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 Gathered in the kitchen of their "green apartment" are undergrads Jonathan Hu, Edward Chen, Tim Edgar, and Travis Zack. (Bonnie Azab Powell photo)

Their hearts were young and green
Four undergrads are wholeheartedly committed to making an eco-friendly mess of their apartment

| 16 November 2006

Berkeley undergraduates Travis Zack, Jonathan Hu, Tim Edgar, and Edward Chen share a two-bedroom Southside apartment that looks like a typical bachelor pad . up to a point.

You can tell where you are by the Shaft poster on the living-room wall and the tangle of Xbox video-game controllers on the coffee table. But what's strewn about are organic-food boxes and salad bags, not empty pizza boxes and beer cans, and it's the recycling bin - not the garbage pail - that's full to the brim. You'll also find energy-saving appliances in their home, and environmentally sensitive household and personal-hygiene products.

"It's not that we're cleaner than anyone else," says Hu, a sophomore majoring in political science. "But our mess is more environmentally friendly."

The apartment in the Channing Bowditch student-housing complex is the latest effort by Berkeley's Green Room Committee to educate the campus community about recycling, water and energy conservation, and purchasing decisions.

The committee is run jointly by Recycling and Refuse Services, Residential and Student Service Programs (RSSP), Berkeley Green Campus, and the Student Sustainability Education Coordinator Program.

The apartment, which includes EPA Energy Star-certified appliances, is also outfitted with eco-friendly shampoo, deodorants, and dish and laundry detergents, not to mention jugs of filtered water, cloth napkins, and natural-fiber bed linens.

Recently, tours of the apartment have been scheduled to demonstrate sustainable living in student housing. Visitors find each household item labeled with a description of what it is and why it's good for the planet. Plus, the green guys are on hand to answer questions, which they do with enthusiasm. They also give tips on cost-free behavioral changes students can make to reduce their environmental impact.

"Students seem to really love consuming as much as absolutely possible and not really caring about the consequences," says Zack, a physics major from Maui. "I hope this will help change that."

"We wanted to give the room a holistic concept, connecting the dots between the things students learn in the classroom and the choices they make in their everyday lives," says Desirae Early, a junior majoring in environmental economics and policy who is a Green Campus Program coordinator and a Green Room Committee member.

The idea of creating the nation's first fully outfitted, eco-friendly residence-hall room began last year when San Rafael-based Strategic Energy Innovations, a nonprofit group that helps schools, businesses, and other entities meet energy-conservation goals, approached student leaders here about outfitting a room with Energy Star appliances. The students brought the proposal to RSSP, and together they decided to expand the concept beyond appliances to include an educational component on energy conservation and waste management.

Thus was formed the Green Room Committee, which set about procuring eco-friendly products from local vendors and private donors and identifying a student who would be willing to live in the room and show it off on a regular basis. They found sophomore Rachel Robertson, who opened her Green Room in Putnam Hall to the campus community in October of last year. The success of that effort, which was honored by the Environmental Protection Agency at an awards ceremony in San Francisco, led the Green Room Committee to expand the concept to a "green apartment."

Dozens of students applied to live in the Green Apartment, but Zack, Hu, Edgar, and Chen were chosen because of their demonstrated commitment to giving tours and "sharing their space." Also, three of them had already lived at the campus's Global Environment Theme House, which provides housing for about 20 environmentally conscious students.

Zack, who was raised in an environmentally aware household, signed up for the Green Apartment to demonstrate how easy it is live a sustainable life. "You don't have to do a lot to make a difference," he says. "It's really not that difficult. All it requires is a little thought."

Hu says he joined the project to challenge the assumption that "a kid on a college student's budget cannot afford all these products, cannot afford 10 minutes out of the day to separate recycling and read all the ingredients, because that's 10 minutes that aren't going to studying for the next midterm and writing the next paper that's due." He and his roommates, he says, have an obligation to get the message out to as many people as possible - "to live by example, and teach through that example. If it's possible for a college kid, hey, it's got to be possible for everyone else."

Hu adds that women seem to find environmentally sensitive guys appealing. "I know that whenever I mention I'm part of the Green Apartment, it's always the females who are asking follow-up questions," he says. "The guys are, like, 'You mean, your walls are painted green?'"

Video interviews with Green Apartment Committee member Early and residents Hu and Zack are online at newscenter.berkeley.edu/goto/greenapt.