The Eden Effect

A cross-disciplinary initiative brings together the University in a lifestyle shift.

December 8, 2015  | 6 min read

The first Biblical reference to the Garden of Eden can be found in Genesis 2, described as a sort of paradise where God planted the first shrubs and trees—“pleasing to the eye and good for food”—to sustain the first man. The conditions were clear: Adam was to tend to and take care of God’s divine creation, a practice that has become a mainstay of Christian tradition.

“Humans come from the dirt,” says Chris Doran (’98, MDiv ’02), Seaver College associate professor of religion. He maintains that humans have a moral responsibility to take a special role in creation as caretakers. “Thus, there is a certain humility that we must possess. We must not prioritize our needs ahead of others living on this planet. We are responsible for taking much better care of what we have. Especially in light of climate change, it’s mandatory to be more careful and eco-friendly now more than we have in the past.”

This call to stewardship was recently reflected in an effort conceptualized by the Center for Sustainability and initiated by its director Rhiannon Bailard (JD ’06) for the 2013 Waves of Innovation, an annual initiative to inspire, engage, and motivate faculty, staff, and students to rethink Pepperdine and to advance innovative ideas to help shape its future.

The “Eden Project,” a proposal to transition an existing sophomore residence hall into a sustainable or “green” residence hall, received a $150,000 award to begin construction on sustainable building-retrofits and a comprehensive educational campaign wherein students learn by example and through peer-to-peer modeling. According to the Eden Project proposal, “The project is designed to educate students about sustainable living, reduce consumption, save money, and test sustainable building solutions.”

eden-effect-1Following approval of the Waves of Innovation award, the Center for Sustainability convened a multidisciplinary stakeholder committee of faculty, staff, student, and alumni representatives to design the building retrofits and create the programming for the Eden Project.

Construction on the Eden House began in May of this year, and, throughout the summer, the Center for Sustainability, along with the Department of Design and Construction, retrofitted an existing campus residence hall with custom features and fixtures that integrate sustainability education throughout the students’ daily living environment.

“There are many sustainable housing initiatives,” says Bailard, “but a majority of those focus on the ‘green’ aspect: building, retrofitting. Living green and having the educational programming engages our students and makes them responsible for their own learning outcomes.”

The first group moved into the Eden House on August 28 and will spend the year engaging with the unique features available to them. Among the 47 residents is a group of specially trained sustainability staff members— resident advisors (RAs) and spiritual life advisors (SLAs) specifically selected for their demonstrated commitment to and passion for living and encouraging sustainable behaviors. Prior to moving in, the group received special training and was assigned a student eco- representative to model sustainable behavior and empower them to drive the educational programming and behavioral campaigns.

“[The behavioral campaigns] are intended to create a culture of conservation and environmental awareness, as well as social connectedness between all of the residents and across the campus,” says Bailard.

Ben Veenendaal, project director of the Department of Design and Construction, explains the features of the residence hall at the Eden House ribbon cutting.
Custom features, such as utility submeters— systems that track the consumption of natural gas, energy, and water—demonstrate in real-time how much energy is being consumed, and are intended to encourage users to adjust their behaviors.

Two additional residence halls were connected to submeters to allow for conservation competitions between the student residents of each hall—the water conservation competition took place in November, and a competition to raise awareness of energy conservation will take place in the spring. One hall will be chosen unbeknownst to its residents and the other will be aware that it is being monitored.

Other measures have been put in place, such as the installation of signs to remind residents to turn off lights, shower timers, and field trips to the University’s own recycling center to see firsthand the water reclamation program implemented by the University. Students have also begun initiating their own programs, such as a sustainability-focused Bible study and a green-room checklist.

“The Eden Project is a great way for Pepperdine to be totally submerged into sustainability as a lifestyle,” explains senior Avery Davis, Eden Hall SLA. “We can learn about it in our classes and see it happening through different things that are going on on campus, but this is the only educational experience we have so far where we’re both learning and living together. It becomes part of our life experience. It’s a beautiful and unique way to learn how we can care for the earth through our daily decisions.”

The living plant wall in the residence hall communal areaDavis, who is also the president of the Pepperdine GreenTeam, has been deeply involved in environmental issues at the University since he came to Malibu from his hometown of Topeka, Kansas. He first heard about the Eden Project last summer as an intern for the Center for Sustainability. At first, he was invited to planning meetings to learn more about how the center operates behind the scenes. He soon found himself contributing ideas and brainstorming with the staff about how the project would affect students and how to effectively engage his peers in sustainability at the University.

“All along, they were very careful to do what would be best for students,” he explains. “A lot of times, the administrators on these panels making these decisions don’t have the same perspective that students have. I took my responsibility very seriously.”

As residents began signing up to live at Eden House, Davis found himself participating in conversations about a shift in the process of stimulating students’ passion for and participation in sustainability exercises. The group agreed that the best approach was to galvanize the core group of leaders (RAs, SLAs, and eco-representatives) to share their passion and conviction with the rest of those living in the residence hall.

Davis was also instrumental in providing input about the physical features of the building and the programming that would be implemented for the residents.

“We give the students at Eden Hall things not usually found at all residence halls,” says Bailard. The site includes an organic vegetable garden for students to grow their own food; a kitchenette to cook their own meals; a composter; functional landscaping, including herbs, citrus trees, and drought-tolerant native vegetation; and a rain barrel. The residence hall also includes the first photovoltaic solar array on campus (a power system designed to supply usable solar power), a living plant wall, and recycled content furniture, flooring, and building materials. Throughout all opportunities, the project leads have been responsive to students’ needs.
 

Low-flow showerhead“We are looking to them to drive the program,” Bailard maintains. “We reached out to people we thought could give the most comprehensive feedback in designing a well-rounded program, both in-the-know from the sustainability and housing perspectives, and really emphasizing the input of our students.”

The results of the test site will ultimately help shape similar implementation in future residence hall projects, including the ability to begin brand- new construction on an “outer precinct” student housing component, an offsite residence hall rolling out in the summer of 2017.

“It will impact the sustainability conversation by bringing it to the forefront of all of our students, as opposed to a particular demographic,” explains Bailard. “We have a lot of students who are very interested in sustainability, but we also have students who may come here from different parts of the country that aren’t as focused on sustainability and might not know what it means and why it’s important.”

One of the many ways that the University is seeking to educate and energize students on environmental issues is through a sustainability minor at Seaver College that rolled out this fall, headed by Doran, a faculty advisor and collaborator on the Eden Project. An alumnus himself, Doran has a unique understanding of the possibilities that it provides students.

“The Eden Project is one little enclave on campus that we can use as a model for other parts of the campus of how we can exhibit Christ-like behavior in ways that are not as normal in their everyday practice,” he says.

Low-flow faucetThe ultimate goal of the Eden Project is proving that it is, indeed, sustainable, and to be able to use the gathered data as a test case for future campus improvements. If successful, the results will make a case to integrate the features and programs that work at the Eden Project in initiatives, including green building efforts, across the University.

“We have a tremendously long history of leading by example with environmental practices,” says Bailard. “Sustainability is a big part of what we do, but it’s not quite yet exactly a part of who we are. We view this as our moral obligation. Sustainability is something that we truly believe is not just consistent with our mission, but is indeed demanded by it.”

“The notion is that we engage with students outside the classroom and here in the Eden Project, so that the students involved then become those student ambassadors who will go out and create a ripple effect. Those residents are going to drive sustainability change to make it something that all of our students think about."