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Case Study >Monica Dunner: College Student Gone Green

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Monica Dunner: College Student Gone Green

Monica Dunner is a student at Franklin & Marshall College living in the Sustainability House in an effort to be more aware of how her own lifestyle can have an effect on the earth’s environment. She does simple things to go green, such as not purchasing bottles of water, paper plates or plastic ware and recycling anything that can eliminate waste. The sustainability house was created in order to use less energy than the average house and achieved this goal by reducing nearly 50% from those who lived in the house before it became the “Sustainability House.” A combination of efforts to reduce energy in the house include, sustainable light bulbs, using low-flow toilets, maintaining the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” policy, using shower heads that release less gallons of water ,while also taking shorter, timed and charted showers. Through living at the Sustainability House, Monica has realized her place in helping the environment and how other students have the opportunity to help also.


Who is Monica Dunner?

Monica's Shade of Green

The Sustainability House

Living in the Sustainability House

Monica Investigates the Sustainability House

Monica's Future Shade of Green & Advice

Who is Monica Dunner?

As the world continues to face sustainability and environmental issues head on, more individuals are interested in living more ‘green’ lives. Monica Dunner is a sophomore at Franklin & Marshall College who has taken the step to live a more sustainable life. At F&M College, Monica calls the “Sustainability House” her home. Graduating from Kinnelon High School, in 2008 Monica chose to continue her education at F&M influenced by the great reputation of their professors and academic departments. Monica was also attracted to the close-knit community in which faculty, students and staff interact with other daily. She is involved in many clubs and organizations on campus including; Model UN, Brooks House Congress as the Academic/Mentoring Director and the Community Outreach Director, F&M Cares, African Drumming Club, and volunteers for various charities.


Monica's Shade of Green

Many people desire to live more sustainable lives, but it seems as though making the first step to commit is the hardest part. As Monica Dunner continued to see information about the themed housing that offers an alternative, eco-friendly way of living, she began to consider taking her first step into living green. Monica has been living the green life since she moved into the Sustainability House in August 2009. She has always been aware of environmental issues and did make small strides such as recycling, but she committed to the green lifestyle when she moved into the house. Monica was not raised in a green home with her parents, rather, she decided to live in the Sustainability House just to see what it would be like to live sustainability and experience the green life. For her, it was more of a personal challenge and an opportunity that enticed her to move into the house. She wanted to experiment with living this lifestyle and believed it would be an interesting part of her life to live in a house that strives to produce no footprint within the environment. This would challenge her to see if she can commit to the green life and also would prepare her for the future.

Monica was very confident about her transition into the house and found it very easy to adapt to this alternative way of living. She claims when she moved into the house she became committed to living a more sustainable life. She therefore adapted relatively quickly. However, since living in the house she has learned new ways to be more sustainable and is gradually adopting a more sustainable lifestyle as others in the house inform her on how to do so. “I believe that any effort to be sustainable contributes to the greater good as challenging one person’s lifestyle will have some sort of impact on the Earth. Also, I believe that “the extra effort to be green” is merely the future lifestyle for everyone. The transition that my life has undergone will have to be adopted, slowly but eventually, by the majority. Therefore, this “extra effort to be green” will hopefully become the average lifestyle. Why not start now?” Monica feels that living the sustainable life is not really hard at all, and therefore doesn't see any reason not to live this kind of life. She thinks that it is a really neat experience to live in an environment that emphasizes a unique lifestyle while also making a positive impact on the world.

Monica feels as though it is easy to be sustainable. She has had no problems associated with going green and feels as though the effort is worth making. She is very aware of how her life can impact the environment and has taken the extra step to live a more sustainable lifestyle whenever she can. She enjoys living in the Sustainability House at F&M because she has learned many new ways to live sustainability from those who have lived in the house before her. They have made her more aware of how unsustainable certain things are by commenting on everyday things such as; microwave cups of soups.

