy use. I know a department where most employees leave their computer on all night because they have slow start-up times in the morning. I sympathize, but that’s about 15 computers running all night and weekend. Although they do turn everything else off.

    And, Ed, I think your “control” idea is a bit of mantra, just from a different perspective, and a weird one, too. What’s wrong with control? We control our children, our peers, our society. We’re not allowed to run around doing anything we please. Besides, that’s just weird suggesting that the article has any other motivation than suggesting we try to find a way to do less harm to the environment.

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