Exploring the company we keep at UCI and beyond

Roller derby girls. God Without Religion. Harry Potter enthusiasts (fanatics?). These are a small sampling of the groups and organizations that have formed at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and around Orange County. Members share a devotion to their cause and a desire to pursue it in collaboration with others, which are the subjects we examine in this blog.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dorm Reeducation and the Green Campus program

By Tristan Schlotz

At the UCI Vendor Faire, everyone's trying to sell something. A pack of ethnic clubs will try to sell you Korean barbecue or tasty boba drinks, a pod of Christian Crusaders can sell you peace of mind, frats and sororities set up camp on couches and blast music, trying to sell you a good time. Not many groups, however, can offer what Green Campus has for sale. The Green Campus Program is a statewide organization run under the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE), which maintains chapters in fourteen UC's and CSU's, as well as three community colleges. Doubtless more popular in cities not renowned as bastions of conservatism and comfort, Green Campus at UCI faces a number of unique challenges. Though the city of Irvine and the University are both extremely ecologically responsible as a result of the high property values and comfort and stability of the city, the people of Orange County and the students at UCI are some of the most indifferent towards green issues. Still, this determined cell, comprised of some 15 core members, perseveres. At a Green Campus booth open during Earth Week 2010, Green Campus sold sensible aluminum water bottles and gave away reusable canvas grocery bags in trade to anyone who brought to their booth 10 or more plastic grocery sacks. While other booths sold food or god or the promise of sin, Green Campus sold, simply, the future.

It’s Wednesday, April 21st, halfway through Week Four of Spring Quarter at UCI. Last week was Earth Week; a frenzy of organization, tabling, sign-making, and panel-holding. This week is the comedown, a brief respite before a return to normalcy. Typically, Green Campus works by speaking to students and administrators, working to keep UCI informed and up-to-date on the latest in Green Technology and energy-saving strategies. During Earth Week, though, Green Campus was aggressively active on Ring Road - distributing flyers, and holding daily green events. This week though, they're all tuckered out. The hung over do-gooders start to trickle in at around 6:05, coming in ones or twos until maybe nine people occupy the too-large classroom in SSLH. The room is almost entirely silent. A ceiling fan drones loudly, muffling the idle chatter diligently made by Henna Pithia, a paid intern of Green Campus and majordomo to the club’s Team Leader, Cynthia Leung. Henna sits at the front of the classroom, in one of the student desks, angled slightly so she can speak to the rest of the crowd scattered in the some 40 seats which the classroom accommodates. Henna asks a few of the club members, who she knows by name, about midterms and about parties scheduled later that week. She is killing time until the pizza arrives. When Kelly Li arrives, maybe 20 minutes late, carrying a stack of pizza boxes, she is met with a brief stir as her fellow students shuffle up and begin to pick at the pizzas, pulling away a couple of slices and, in the end, eating maybe half of the product. Kelly asks Henna to make sure Cynthia gets the receipt for their evening’s meal, and then rushes out.

When the meeting begins in earnest it is maybe 6:30. Henna apologizes that Cynthia can’t come this week, and that most of the other interns are busy today. She promises that tonight’s dorm education will go off without a hitch, and begins a brief lecture about the tools used in office audits before reminding her audience that, on May 8th, the group is going to visit Tanaka Farms; a local organic strawberry farm that offers tours and the opportunity for visitors to harvest their own fruit. Her audience desultorily voices interest, but she seems genuinely excited. She shows the club members a tool called a kill-a-watt which is used to gauge the energy consumed by any piece of electronics plugged into it. The kill-a-watt slots into the wall outlet like a surge protector would. It has a matching plug input on the front, along with a small LED screen which gives the readout. Simply plug an electronic device into the front of the kill-a-watt and it will give back to you the object's energy information. A hair blow-dryer uses 1.3 kilowatts of energy a second; your cell phone charger uses .4 kilowatts per second. The lesson of the kill-a-watt is that every object in your house uses energy, whether it's in use or not. Every object in your house which draws energy from the wall holds these charges, which are called Phantom Loads and amount to about 5% of your monthly energy bill.

