By Karina Mazhukhina | May 12, 2015

Hanging in Poplar Hall is a Lucid Energy Dashboard to remind students how much energy and water they are using. This same dashboard hangs in all the West Campus dorms, something one student group is very proud of. 

The dashboards allow students to see how their building is performing compared to the others, which encourages conservation. The displays are one reminder of a larger sustainability culture in the residence halls, a culture Students Expressing Environmental Dedication (SEED) is working to encourage.

“We want to push students to make changes in their lives,” said Feben Gebremichael, Director of SEED, a UW student organization focused on promoting sustainability in residence halls and the campus community. "Our mission is to create an open environment to talk about sustainable issues and ways to live more green with anyone who wants to learn.”

SEED was born out of a vision to place recycling bins on every floor of the residence halls. In January of 2006, that vision became a reality. Since then, the organization has been working with Housing and Food Services (HFS) to promote additional green sustainable programs. Their current project: increase waste diversion and composting.

SEED is working on creating a variety of posters to illustrate how and why to compost, including 3-D signs showing physical items grouped according to compost, recycling, and trash. Currently, all HFS-run dining areas, residence hall lobbies and some individual halls contain compost bins. The goal is to add compost bins to the floor level lounges in Haggett and McMahon as well.

“We purchase bins, so we can distribute them to students for free,” said Gebremichael. “We try to encourage students to make changes in their lives without making them feel too overwhelmed.”

The encouragement has paid off. Just this past April, the UW’s Seattle campus earned a spot on the list of top 20 schools in RecycleMania, a national collegiate waste diversion tournament. UW finished 17th with a recycling rate of nearly 63 percent and came in on top among all Pac-12 schools in total waste diversion, which includes recycling and composting.

"Waste diversion is a huge project we have been tackling," said Gebremichael. "We try to push students to have better habits and use their resources."

Competition can help students work to change habits. In addition to RecycleMania, SEED also helps organize a "One Thing Challenge" each year, a competition between UW and Washington State University to see which school has the greenest campus. Each campus has students pledge to change one thing in their normal routine to be more environmentally friendly. This year when UW won, participating students received coupons to Rick’s Café.

“It was very invigorating," said Gebremichael. "People didn’t even need the ice cream coupon. Once we won a competition against WSU, everyone was all fired up.”

Members of SEED try to come up with other engaging activities throughout the year to promote the benefits of leading sustainable lives and helping the environment.

Just this past January, the student organization removed invasive species, such as blackberries and English ivy in Seattle's Cheasty Greenspace in honor of the MLK Jr. Day of Service, an event that places nearly two thousand volunteers in day-long service projects throughout King County.

“For me, it hits home because I am a first generation American,” said Gebremichael. “My family grew up in Africa where it is more rural and agricultural. When my family talks about home, they say the air they breathe there is cleaner. It made me think about what I can do to make the environment here cleaner.”

The group wants to unite students from all campus residence halls for sustainability. SEED members participate in “Sustainable Sundays,” a day where students from residence halls join in on activities ranging from renting canoes to enjoying a meal at a sustainable restaurant. Students in all residences across West and North campus are encouraged to participate, as well as attend the group's weekly meetings.

“We welcome students to give a presentation on something they are passionate about during the weekly meetings,” said Gebremichael. “In essence, starting a discussion on issues like sustainable farming, clean energy, and sustainable agriculture. We’re trying to open the floor for many topics.”