Students Plan New Sustainable Integrated Living Community


Students are collaborating to improve sustainable living. (Courtesy of Coleen Cochrane)

By Katherine Leonard

Students are collaborating to improve sustainable living. (Courtesy of Coleen Cochrane)

College students may grapple with how to be sustainable on a college campus, where infrastructure is not always geared towards environmentally healthy habits. Two students have worked to address this problem through a project developed as a part of the Social Innovation Collaboratory.
Emily Leaman, GSB ’20, and Colleen Cochran, FCRH ’21, recently launched a new collaboration initiative dealing with sustainability on campus. They said they hope to tackle this pressing issue and improve sustainability efforts on Fordham’s campus.

The Social Innovation Collaboratory is a network of Fordham University students, faculty, administrators, alumni and community members who work together to encourage social change. They mainly target social justice, social entrepreneurship and environmental sustainability. The professional staff mentors students and empowers them to create social impact projects. The staff provides network connections and resources to ensure the project’s success.

Leaman and Cochran’s project is a living-learning community in which students will reside in a house designed to ensure environmental sustainability. They aim to make the space a net-zero home, meaning it creates as much energy as it uses. By maximizing the use of on-site energy sources, the community has no carbon footprint. The home will include a wellness studio, community art space, communal area and residencies. The preliminary design of the house has been a group effort and will go through focus groups before the professional design is implemented.

“The goal of this ‘living laboratory’ is to empower students to experience ecologically and equitably mindful lives in an urban setting, through a hands-on, interdisciplinary, real-life learning environment,” said Leaman and Cochran’s project proposal.

This can be achieved by implementing an innovative curriculum and engaging the Fordham community with the mission.

“Through community engaged living and learning, innovative curriculum and mission integration, students will develop their identities as global sustainability change leaders,” reads the proposal.

The proposal is composed of three pillars. The first is living, which involves lowering natural resource consumption, waste and carbon transportation in the house. More specifically, the project intends to decrease water and energy consumption and distinguish between organic versus non-organic waste.

The second pillar is learning, and requires students to take a class in their first and second semester. The first class focuses on how to live sustainably. The class in the second semester allows students to create independent projects that will promote local and global sustainability. Examples of projects, which will be sponsored by mini-grants, range from a solar mural artwork to a 3D printer that uses recycled plastics.

The final pillar is community building. This sector consists of outreach events in the Bronx, such as community dinners, bike tours and visits to innovative startups. These field trips and retreats will encourage social bonding among residents.

The project plans to collaborate with partners such as the Bronx Science Consortium, United Student Government Sustainability Committee, Dean’s Council and Rams for Social Impact and Social Enterprise.

Leaman and Cochran are following in the footsteps of other major institutions. Colleges that have launched similar projects include Boston College, Tufts University and University of Michigan. The efforts of the Social Innovation Collaboratory would place Fordham among the colleges that have become paragons for environmental change and sustainability.

The inspiration for this project was a combination of replicating other effective projects and fostering a student’s passion for sustainability. Leaman said that she has always loved to experiment by taking on habits that are beneficial to the environment. She grew her own food, air dried her laundry and changed the shower heads in her house so that they were low flow.

“When I came to Fordham I felt like I lost autonomy over those habits,” Leaman said.

After doing research, she found that other colleges had developed learning communities dedicated to sustainable living. When Leaman came across these projects, she thought, “Why not at Fordham?”

This project has been a year-long effort of researching, constructing a proposal and communicating with Fordham community members. Leaman and Cochran are planning to form a team this year.

“Our long-term focus will be designing and building the Sustainable Living Community, but we will also be looking at other climate-related issues on campus, as there are other things we can address as a team in the meantime,” said Leaman.