Henna’s club members and the interns she directs will need to know how to operate this device and how to explain the lesson of phantom loads when she starts her office audits this summer. “It’s really fun to use,” Henna says, “I took it around my house last weekend.” Her club members believe it. Henna Pithia has worked very hard to integrate the teachings she took away from Green Campus into her everyday life. Her bedroom in the apartment in VDC she shares with her roommates provides a perfect example of how to "live" green. According to Pithia, her laptop and her speakers are both energy efficient. She relies mostly on natural light in her bedroom, so her desk lamp doesn't see much use. She's not sure about her printer, though. "It was a gift from my father," she explains. All her electronics are plugged into a single power strip beneath her desk. According to Pithia, she turns the strip off every time she leaves the apartment, in order to save energy. "In my bathroom, all my toiletries are eco-friendly. My face-wash, my deodorant, my toothpaste, and my makeup are all organic. The soap I use to wash my dishes with, I got it from Trader Joe’s. My laundry detergent is also eco-friendly."

After the meeting, when most of the group goes home, four volunteers stay behind. They are preparing for tonight's dorm education event. Together, they walk to the Greyhaven Study Lounge in Middle Earth. The group arrives a few minutes early. One of the interns, an energetic freshman named Kimi Le, runs to gather up any freshmen in the hall, while Dawny Kim, Henna Pithia, and Irene Long move the furniture so all the chairs and couches face to one side, converting the room into a makeshift classroom. They hold a few improvised props: a large piece of construction paper, a plastic water bottle, a sack full of tantalizing prizes.

Kimi returns, bringing with her ten freshmen, who colonize the couches and look expectantly towards the front, where Henna starts the ball rolling with an icebreaker. She introduces herself, states her major, and confesses her biggest Green sin: she likes to take long showers. One by one the people in the room introduce themselves, and then the show begins. Henna's interns cover water etiquette, ("Try to take the five-minute shower challenge. Each minute you spend in the shower uses four gallons of water and the average 20-minute shower wastes enough water for a person to live for a week"), recycling, ("Target and whole foods will give you a discount if you bring your own bag, this is important because plastic bags take oil to make, and we need to save oil"), and computers. ("You can set your computer homepage to blackle.com if you want to save a little energy; it's just like Google, only the black background uses less energy.")

According to Cynthia Leung, Green Campus paid intern and Team Leader, the club has three big focuses: "we save energy, we try to do education and raise awareness, and we do workforce engagement". Leung, a third-year Quantitative Economics major, lives to live green. She claims that she grew up saving energy and water, and has translated most of those childhood habits into her work for Green Campus."I grew up green – my stepfather would always be like ‘turn off that light’ and I’d be like ‘no I need it right now’ and he’d always be on my case about recycling. We started last year an at-home compost bin." She told me "I don’t think of Green Campus as a job. I’ve even made my boyfriend to go green." Programs like the dorm education events form the cornerstone of the education-awareness campaign, while quarterly projects for the Green Campus interns fulfill their more direct goals.

According to Leung, UCI Green Campus holds a somewhat federal structure. At the lowest level of integration are the club members, and people on the Green Campus listserv. These people attend meetings, and help out the interns. There are approximately 110 people on the Green Campus listserv, which sends out a monthly newsletter and club announcements. When asked how many "regular" club members attended Green Campus meetings, Henna replied, "around six." Green Campus maintains four for-credit interns, and four for-pay interns. The for-credit interns assist the for-pay interns, who each have their own Green projects to complete on a quarterly basis.

In the Fall, for example, Cynthia Leung conducted an extensive audit of all science labs in the Natural Science buildings in order to conduct a competition between all science schools, to monitor fume hood waste. With the data collected from those science labs, she was able to extrapolate energy consumption in science labs for all the physical and biological sciences, and chemical engineering labs. Each such lab contains several fume hoods, devices designed to draw from the air toxic chemicals released into the air from science experiments. When not in use, Fume Hoods are supposed to be closed, so they don't continue to draw air out of the room, wasting energy. Leung spoke to TA's of lab courses and raised awareness on Fume Hood waste, and conducted a competition where the school that had saved the most energy by changing their fume hood policies would win a pizza party. "Our goal was to normalize that behavior of shutting the sash." She said. At the end of the quarter she was able to collect new data in order to gauge the effectiveness of her hard work. When asked who had won the pizza party, she replied that the results were "still tabulating."

But Cynthia's work requires she speak to more than just chemistry students. "To save energy it’s less student outreach and more the administration. We talk a lot to Wendell Brase and his assistant Anne Kreighoff. They’re both huge advocates for going green; they’re always looking for the next step. Wendell will have ideas and he’ll come to us because we have the manpower. Like he’ll come up and say ‘I think we should stop selling water bottles on campus’ or ‘I think we should start a Styrofoam ban’ which we actually did there’s no Styrofoam in food sales anymore."

