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Model For Sustainability

The world today is not being taken care of the way it should be. We are polluting way to much and utilizing more energy than we have available. The Earth is beginning to run low on fresh, clean water but we continue to use as muc has we want without concern for the future. Brian Marshall helped start the Sustainability House which is a model for modern society. The Sustainability House does not look like a special house that would be extra energy efficient and the reason is because it is not. The house is just like any other house. However, by making wise energy choices and living an efficient lifestyle they are able to drastically reduce their energy usage and save thousands of dollars each year.

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Brian Marshall and the Sustainability House

Environmental Action Alliance


House Roles

Community Outreach

Global Issues

The Need For Change

A Model For The World

Brian and the sustainability house

Brian Marshall and the Sustainability House

Brian Marshall’s interest in the environment began at a young age. He grew up in southern Utah and was always found outdoors. He was very active and enjoyed biking, hiking, and snowboarding in the beautiful outdoors. And that interest laid the foundation for becoming more involved once he came to Franklin and Marshall College. At first, his involvement was purely on an academic level.

His freshman year he took a class entitled “Environment and Human Values.” That class made Brian realize that he wanted to be an Environmental major, or at least find some way to incorporate the subject into his studies. In turn, he became a Public Policy major with a focus on Environmental issues. In addition, he became active in an on-campus student organization called the Environmental Action Alliance.

Environmental Action Alliance

The Environmental Action Alliance, or the EAA, is committed to promoting awareness of environmental issues on the Franklin & Marshall campus. Education of environmental issues, volunteering throughout Lancaster County, and changing our own lifestyles to live more sustainably are our steps to improving our community, our city, and our country. The EAA sponsors "Green Week" in the fall and "Sustainability Week" in the spring, each dedicated towards educating and shifting attitudes and actions on environmental issues at F&M. Activities include a light bulb exchange, environmental film nights, and hiking and camping trips. Other events include the annual trip to volunteer and camp at Hawk Mountain in the fall.

Every Wednesday at the Writers house the EAA hosts the “Fair trade Café” over the lunch hour. Grilled cheese and soup is available with everything made from local, organic, and fair trade ingredients. The meal is prepared by EAA students and features Biodegradable “to-go” bowls and spoons. Also, at every EAA sponsored event, they sell recycled notebooks made from salvaged cardboard such as cereal boxes. They do this because reusing is even better than recycling and after you reuse the items, you can still recycle them. In addition, the EAA is home to the Dirt Army. The Dirt Army is a group of F&M students armed with shovels, pitchforks, and watering cans, prepared to grow and tend to the organic produce of F&M's new garden at Baker Field.

Additionally, the Alliance pressures the school to use more renewable electricity, cut down on the amount of paper being used, put up recycling bins around campus, and more. Brian’s involvement in the Environmental Action Alliance is what led to the creation of the Sustainability House. Shawn Jenkins and Brian were the leaders in pushing for the House. They brought the idea before one the F & M deans. The feeling was that other schools had a similar type of house and that it would be a good move to create a house for like-minded people. So they drew up a proposal and of course there were issues along the way. For example, funds will not be given to a house if it is not proven that there is value to it. And, the college was not going to build a house for them. However, already in place was a number of theme houses. One of these houses was the Community Outreach House. This house was essentially non-functional and contributed nothing to the school or the community. Thus, with environmental issues becoming a hot topic across the United States and on campus, the Community Outreach House became the Sustainability House.


The Sustainability House is a dynamic, student run and operated, learning and living space for students interested in living communally to reducing their environmental impacts. The house consists of two components, the first is technology; the second and most important component is cultivating attitudes. The objective of the house is very direct.

According to their constitution, their mission statement is: “The Sustainability House will serve as an example of low-impact living in the quest for carbon neutrality. The members of the House aim to promote sustainable initiatives on the Franklin & Marshall College campus and to reach out to the surrounding Lancaster city area through education and community service. As leaders in our communities, we will prove sustainable living and responsible consumption is both feasible and necessary.”

The House has made many energy efficient upgrades since they have received the building from the university in 2008. In order to save on electricity they removed the electric paper towel dispensers and also replaced the existing lights with more efficient ones. Also, the toilets and faucets were exchanged for low flow models, which saves money on the water bill. Prior to the existence of the Sustainability House, the building was the Community Outreach House. The amount of money and energy the Sustainability House was able to save with their subtle changes is staggering.

