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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Guiding renters
June 1, 2011 - 5:00pm

So here it is, the first of June (already!).

I often lose track of time in late May, because life gets so crazy. Students finishing off their projects is the least of it. Additionally, there are all the summer campus (re-)construction projects to get started, end-of-fiscal-years concerns to attend to, use-or-lose leave to take (or somehow defer), and preparations for next Fall to make.

Fall arrival of students is, of course, a huge crunch time. At Greenback, we've learned that if they're going to care about sustainability during their academic years here, it's gonna start as soon as they arrive. Arrival on campus is a major life step for young people, and bad habits establish themselves easily at times of major transition. So our outreach to students starts as soon as they get to Backboro. In truth, it starts earlier.

Greenback still snail-mails entering students several packets of information over the summer before they arrive. When the sustainability office first started, we asked whether we could include some pieces in those packets; we were pretty much turned down. The admissions and orientation folks had a routine all worked out, with sequence and timing and just the right degree of accelerating excitement leading up to the big day. Or so they said. We get to include a small amount of information in booklets that are already included in those packets. But nothing overwhelming. Nothing, truth be told, very substantial.

So we do what any red-blooded sustainability office would do -- we put stuff on the web and email entering students the links to check it out. It's not much different from information a lot of schools make available, but it's a step in the right direction.

We're trying to take an additional step in the right direction. To date, most of our information has assumed that first-year students will live in residence halls (because that's the rule). They may move off-campus in later years, but not right away. So our info for entering students hasn't said much about apartment living. Or cooking. Or such.

That's about to change.

Not because Greenback's on-campus housing requirement has gone away -- it hasn't. But because more of our on-campus housing is now in the form of apartments. And we see that trend continuing.

So we're going to include some sort of "green renter's guide" among the web links we send to incoming students. (Given the nature of the information, we may re-send the link around April or May to students likely to return and eligible to live off-campus, but that's not fully decided yet.)

All of which is a long way of leading up to the fact that, if we're going to provide students with a Green Renter's Guide, we need to come up with such a thing. And I think I've found a pretty good model.

Victoria -- the state in Australia, not the city in British Columbia -- puts out a Green Renters Guide that I like a lot. Naturally, they're a step ahead of us in the USA; their guide is already in its second edition.

To be honest, there are elements we'll have to totally rewrite. The section on landlord/tenant law, for example. And pictures of appliance energy-use labels. And references to "halogen downlights".

But, on balance, the Victorians have done a thoroughly creditable job. I don't intend to plagiarize, but I do intend to copy. Imitate. Borrow.


On a related note, I happened to be looking at online listings for apartments in France. Every apartment offered was assigned two letter grades: one for energy consumption, and one for greenhouse gas emissions based on energy consumption and form. Both were indexed by square meter of floor space, so a large apartment for a large family needn't get a worse grade than a studio for a single individual. The grades were presented in the lower half of each listing -- so energy and emissions don't try to trump such basic features as size and cost -- but I didn't notice a single listing where the grades were absent.

Over here, of late, we've decided not to print letter grades (indicating fuel economy) on new car window stickers, ostensibly out of concern that customers might relate the printed grade to the car as a whole, not just its energy efficiency.

Funny. The French believe that their consumers are smart enough not only to understand a letter grade and what it indicates, but even to differentiate between two separate (yet related) letter grades. But the US auto industry has managed to convince the EPA that American consumers aren't that smart.

Funny, that is, if it weren't so sad.


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