By Becca Bayham

When students sit down in a classroom, their minds are (usually) on the course material. However, in the case of classroom A158 in the LSRC, the paint on the walls might be just as interesting as the writing on the blackboard.

The Duke Environmental Leadership Program (DEL) provides environmental education for business and community leaders. When the program decided to renovate one of its classrooms, it took a somewhat different approach.

Rather than opting for Duke’s usual vendors, the program sought recommendations from a team of students taking professor Deb Gallagher’s Sustainable Business Strategy class, offered jointly by the Nicholas School and the Fuqua School of Business.

“[DEL’s] vision was two-fold – to provide a green classroom that reflects the spirit of the Nicholas School, as well as to provide an executive atmosphere,” team member Debbie Breisblatt says.

The student team — composed of Breisblatt, Kealy Devoy, Stephen Hiser and Jennifer Weiss — researched sustainable options on DEL’s behalf, with each group member tackling one of four categories: technology, furniture, lighting and miscellaneous (storage solutions and floor/wall coverings). The team produced a final recommendation with three levels: green, greener and greenest.

The lowest level (green) included low-hanging fruit such as low- or no-VOC paint and furniture that fulfilled some environmental criteria. Higher levels were more expensive, largely because they incorporated more technology (such as a telepresence system that would reduce the need for travel). Presented with these options, DEL administrators were able to choose a mix that worked best for their sustainability goals and their budget.

“I think it’s great that [DEL] realized how important it is for it to walk the walk and incorporate sustainability into its operations as well as it is able. A lot of companies are in that position right now… they realize that they should do X, for environmental and ethical reasons, but they don’t know how to get there,” Devoy says.

The team finalized its recommendations last spring, and the classroom renovation took place over the summer. DEL incorporated a number of the team’s suggestions, such as zero-VOC paint and furniture made with recycled material. The cost was not substantially higher than a regular classroom remodel, Devoy says.

“One of the other objectives for this renovation was to showcase what a green classroom could look like at Duke and hopefully to inspire other departments to take environmental factors into consideration when they renovate,” Breisblatt says.

Devoy says she wishes that more on-campus departments and organizations would take advantage of grad students’ abilities.

“I think the value of student labor is a lot higher than people think it is. We have skills. There are tons of grad programs with students that could do things we currently hire consultants for,” she says.