Environmental Club Receives U.S. Green Building Council Award for Earthship Initiative

Club plans to build first university-based Earthship building

Photo: Mike Peters

Members of Montclair State University's Environmental Club with a model of their Earthship.

The Montclair State University Environmental Club dreams big. For the past year, its 25 members have worked to realize their dream of constructing the first Earthship – a sustainable, livable structure built with recycled materials – on a university campus.

Their passion has paid off: in October the club received an Honorable Mention in the innovative sustainability initiative category from the New Jersey chapter of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC NJ) at its 13th Annual Emerald Awards ceremony held on October 30, 2015, at Montclair State. Each year, these awards recognize companies and individuals for their outstanding achievements and best practices in green building and sustainability.

“As an educator, there is no better way to put sustainability into practice than to encourage student-led projects such as the Earthship,” says Earth and Environmental Science Professor Robert Taylor, who directs the department’s sustainability science program and serves as the Environmental Club’s faculty advisor. “What is important about the Earthship project is that students are developing skills in project development, collaboration and entrepreneurial financing for sustainability. They’ve secured recognition from the USGBC for the uniqueness of their project and have established an Indiegogo online financing mechanism to help raise the necessary funds to build it.”

Going Off the Grid
Earthships are built from recycled tires that have been pounded full of dirt. Recycled cans and bottles incorporated into building walls provide additional insulation, while interior and exterior walls are covered in natural building materials like cob. Earthships are designed to be entirely off-grid, by using a rain catching, storing and filtering system to meet water needs and sourcing electricity from solar panels.

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

Senior Stephano Castro founded the Club a year ago, with the express purpose of building an Earthship. Club members did their research, visiting the Earthship in Bristol and inviting the CEO of Earthship 360, a company dedicated to sustainable building practices, to speak on campus. “Since we won the USGBC NJ award, we’ve launched our Indiegogo fundraising campaign,” says Castro, who also serves as the student advisor to the University’s PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies. Money raised will go through the Montclair State University Foundation.

A Sustainability Learning Center
Castro hopes that once built, the University’s Earthship would serve as a sustainability learning center, where students could see firsthand how they could live without depleting natural resources. “On campus, 20,000 students will see that taking care of the planet does not mean we have to decrease our standard of living, but rather change what we perceive as necessities and just focus on the things we truly need, like food, shelter, water and clean sewage,” he says.

According to Castro, the University has been helping the Environmental Club scout for locations for the Earthship. “Once we have a place, we will need to put all the pieces together to make this happen,” says Castro. “With proper planning and successful fundraising, I would say construction should be able to begin in around six to nine months. Since we won the award, the project seems more real every day.”

To learn more about the Montclair State Environmental Club Earthship project, visit https://www.indiegogo.com/project/preview/35471630.