GEF's SEED

WWU's GEF Sustainable Energy Efficient Dorm Pilot


Beginning Again

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This year’s residents, Libby and Meriel, welcome you all to SEED this year!

Meriel:

Hi everyone, my name is Meriel and I am the newest addition to the SEED program! I am originally from Olympia, home to a progressive community, lots of rain and of course the state’s capital.

Both my parents, and the greater Olympia community, helped me foster a deep appreciation of nature. This appreciation as led me to be passionate about exploring and preserving the environment.

Now that I am at Western, this passion has ultimately led me to be involved in various sustainability activities on campus, like SEED. During the upcoming year, my roommate Libby and I are looking forward to advocating energy-efficient practices by giving tours of our room, tabling at events, and blogging. We have also decided to add a fun twist to our blog; each week one of us will take on a new Eco challenge and share our experiences. These challenges could be anything from cutting shower times to not eating meat for a week (disclaimer: I am already a vegetarian!)

I am excited to continue to learn ways to bring sustainable practices to our everyday lives. I hope you all are too.

 

Libby:

My name is Libby Keller and I am currently a junior majoring in journalism. It is my second year at Western as well as my second year as a resident of the SEED project. When I moved to Bellingham in 2013, I did so largely blind. I confirmed my acceptance without having ever seen the campus in person and without any more of a perception about its way of life than what I’d garnered online. But from the first time I drove up High Street during Summer Start, I’ve considered Western my home.

Likewise, from the first time I stepped into Buchanan Towers room 514 I have felt at home. During those first few months SEED was still under construction and my roommate, Jacquelyn Stenman, and I could only speculate as to what the changes would bring. Living among tools like outlet timers and shower charts, as well as having all our energy use captured and recorded, was a bit intimidating to the both of us.

Growing up in Spokane, I’d never experienced sustainability beyond basic recycling—and even that was only done grudgingly and with no idea as to why it was important. So the purpose of the SEED technologies was about as foreign as could be at that point. But I had agreed to take part in the project for the opportunity to learn and experience new things, while also putting myself outside of my comfort zone, and I was determined to do so.

When the technologies arrived after Christmas break, it was clear that SEED would most definitely be just such an opportunity. We spent winter quarter getting acquainted with our new room additions and slowly building more sustainable habits to match them. It was difficult at times—for the life of me, I didn’t seem capable of remembering to turn off my outlet strip when I left for class. But once we got through the initial struggle of keeping up with our changes, they easily became part of our everyday lives.

Soon we were seeing ourselves unconsciously making even more changes. Being aware of how long our showers were, evolved into actively trying to shorten them. Tracking electricity use led to us purchasing an analogue clock so we wouldn’t have to leave our microwave plugged in all the time.

Then in the spring, we began sharing these experiences on the blog. Every week we highlighted one piece of technology and how we had seen it affect our lives. These weekly reflections not only allowed us to help educate others about sustainable living, it allowed us the opportunity to really think about what it’s like to live in a college dorm while remaining conscious of our environmental footprint.

Last year was a tremendous learning experience, and my decision to return to BT 514 was greatly influenced by the chance to learn even more. I am so thankful for this opportunity and I look forward to sharing it with all of you.

It’s great to be back!

 

SEED will be tabling at the Sustainability Expo on November 13th. Come check us out!

SEED


Farewell Until Fall ’14

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SEED Residents Libby & Jacquelyn reminisce on their year in BT 514.

Jacquelyn:

When I started the year in Buchanan Towers 514, all I knew was that I was starting a new year and a new project. Little did I know just how big this seed could grow. Not only has my technical view on the issue of sustainability changed, but my very lifestyle has been greatly altered. At the beginning of this project, my vision was getting qualitative results through the addition of all the new appliances and gadgets over the year. However, the biggest change I have noticed is in my day-to-day behavior. I could never have imagined that adding simple steps to my daily routine could be so easy and make such an impact. I now can see that the world has the potential to make a difference.

