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Life goes green at California varsity

The California university that was a cradle for the 1960s anti-war movement is now home to another revolution.

india Updated: Dec 29, 2006 15:01 IST

The California university that was a cradle for the 1960s anti-war movement is now home to another revolution: learning to live in tune with the environment.

The University of California at Berkeley has unveiled a prototype eco-friendly "green apartment" to showcase its vision for life at college and beyond -- to show students they can reduce damage to the environment without much extra expense or drastically changing their lifestyles.

At first glance the demonstration apartment differs little from US college digs, at least those of male students: a poster of Mahatma Gandhi hangs on a wall together with covers of albums by late rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

Pictures of pin-up girls and scenes from the film "Pulp Fiction" are displayed above flat-screen computers.

But the room is also decked out with energy-saving televisions and refrigerators, water-miser showerheads, low-toxicity shampoos and detergents, non-disposable razors, aluminum water bottles, and bedsheets made from birchwood instead of chemically processed cotton.

Travis Zack steps into the kitchen, bends down and smiles as he pulled a worm from a dark, decomposing mound in a compost bin topped with scraps of food.

"We just got this so there is no compost to see yet," Zack said. "But we got our worms and it's a starter."

Zack is one of four students living in the green apartment, created by a campus Green Committee, which made a start last year by creating an eco-friendly "green room" in a residence hall.

After it drew 230 visitors last year and won honors from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the committee expanded the concept to a full apartment. In early 2007 they plan to create a Green Suite to house 25 students, according to the university.

UC Berkeley endorsed a policy of earth-friendly practices about five years ago. Programs that have sprouted since include energy conservation and a Global Environmental Theme House.

The basic premise of the projects is that small improvements in habits can have tremendous long-term benefits and the earlier one starts the better, said Green Committee member Lisa Bauer.

"Americans may be known for being hyper-consumptive, but there are people in America who do get it," Bauer told AFP.

Dozens of students applied to live in the two-bedroom green apartment.

Zack, Jonathan Hu, Tim Edgar and Edward Chen got to move in due to having proven their ecological credentials while living at the theme house.

A visit to the apartment found it immaculate but otherwise typical -- at first glance -- of a college dorm room.

"What we're doing is not a whole lot different than the way others live, it's just small changes in lifestyle that really make a big impact," said Zack, 20, a physics major.

"The fact that some Berkeley students take showers for an average of 30 minutes is kind of ridiculous to me," said Edgar, a chemical engineering student who grew up with budget-wary parents.

"I've been into one-minute showers since I was a kid. Trying to conserve water, that's the way I grew up, so it's natural to me."

"We're hoping to make this more prevalent by showing that it takes one person at a time, that it is a personal commitment," Bauer said.

"Telling someone they can't buy something won't work. They have to decide what to buy."

Organic toothpastes or lotions and other nature-compatible household products like those in the apartment don't cost much more than harsher concoctions that are more commonly used, said Desirae Early of the Green Committee, who helped select the products.

Hu, a 19-year-old economics major, grimaced when asked if he is setting an example for students that visit the apartment.

"We don't feel like we're the upright citizens trying to set the environmental bar that everyone is trying to reach towards," Hu said.

"We just feel like four kids living out our college lives."