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Rethink, Reduce, Repeat

Photo: Glenn Matsumura

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By Christine Foster

Jonas Ketterle shuns that emblem of the modern college party—the red plastic cup. He carries his own nondisposable cutlery and belongs to a co-op that serves mostly organic, local food. He thinks twice before indulging in a latte at Starbucks—because the drink's crop-to-consumer production cycle uses about 100 times more water than the beverage itself contains. “Do I really need this?” he asks himself.

Ketterle, '08, is one of the greenest students on campus, but he insists he's “not radically different than the average student. It's just an awareness. It's primarily being informed and voting with the money I spend.”

But his awareness is helping change the campus. He is a student representative on the committee planning a green dorm for campus. When he saw the architect's assumptions about water use in dorms—including showers starting at 6 a.m. (“I knew students didn't shower at 6 a.m.”)—he conducted a usage survey of his own. Putting sensors in the showerheads at his dorm, Ketterle found out not only when students shower, but also how much water they were using. He then tested ultra-low-flow showerheads and finally found one that reduced water usage by 60 percent, but still provided a nice experience. Student Housing is set to replace about 2,000 showerheads on campus with that model, he says.

Ketterle is from Germany, where, he says, environmental consciousness was prevalent years before it began to take hold in the United States. “Bicycling is widespread. Taking trains is widespread. Recycling is normal. Discussion of energy issues is common.”

His family relocated to Boston in the 1990s, where Ketterle began a local recycling system and raised money for environmental nonprofits. His environmental passions really exploded after he attended a Sophomore College course on energy-efficient buildings taught by emeritus civil and environmental engineering professor Gil Masters. Ketterle abandoned a planned chemistry major, switched to mechanical engineering and took on a leadership role in the development of the green dorm, expected to open in three years.

The dorm, meant to be a lab for energy-conscious living, is designed for a site behind Casa Italiana and would house 47 students. Researchers will collect data on environmental impact, and the building will be designed in flexible ways that allow testing of new technologies as they are developed. Energy-consumption meters will allow each resident to track his or her usage. “We will give you information to help you be green,” Ketterle says. Ketterle admits one way in which it isn't easy to be green. The Achilles heel in his carbon footprint is flying—which he does 10 to 20 times a year, sometimes to promote environmental activism. “That's one of the necessary evils of meeting people and sharing these ideas.”

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