Not only was this project personally fulfilling, but it helped me find my path for the future. At the beginning of the year I had a decision to make: continue to pursue a degree in biology, or turn and start exploring a degree in environmental science. With the implementation of the SEED project into my daily life, I was able to realize my passion for preserving the Earth. I have since declared my major in environmental science after being accepted into WWU’s Huxley College of the Environment. SEED was the opportunity I needed, the guiding force that showed me the possibilities of pursuing my passion in a whole new way. I am very excited to start taking classes with Huxley in the fall and start exploring a career in which I can take what I have learned from SEED and start my journey to conserve our planet.

While I will not be returning to the SEED room next year, I will most certainly visit often to see how the project is progressing. I have also gotten a job in the Office of Sustainability, which will also assist in my pursuit of campus-wide sustainability. Thank you for all your support!

 

Libby:

When I was first contacted about participating in the SEED project, I was unsure of what to expect. As a first-year transfer student from Spokane, I had never lived on a university campus before, much less done so sustainably. I had concerns that such a project would be a burden as I attempted to acclimate to life at Western. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not only did the pieces of sustainability fit seamlessly into my life, they opened my eyes to the importance of their larger goal.

We all leave trails of consumption, that is inevitable but so too can we all make an effort to ensure that trail is as thin as possible. The reward is a planet that will continue to thrive and play host to generation after generation to come.

I hope to spread the realizations that SEED has given me, and continue to keep its messages present in my daily life. To this end, I have decided to return to Buchanan Towers 514 next year. SEED is an incredible project and I’m grateful for the chance to reprise my own small role in it.

Have a wonderful summer, and I look forward to learning more with you all next year.


Dispersal

Sustainability isn’t easy. If it were, there wouldn’t be any need for projects like SEED. But unless you have the opportunity to see its effects firsthand, chances are your motivation to implement sustainability yourself is slim. That’s why one of the biggest pieces of advice we can offer after our time in SEED, is the opportunity to open your eyes to sustainability when you can. For example, come check out the SEED room every Friday between 3pm and 5pm. Take a look at our gadgets in person, ask us questions about living in an environmentally-conscious dorm, and find out what you can do to plant a little bit of SEED in your own life.

You don’t necessarily need to spend any money to be sustainable. It can be helpful to have physical tools to help along the way. But once you establish in your mind the changes you want to make, it’s as easy as any other part of your routine. The hardest part is getting there. Discipline doesn’t firm overnight, and there may be times when you think trying to keep these habits up is pointless. But don’t give up. Holding yourself accountable for your impact on the earth is an important skill to learn, and you can take pride in the steps you take to make that earth a better place for generations to come.

            Start small. Put a sticky note on your laptop to remind you to unplug it when you’re not using it. Do the same thing for your TV, microwave, and any other electronics you can easily unplug. Put a note by the front door to remind yourself to turn everything off before you leave.

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Try timing your showers. Make note of the time before you go in, or set a timer on your phone. Once you come up with an average, set an alarm to go off once you reach that time. When you get used to it, start decreasing the amount of time on the alarm. Try to cut down your showers so that you’re only using as much water as you need to clean yourself. We’re all tempted to stand and soak in the gloriously hot rain every once in a while. But if you can break that spell with a timer, it’ll be much better for your water bill and the planet in the long run.

Try setting a timer when you watch TV or go on your computer too. I know it sounds kinda silly, but it’s the same situation as the shower. We can very easily be put under the spell of electronics and lose track of time, thereby losing track of our energy use as well. Having some kind of loud noise break the cycle will remind us of what those electronics really mean for the environment—and you may see your homework productivity improve as well.

There are a lot of ways we can work together to be more sustainable. Talk with your roommate(s) or friends about putting forth a group effort to make these and other changes. We can all help and remind each other of what these changes will mean, even if the results aren’t readily visible. Talk to others about your experience; encourage them to give it a try too. For each one of us that makes a commitment to live more sustainably, the planet takes another step toward future prosperity.

We hope that what we have learned from SEED this year will inspire others to plant their own seeds of sustainability as well.


Visualizing Energy

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            There is no single star when it comes to the characteristics of SEED. Each piece of the project is significant in a certain way. Each piece has a role in the overall production of sustainable living.

