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 What Can I Do?

Posted on Monday, Nov. 9, 2009

This month's edition of "What Can I do?" is inspired by Santa Clara University's Solar Decathlon Team, whose Refract House recently won third place in the 2009 competition in Washington DC. The following 4 R's feature the creative ways that the decathlon team incorporated sustainability into their house.

Reduce water use

Approximately 1.6 billion gallons of water are wasted in homes everyday due to old, inefficient bathroom toilets. As water is an essential and finite resource, conservation is becoming more important by the minute. The the Kohler’s Reve elongated toilet (K-3797) featured in the 2009 Refract House has a dual flush technology which allows the user to choose between two low flow options --one using 1.6 gallons of water per flush, and the other 0.9 gallons. This toilet is similar to the ones used in the Malley Fitness and Recreation Center's Women's Restroom. These high-efficiency toilets can save up to 16,500 gallons of water per year when compared to older 3.5 gallon toilets. One other helpful feature of the solar house toilet is its "quiet-close" seat, which stops the lid from slamming shut after use. If you're in the market for a new toilet, consider looking into these higher-efficiency, water saving options. For a cheaper alternative, consider putting a brick in your toilet tank; the amount of space taken up by the brick can save you both water and money!

Reuse dining ware

Millions, if not billions of dollars are spent each year on disposable kitchen ware. Though disposable plates offer the convenience of easy clean up, using paper or plastic plates when not necessary can become extremely wasteful. Opting for reusable dining ware as often as possible (especially when in your home) can prevent thousands of tons of waste from going to the landfill. Team California took this responsibility one step further by using a dinner set called Green Ware in their Refract House. Travis McFlynn, a student from the California College of Arts designed and crafted the dining ware using local California clay, glaze made from 70% recycled glass, and vegetable juice. Both the clay and glaze were developed by a colleague of McFlynn, Jon Toki who owns a company called Leslie Ceramic Supply Co.

Recycle aluminum

For the 2009 house, the Solar Decathlon team opted to used recyclable aluminum for their windows instead of using traditional vinyl windows. One fun fact about aluminum: it is a sustainable metal that can be recycled over and over again.

Respect sustainability

Often times there isn't anyone standing over our shoulder making sure that we are making sustainable choices. It may well be easier to stick to habits of convenience that may be more wasteful. It is ultimately a personal decision to behave in a way that promotes sustainability. When planning and constructing the Refract House, the team chose to focus a lot of effort on how they used resources and what materials they chose to use. This aspect of building the home, however, was not a part of the Solar Decathlon competition; the team did not receive any additional credit for their extra efforts. For the sake of sustainability and out of respect for the environment, the team had deemed those extra efforts worthwhile. Similarly, the team went above and beyond in the realm of community outreach with their Sustainability Decathlon Project. The Sustainability Decathlon is a competition run through SCU between local high schools in ten areas, or categories, related to sustainability. The students compete by coming up with projects to "green" their campuses, which are judged and awarded respectively by a panel of Santa Clara faculty. This initiative has helped spread the message of sustainability beyond the Solar Decathlon project and into our local communities.

Written by Kristin Sterling, '10, Sustainability Intern

Tags: Take Action