Thursday, August 21, 2008

It's Green in Longhorn Country

How Longhorns can make the eco-friendly grade

MELANIE SPENCER: INTERIOR DIALOGUE
Longhorns rank low in ratings for America's greenest colleges

When I think back to my college days, one of the things I do not remember fondly is my dorm room. It sported institutional beige cinder block walls, built-in furniture, a thin, plastic-covered mattress and a checkerboard tile floor and was conveniently located next to the trash chute.

It probably won't surprise you to learn that little in this collegiate wonderland was green, nontoxic or eco-friendly. In 1990, other than conserving water and giving a hoot enough not to pollute, I didn't know too much about being green. It's likely that the administration on my college campus, along with many others around the country, also weren't paying much attention. This is no longer the case.

Last month, the Princeton Review, which offers several resources to help students pick and get into a college, rolled out its "Green Rating." The ratings were issued to 534 colleges in the 2009 editions of its annual college guides and school Web site profiles at www.princetonreview.com. Environmental practices, policies and course offerings were listed as the criteria, and 11 colleges were listed on the "honor roll" by receiving the highest rating of 99 (the lowest is 60).

Arizona State University at Tempe, Emory University and Harvard University were among the Top 11. The report praised Arizona State for its School of Sustainability, established in 2007, which is the first of its kind in the U.S. and "offers transdisciplinary degree programs that advance practical solutions to environmental, economic and social challenges." Emory has implemented several programs, including providing local and sustainably grown food and integrating sustainability into the curriculum.

Harvard racks up major points for having "the largest green campus organization in the world, consisting of 24 full-time professional staff and 32 part-time student employees all working to assist the Harvard community in greening all areas of its campus," with a goal of "a 30 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (below 2006 levels) by 2016."

The University of Texas scored the lowest — a meager 60, which is surprising considering that Austin is known as an eco-progressive city and boasts one of the top green building programs in the country.

On the up side, UT ranks No. 4 for "best career and job placement services." It also ranks No. 8 for "party schools," No. 14 for "lots of beer" and No. 12 for "lots of liquor," which helps explain the recent Forbes survey that ranked Austin as America's hardest-drinking city, but I digress.

Longhorn fans, you might want to stop reading now, lest you learn that your Aggie rivals are beating you at the green game. Texas A&M University received a green rating of 86. Baylor is also beating UT, with a rating of 78.

So, how can UT students make campus and dorm life a bit greener and raise their chances of upping the Aggies and the Bears? There is hope. For example, local interior designer Christine Clore Anderson (www.christinecloreanderson.com), who specializes in green design, told me Sigma Phi Epsilon, a client of hers for years, has incorporated green finishes and features into its new multipurpose building, designed by Austin-based Duke C. Garwood Architects (www.dukegarwood architects.com).

Using local and native materials, such as Texas oak and clay decorative tile from Clayworks, and installing new double-pane, energy-efficient windows in the 25-year-old existing building, are just a few of the measures taken by the designers.

If you are stuck in an older residence hall and don't have the option of building or remodeling green, Anderson has a few ideas to get you started.

"I recommend using solar shades and screens in the dorm rooms," Anderson says. "I think antiques are a great way to recycle. For personal dorm room space, I like IKEA. They have hundreds of inexpensive posters and art, plus a large supply of great-looking frames so that you can simply frame your own art."

I also checked with eco-consultant Michelle Bexelius of Austin and Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Green This Life (www.greenthislife.com). Bexelius says the first thing students should do is buy an air purifier.

"It keeps the air clean from bacteria, pollutants and allergens, which helps prevent viruses and colds," Bexelius says. "Also, when you do have furniture made with formaldehyde, it helps clean the air."

Bexelius suggested the Blueair brand, which starts at $299 at www.greenthislife.com (available locally at Target), and says it "lasts forever." For those on a budget, the Hamilton Beach TrueAir Allergen Reducer is $59.95, also at Target.

Other suggestions include using a backpack made from recycled materials (REI and Reusablebags.com carry several); using nontoxic cleansers, such as Method and Seventh Generation, to clean your room (yes, you need to clean it, even if you have an air purifier); reducing your carbon footprint by taking shorter showers and biking to class; and using organic cotton linens, which are often on sale at Bed Bath and Beyond as well as other large retailers.

For parents who want to send an eco-friendly care package, Bexelius recommends the Starter Kit for Change, $40, at www.starterkitforchange.com. The kit includes an Arbor Day plantable seedling, gratitude cards, a sudoku booklet, journal, recycled pencil, fair-trade hot chocolate and a tote bag. All of the paper products are made with recycled paper.

A more comprehensive list of green dorm tips is posted at www.greenthislife.com. If the Longhorns get started on the list now, maybe by next year, they'll out-green the Aggies.

Who is up for a little eco-friendly smackdown?

mspencer@statesman.com; 912-2519