How I Got Involved
During the summer after my freshman year, I interned with an environmental organization down in Denver and through one of my projects there, I stumbled across the Environmental Center’s website. I can now say without a doubt that was one of the best finds of my time in college.
After applying for a job at the E-Center and coming in for an interview, I received an email welcoming me to the $CORE team. For the next two years, I worked as a student technician. I would go to off-campus student residences and install all our awesome products (which include LEDs, shower heads, and faucet aerators, among others) and teach other students about sustainable living habits. We also give out free pizza (key!). During these two years of working as a student technician, which included a name change (from $CORE to Energy Conservation Outreach Visits, or ECO-Visits) and a semester off to study abroad in New Zealand, I learned pretty much all there is to know about the job. I became confident talking to students about sustainability, I learned how to install all our energy and water efficiency upgrades, and I made some great friends along the way. As I got ready to return for my senior year, I received an email from my supervisor Michelle Gabrieloff-Parish, asking if I would like to be promoted to a larger role.
For some perspective, there are two coordinator roles in ECO-Visits, the data coordinator and scheduling coordinator. The data coordinator compiles the responses we get from tenants into a report of the work we do and impact we have each semester. The scheduling coordinator manages the team’s work shifts, handles any issues with tenants, and coordinates the outreach efforts of the program. Taking over the scheduling coordinator role was stressful at times as it was my first leadership position, but I wouldn’t trade away that experience. Even though there were times where I felt inexperienced or had too much to handle, I was able to grow into the role and looking back on it, I am extremely proud of the work I was able to accomplish along with the team.
Throughout the history of ECO-Visits, the program has been funded through a grant from Xcel Energy. This has worked very well for both sides as we were able to have a positive impact on the community and Xcel was able to lessen their need for more energy with only one plant in Boulder. However, all good things eventually come to an end and our relationship with Xcel ended last semester. This affected our program as well as two other related programs in the E-Center. FLOWS (Foundations for Leaders Organizing for Water and Sustainability), which does a lot of similar work to us but focuses on working with community members in low-income areas, and Green Greeks, which helps sustainability efforts in the Greek houses through education, were also impacted by this decision. The future of ECO-Visits is unknown, yet I feel that there is so much more work to be done.
Why This Is So Important
Regardless of what happens to ECO-Visits in the future, one certainty is that programs which teach students about sustainability are vital and should be supported at all universities. The fact that 95% of CU students want to have a lower carbon footprint shows students’ willingness to learn how to live more sustainably. The easiest way to get students to change their habits is to show them how they can make a difference. If there was one lesson I learned working for ECO-Visits, it’s that small changes make big impacts.
Looking at the Numbers
After reviewing the data reports from fall 2010 through spring 2018, I was able to truly understand how big of an impact ECO-Visits has had. Looking back on these reports from when the program first started was great as I was able to see how its grown over the years and realize how my co-workers and I have been part of that growth. Through spring 2018, ECO-Visits student technicians installed over 5,400 13-watt CFL lightbulbs, 1,600 LED lightbulbs, 1,200 showerheads, and 1,600 faucet aerators just to name some of our hardware. Based on adding up the yearly totals, we were able to save over 3,800,000 gallons of water, or 5.75 Olympic-sized swimming pools if that’s how you measure water. In addition, we saved over 188 tons of CO2 or 3 flights from New York to LA, another great unit of measurement. Keep in mind these numbers only account for about half of the totals as some years were missing data calculations. Also, the educational impact (which I would argue is just as if not more important) our team had cannot be quantified.
Looking to the Future
So, what now? Without funding, we aren’t sure if there will be a next semester for ECO-Visits, yet I still have hope. First off, I believe a change in the program was needed. Over time, we have noticed there is less of a need for many of our upgrades. As awareness increases and sustainability practices take hold, more homes have either CFL or LED lightbulbs and more residences are adopting water efficient appliances, both of which account for a large portion of our statistical impact. However, one thing that hasn’t declined in its necessity is the educational aspect of our job. It is vital to educate students about sustainable behaviors, so they can continue these habits beyond college. I know the tips and tricks I picked up from working will be great as I start a career and find a new place to live. Beyond what I learned about the installations, possibly the most profound impact that ECO-Visits has is teaching students how they can have a positive impact. Teaching them about the effects of their behaviors and how we have a responsibility as a community to make that effort to be more sustainable. The other reason I still have hope is because of the people who work at the E-Center. One especially important thing I learned from working at the E-center was that students can make a change and are willing to put in the work to make it happen. Even though I have graduated, I know there will always be passionate students and staff working at the E-Center to help make the world a better place and that gives me a lot of hope. As I begin my career in environmental work, I will always cherish the memories I made from being a part of the ECO-Visits team and I hope the program will continue so it can impact future student’s lives the way it did with mine.
Alex Opipari graduated from CU Boulder with a degrees in Environmental Studies and Economics in May 2019. He worked for ECO-Visits for three out of his four years at CU Boulder.