The administration of UC Irvine and Green Campus seem to be a perfect match. According to an April 2010 study by the Princeton Review, UCI is one of the top 286 "Green Colleges" in the nation. It claims about UCI that "As a member of the University of California system, UC Irvine adopted a Policy of Green Building Design and Clean Energy Standards back in 2003 in order to promote environmentally conscious construction and fixtures on campus." The document lists as some of UCI's accomplishments "In line with this, UC—Irvine has determined that all new construction on campus must seek LEED Silver certification at minimum. In fact, five buildings on campus have achieved LEED Gold." and that "UC Irvine is currently installing a 1.2 megawatt DC solar power system, which is 'expected to produce more than 24 million kilowatt hours (equivalent to offsetting 25.6 million pounds of carbon dioxide) over 20 years.'" The LEED certification system, (LEED standing for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,) is designed to cut back on CO2 emissions and energy waste in building design and operation, and was established by the US Green Building Council (USGBC) to provide third-party verification that a building is eco-friendly.

Students at UCI work on a Green Campus, and the evidence of the Green ideology is all around us. Still, Green Campus faces challenges in making Irvine reach its conservationist potential. Dawny Kim, a second year computer science major, and for-credit intern at UCI, says that the biggest challenge facing Green Campus is not the administration, but Southern California culture. "Irvine was one of the first cities to hop on board the Green Movement in the 1980’s, but the culture is very much 'do what you want.'"

Green Campus tries a variety of strategies to burst the "Irvine bubble". In 2009, the group won the prestigious Anteater Award for "Best Educational Club on Campus". They operate a website updated monthly, and work on videos like the "Phantom Hunter". Produced in 2006, the video (available on Google Video), shows students in the Humboldt State branch of Green Campus, enter the house of a typical student and hunt for energy waste. The video is highly tongue in cheek; the plucky lead character, (doing a very bad Steve Irwin impression,) stalks the halls of her bemused subjects, aggressively monologuing about the "natural habitat" of an energy waster, and ways to improve the habitat to make it more responsible. She replaces light bulbs, unplugs the TV, and places a large jug full of sand in the bathroom toilet tank. She promises that you'll save "THIS MUCH water with each flush!" and gestures wildly. The video is designed to make learning about power saving fun, and is often incorporated into Green Campus lectures and club meetings. Their monthly newsletter, constructed by Green Campus interns and published on their website, is designed to keep the interested reader up-to-date and excited about Green goings-on around campus. Their April 2010 issue provides information about Green Campus events during Earth Week, in an article entitled "Let the Festivities Begin!" and publishes the names of the new interns selected for Green Campus staff. "For-Credit Interns Make the World go Round". The website, designed to inform, contains a detailed calendar of Green Campus events as well as an interactive guide to the "Green" dorm room, where organic bed sheets are neatly tucked onto twin-long mattresses, the thermostat is turned off, and all the appliances are energy*star certified.

As her Dorm Education session draws to a close, Henna Pithia gamely tries to get her pupils excited by engaging them with a pop quiz game. She asks the room at large an open question, and threatens them with prizes, if they guess correctly. "What are Phantom Loads?" She asks the crowd of maybe 10 students on chairs and couches who stare dumbly back at her. A student timidly raises her hand and replies "They're energy charges that are given by appliances that are not in use." The student wins a Smencil, a pencil that smells. Henna goes around the room, asking Green questions and getting Green answers. Once the quiz is over, and all her smencils and oversize green campus tees are distributed, she asks the students to sign a large piece of construction paper with My Green Promise written across the top. She wraps it up. "The Green movement requires a cultural change and the fight starts with all of you." She gestures to the crowd, who file out, looking relieved.

The grassroots politicians of Green Campus don't care about your roller derbies or about throwing wild parties. Their numbers are few and their methods are incremental, but they soldier on. The keystone of the Green movement is militant mobilization and strict economic hygiene. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, or like the grain of sand that one day becomes a pearl, Green Campus hopes someday to do with a lot with a little. Lifestyles must change, standards must be upheld. They can offer little in the way of tangible, immediate results; but it would be a mistake to assume these club members are helpless. On the contrary, they are empowered more than any other students. Through persistence, hard work, and a serious, calculating mind shall the Green inherit the Earth.

Reporting Log:
2 hours, Lengthy Interviews with Cynthia Leung and Henna Pithia
15 minutes Shorter interview with Dawnie Kim
3 hours of observation at club meetings
30 minutes observation of a Dorm Education event
Green Campus website
Green Campus Newsletter
Princeton Review document "Green Colleges"
Google Video: The Phantom Hunters
Green Campus Interactive Dorm Room
USGBC Website

No comments:

Post a Comment