Monica believes that she is not much different from other college students in her efforts to go green. Rather, she believes that she is simply more aware of how her life impacts the environment and tries to counter balance that. She does not have to make extreme sacrifices in her lifestyle. In order to live sustainability being aware in very important, it is a lot of small lifestyle changes that reduce the impact of your life on the environment. Monica was shocked at how simple it really was to live a more sustainable life.


The Sustainability House

The Sustainability House is a space for students who are interested in pursuing a sustainable lifestyle and decreasing their impact on the environment. Located at 550-552 West James Street, the Sustainability House has two goals: “to live communally and minimize environmental impacts and to offer information to the campus at large.” There are 22 people in the house that work together as a community to live more sustainable lifestyles. The Sustainability House Mission Statement: "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 Sustainability House started in 2008 when members of the Environmental Action Alliance researched living arrangements on other campuses and came up with a proposal that gave the college a two-row home complex just off campus and a budget for energy-efficient renovations. From here, 23 students from different backgrounds and majors were chosen to live in the house for its first year of operation. Immediately, the house was a success resulting in dramatic results.

The Sustainability House required many renovations to help make the house more energy and waste efficient. In their efforts to reduce energy requirements, members of the Sustainability House are ensured to meet their goals; several members of the house are responsible for tracking energy used by the house each month. Due to the renovations in the Summer 2009, energy use was reduced through simple lifestyle changes such as, turning off the lights, was adopted by all students at the house. In February 2009, the house used 3.160 kWh of energy, compared to the year before, February 2008; the house used 6.240 kWh of energy!


Energy Concervation


In conclusion, the house members used half as much energy as the previous year. The Sustainability House has received much recognition throughout the campus and the local community in the past year. With two newspaper articles surrounding the house: “Green is New Theme for Student House” and “A Model of Green Living” “F&M was recently rated among the top 100 colleges in the country for its green practices in The Princeton Review’s annual Green Ratings” (Crable, 2009)

The Sustainability House is one of F&M’s many themed housing options in which all students are eligible to apply to live in. Through a simple application and interview process, the 22 students are chosen to live in the house. The application includes questions such as: “If accepted, how will you personally contribute to the goals of the Sustainability House in the coming year?,” “What projects would you propose to increase sustainability on campus?” “In what ways does your involvement in your academic program or activities reflect your commitment to sustainability?”

According to Monica, it costs the same amount as to live in the freshman dorms as well as other theme houses. It is not more expensive than other off-campus housing, if anything, it costs less. Not just anyone can live in the house; you have to have a concrete interest in living the sustainable lifestyle. The house consists of 18 rooms including; four doubles, one triple, and the remainder are singles. The house lacks hierarchy because all students respect each other. There is a house manager who oversees everything to ensure everything runs smoothly and guarantees everyone can be informed as to what is going on in the house.


Living in The Sustainability House


The Sustainability House encourages their house members to reduce their shower times in order to save water, in addition to decreasing the amount of energy needed to heat the water. There are shower timers located in each of their showers in order to keep track of their time in the shower. No members take 20 minute long showers in the Sustainability House, but they do take as long as it takes to clean them. Monica has reduced her shower time from ten minutes (when she moved in) down to six minutes (currently). The house also promotes “Navy Showers” in which the individual turns on the water to soak, then turns off the water while applying soap, etc., then turns the water back on to rinse off. This greatly decreases the amount of water used and many in the house use this technique often, Monica included.

The use of low-flow shower heads in the Sustainability House also helps decrease the amount of wasted water. Most showerheads use twice the water needed for an enjoyable shower. Each day, three billion gallons of water flow through showerheads in the United States- half of it unnecessarily. The toll this excess takes on one of our most precious resources, clean water, is a blow to both the environment and your pocketbook” (Don Vendervort's Home Tips, 2009). Converting your showerheads to low-flow models takes only a few minutes and costs a few dollars. To invest in a $10 showerhead will result in $50-$75 savings each year on water bills and $20-$50 or more each year on energy bills. While typical showerheads can use between 5-8 gallons of water per minute, the Sustainability House low-flow showerheads use only 2 gallons of water per minute.