The Sustainability House was able to cut the amount of Kilowatt Hours by nearly thirty thousand per year. That was 59% less than the previous year and saved them almost $3,000. From August to October the Sustainability House used nearly thirty thousand gallons less than the Community Outreach House had used from August to October the year before. That is almost 80% less and saved nearly $70. That money was saved with subtle changes and nothing major. It is all about making simple lifestyle changes.

One of the major emphases of the Sustainability House is community living. The idea behind community living is that a group of people living together is more efficient than living alone. The members of the house share appliances. For example, they have one refrigerator rather than multiple and that saves energy and money. Also bike riding and carpooling is utilized for transportation. The group is very tight knit and has house events, a dinner group, and everyone must take part in the household jobs.

House Roles

Becoming a member is not an option for everybody. There are only 23 spots available in the house. In order to become part of the house, all members, including those who have previously resided in the Sustainability House, must submit an application according to the schedule established by the college for the housing selection process. After reviewing all applications, members of the Membership Committee will meet with the College Residential Coordinator to make the final selections. Once an applicant is accepted as a member is when the work begins. There are numerous expectations for all members of the house. They are expected and required to attend and participate in all house events, including house meetings.

Also, all members are expected and required to abide by all house rules and procedures as established by House members. Every member of the House must have a specific position and job. The jobs include:

• There are two House Managers. They are responsible for maintaining order within the house and maintaining an open and cooperative relationship between the Sustainability House and Franklin & Marshall College. They also meet with the College Residential Coordinator weekly and as needed.

• Two Assistant House Managers are responsible for assisting the House Managers with all of their duties, including running the meetings and general house maintenance. They also must work to provide additional assistance to other committees and positions when they are needed to.

• The secretary is responsible for recording official minutes at all House meetings and distributing them to all House Members. In addition, the secretary must oversee all official house elections and votes that do not occur during house meetings.

• There are two Data Managers and they are responsible for tracking all energy and resource consumption within the Sustainability House. So all the water and electricity usage is recorded by them. The Data Manager also needs to develop, implement and oversee programs and policies to reduce overall consumption.

• The two Kitchen Managers are in charge of tracking and maintaining an inventory of all kitchen supplies. Plus, they must ensure the kitchen maintains a high level of cleanliness. The kitchen managers are responsible for coordinating all House dinners and food for associated house events.

• There are three Gardening/Composting Managers. They are in charge of the maintenance and expansion of the house composting system. They also are responsible for the maintenance and development of all plants that are affiliated with the Sustainability House.

• Community Outreach Coordinator is a position held by three members. They are responsible for the development and implementation of programs to promote sustainability among members of the Franklin & Marshall College and Lancaster communities.

• The two Events Managers are in charge of planning all Sustainability House affiliated events, both for house members and the greater F&M community.

• There are two Research and Development Coordinators. They are responsible for investigating new conservation and efficiency programs and technologies for the Sustainability House. The Research and Development Coordinators work closely with all other House Members to effectively draft proposals and develop programs to increase the sustainability of the house. Furthermore, they work extensively with the US Green Building Student Group on campus. All of these are jobs are essential to the success and importance of the Sustainability House.

Like everyone, Brian Marshall has a job in the house. He is one of the House Managers. He is like the medium through which information is passed from the House to the college administration. If there is an idea for something new, he goes to the administration and makes the request and keeps them informed on what goes on. The Sustainability House is not all business. The group also has a lot of fun together. They have weekly movie nights, do karaoke, game nights, and many other group activities. These all help build the community aspect, which is a focal point of the house.

Community Outreach

In the first year of existence the Sustainability House was basically concerned with getting up and running and getting everything set up and well organized. But as they progress they realize the need to become more of a presence in the community. Because being sustainable is good but it has a very limited impact. Whereas getting out into the community has a much broader effect. Attempting to come up with creative and effective methods of reaching out and impacting the community and the campus is a constant struggle. But they realize that their goal is to have an impact on homes besides their own. Not everything they help out with is regarding sustainability and a more “green” lifestyle.

Some of the House’s community outreach includes:

• Once a year the United Way sponsors the Lancaster Day of Caring. A group of students endeavor into the community to perform a service project at sites that vary each year. In addition to having the opportunity to bond with other students, this event provides an opportunity for community service and gets students excited about community involvement right from the start of the year. In 2008, students helped a local church with a much-needed renovation. Although the Day of Caring only happens once a year, many students are inspired by these opportunity and initiate longer-term projects as a result.

