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Group begins sign campaign to encourage sustainability

Since the beginning of the academic year, students have encountered notices in dorms across campus telling them to “join the dark side.”

Placed next to certain light switches as part of a campaign to reduce their environmental footprints, the notices are just a small part of the University’s push to become sustainable. Duke’s Climate Action Plan includes a pledge for the University to achieve climate neutrality by 2024.

The policy “commits the University to leadership in three areas: environmental research and education; environmentally responsible operations; and environmental stewardship in the community,” according to the Sustainable Duke website.

Students for Sustainable Living placed the signs around dormitories to remind students to observe particular environmentally-friendly practices ranging from reducing their shower time to taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Even the signs themselves are sustainable, printed on recyclable plastic with eco-solvent ink.

Casey Roe, outreach coordinator for the Sustainability Office, said the notices were put up in housing buildings on East Campus and West Campus toward the end of July, a couple weeks before students began arriving on campus. SSL hopes to expand the project, which was funded partly by Residence Life and Housing Services and partly by Duke’s sustainability budget. There are plans to put up signs in academic buildings in the near future.

“It was an idea that our Sustainability Office had, but the project was undertaken by SSL,” Roe said. “They helped to design the content and the graphics and worked with us on finding funding.”

Before putting up the signs, SSL surveyed 130 students, asking questions specifically related to the notices. Now that the signs have been put up in dorm buildings, Roe said, the organization will work on conducting another survey to determine how the messages have affected student behavior.

But the effectiveness of the signs will ultimately depend on students’ individual reactions to them.

Freshman Jenai Jackson said she believes the signs will make a difference in student behavior because they help increase awareness, adding that a lot of people in her dorm read the notices.

Other students noted that the slogans are “useful reminders,” but junior Gaurev Sen said he thinks that the presence of the messages alone will not change students’ habits.

“It’s more of a question of whether people already care about [the environment] or not,” he said. “It might remind people who are forgetful, but it won’t change people’s minds.”

Junior Mikael Owunna, co-president of the Duke Environmental Alliance said he believes that “the majority of people mean well” when it comes to protecting the environment.

“Having these strategically placed reminders on how to make subtle changes in their daily behavior will help these people to be more environmentally conscious in their decision making,” he said. “Regardless of whether this occurs or not, though, it will have sparked discussions that make people think more about how their actions affect the environment.”

Roe said there are many ways for students, staff and faculty to get involved with sustainability at Duke. Faculty and staff can start “green teams” and relate sustainability to course material. And students can help the cause by utilizing public transportation and supporting eateries on campus that focus on sustainability.

“Everyday choices that students are making can make a difference,” Roe said.

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