This post is part of a short interview series featuring the winners and runners up for the 2010 Net Impact Force For Change Award The Award recognizes outstanding Net Impact members who have led an employee or student-driven project with tangible positive social and/or environmental impacts. I asked each participant to introduce their project and answer a few questions in their own words…
3p: Tell me, in your own words, what your project is all about:
Bobcat Net Impact was started by 16 students in conjunction with their Honors Business Law Class. As speakers came throughout the course, one issue which kept recurring in discussion was the use of coal: it’s waste products, the danger of mining it, and how severely the cost outweighed the profit upon it’s use. In an effort to be sustainable, Bobcat Net Impact looked for a way to remedy the inefficient use of coal on the Texas State University campus.
Our answer came in the fact that each residence hall on campus houses between 8 and 20 electric driers. What powers all these machines? Coal. Bobcat Net Impact quickly sprang into action. Upon receiving a grant from an on-campus organization which supports environmentally friendly projects, Bobcat Net Impact was able to fit 3 pilot residence halls with drying racks. This gives students the option to dry their clothes without the use of an electric dryer. The racks can be rented for any amount of time, at no cost to the students renting them. Because this is a pilot program, information is gathered on every rental.
The gender of the renter and the amount of time he or she kept the drying rack are all recorded upon return of a rented drying rack. However, Bobcat Net Impact did not stop there. As an organization, Bobcat Net Impact understood that students must be educated in order to implement the tools available to them. Thus, with funding from the grant which bought the drying racks, a film was made detailing why solar drying is better than electric drying-for clothing and the environment; and how easy it is for students to skip the electric dryer for the drying rack. This video has been, and will continue to be, shown to every University Seminar class on Texas State campus. University Seminar is a class that every student must pass in order to graduate.
On average, that is 3000 members of the student body exposed to the video per semester. The video did not stop on the Texas State University campus. In March of 2011, the video will be shown to the San Marcos community at a Green Living Exposition. Low income families in San Marcos will be given energy efficient washers this fall. However, they will not have any means of electrically drying their clothing unless the families can afford to purchase an electric dryer. It is the hope of Bobcat Net Impact that these families will see our solar drying video and become informed about this alternative to electric drying. Also, Texas State University is on it’s was to becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution. Upon their bicentennial, the Mexican Consulate General would like to show Bobcat Net Impact’s solar drying video to Mexican students in an effort to draw them to Texas State University. In summation, 16 students started with a small idea about lowering coal usage. Through resourcefulness and determination, those 16 students started a project affecting sustainability on their campus, in their community, and around the world. In essence, Bobcat Net Impact is changing the world, one student at a time, one university at a time.
1. What inspired the project you pursued?
The project Bobcat Net Impact pursued was inspired by speakers which came to the class. Professor Mark Carter, a professor of Geography, told the class how coal use as a fossil fuel is a rube goldberg marchine-something that completes a simple task in a very complicated matter. Upon looking within our campus, Bobcat Net Impact saw coal was being used in many places to run electric dryers. Bobcat Net Impact immediately started working to find a way to give students the option to act sustainably. This option came in the form of drying racks and an informative video on solar drying. Bobcat Net Impact stuck with this project because it was simple-get drying racks for clothing in the residence halls. Also, the project is local-on campus and in the community. Bobcat Net Impact saw this locality as the definition of sustainability-a change in the community for better air quality and a more educated public.
2. When and how did you know you had made an impact?
Perhaps the greatest surprise accompanied with the solar drying project was it’s ease. Throughout most of the planning stages, Bobcat Net Impact did not know exactly what it’s goals were or how they could be reached. However, it seemed some divine hand led us blindly. For example, Bobcat Net Impact came up with the idea of line drying, but could not think of a way to raise enough money to educate students and fit residence halls with drying racks. One of the speakers who came to our organization was part of an environmental committee which funds projects like ours. Through his committee, Bobcat Net Impact was granted the funds it needed to make the solar drying project a reality. Another surprise was the amount of support and notoriety our project received. Before the video was completed, the Dean of the College of Business as well as the president of Texas State University were buzzing about Bobcat Net Impact.
