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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Back to School, Green

Air Date: Week of

St. Lawerence University

St. Lawrence University is one of 450 colleges and universities in the U.S. to sign a petition promising to go carbon neutral. Host Bruce Gellerman turns to Louise Gava, the sustainability coordinator, or campus "eco lady," for a course in sustainability 101, and a little help with the back-to-school shopping list.


GELLERMAN: On the campus of St. Lawrence University in upstate New York, Louise Gava is known as ‘the eco lady.’ Officially, she’s coordinator of sustainability projects. St. Lawrence is one of over 500 colleges and universities in the nation that have signed onto the President’s Climate Change Commitment, promising that their campuses will go carbon neutral. As students head back to school we turn to Ms. Gava for a quick lesson in sustainability 101. Ms. Gava, welcome to Living on Earth.

GAVA: Thank you.

GELLERMAN: Now I understand that St. Lawrence has come up with something called the “Sustainability Shopping List” for incoming students, right?

GAVA: We have.

GELLERMAN: So, what’s on the list?

GAVA: Well, I think the first thing to note is we want that list to be as short as possible. In other words, I tell people, ‘don’t buy stuff!’

GELLERMAN: Yeah, I guess you’re going to have a lot of parents who are cheering you on.


GAVA: I’m everybody’s best friend and worst enemy at the same time.

GELLERMAN: So what is on the buying list?

GAVA: Well, quite a lot of things and they’re really easy to procure. One thing would be a power strip, and it needs to have an on-off switch, compact fluorescent light bulbs, a bike, reusable mug for hot beverages, and often you know students like to carry those refillable water bottles as well, reusable bags for going down to the bookstore or the grocery store as well. And then when you’re buying things like you’re refrigerators, make sure they’re Energy Star.

Louise Gava graduated from St. Lawrence University in New York State two years ago and has been greening the campus ever since.

GELLERMAN: I know you have on your website- you have something called the “Dollar Bill Test.”

GAVA: Yes! And that’s something that I have yet to find a mini-fridge that passes. And what I do is I go into students’ rooms and I do an energy audit of their rooms. And one of the things we do is we take their refrigerator and we stick a dollar bill in and you know we close the door and they always fall down to the bottom which means that seal around the refrigerator is not very tight which means, you know, one, it probably has to work a lot harder to keep things cold so you may have to turn it up more or just end up more or just end up with I don’t know, soggy grapes or really warm soda- I won’t say what else students like to put in their refrigerators. And so the dollar bill test generally has failed every time I’ve been in a college dorm.

GELLERMAN: You’re testing your students even before they get to class.

GAVA: I am, I am. And you know it’s interesting because I grade them as well. When I do this audit, we have, you know, there’s a grading system and what students’ in theory are shooting for is not a 4.0, but it’s to be a sustainability superstar. And what that means is they get a green star slapped on their door and it says, ‘sustainability superstar-ask me how you can green your room.’

So in other words, those students then become peer educators. You have passed, I have come in and I have questioned you, I have looked at what is in your room, I have asked you questions about do you know where you can find all the information on St. Lawrence’s website about sustainability. Then I ask you, ‘What are your behaviors?’ You know, do you go into the bathroom and run that water, for you know, the two minutes in theory or happy birthday or whatever-long that you’re brushing your teeth? So we talk about all those things, we add up their points, you know beyond things like what’s in your room, are you using your power strip, let me see the energy settings on your computer.

GELLERMAN: Well Louise, lets put these questions to one of your new incoming students. Willy Mook is joining us from Augusta, Maine and welcome, to Living on Earth Willy.

Incoming St Lawrence freshman, Willie Mook.

MOOK: Thank you.

GELLERMAN: This is going to be your first year then, right?

MOOK: Yes.

GELLERMAN: Well, have you looked at the website where there’s this sustainability list?

MOOK: I have.

GELLERMAN: And what do you think?

MOOK: I think it’s definitely something I’m going to look into as I’m looking into purchasing things for my dorm room and just how I’m going to live my life at St. Lawrence.

GELLERMAN: Louise mentioned saving water.

MOOK: Yes.

GELLERMAN: I noticed that the list suggests something called a Navy shower.


GAVA: Yes.

MOOK: I noticed that too, actually.

St. Lawrence University

GELLERMAN: Yeah, well, you know what it is?

MOOK: Yeah, I guess you soap up with no water running and then you just use the water to rinse off quickly.

GELLERMAN: Louise, you know when I was going to school, my generation we had a motto, ‘Save water, shower with a friend.’


GAVA: Ooooooh. I’m not sure that all the university would advocate for that, but maybe.

GELLERMAN: Times have changed.

GAVA: Yeah.

GELLERMAN: So what do you think there Willy, navy shower for you?

MOOK: Ooh, maybe not everyday, but I maybe, once in awhile, you never know.

GAVA: Well, I would note, Willy, you got one thing wrong. You do gotta turn on that water first.

MOOK: Right.

GELLERMAN: These are the basics there, Willy.

MOOK: Haha, thank you.

GELLERMAN: Now I also noticed they suggest bringing your own forks and spoons. What’s that about, Louise?

GAVA: Well, we have two main dining facilities on campus and only one of our dining facilities has utensils that are washed. So if you are going to what we call the Pub, you will be using, and you don’t bring your own utensils, you will be using plastic fork, spoon, knife. So it is preferred and we would love to see students take the initiative to stick a fork and a spoon or a knife or whatever in their bag and when they go to grab lunch they don’t need to take one of those plastic utensils and they can actually just pull their utensil right out of their bag.

GELLERMAN: What do you think there, Willy?

MOOK: Yeah, I think that’s a great idea, I think we should all cut back on our plastic consumption that isn’t reused.

GELLERMAN: Well what about a bike Willy, you got a bike?

MOOKE: Yes, I’ve got two bikes.

GELLERMAN: Oh, are you going to bring them to school?

MOOK: Um, I’m planning on bringing at least one of them, yeah.

GELLERMAN: Because I understand Louise, you have got a bike rental system there on campus.

GAVA: We do have a bike rental system. It’s called “the Green Bikes Program.” And just like you can go to the library and check out a book, you can go to the library and check out a bike.

GELLERMAN: What’s gonna be your major there, Willy?

MOOK: Um, probably environmental science.

GELLERMAN: Well Willy, good luck!

MOOK: Thank you very much.

GELLERMAN: And Louise, thanks very much for your time.

GAVA: You’re welcome, thank you.

GELLERMAN: Louise Gava is sometimes known as the ‘eco-lady.’ She’s the coordinator for Sustainability Projects at St. Lawrence University in upstate New York. And Willy Mook is an upcoming freshman from Newcastle, Maine.



To see St. Lawrence's back-to-school shopping list, click here


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