by Becca Nelson '20
My hands smeared with soil, I bend down and scatter handfuls of seeds over the barren earth. Gold light streams through the oaks on the path around Lake Lagunita. I pat a thin layer of soil over the seeds to protect them. Several other people from my dorm, Roble, help out. As we laugh and talk, I start raking another patch of soil. The air tastes of wet clay and dried leaves. We spread another layer of seeds as the distant foothills flush a deep purple. The seeds float downward as small brown wisps, as thin and fragile as silk. Yet given soft rain and luck and patience, some of these seeds will grow into a vibrant mix of native wildflowers and grasses.These plants will help improve Lake Lag’s biodiversity and provide an important nectar source for declining pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The seed planting is part of my project as a Roble Sustainability Leader, working in collaboration with Stanford Conversation. I am seeking to foster interconnection between the people living in Roble and its surrounding ecosystem.
2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Roble Hall, Stanford’s largest four class dorm. With its Beaux-Arts columns and gothic tendrils of ivy, Roble stands out as one of the most iconic dorms on campus. With its ornate carvings and narrow balconies, Roble endures as a symbol of Stanford’s history. Beyond its old-fashioned facade, Roble has become the locus of an innovative sustainability initiative that is addressing the social and environmental challenges of the 21st century. Roble Resident Fellows Jeff Ball and Becky Bull spearheaded the creation of the Roble Living Laboratory for Sustainability at Stanford (ROLLSS). According to its mission statement, “ROLLSS seeks to help students prioritize actions that are likely to make a meaningful environmental difference.” Another major goal of the program is to cost-effectively retrofit the old and inefficient Roble into a resource and energy efficient building, a challenge that can serve as a model for other buildings in the Stanford community and beyond.
As one of several Roble Sustainability Leaders (RSLs), I help catalyze discussion and action about sustainability. The other RSLs and I are engaged in a variety of projects that seek to encourage sustainability in three main ways: (1) by improving the efficiency of Roble’s building and its relationship with the surrounding ecosystem (2) by encouraging people living in the dorm to modify the environmental impact of their lifestyle and (3) by reaching out to communities beyond Roble and Stanford to encourage dialogue and policy change. I have been really inspired by the passion and ideas of the other RSLs as well as Roble’s Graduate Sustainability Fellow. Their projects include efforts to encourage composting and decrease waste in the dorm, developing an innovative MakerSpace in Roble where people can create and build cool things, and hosting informal discussions about sustainability through dinner and movie events. Roble also holds a series of Hard Earth talks in which graduate student speakers discuss their research and perspectives on a wide range of issues from the economic feasibility of renewable energy to environmental justice.
After returning to campus from winter break, I go for a run around Lake Lag. The jogging path glistens with dampness from recent rains. As I run through the fog, I pass the area along the path where we planted our seeds. Small green sprouts poke out of the soil, less than an inch high. Sustainable changes in resource use, lifestyle, and land stewardship don’t occur overnight but grow slowly like seeds gradually thrusting their way toward the light. An ethical relationship with the places and ecosystems we live in evolves with community action and dialogue. The ultimate innovation of the Roble Living Laboratory for Sustainability at Stanford is its ability to foster a community of people open to tough conversations and new ideas.
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This is a forum for students to share their writing on intersectional environmental topics, curated by Students for a Sustainable Stanford. Writers of all backgrounds, abilities, and perspectives are welcome.