Montclair State University's Environmental Club building an Earthship.

A Model for Sustainability

Environmental Club receives award for Earthship initiative

The Montclair State University Environmental Club dreams big. Its 25 members have worked for more than a year toward realizing their dream of constructing the first Earthship – a sustainable, livable structure built with recycled materials – on a university campus.

Last fall, the club’s passion and persistence paid off: It’s plan garnered an honorable mention award in the innovative sustainability initiative category from the U.S. Green Building Council-New Jersey at the Council’s 13th Annual Emerald Awards recognizing outstanding achievements and best practices in green building and sustainability.

“There is no better way to put sustainability into practice than to encourage student-led projects such as the Earthship,” says Earth and Environmental Studies Professor Robert Taylor, who also directs the sustainability science program and serves as the club’s faculty advisor.

Earthships are structures built entirely from recycled materials such as tires that are pounded full of dirt. Recycled cans and bottles incorporated into the walls provide additional insulation, while natural building materials like cob (a mixture of straw, water and subsoil) cover interior and exterior walls. Designed to be off-grid, Earthships use rain catching, storing and filtering systems for water needs and solar panels for electricity.

While a vibrant Earthship community exists in Taos, New Mexico, there are only two East Coast Earthships: one in Ithaca, New York, and one in Bristol, Pennsylvania. If built, the Environmental Club’s Earthship would be the only one on a university campus.

Senior Stephano Castro founded the club in fall 2014, hoping to build an Earthship. Should it be built, Castro says, the University’s Earthship could become a campus sustainability education center.

“More than 20,000 students will see that taking care of the planet doesn’t mean decreasing our standard of living, but rather focuses on the things we truly need, like food, shelter, water and clean sewage,” he says.

The students have created a video to help explain the project to possible funders and others. In it, they visit an Earthship and interview architects and environmentalists including Gray Russell, sustainability officer for Montclair Township, who says the Earthship is an exciting idea and project for the area.

“My issue always goes back to climate and trying to reduce carbon emissions that are changing the chemistry of our atmosphere, and a building like this, I think, is the future,” he says in the video. “And something that comes about as a demonstration of how that’s going to look can only be a really positive step forward.”

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