• Another project they are working on is getting solar panels installed on the house. Franklin and Marshall College has just recently received a $15,000 Grant to place a 300 square foot solar array on the roof of the house. This installation is expected to cut the energy costs of the house by about 16%. The key reason for the solar panels is to reduce the House’s carbon footprint; saving money is just a bonus.

• The college is also contributing five hundred dollars to help to build “Solar Ben,” a mobile display that will be used to display how solar panels works. The construction of “Solar Ben” will be made possible by using recycled solar panels given to the physics department by the North Museum.

• The Sustainability House also helps out with the F & M Annual Family Earth Science Night. This is a free, two-hour event for children ages four to eleven where they get hands-on lessons in preparing fossils, identifying dinosaurs, making volcanoes, creating earthquakes and floods, and restoring streams.

• Children in Lancaster are not allowed to trick-or-treat because it is against the law. So, in the Halloween spirit, the Sustainability House helps with “Haunted Hallways.” This is where the students of F & M convert the upper track of the fitness center into kid-friendly creep-out zone. Students hand out candy and hold a variety of ghoulishly fun contests. It is a fun evening for the whole family and acts as a replacement for going trick-or-treating.

• Sustainability week is a joint project by the Campus Sustainability Committee and the Environmental Action Alliance. The aims of Sustainability Week are to raise awareness on campus of environmental, energy, and social justice issues. It is comparable to Earth Week activities. They also have a Green Week, which is similar to Sustainability Week but is on a smaller level.

• Three students established an organic vegetable garden at Baker Campus as a program for sustainable food sources. College staff and faculty are also growing vegetables in a revived College Community Garden program at Baker Campus. The Sustainability House is very involved in this gardening experience.

• Around campus they post signs and stickers reminding people to turn off the lights when they leave a room, to turn off faucets, and other energy saving reminders.

These are just some of the many activities and outreaches that the Sustainability House is involved in. The goal of the House is not simply to make our lives more eco-friendly. They also want to make our lives better in general which is why they are involved in events that are not related to the environment. Society needs to change. The Sustainability House is a model for the change that needs to occur.

Global Issues

Culture is currently on an unsustainable development path, which is likely to lead to a full-blown environmental crisis. Humanity is overshooting nature’s carrying capacity by over twenty percent. The solution to environmental sustainability issue may be a bottom-up approach, where individuals are encouraged to take action to reduce their own environmental impact. The House is attempting to fuel this desire to make changes on a personal level in order to better society.

One of the most serious long-term threat facing the world is the danger that human actions are producing irreversible harmful changes to the environmental conditions that support life on Earth. If this problem is not overcome, there may be no viable world for our descendants to inhabit. Enormous changes to human lifestyles and cultural practices may be required to reach the goal of a sustainable level of impact on the environment. This problem is caused by human population growth, overconsumption, and lack of natural resource conservation.

One issue is that knowledge of the topic is lacking. Does society not know what the problems facing our world are, or does society simply not care? Massive changes are necessary in order for the Earth to become environmentally sustainable. There are a few major issues. Global Warming is an obvious concern, the loss of the ozone layer is another major worry, and a completely overlooked problem is the lack of clean, usable water. And despite these issues society continues to push them aside and just hope for the best without doing a thing.

This issue of Global Warming could severely change regional climates and affect agricultural production around the world. The increase in “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere is the cause of Global Warming. “Greenhouse gases” are gases that trap the Earth’s heat and keep it from being radiated back into space. The most important of these greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide, most of which is produced by the burning of fossil fuels and biomass such as wood. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that in order to stop the dangerous increase of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere, the world would have to decrease the use of fossil fuels by 75% percent and maintain that decreased level for many future decades.

The United States is by far the biggest user of energy in the world. The United States uses 25% of the world’s commercial energy despite the fact that it has only four percent of the world’s population. Therefore, the United States is the biggest factor in the usage of fossil fuels and they hold the keys to future energy issues.

Another major concern is the loss of much of the ozone layer. The ozone layer is high in the atmosphere and protects humans, plants, and animals from the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation. In 1974 the first scientific reports began to link this ozone loss with the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Gases such as Freon that we use in our air conditioners and refrigerators persist in the upper atmosphere for an average of 50 to 100 years. Each atom of them destroys 100,000 ozone molecules.

Scarcity of water is possibly the biggest issue, which nobody seems to talk about. Maybe it is because almost three quarters of the Earth’s surface is covered in water. The problem is that 97% of water is ocean water and therefore to salty for use. And, a majority of the three percent of fresh water is stored in unusable places such as ice caps or deep beneath the Earth’s surface. Only approximately half a percent of the Earth’s water is usable.