In addition to the use of low-flow showerheads, the Sustainability House also uses new models of low-flow toilets. Compared to older models of toilets, using low-flow toilets can save about 25 gallons of water per day. The house replaced the toilets that were in the house two years ago, prior to the Sustainability House. As a result, they were able to reduce the amount of water used per flush from about 5 gallons to only 1.6 gallons. The house also lives by the “If it’s yellow, let it mellow,” policy to increase the ways to reduce the amount of water wasted with each flush.


At the Sustainability House it is very important to be conscious of the usage of lights. Although Monica explains that there are not any extreme rules, they simply turn off all light when they are not needed; this is specifically rare on a college campus. In the college dorms, for example, the hallway lights are always on for safety precautions. However, in the Sustainability House they only turn on the hallway lights and staircase lights when they are needed. Monica actually usually walks up the fire escape because it is lighter outside than it is inside the house. The house also uses energy efficient light bulbs and other lighting appliances. In addition, all the house members unplug all their appliances because it is more sustainable and will save you money.

Solar Panels

The Sustainability House aims to reduce their carbon footprint and educating others that solar power is a viable energy source for their homes as well as good for the environment. Recently, F&M was informed of the $15,000 grant from The Sustainable Energy Fund to install a 300-square-foot solar array on the roof of the Sustainability House. The Sustainable Energy Fund is a grant that aims to promote the use of renewable energy technologies on campus and in the Lancaster Community. Solar panels are a key element in F&M’s effort to become more sustainable. The 300-square-foot array is projected to produce 12-15 kilowatt-hours per day of electric power.

According to the Diplomat, F&M's student run newspaper article about the Sustainability House, “The 8,643-square-feet house, which contains 18 bedrooms, a common room, two kitchens and four bathrooms, consumes an average of 75 kilowatt -hours per day” (A model of green living, 2009). The solar panel array will cost about $20,000 once it is purchased and installed; the college will pay for the remaining costs after the grant. For F&M the installation of the solar panels is a very exciting. “According to PPL, a regional utilities provider, a similar array on a 1,500-square-foot row home in Lancaster city that uses approximately 30 kilowatt-hours of electric power each day could decrease energy consumption by between 50 and 75 percent.

The Sustainability House is making great strides towards reducing their carbon footprint. In addition to the purchase of solar panels, the house also removed most of their air conditioning units recently. Although, the AC units were there out of comfort from the college rather than the students’ desires. Many students moved into the house in August and as a result the AC units were rarely used over the summer. In addition, the AC units were used very sparingly and only when the summer heat was unbearable or there was no access to a fan.

According to, “Solar Panels are a form of active solar power, a term that describes how solar panels make use of the sun's energy: solar panels harvest sunlight and actively convert it to electricity. Solar Cells, or photovoltaic energy, are arranged in a grid-like pattern on the surface of the solar panel. These solar voltaic cells collect sunlight during the daylight hours and convert it into electricity” (, 2009) For more information on solar power, click here.


Franklin & Marshall College is strongly involved in recycling efforts across their campus. Within the Sustainability House there are recycling containers clearly marked located on each floor. The recycling containers are sorted in which students can place cans, paper, glass, etc. Recycling is the key sustainable effort at the house.

