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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 27, 2008 | Vol. 38 No. 9
Digging Into Greening

Volunteer Katherine Kentoffio and Janine Knudsen, secretary of Students for Environmental Action, round up recyclables.
Photo by Lesly Deschler-Canossi / HIPS

Sustainability Initiative fueled at Homewood by student-led projects

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

A dozen or so Homewood students rummaged through bloated trash bags sprawled on the busy Keyser Quadrangle last Thursday in search of recyclable quarry: newspapers, bottles, cans and plasticware.

They took time out on a picture-perfect fall afternoon to rescue a few bags' worth of materials that would otherwise be bound for a local landfill. While relatively small in scale, the very visible "Dump on the Quad" served to highlight the message that every bit helps, a mantra that Johns Hopkins students are clearly buying into these days.

The event, organized by Students for Environmental Action, was part of Green Week, a slate of events intended to promote the efforts of the Johns Hopkins Sustainability Initiative. The week also cast a spotlight on the number of student-led efforts currently under way to greatly improve Johns Hopkins' environmental profile.

Davis Bookhart, manager of Energy Management and Environmental Stewardship in the Office of Facilities Management, said that student involvement has been a key element in the increased greening of Johns Hopkins. Bookhart, who joined JHU in 2006, was charged with developing sustainability initiatives that conserve electricity, curb water usage and encourage recycling, while also creating a general level of excitement about ecological initiatives at the campuses.

"Our students have been an endless stream of ideas that we've been able to harness, and we try to do our best to support their efforts," Bookhart said.

One such effort was the Green Idea Generator, which debuted in fall 2007 and got a repeat performance on Friday. The premise of the generator is to allow students to brainstorm projects that would improve sustainability at Johns Hopkins. It serves to match interested students with faculty experts and Facilities Management staff who could identify meaningful new projects that can be implemented, optimally, within one school year.

Roughly 60 people convened last November for the kick-off brainstorming session in which a dozen ideas for making the Homewood campus more sustainable were introduced, discussed, refined and gauged for level of interest. The two projects chosen were a paper reduction campaign and an endeavor that proposes to collect used waste vegetable oil produced at campus dining facilities and burn it in multifuel waste-oil burners in the Wyman Park complex power plant.

Bookhart said that even ideas that didn't make the cut had merit. "One group of students proposed putting turbines in Homewood building downspouts that would create electricity when it rained," he said. "Now, I don't know if that is practical at all, but it's just another example of their creativity when it comes to tackling these issues."

On Wednesday, Green Week featured the Johns Hopkins Green Festival, which brought together several student environmental groups for an information session in the Glass Pavilion. One such group is EARTH, the Energy Activity Reduction Team at Hopkins.

EARTH's signature event is the Saving Energy Extreme Inter-dorm Tournament (SEX:IT), in which residence halls compete based on their total energy use, which includes electricity and natural gas. The residence that reduces its energy consumption by the greatest percentage from its baseline wins. The winner of the inaugural event, held last spring, was McCoy Hall, which reduced its electricity use by nearly 40 percent.

Alexia Simonnard, president and founder of EARTH, said that all but one residence hall significantly reduced their energy consumption. The group plans to host the tournament annually as a constant reminder that students need to do the little things, like turning off the lights when leaving a room or unplugging appliances that continue to draw electricity even when they're not being used.

Simonnard said that the student-based "green message" has resonated with undergraduates.

"With the dorm competition, I was able to recruit people I knew who then passed on the word to others. We advertised some, but mostly it spread by word of mouth," said Simonnard, a junior public health major. "Students clearly respond to each other."

Bookhart said that he realized when he took the job that students needed to play a big role in the university's greening initiatives. As one of his first measures, he developed the ECO-Rep program that allows Homewood freshmen to get involved with sustainability-related actions through focused activities, such as monitoring an ongoing recycling program.

Each September, the program selects up to 10 freshmen to become ECO-Reps for the school year. The participants attend weekly seminars and then as a team develop one environment-friendly activity per month. They also create posters, fliers and other materials to hang in the residence halls and distribute around campus to increase environmental awareness.

Katie Chekan, one of the student organizers of Green Week and an intern with the Johns Hopkins Sustainability Initiative, said that students take the environmental call to action very seriously.

"It's a big issue, and there are simply a lot more reasons to want to help these days," said Chekan, a junior international studies major. "Students see rising gas prices, the threat of global warming, and want to do something. They also see the economic benefits of promoting and growing green industry, and many of us want to be involved with that."

For more information on the university's Sustainability Initiative and student efforts, go to:


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