Leave it to Grinnell students to turn an off-campus residence from a place of non-stop toga parties to an incubator for saving energy and lessening the school’s carbon footprint.
Just across East Street from South Campus is EcoHouse, a student residence with a mission: to test and model how Grinnell could become more environmentally friendly. Ten students moved into the house a little over a year ago and are now in the second year of their experiment. The residents are members of Free the Planet and other campus environmental groups who wanted to show how students might live together in a more eco-friendly way.
“Our goal is primarily to raise awareness of environmental issues and demonstrate to the administration that there are real things the school can do right now to be more energy efficient and environmentally responsible,” says resident Nathan Pavlovic, a senior biology major.
The house is easily identifiable because of the prairie garden that makes up the front yard. The back yard contains a vegetable garden maintained by the students, which supplies some of their daily food. In addition, the house buys lots of fresh fruit and vegetables from farms surrounding the town of Grinnell.
The students have completed several small, inexpensive, energy-saving renovations to the house—replacing regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs; insulating hot-water pipes and the roof to prevent heat loss; and installing dual-flush toilets, radiator reflectors, and low-volume water heads.
“These are easy things that can be done anywhere on campus,” says Pavlovic.
Some of the ideas from EcoHouse, like dual flush toilets, are already starting to be adopted in some of the residence halls on campus. One of the biggest innovations at EcoHouse is a monitoring system that lets residents know how much energy they are using. They argue that this information helps them become more aware of their energy consumption, and they are pushing to have similar monitoring systems put into the residence halls.
Several mentioned that they would like to see competition among the halls for which could be most energy-efficient. Assistant Professor of Computer Science Janet Davis is collaborating with EcoHouse residents on technology research to encourage and measure more sustainable behaviors.
There is little doubt that the residents of EcoHouse have an agenda to see Grinnell become a national leader in sustainability and conservation. The recent budget freeze on campus has slowed their push for solar panels and other major improvements, but it doesn’t appear that EcoHouse is giving up.
“Each student living in EcoHouse has their own environmental niche,” says Becky Lyons, a senior anthropology major. “Some are more interested in energy conservation, whereas others have more of an interest in waste management. When students who are passionate about an issue come together, the diversity of these interests enriches the general living experience and the underlying agenda of the house.”