Luckily the United States does receive a lot of rain, so how can we have a problem? There are two major issues, and they are distribution and demand. The amount of water necessary to satisfy the needs and wants of this country are constantly increasing. What’s more, while we do receive a lot of rain on the whole, it does not necessarily go where it is needed. A massive rainfall in the northeast contributes nothing to the dry southwest. The states along the Colorado River, which includes five of the 10 fastest-growing states in the United States, have already allocated on paper more water than is actually in the river. In addition, many times the river never actually reaches the sea because it is used up too quickly. The cost of purifying salty water is currently very high. However, work is being done to make this process cheaper and easier. No matter what is developed, water is too precious to waste.

The Need For Change

There are two major reasons that changes are not made. The first reason change happens slowly is because of the government and corporations, the second is because of individuals. The reality of the situation is that the both the government and corporations make a lot of money off of items that are not energy efficient. Millions of dollars are made off of automobiles that do not get good gas mileage, and millions more are made off of chemicals that pollute our atmosphere, and the list goes on and on. But in this world, money is power. Additionally, despite the overwhelming proof that change is more than necessary, society as a whole tends to be slow to accept the facts and make the needed change. Why is that?

Here are just a few reasons why people are hesitant to live more efficient lifestyles.

• Humans are creatures of habit. Whatever we are most comfortable doing we will continue to do. The feeling is that how we have been living has worked for all these years so change is not necessary. Everything will return to normal without us messing with it.

• Society breeds selfish people. Everyone wants the most, the best, the greatest comfort or convenience for oneself. People are opposed to anything that can even be perceived as hardship or sacrifice, and they usually see their own sacrifice as greater than their neighbors’. People tend to seize short-term personal gains and ignore longer-term communal losses, such as environmental pollution or resource degradation.

• People feel helpless and useless to the situation. We say we are not informed enough and that one person doing something will not make a difference anyway. So we cast the blame on the government and point out how they need to make changes. Meanwhile we continue to live our lives the same way we always have. Also, we remain ignorant to the whole situation figuring that if we do not know what is going on we will not have to deal with it.

• People naturally feel fearful in facing such problems, and many times the message that is sent out to society calls for action based on strong fear messages, such as “air pollution is killing us.” One unfortunate effect of fear appeals, research has shown, is that people often respond to them by denying the threat. This happens most often when no options are available or emphasized. Thus, it is important to tell people about feasible actions that they can take to avoid or lessen the dangers that are being described. On rare occasions fear can drive someone to action, but usually it drives him or her to ignore the situation completely.

• Throughout recent history there has been an immense number of technological advances. So rather than making changes in our lifestyles, we just hope for an invention. We count on the fact that with all our technology we will create something that can bail us out of the current situation we are in. Our planet has issues. The sooner everyone accepts this the better off we will be. The saying goes, “The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.” In this case the problem is the decay of Earth.

A Model For The World

So what can be done to help change the world? A key concept is teaching children about the issues at hand and what needs to be done. Children are the future and if they are taught that there is nothing to worry about, they will grow up not caring about the Earth because they will feel there is no problem. We do not need to scare them, but they need to know the reality of the situation. Information must be provided for them and encouragement needs to be given to them. They should realize that as a group they can make a difference.

With the Sustainability House becoming a model of sustainability, F & M is beginning to become more receptive to them and more open to their ideas. The administration has started to realize that “going green” is not just a trend that will quickly pass. This is something that is here to stay and that they need to get up to speed. Also, the amount of money that the Sustainability House has saved by living a more efficient lifestyle has showed that “going green” could save the college quite a bit of money. The economy is in a recession, and along with the recession comes budget cuts. So any way that the college can save money they will take advantage of.

Furthermore, the college has used “going green” as a selling point to perspective students to entice them to come to school that is conscious of the current issues and problems surrounding our planet. Being a part of a house that is so focused on being sustainable is an excellent contribution to an individual’s life. Because, it may seem like this is only a small contribution that will quickly pass and fade away, it is not. The habits that are established become second nature. It becomes like brushing your teeth and taking a shower. Your regular routines in life will not be the same.

Brian no longer has to think about the actions he takes to preserve energy. Instinctively when he leaves the room he will turn off the light, he will turn off power strips when the electronics are not in use, and so on and so forth. So the sooner you start living a more sustainable lifestyle, the better habits you will have. These habits will save thousands of dollars per year and help prevent the destruction of our environment. The Sustainability House is a perfect example of how making simple changes can make a big difference.

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