Sustainably minded students go green in Poplar Hall community

When Poplar Hall opened its doors earlier this year, the residence hall ushered in new, sustainable features not seen in many of the other buildings on campus, including elements like an energy consumption dashboard of the entire building and a communal kitchen in the second-floor lounge with the latest energy-efficient appliances.

The third floor of the building hosts a new Sustainable Living Community (SLC), established in line with Poplar’s special focus on being green. The 54 students on the floor pay specific attention to their impact on the Earth and explore various ways to make those impacts positive.

“I think the biggest [focus] is really looking at your habits … that you could change [and] that would make the difference,” said sophomore Keegan Stanley, a student in the community.

Along with the opportunity to consider individual green habits, the community creates a platform for discussion among the students about collective action and learning.

“We focus on getting the community to think more about sustainability,” said Amanda Lobsinger, resident director of Poplar Hall. “Those who have thought about sustainability can begin to share that passion with their peers. It gives them an environment to do that.”

The community has been the first of its kind in the residence halls in that it’s not necessarily centered on a branch of learning, such as the arts or pre-health communities.

“Students who live in that community don’t have to fit a real specific niche,” said Rob Lubin, associate director of Housing & Food Services (HFS) capital planning and sustainability. “It makes for a more academically enriching experience.”

Another unique aspect to this group was a pledge signed by all residents who committed to sustainable living, starting with simple everyday habits.

“[Some simple changes are] using glass dishes instead of using paper plates and composting,” Stanley said. “My roommate and I have a compost bin in our dorm that we can take out. There’s composting in the hall here and recycling. [We’re] just trying to have less waste.”

The pledge, modeled from a similar one made by the UW Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability Office, allows the students to choose various options to better fit their own commitments to sustainable living, whether it be using only the necessary lights for the late-night owls or buying organic and local foods for snack breaks between studying.

Although their goals do seem like small changes, old habits die hard, especially ones made for convenience rather than for sustainability.

“I do like riding the elevator, but we’re the sustainability floor, and we’re on the third floor, so we should lead the other floors to be more sustainable,” said freshman Jennifer Song, another resident of the community.

“I really hate washing dishes — so you take the pledge to not use paper plates, and that’s kind of difficult,” Stanley said. “I have to wash dishes more often, but I’m doing it. I haven’t used paper plates, only the compostable ones that the pizza comes on.”

Currently there are no regular check-ups by HFS on how well the students are living by the pact, but it is instead relying on the students’ commitment to sustainability.

HFS has also reached out to the College of the Environment to become partners with the SLC and has given them a link from their sustainable interests and lifestyles to academics.

“Our goal would be for [the students] to see those basic everyday connections between sustainability, the environment and their own lives. That’s always a powerful tool for helping students to see how they can effect change, have an impact, and to get involved,” said Michelle Hall, director of student and academic services at the College of Environment.

Talks surrounding the new community have led to talks about making all of Poplar inclusive in the sustainable mindset.

“The entire third floor signed the pledge, and now we’re in the process of thinking about how we can open that up to the building,” Lobsinger said. “Our hope is that all of Poplar’s residents will take the pledge, and then we can start to do more programming and promotion around it and have this conversation to increase awareness about sustainability.”

The residents of the SLC also seem excited and ready to support this progression of green living.

“I like sustainable living,” says Song. “I do support recycling and composting and basic sustainability that I think everyone should have. Not everybody is necessarily riding [his or her] bikes everywhere, but I at least like to live at a minimum. Whatever you can do can make an impact.”

Reach contributing writer Tina White at news@dailyuw.com.

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