Among its residential living options on campus, Colorado College (CC) offers several theme houses, with the Synergy House as one of the most prominent. Once a wing in a large campus residence hall, the Synergy House moved to its current location six years ago and serves as the campus’ sustainable-living learning community. Students living at the house see themselves as the engines of change in the CC residential-living community as well as in the city of Colorado Springs.
Students have modified the Synergy House to be an example for green living. Insulation in the walls of the house is made from eco-friendly shredded newspaper. Sail shades, made from NASA material, help to insulate the windows. The shades are left open during winter days to take advantage of passive solar heating and are closed at night to keep in heat. During the winter months, the thermostat is set at a modest 55 degrees. Conserving water is also a priority of Synergy residents. A low-tech gray water system is used to recycle dish and shower water into toilet water. Low-flow fixtures are installed on all showers and sinks, and the house has a tankless water heater. Energy is further conserved through compact fluorescent light bulbs, air-dried clothes, and the use of bicycles whenever feasible.
One of the best sustainability features of the house is the organic garden in the backyard that is tended by the students. It is harvested in the fall, and the produce is shared with the CC community. To reduce waste and cost still further, students buy their food in bulk from local organic markets.
While the Synergy House began as a modest sustainability effort nearly eight years ago, its influence is beginning to affect residential life policy across the campus. Tankless water heaters have been installed in several faculty houses, and sail shades are being experimented with on an entire hall of a major campus residence hall. Other sustainability efforts have involved helpful input from Synergy House students on changing campus food service providers. Another student, with ties to the house, helped raise several thousand dollars to implement a solar-voltaic system on campus apartments. And dozens of students helped with an overall energy and water audit of the school to assist the Brendle Group with their sustainability report. Another result is that the garden at the Synergy House has inspired the creation of the Colorado College Farm, a larger agriculture plot located in the college president’s backyard. House residents have also worked with local groups such as Roots and Shoots and the Young Environmental Stewards to bring children from the community to the house to learn about sustainability.
Community Partnerships at Colorado College
Along with efforts at the Synergy House, Colorado College’s Residential Living and Housing Office also seeks partnerships beyond the college to fulfill its sustainability mission. Over the past three years, CC has teamed up with One Nation, a non-profit charity that works with Native American tribes, to donate all items discarded by students to the Indian nations throughout the Front Range (New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska). One Nation is a small non-profit organization, so it can provide only one 18-wheel truck and trailer for a three-day period, during which time CC students moving out for the summer can donate their items. The truck rotates among the four major residential halls throughout the three days of move-out, with a One Nation staff member available at all times to assist in bagging, tagging, and loading the donations. The items One Nation accepts include furniture, clothing, and small appliances. Urban Turzi, Director of One Nation, has found that collaborating with CC is well worth the effort put forth by One Nation. Last year, One Nation delivered 22 shipments to the various Indian nations; each valued at approximately $800,000.00 (used value). CC usually provides enough donations for one shipment at $80,000.00 (used value). “There are challenges in working with groups to receive donations that we can use,” stated Turzi, “but [working with CC] works well, and we receive lots of materials we can send out to the communities that need them most.”
Community Partnerships at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
A commitment to sustainability and community partnerships has also spread to the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). This spring, the UCCS Staff Council sponsored a sustainability project for its residence hall students during the summer move-out to donate unwanted items and foods to Goodwill and the Care and Share Food Bank. Efforts such as these support the sustainability mission at UCCS, which “recognizes that institutions of higher learning have a responsibility to exercise leadership and create the future. UCCS actively pursues sustainability as a way to address the University’s focus on increased student recruitment and retention, effective and efficient resource usage, and fiscal responsibility.”
Students, faculty, and staff both at CC and at UCCS feel that these sustainability projects demonstrate a commitment to reduce waste, develop an awareness of sharing, and create a consciousness around green living and giving for the future of the Colorado Springs community.
Dr. Sylvia Martinez, Assistant Professor, Colorado College
Carlos Jimenez, Assistant Director of Admission, Colorado College
Lauri Thomas, Housing Director, Colorado College