            But the item that easily garners the most attention from visitors to SEED has proven to be the Efergy e2 Electricity Monitor. Eyes seem to open a little wider when we tell them how the little 7.9 x 8 inch box mounted on our wall tracks the energy consumption of the entire room. Their mouths open a little wider when the numbers on the monitor’s face fluctuate as devices are turned on and off. They say things like “wow” or “cool” when we tell them how all the data is stored and can be uploaded onto the adjoining computer software.

            They are right to be impressed. We are still impressed with this remarkable piece of technology. The device was installed for us by an electrician over winter break, and ever since it has been tracking the amount of electricity being used in the room in real time.

            With this tool we have been able to actively witness what energy we consume and when we consume it. It brings a visual accountability into our lives and has encouraged a number of changes (you may remember the analogue clock we bought to replace the digital one on the microwave). Our monitor is mounted near our doorway, giving us an extra reminder to turn everything off before we leave. A quick glance on the way out can tell us if we’ve forgotten to turn off our Belkin power strip or left a light on in the bedroom. But when we see the monitor fall to 0, we can be sure no energy will be wasted while we are in class or away from home.

            The Efergy monitor works as a powerful reminder that every time an electronic device is used, there is a cost—one that, in the long run, is far more important than the bills from the power company. We continue to amaze guests (and ourselves) with the hefty spikes in kilowatt-hours when we turn on the microwave or electric kettle. In a matter of seconds, we can jump from a reasonable .009 kilowatt-hours to over 1.0 kilowatt-hour.

            Jumps like that are even clearer on the computer where we can see, not only the kilowatt-hours used in 1-hour increments, but also on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.  The above photo is a report from March 2014, detailing our day by day use of electricity.  This is just one of the many platforms in which the Efergy system presents data to us though. The program allows us to see the times of day when we tend to use the most energy (usually around 6 p.m.), the average cost of the energy we’re using (we used $5.40 for the month of April), how much energy we are projected to use in the next year (745 kilowatt-hours), how much that would cost ($58.40), as well as a myriad of other readings and features.

            We talk all the time about how key awareness has been throughout this process, and the Efergy monitor has been a big part of that. It gives tangibility to the abstract concept of energy. We’ve made changes to our habits so as to respect that concept. And it’s a respect we attach to our overall message of SEED, the overall message we hope to spread as far as we can.


Don’t Miss a Drop

We’ve seen changes in illumination, refrigeration, personal expectation, and a list of other non-“ation”s. But the spirit of SEED extends beyond those elements. And while we may not have seen the beginnings of SEED in its infancy last Spring, we think the spirit of SEED extends into the future, and promises a continuation of the love and innovation that first created the project.

In this instance, we think once again of our water—particularly, the installation of low-flow faucets that occurred before we moved in. Without having seen the “before”, it’s a little harder to grasp the impact of the “after”.  If there’s one thing we’ve learned in regards to water, it’s that it goes fast. For every 100 seconds our shower is running, a gallon of water is used.  This access to an instantaneous clean water supply while convenient can easily go unappreciated.  The work required for using this precious resource is minimal, but for some the task is far more laborious.

According to water.org, a nonprofit working to provide access to safe water for developing nations, 780 million people do not have access to clean water.  Personally it’s difficult for us to comprehend the consequence of this- we’ve not been exposed to the daily struggle that an astounding 11 percent of the world’s population, or one in ten people experiences.

What can we do here in Bellingham to appreciate and protect this resource then?  We think using the technology we have- water saving devices such as dual flush toilets and implementing low flow showerheads and faucets is an important step, but not the most crucial.  It’s the consciousness of recognizing this privilege we’re so fortunate to have and working to protect it for ourselves and promoting it for those that don’t.  We’ll simply ask you to consider how much water you would use if you had to carry and purify every drop you used.  How would you use it differently?

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In the visually-driven society we live in, it’s easy to forget that change is not only occurring in obvious places. Change doesn’t need spectators. What change needs are dreamers and innovators—dreamers who aren’t afraid to act, and innovators who make dreams reality. All of us can be the change. We’re already on our way. Are you?


