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'Green dorm' promotes students' roles in environmental sustainability

By Drew Keller     1/28/15 3:10pm

The Rice University EcoRep Program is preparing for the February launch of the Green Dorm Initiative 2015, its biggest annual event, with hopes of educating Rice students about environmentally sustainable living through a contest designed to increase interactivity compared to past years.

The Rice EcoRep Program, which includes members of all residential colleges, implemented the first GDI in 2011 as a means of gathering more information about the environmental habits of the student body. This year, however, the GDI has expanded to include more of an emphasis on sharing information on sustainability with students, according to Head EcoRep Zach Bielak.

“This year, the structure of the competition has changed massively,” Bielak, a Sid Richardson College senior, said. “We took a step back and re-examined the purpose of GDI, and we decided to make it more focused on teaching students new things every day and also getting them to carry it through in their daily lives.”

GDI 2015 focuses on three themes: Energy and Water, Wellbeing, and Waste. Each theme lasts one week and includes specific daily activities to complete. Participants can win prizes based on their involvement with the program. Bielak said the activities are no longer simply based on recording energy and water usage. 

“We are not really concerned just with dorm life anymore,” Bielak said. “We are focused on greener lifestyles in general, lifestyles that reach beyond just living spaces. We have days that are focused on biking to places, on building community and on getting outside.”

EcoRep Lindsy Pang, a Martel College junior, said the daily activities are designed to encourage sustainable practices without taking up much of students’ time.

“Sustainable living is easy,” Pang said. “It is all about paying attention to what you do and creating new habits. They say it takes 21 days to develop a new habit. GDI helps with this by making the process educational, fun and interactive.”

Bielak also said the GDI hopes to promote lifestyle changes, which would have a lasting impact beyond the three weeks of activities.

“Our sole goal in hosting [GDI] is to get participants to start critically examining their lifestyles and behaviors and perhaps start to change them,” Bielak said. “There are so many irresponsible and wasteful actions that we commit every day without even thinking about it, and we [hope] that GDI will start shedding some light on these actions and issues.”

Richard Johnson, the director of the Administrative Center for Sustainability and Energy Management, said the GDI has the potential to not only improve environmentally friendly practices at Rice, but also to inspire students to pursue sustainable research and careers.

“I’ve not met a Rice student who isn’t interested in the betterment of the world,” Johnson said. “The GDI will give students an easy way that they can pursue this from an environmental perspective.”

According to Bielak, the EcoReps’ goal is to have 500 students involved  in this year’s program, which would mark an increase from last year’s total number of participants. Students have until Jan. 31 to sign up for GDI online, after which the contests begin.

“We believe that this year will be the best yet,” Bielak said. “I think the change of structure will get more people involved on a daily basis and will also retain the interest of people who have done GDI in the past by giving them new things to think about.”

Johnson emphasized the collective nature of this year’s GDI as one of its most important attributes.

“It will foster a shared culture of sustainability on campus,” Johnson said. “It’s not just an individual activity; it’s also a community activity, a shared experience.” 

Brown College freshman Radhika Sharma said the community aspect of the GDI drew her to the program.

“What really appeals to me is the opportunity to participate in an activity with a bunch of friends and like-minded people who want to support environmental causes,” Sharma said. “[The GDI is] a chance to work for a common cause that is important to our collective values – sustainability [and] the environment.”

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