3. What was most critical for achieving the level of success you did?
It was apparent Bobcat Net Impact had made an impact when we had our first meeting of the fall semester, 2010. Not even a full year old, Bobcat Net Impact drew in a multitude of students who were ready to work on expanding the sustainable influence which Bobcat Net Impact is casting upon Texas State University. Also, a common theme for the 2010-2011 freshmen class is sustainability. When the keynote speaker for that theme requested to speak to an on-campus group of students, Bobcat Net Impact was the first nominee. Finally, a week entitled “No Impact Week” has been devoted to exploring the theme of sustainability as a university-wide event. One day of that week focuses on energy. Who did Texas State University ask to sponsor Energy Day of No Impact Week? None other than Bobcat Net Impact.
4. Were you surprised by the level (high or low) of support you received while pursuing your project?
Bobcat Net Impact was absolutely surprised by the support which we received on our project. Professors of University Seminar classes (a required class to graduate Texas State University) were strong proponents of showing the solar drying video to their classes. Deans of many colleges, business and beyond, longed to get a copy of the solar drying video. Bobcat Net Impact’s deepest gratitude goes to the Environmental Services Committee-a sustainability oriented committee which funds environmentally pleasing projects. Without their grant, Bobcat Net Impact’s goals would have been a lot harder to reach.
5. Did you encounter any unexpected challenges? If so, how did you overcome them?
One of the greatest challenges Bobcat Net Impact now faces is a change in policy regarding electric dryers. Until the 2010-2011 school year, dryer usage cost one dollar per load. This year, the dryers are free. This means students are less inclined to spend time line drying their clothing when they could easily, and at no cost, run their clothing through a few drying cycles. To combat this issue, Bobcat Net Impact focused on informing the students about what electric dryers do to their clothing and the environment. By telling students that lint is literally pieces of their clothing, Bobcat Net Impact hopes to make the problem personal to students. Personalizing the problem means that those who use drying racks will be looking out for their clothing, a more persuasive initiative than cutting back on coal.
6. What advice do you have for other students who want to make an impact on their campus?
The greatest advice Bobcat Net Impact can pass on to other students looking to make an impact comes in two steps. Start local, and move towards your goal in baby steps. Locality is a big part of sustainability. Yes, there may be a problem of poor irrigation in other countries. But does the cost outweigh the benefit-burning the fuel of a car to get to an airport, and a plane to get to that country, and the machinery to build a damn or irrigation system. Positive impacts in your own community can inspire larger change. The second major piece of advice, move towards your goal in baby steps. It is ok if your specific goal is unclear. And tackling huge obstacles can seem daunting. Start with a general goal in mind and find a way to get to that goal by accomplishing minor goals. Most important, do not ever say no to an opportunity. It may seem as though the opportunity does not effect your big goal. It can only help to network, and showing an openness to opportunity builds an irrevocable reputation for your initiative.
7. As a busy student, what inspired you to get involved with a project like this?
I joined this project because I liked how local it is. Even though I am busy, the on-campus initiative is something I can find time for between classes. Also, I strongly support the change from electric to line driers. I believe that education is a valeuable tool. With the solar drying project, I was given an opportunity to educate my peers through Bobcat Net Impact. Finally, the initiative was started in a class which i was enrolled in. How could I not help the cause when an hour of my day was already devoted to it?
Bobcat Net Impact has absolutely inspired other students to make a positive impact. Because the entire 2010-2011 freshman class had to read a book on sustainability, the themes of Bobcat Net Impact are already present in their young minds. Many students come to our meetings with grand ideas-recycling panhellinic aluminum waste, adopting part of the San Marcos River, and furthering the education of all Texas State University students about sustainable issues.
Join us in Ann Arbor at the end of October for the 2010 Net Impact Conference.