News

Green Living Goes Off-Campus

November 2, 2016

You might have seen it advertised on a poster staked into the ground around campus; you might have noticed it listed in an unassuming green box on the Green Campus Partnership (GCP) website; you might have heard of it through an email from your College House. For all the times you’ve come across the phrase “Green Living,” do you actually know what it is? 

As a freshman, I certainly didn’t. I’d venture that my fellow freshmen and other new members of the Penn community, students and professionals alike, are still unacquainted with the program. And if you’re reading this neither in the know nor new to Penn, here’s your shameless crash course. 

The Green Living program was established just five years ago as an effort to encourage sustainable living within the Penn community. Now in its fourth full year, the on-campus program is facilitating participation through competition among College Houses and by introducing an off-campus version, which just launched this week. The College House competition was officially launched on October 17 and will last until the GCP ReThink Campaign concludes on November 11. Rewards will be given to the two house staffs with the highest raw and highest per capita numbers of students certified during the span of the competition. If you’re an undergrad living on campus, let this be your reminder to take the few minutes necessary to fill out the survey and contribute to your house’s efforts when you finish reading! 

The Green Living certification aims to engage with students to two ends: first, to reward, support and encourage students who are already taking efforts to live sustainably, and second, to provide methods and advice to students unaware of how to live more sustainably.  

The certification is given through a survey, which can be found here on the GCP website. It asks a variety of questions ranging from waste and energy habits to personal diet to environmental engagement. A score is then calculated as the cumulative points earned in each response, with different answers weighted differently to reflect the effort required for a given habit and its environmental payoff. The survey score qualifies students for certification levels of bronze, silver and gold, each with different tangible rewards. Perhaps most importantly, the questionnaire concludes by charging students to spread the word about Green Living certification and to encourage others to adopt similarly sustainable habits. 

Austin Bream, a senior in the Huntsman program, has been involved with Green Living since his sophomore year, when the program was still in its early stages. This year, he has worked to continue promoting the on-campus program and to launch an off-campus counterpart for Green Living, which is now live. 

Green Living has seen a significant increase in participation with each year it has been available to students. Last year, 687 students, more than 10% of on-campus residents, were certified; the year before, 254. This year, Austin hopes to achieve 1000 on-campus certifications, or 15% of residents, including both new certifications and renewed certifications from those who completed the survey last year. At Penn, in his view, “sustainability more than anything needs to be cultural, and for it to be cultural, we need to make it clear how everyone can be involved and take action.” 

So far, the certification process has certainly been raising the necessary awareness. The dual goals of the program—to inform students of different sustainability impacts and actions of which they were previously unaware and to encourage students to actually engage in these new actions—seem difficult to achieve through a simple survey, but the results thus far have demonstrated a positive change in behavior across the board. This year, GCP will look to further quantify the impact of the survey. Austin has seen that, regardless of the certification level, people are learning something new from the certification process, which is particularly impressive given the range of sustainability backgrounds of students taking the survey.

Green Living certification has existed only for on-campus students for the past four years, and expanding the program to the off-campus population provides an exciting opportunity. As expected, significant differences exist between on-campus and off-campus living situations, but many sustainable habits apply to both cases. As such, the revised survey is similar in many ways for both housing options, simply tailoring questions and possible answers based on the housing situation students indicate. The new off-campus version will include questions regarding actions such as composting, weather-proofing, installation of lower-flow shower heads, and choice of appliance for reheating food—actions over which on-campus students have less control. 

Austin sees the expansion as an opportunity for GCP to engage with the off-campus upperclassmen population, a community that is generally much harder to reach simply due to its geographic spread and the decrease in its campus presence. Since Green Living thus far has only certified on-campus students, upperclassmen moving off campus lost the opportunity to participate in the program. Introducing an off-campus version will hopefully reengage those students and continue the relationship between GCP and younger students as they move off campus next year. Austin also thinks of the certification as an opportunity for GCP to better understand the off-campus community, which will improve its outreach efforts.  

Sustainable living in college is by nature community-based, as essentially all students engage in some type of residential community, whether that community is an all-freshman dorm or an off-campus apartment shared with a few friends. Austin is focusing the next developments of Green Living on that aspect of community. “Hopefully, we can turn Green Living into a community of people,” Austin says. “Our end goal is to make sustainability accessible and develop an inclusive sustainable community here on campus.” So far, the effort to make sustainability self-propagating has focused on the College House and RA/GA infrastructure; GCP has encouraged Houses to organize study breaks, speaker events and floor competitions embracing sustainable living. Eventually, Austin hopes Green Living certifications—and sustainable living habits themselves—become a norm at Penn, just another one of those things we incorporate into our daily considerations and lifestyle.  

Certainly, the introduction of the off-campus version of the Green Living certification will only further encourage sustainable living and engage the student population. Hopefully, it will bring us one step closer to the inclusive sustainable community Green Campus Partnership is building.

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