Oberlin Blogs

Going Green

April 13, 2008

Alice Ollstein ’10

On Friday, my Environment and Society class went on a tour of the Environmental Studies building, and though I'd known a little about it before, I finished this tour completely blown away and proud of being here. It's the only academic building in the country that produces more energy than it consumes, mostly due to the roof and parking dock covered in solar panels--actually the largest solar array in all of Ohio! On top of that, it recycles 100% of its wastewater through a process called the Living Machine. Basically, all the sink and toilet water flows into these big vats where giant plants purify the water naturally and recycle it back into the toilets. Students run the whole thing and sometimes hold funny educational events where they pay you a quarter to poop in the Environmental Studies building (called the AJLC). The whole building is also constructed out of local and recycled materials, and features a beautiful, solar-powered fountain in the lobby.

The real thing that blows my mind about the building (besides that students helped design it) is the philosophy behind it: that the physical classroom itself should be part of the teaching process, and that buildings can only be beautiful if they cause no ugliness somewhere else or at a later time (a concept coined by famous Oberlin professor David Orr). For example, a conventional building that runs on coal may cause "ugliness" to the place where the coal was mined, or hurt the community that has to live next to the coal plant with cancerous particulates, or might hurt the surrounding environment several years down the road with air pollution. So this truly beautiful building is one Oberlin is very proud of, and one I get to take classes in every week!

On Saturday we had a free screening of the environmental documentary The 11th Hour (Leonardo DiCaprio fans, take note) not only because it's doing a nationwide tour of colleges, but because Oberlin is the one college featured in the movie. Every time Oberlin or an Oberlin professor popped up on screen, everyone clapped and cheered. After the screening, Oberlin's mayor, the college's Sustainability Coordinator, and the producer of the film did a Q & A where students and community members brainstormed together about what Oberlin can do to improve even more in the carbon realm.

Before going to the movie, I went on a tour of local farms with that same environmental studies class. Oberlin--especially the co-ops--spends thousands of dollars buying locally grown food. We got to ask farmers about their practices and priorities and see exactly where our food is coming from. The most impressive is the George Jones farm just up the road, named after a former Oberlin professor who had a passion for ecology. The farm collects all the compost from the co-ops and dining halls and uses it instead of fertilizer, then sells us the vegetables it grows. Oberlin students volunteer there a lot, and many alums get full time jobs there after graduating.

If you want me to talk more about Oberlin's commitment to the environment, just let me know! In the meantime, check out this website.

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