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Tree with white blossoms in front of Roble Hall

Roble Hall, Stanford’s only century-old dorm and its largest four-class house, is the home of the Roble Living Laboratory for Sustainability at Stanford (ROLLSS), a comprehensive initiative to engage the dorm’s approximately 300 residents in wrestling daily and deeply with the possibilities and challenges of living sustainably. ROLLSS is supported by a dozen institutes, academic departments, offices, and student organizations across Stanford. It includes seminars taught in the dorm; an organic garden; myriad efforts to engage the dorm’s residents in reducing natural-resource waste; and a graduate-student speaker series, called Hard Earth, that explores research into tough environmental dilemmas.
Roble's focus on sustainability does not mean blind acceptance of all things said to be green. Sustainability has become a buzzword, and many of the concepts attached to it amount to empty slogans. ROLLSS seeks to help students prioritize actions that are likely to make a meaningful environmental difference. ROLLSS also seeks to help students understand that, in the pursuit of sustainable ways to live, every apparent upside has unintended downsides. Helping students negotiate these messy tradeoffs is both the overarching goal of ROLLSS and the true challenge of sustainability.

Single pink radish peeking from garden

ROLLSS has another long-term goal: to retrofit Roble into a model for natural-resource efficiency at a cost that would be attractive to a typical investor. Roble, a Beaux-Arts building that turns 100 years old in 2018, is one of Stanford’s most iconic buildings. It is grand and gorgeous — and, in fundamental ways, it is colossally inefficient in its resource consumption. A sustainably renovated Roble would stand as a nationally and internationally significant model. That is because improving the resource efficiency of existing buildings – not just building new green structures – represents a crucial priority for sustainability in the built environment in the United States and in much of the world. Crucially, a Roble retrofit would involve students at every step – in scoping, planning, execution, and operation.
In ROLLSS's inaugural year, the 2016-17 academic year, the program drew deep interest from a core group of Roble students who formed a ROLLSS steering committee and brainstormed and planned a variety of ROLLSS programming for the dorm. In the 2017-18 academic year, ROLLSS will expand in two particularly exciting ways.
Eleven undergraduates have pre-assigned into Roble as Roble Sustainability Leaders. Each of them will live on one of Roble’s 11 halls. They will help catalyze involvement in sustainability by Roble’s residents. And they will take part in a variety of special sustainability-oriented educational programming, including special projects focused on making Roble more sustainable, field trips, dinners, and interactions with Stanford faculty and researchers.
In addition, a PhD student is being appointed as the Roble Graduate Sustainability Fellow. The student, with a research focus bearing on sustainability, will live in Roble and help Roble’s resident fellows, the Roble Sustainability Leaders, and Roble’s student staff coordinate the ROLLSS program.