In addition to the general recycling habits at the house, they stride to waste less in all ways. The Sustainability House contributes to notebooks made from left over cardboard from the house. Monica personally buys eco-friendly notebooks from Staples. In addition, she buys her books for courses each semester online. This saves the amount of paper is wasted and is also usually less expensive than the books sold at the university store. Monica also reduces her waste by printing double sided at the library and typing her notes on her computer rather than in notebooks. She also reads all of her news online as it is easier to access and additionally more sustainable than papers. She always has her Nalgene on her to be sure that she never uses paper or plastic cups. In addition, Monica uses a Britta, a water filtration system for the home in order to reduce the amount of water she buys. Monica tries to buy all of her products in the most reusable way as possible For example, instead of buying individual cans of soda, she would buy the largest bottle and use a reusable cup. She attempts to reduce her waste and therefore buys things that she can reuse or that are packing in ways that will produce less waste. Whenever she can use things that are reusable, then she knows she is not producing excess waste.

During one of the house meetings at the Sustainability House, the members decided to purchase reusable bamboo ware for the housemates so that they can promote sustainability when they go to the dining halls around campus. Instead of using forks or knives that can be thrown away, they bring their bamboo ware.

Additional Green Efforts at the Sustainability House

Many students in the house also reduce their carbon footprint by reducing the amount of driving around campus. Instead, there are many members of the Sustainability House who choose to ride their bikes almost everywhere on campus. There is even a bike rack available on the front porch of the house for accessibility and safety. Monica rides her bike pretty much everywhere she can without the need of a car. She rarely uses her car at all, as a matter of fact. If she does need to drive somewhere, she typically asks some of her housemates or friends if they need a ride anywhere first in order to plan carpools.

When you first walk in the house you will notice that the walls in the front foyer are blackboards. Using blackboard paint on the walls, the house created a place to post information, upcoming dates, etc. for the house members rather than printing up flyers or printing it on the computer. The house also encourages family dinners to enhance the team work and build the relationships between the members of the house. With food bought at the local markets, having family dinners saves money compared to eating out.

The house does not have any dishwashers currently, but they are hoping to purchase one soon to save water when washing dishes. Monica buys her food from Central Market, like many other house members, which is a local farmer’s market in downtown Lancaster city. As a sophomore, she still eats many meals at the college’s various dining halls with her meal plan. However, when she does cook, it is usually organic using fresh produce and products in order to prevent contributing to the waste of packaging from grocery stores. She does not eat only organically, but she tries to as much as she can.

Although the house does have a washer and dryer, both appliances are certified energy efficient. The house members are also very aware as to how often they wash their clothes. Monica waits until she has at least one completely full load before she washes her clothes so that water and energy is not wasted.


Monica Investigates the Sustainability House

Although the Sustainability House has been doing a great job to decrease their footprint, reduce waste and increase recycling, there are some weaknesses to the house itself. The architecture is one of the biggest weaknesses of the house. Since the house was not built for this purpose, the architecture could have been influenced to allow the house to the be more sustainable. For example, the structure of the house leaves dark halls when the lights are not on; however, if they did build the house, they could have easily placed windows strategically that would allow for more heat and light to enter the house. She does believe that the main strength of the house were the renovations that were done within the house to make it more energy and waste efficient. Monica also gives much credit to those that live in the house that do a great job at promoting the green lifestyle, especially during their weekly planned meetings each Sunday to brainstorm ways they can improve the Sustainability House.


Monica's Future Shade of Green & Advice

Monica is not yet sure of her next green efforts or any big changes to her current lifestyle to live more sustainability but she is open to new ideas. When something comes up, or when she thinks of more things she can do to change her lifestyle to be more green, she says, “I will do them.” She will continue to live a green life after life at the Sustainability House. She believes that it would be a good idea to have various people live in the house because it does really affect your lifestyle. She plans on staying in the house as long as she is still attending F&M College next semester. “It’s a great place to live. Good community and good cause.”

Monica’s Advice

Monica advises all individuals to be aware of what they leave behind. She encourages you to realize the waste that you’re producing and to understand the effects that you have on the environment. Understand that in order to live a sustainable life it only takes a small effort, an effort that she believes, is well worth making. Don’t waste water, make the effort to recycle and turn off things you don’t use.


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