Go With the Flow

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Do you know how long your last shower was? Do you know how much water you used? Unfortunately, answering ‘no’ to these questions is perfectly normal. We guestimate how long we spend soaking, maybe glance at a clock or our phone on the way out. But chances are, any real concern falls by the wayside as soon as you open the door and the shock of cold air drives all other thoughts from your mind.

It’s an easy thing to let slip (especially when you don’t control your own thermostat and the heater is turned off). But since SEED introduced us to the Effergy Showertime Monitor, we’ve seen that it can be just as easy to integrate awareness into our routines.

The device is essentially a timer that can be calibrated to track the water expenditure of any shower. Once a measurement of water flow is taken using the biodegradable bag the unit provides, the data is entered into the device. We found our shower to flow at a rate of .10 gallons every 10 seconds—this equates to about 1 gallon of water for every one minute and forty seconds. From there, you decide whether to have the monitor alarm after a predetermined time, or once you reach a predetermined water limit. We set ours to a time limit of 15 minutes, but aim for 5 minute showers.

Aside from some minor fumbles with the initial calibration (which was surprisingly complex for a little gadget with only 3 buttons), we were able to install the monitor with ease. A suction cup on the back of the device keeps it securely fastened to the tile of our shower stall.

From here, SEED delivered us each a laminated spreadsheet and some dry erase markers to record the length and water usage of each of our showers. So now, the process of turning on the timer when we get in the shower, and then recording the results when we get out, has become so commonplace that we feel odd if ever we forget to do it.

But having the monitor has evoked more than just a bit of muscle memory—it’s given us a reason to be proactive in our efforts for water conservation. Having a countdown right before your eyes is a powerful reminder that while taking your time washing up may be relaxing, it doesn’t change how much water goes down the drain.

And keeping track can become like a game—a private competition to beat your own records for quickest shower. Then again, that could very well just be some of our own nerdy-ness showing through. But I digress.

We’ve certainly become more aware during our use of the Effergy Showertime Monitor; and when it comes to sustainability and environmental conservation, awareness is often half the battle.

 

P.S. We’re having an open house tomorrow: stop by and if you’re lucky, win a prize!

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Spring into Sustainability

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What’s a better way to start a new quarter than with a new understanding of how your appliances impact the environment? SEED has given us the opportunity to do just that with the P3 International Kill A Watt Plug Load Monitor. While the name may sound intimidating, the device itself is incredibly simple and provides eye-opening information about household (or dorm-hold) electronics.

You plug the monitor into any three-pronged outlet and then plug a device of your choosing into the face of the monitor. From there you select the type of reading you would like to collect. The P3 has several options, the most familiar to us being the measurement for consumption by kilowatt-hours.

This measurement alone has proven more than sufficient in educating us about our electronics. We’ve used it in the past to get base readings on simple devices like our floor lamp, which calculated an average usage of 0.02 kilowatt-hours, but more recently we’ve expanded our experimentation to a more diverse range of appliances.

First we found one of our laptops to have a reasonable expenditure of 0.04 kilowatt-hours. Then came a large leap to 0.18 kilowatt-hours consumed by an electric kettle—surprisingly greater than the 0.11 kilowatt-hours used by our television. But what came as no great shock was the hefty 0.36 kilowatt-hours used by our microwave oven.

Needless to say, we felt relieved that we had already begun using Belkin outlet timers to shut these devices off when not in direct use. However, until this point we had had no clear evidence to validate those regulations. But seeing ourselves just how quickly an energy reading can jump several percentage points with a single use has been dramatically poignant.

As we’ve stated in the past, SEED has introduced us to the substantial theme of awareness. And with the P3 Kill A Watt monitor, we have been able to extend that awareness to our own personal devices. SEED has shown us things that, even outside college, we utilize daily but hardly, if ever, get the chance to understand to this degree.

It is our hope that for less than $20, others can utilize these monitors and begin to arm themselves against the common enemy of ignorance.

In the face of the spring-cleaning season, we encourage you to take some time to clean wasteful habits from your life and move toward a better, brighter, and more sustainable spring.

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