University News

Survey shows students support sustainability

Contributing Writer
Wednesday, February 1, 2012


About 43.2 percent of students are aware of University sustainability efforts, according to the results of a survey conducted by Facilities Management at the end of last semester. The survey, which received 1,280 responses, also found that 80 percent of students believe climate change is one of the most important issues of their generation.

The survey assessed awareness of initiatives approved by President Ruth Simmons in 2008. These include significantly cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, creating more energy-efficient heating and lighting and ensuring all new buildings meet the silver standard of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. It also sought to analyze students’ attitudes toward sustainability and the environment.

Facilities released the survey via Morning Mail last December. Respondents included both graduate and undergraduate students. The full survey results will be included in the Facilities Annual Report. 

According to the survey’s results, 87 percent of students believe their choices and behaviors can affect the environment. About 70.3 percent of respondents said they recycled whenever they could and 76.5 percent said they turned off lights whenever leaving a room.

But the survey also found 48.2 percent of students said they leave dorm windows open in the winter, though 65.3 percent of them said they found their rooms comfortably heated. Since all dorm rooms are controlled by the same heating system, opening a window can cause the thermostat to overheat the entire building, said Kai Morrell ’11, outreach coordinator for Facilities. Overheating can cause all students to open their windows, creating a major waste of energy.

Morrell said students should instead call Facilities if they have concerns about dorm overheating. But according to the survey, only 32.6 percent of students think calling Facilities will solve dorm problems.

Alex Eve ’15 called the energy waste “shocking.” “I find the dorm rooms to be too hot for comfort so I consistently keep the window open in the winter,” he said.

Eve suggested the University implement individual thermostats in each dorm because students have “no choice but to open their windows” when the room is overheated.

Diman House is currently testing room-specific thermostats, Morrell said. Facilities’ Office of Energy and Environmental Programs will compare heating use in Diman to that in other dorms, according to an article published in The Herald last November.

The University has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 26.1 percent since Simmons approved the sustainability initiatives, according to the last Facilities report. A large portion of this came from switching from oil-based central heating to running on natural gas instead, Morrell said. Though this made a “high impact in the beginning,” the rate of progress has slowed since then. 

Facilities now intends to increase visibility and become more accessible to the student body — for instance, by identifying and targeting student “behavior choices that will really make a difference,” Morrell said. 

“I’m comforted by the fact that Brown students think that climate change is a really important issue and feel empowered that their efforts matter,” she said.