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Emi Day
Feb 4, 2012

ARCHIVE: Students will make sustainable lifestyle a reality

Feb 4, 2012 by Emi Day


Published June 9, 2008

It’s one thing to preach sustainability; it’s another thing to live it. But that’s what a small group of students at the University of Oregon are trying to do.

The Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Living is a relatively young student organization with the main goal of promoting sustainable living practices among the University community. If the group can gain final approval from the University administration, CASL’s main project would offer students and community members an environmentally inspired educational opportunity unlike any other in Eugene.

The CASL House, located at 1801 Moss St., would teach community members how to live sustainably by employing environmentally conscious living techniques and then allowing people to tour the house and actually see how it’s done. The three CASL co-directors will live in the house to demonstrate that it is indeed possible to live comfortably while employing sustainable practices, such as using a solar hot water heater and a green roof. The house is still a long way from completion, but the progress CASL made in the past year has put it within reach.

Sam Rusek, fundraising and grant coordinator for CASL and a member of the house design team, is a second-year graduate student who has been working on the project pretty much since she arrived at the University.

“We’ve just made a lot of progress in this last year and it just feels closer,” she said. “Things are falling into place really from the hard work of all those students who really believe in this project.”

The CASL house is indeed a student-driven project. Inspired by a similar house at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif., the plan stemmed from a CASL member’s senior thesis. Since then, it’s been students at the helm of the project.

“It’s students who designed the plans, it’s students who came up with the idea, it’s students who want to educate other students in a really hands-on way,” said CASL Co-Director Emmalyn Garrett, a University junior.

And as of three weeks ago, the project is student-funded. The ASUO approved CASL’s entire proposal and awarded $112,510 of its annual over-realized funds – money left over from student fees – to CASL’s project. The funding represented a milestone for CASL because finding money has been one of the two biggest challenges the group has faced thus far with the project, the other being approval from the administration.

Rusek, the fundraising coordinator, said the ASUO funding “closed the loop” in making the house a completely student-driven project. Had the ASUO dismissed CASL’s proposal, the organization would have probably resorted to asking the Eugene Water & Electric Board for money, a move that would have contradicted the ideals behind the project.

“Getting that funding from ASUO is kind of ideal for CASL to show that this is student-supported,” Rusek said.

But the over-realized funds alone won’t be enough to cover the entire cost of turning the house into a livable residence for the three co-directors who will reside there. Also contributing to that purpose are two Energy Conservation and Alternative Futures Fund grants totaling $13,000 that will cover the cost of installing a solar hot water system and a green roof. Additionally, two University administrative units have committed to providing $25,000 each: the Space Committee and the Office of Finance and Administration.

Brian Smith, assistant vice president for administration, said that in order for the CASL house to gain the final OK from the administration, three things must happen. First, CASL must complete an operational and budget plan to be approved by all the relevant administrative units, including student affairs, finance and administration, and the School of Architecture and Allied Arts. Smith said this first step is nearly done. Second, the budget must account for full funding of campus Facilities Services for any costs of house operation and maintenance. CASL alone would be responsible for raising that money and then transferring it into University accounts. Finally, the housing contract and plan for the three students planning to live in the house must be approved by the Residence Life office, a division of University Housing. Smith said if all these requirements are met, CASL would be allowed to move forward with the project.

“It depends on whether the plan is completed and approved, and whether the plan is adequate, and whether it shows a good funding model,” said Smith.

The University of Oregon administration has already designated a house and property to CASL for the project, so it technically owns the property. Thus, CASL members must present a case to the administration that will persuade them to approve the entire project. Since CASL has made significant headway in securing funding for the project, the task at hand is now gaining that approval and signing a contract with University Housing.

“There’s still a looming liability issue of students living there and how any sort of problems are going to be dealt with,” Rusek said. “That’s an outstanding issue that hasn’t been resolved and needs to be resolved before the Space Committee approves the project. Once that happens we can start construction.”

The remodeling of the house is going to be no small feat. CASL plans to knock out the two existing bedrooms and replace them with a kitchen, dining room and living space to be used for architecture and environmental studies classes and meetings, although the space use will not be limited to those two academic programs. Then they will construct a three-bedroom addition for the co-directors. CASL co-director Melanie Giangreco, a sophomore environmental studies major, said the group is hoping to conclude negotiations with the administration sometime this summer and then start on construction during the summer months as well.

“It is far into the future, but I think a reasonable goal would be having students living in the house by fall of 2009,” Giangreco said.

CASL’s sustainable living house is not a new idea. Similar eco-houses are popping up around the nation, including one at Oberlin College in Ohio that The New York Times recently covered. Giangreco sees this as a good sign.

“I think it definitely shows that we’re headed in a good direction for the future and that more people are becoming aware of issues regarding personal choice and living situations and what you can do in everyday life to reduce your impact,” she said. “CASL will be a really good source for the community in terms of modeling ecologically conscious practices.”

Giangreco also said the University should be among those institutions breaking ground in sustainable living practices.

“The University is considered a leader in sustainability,” she said. “We really need to live what we say in theory, and this will be a way for students to do that – not just the students living in the house. Everybody that visits the center will be able to incorporate those things that they learn into their daily lives.”

The University is in fact a long-time proponent of sustainable practices. The institution began implementing such practices four decades ago, before it was en vogue to think green.

“We have a very long history with sustainability,” said Steve Mital, coordinator of the University’s sustainability program. “We began this stuff 15, 20 years before most universities across the country. That long history translates into a lot of additional experience. It translates into a lot of additional commitment and enthusiasm and programs that have found their niche across campus.”

The Sustainable Endowments Institute, a non-profit special project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, publishes an annual College Sustainability Report Card. The 2008 edition of the report gave the University of Oregon a B- grade, placing it among 25 “Campus Sustainability Leaders.”

“I think that at a crucial time in history we need to move to a more sustainable lifestyle and live in a more sustainable way,”
said Garrett, one of the CASL co-directors. “And I think that this house provides exactly that kind of option.”

CASL has overcome one of the most serious obstacles it faces in completing its house project, but whether the other will be beaten remains to be seen.

“CASL is just going to be this major point of pride for the University and the associated students in particular,” said Giangreco. “It’s a program that will draw students to campus.”