In Roble Hall, as in the world, the challenge isn’t merely to spur environmental partisans to action. The challenge is harder: encouraging the more-efficient use of natural resources by everyone, even those who don’t consider the planet a top personal priority. True sustainability is environmental action that makes a difference over the long term because it prioritizes interventions that are ecologically material and, at the same time, personally and economically realistic.
This true sustainability is the goal of the Roble Living Laboratory for Sustainability at Stanford — in Roble Hall and ultimately, by example, beyond it. To that end, the students involved in ROLLSS have launched a variety of activities in the dorm that seek to inspire and inform economically sensible environmental action. These activities are intended to be equally effective and fun. Thus far they have included:
• A competition to reduce water waste through “Navy showers” — showers in which a person turns on the water to get wet, turns off the water to lather up with soap and shampoo, and then turns on the water again to rinse off. Navy showers dramatically reduce water use, often cutting the time the water is on in a shower from eight or ten minutes to two or three minutes. The winner of Roble’s 14-day-long Navy-shower challenge won a bathrobe monogrammed with Roble’s name: a “Robe-le.”
• Signs designed by Roble students and placed on Roble’s clothes washers and dryers to inform students what constitutes a full load of laundry in the washer and dryer — and to encourage students to use full loads when they wash and dry their clothes.
• A “zero-waste” competition to reduce the amount of garbage that Roble residents produce. Interested students each were given a small glass jar in which they agreed to put all the non-recyclable and non-compostable garbage that they produced over a two-day weekend. At the end of the weekend, the students with the least amount of garbage in their jars won the competition. The first- and second-place winners each won a bathrobe monogrammed with Roble’s name — a “Robe-le.” The third-place winner won an insulated steel water bottle.
• A vegan-sushi workshop in which Renee Cai, a Roble sophomore and the 2016-17 ROLLSS intern, taught interested Roble residents how to make vegan sushi. Students perfected their seaweed rolling, their vegetable chopping, and their wasabi tolerances.
• A variety of programs in the Roble Organic Teaching Garden, from workshops about sustainable food, to a meeting of Stanford students interested in applying to become Roble Sustainability Leaders, to tutorials on gardening.
• An Earth Day celebration in Roble’s newly renovated courtyard, which fronts Lake Lagunita. The marquee event: making ice-cream sundaes. Why? Because everything in life, including sustainability, benefits from a little sweetness and a big smile.