The Obies (Students) and Campus Orientation
As they were described, the students at Oberlin are continually pushing the envelope on social issues. They have helped to start a large number of campus clubs and organizations which are discuss later, and are all conscious of the climate impacts that the college is responsible for. Maybe the students that matriculate at Oberlin are just more interested in being engaged in the issues than students here at Puget Sound, but the feel that I got around campus, and the impression that I got after talking with students and with the sustainability coordinator that, in general, the students possessed a sense of responsibility, ownership, and activism in numerous campus issues and were able to bring those issues to the forefront. This was especially true with sustainability.

There is not really any explanation that I could see or that anyone could tell me about for how this campus-wide sentiment came to be. The orientation program that new students go through lasts for two days and includes a service day, an on campus picnic, and a panel discussion about life on campus. According to students there was never any real discussion about the college's goal to be sustainable and all the different initiatives on campus, and yet it is there.

A few years ago, in place of an orientation program, there was a student initiative to start a peer to peer educational campaign in regards to sustainability. The program was integrated especially into the residence life structure and lead by the residential staff. This program was then supplemented with fun events and activities to latch onto student’s interests. Last year there was an attempt to transition this program into a “more formal approach” providing one formal program, an informational table and some more voluntary student led events. Next year they hope to expand this program even more and to offer a “pre-orientation” program for 25 to 30 students. This program would be a two to three day venture off campus, maybe camping, to build a strong interaction with these students accompanied with an effort to integrate environmental education throughout the retreat. The details have yet to be finalized, but the general goal of the program was to “imprint” this environmental focus on these incoming students.

Conversely, here at Puget Sound we have a nationally recognized ten day long orientation program where we poke fun at ourselves, experience the great outdoors, participate in service projects, learn how to learn in college, etc., but we too are lacking in a sustainable orientation. While there is no sure fire way to teach people to be sustainable and to create that mind set, integrating sustainable activities into orientation programs, and educating the new students about the university’s goals from the very beginning is probably one of the easiest ways to begin that process. The next step is of course to continue the educational process on a daily basis.

Sustainability Groups
There is a very lengthy list of campus groups on the Oberlin Web site:

  • SAC, which is similar to our Sustainability Advisory Committee
  • Student Recycling (discussed later)
  • Ohio PIRG
  • Composting Initiative (discussed later)
  • Co-op system, which has its own network and environmental concerns committee
  • There is a non-profit organization operating off of campus property.
  • Inter-faith groups with sustainable goals
  • Environmental Studies Program
  • Wind Power Initiative
  • Specific groups for different issues
    • SEED House, which is similar to our green house
    • Soap making co-op

All of these groups operate mainly on their own but occasionally will collaborated depending on the project and the interest levels.

There are two monthly events that allow for collaboration between the groups: something they like to call the “Green Tea” which is a opportunity for all the groups to sit down together and exchange ideas and resources. It is a great source for networking and has been working very well for the last one and a half years. The second event is a part of the national Green Drinks campaign and has only just recently made its way to the Oberlin campus. Once a month everyone from the community are invited out for an evening in a bar or restaurant to discuss whatever sort of green topic they choose. It is another opportunity for networking and it is open to everyone. There is one that happens here in Tacoma that is organized by the Northwest Earth Institute.

The Lewis Center
The Adam Joseph Lewis Center, commonly referred to as the Lewis Center, was a project seven years in the making. The planning process spanned the years of 1993 through 1998 and the ground breaking ceremony took place in the summer of 1999. In the five years spent planning the building there were student research projects into the most feasible technologies, as well as numerous community input sessions so that everyone could express what they thought the purpose of the building would be and what that should mean for how it was built. As the design ideas became more solidified teams of engineers and planners were brought in to fine tune the details until finally they were ready to build.

In the ground breaking ceremony for the building Professor David Orr said: “We intended to create not just a place for classes but rather a building that would help to redefine the relationship between humankind and the environment--one that would expand our sense of ecological possibilities,” and “We intend the Adam Joseph Lewis Center to be more than just a demonstration. It is a means to the larger end of improving how creatively we think.” To accomplish these tasks the center utilizes some of the most advanced products and technologies and though the building was built before the LEED certification process was put in place, it was built to be a completely carbon neutral building equipped with solar panels, monitoring systems, a living machine water purifying system and more. The building was built with the intention of it being a completely carbon neutral building and it shows in every aspect of the design. All the added features were factored into the designing and building process and cost was not considered to be a limiting factor.

Living Machine
One of the highlights of the building that makes it especially unique is the living machine, a water purifying system. As the system was built it is able to process more water than it currently receives. There are plans, in very early stages, to connect the machine up with some of the adjacent buildings. The system provides some complications to this planbecause the machine itself is located at a higher point on campus than most of its neighbors. The purifying process of the used water begins in some underground tanks where it then goes through aerobic and anaerobic digestion, then flows into a building with plants, goes through a gravel bed and is then treated with UV light before it heads to a storage tank. The process that the machine uses is not entirely close looped because it will process the water that its used from all drains in the building but it will only return water to the toilets, though there is talk of using the grey water for landscape irrigation along with the water collected in rain barrels.

One of the biggest questions that I had was how the school is able to fund all of these great projects. His response was that “most things happen through business as usual pathways,” meaning they come up with projects write grant proposals and find the funding through reliable sources. There are a variety of grants that the school has received, as well as donations from people who have great admiration for what the school is doing. Also mentioned that the offsets that they purchase for the schools electricity use is so small in comparison to what they spend on their energy every year, that it makes such a small difference so they are able to just add it onto the rest of the energy bill.