How Student Wellness & Green Furniture Go Together

In Blog, Green Manufacturing by Morgan Dix

How do you manage student wellness in your residence halls? There are a lot of dimensions to wellness.

Students these days are under a lot of pressure to perform and compete even before they reach college. Whereas straight A’s and top test scores once guaranteed a spot at the best schools, that’s no longer the case.

And once students do start college, they’re expected to rise to higher academic standards while embracing a new community of peers and social pressures.

Not to mention, this is happening in a context where students are constantly “plugged in” to social media, which generates its own stressors.

One consequence of all this is a fresh focus on student wellness at colleges and universities.

This might sound cliche, but at DCI we care about the future of the next generation.

Did you know, for example, that the kind of furniture you choose can help mitigate the sources and symptoms of student stress by bolstering wellness?

I’ll explain more about that in a bit. But first, what is wellness and why is it important?

The Eight Dimensions of Student Wellness

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are eight key aspects of wellness:

  • Emotional—Coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships
  • Environmental—Good health by occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that support well-being
  • Financial—Satisfaction with current and future financial situations
  • Intellectual—Recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills
  • Occupational—Personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s work
  • Physical—Recognizing the need for physical activity, healthy foods, and sleep
  • Social—Developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system
  • Spiritual—Expanding a sense of purpose and meaning in life

sustainability and student wellnessIn an effort to mitigate stress and bolster student wellness, many schools are placing increasing emphasis on wellness.

In terms of the eight dimensions of wellness, we’re passionate about environmental wellness, and we build our hardwood furniture adhering to green processes and principles.

In addition to crafting green furniture that enhances environmental wellness through design, materials, and process, our furniture embodies a sustainability backstory that inspires.

So we know that student wellness is gaining attention and resources on campus. Stress is a big part of that. But why are students so stressed?

Students Are Stressed. Why?

chronic stress compromises student wellness

Stress is one of the biggest obstacles to wellness and studies show that students are more stressed than ever.

According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), 80% of college students say they sometimes or often feel stressed.

That’s a big number.

When I was a college student over 20 years ago, stress wasn’t really on my radar. But I didn’t contend with the onslaught of tectonic cultural shifts and daily stressors that today’s students face.

Life for today’s student is more complex and much less predictable.

Healthy Vs Unhealthy Stress

There are a lot of reasons for this surge in stress. According to one poll conducted by the American College Health Association (ACHA) in 2016:

Stress was the single most common inhibitor on academic performance reported by students, followed by depression, anxiety, and sleep difficulties.

We all know that a certain amount of stress is normal and even helpful when it comes to motivation and performance. But we’re talking about the unhealthy kind of stress which releases brain-stymying levels of cortisol.

This is the kind of stress which activates your fight or flight response and foils healthy brain function.

Top Sources of Stress For Students

So what are some of the top stressors for students? According to the ACHA, some of the leading causes are:

  • Living Away From Home
  • Academic Demands and Test Anxiety
  • Finances
  • Post-Graduate Plans

There’s a lot to say about all of these, but when you consider the financial burden of ever-increasing tuition rates paired with the decreasing perceived value of a university degree, it’s a problem.

A college degree used to guarantee a solid middle class job upon graduation. That’s no longer the case. According to this recent article in the Washington Post exploring the value of a BA:

Rather than a ticket to a high-paying, managerial job, the four-year degree is now the minimum ticket to get in the door to any job. Valletta wrote that his findings “suggest rising competition between education groups for increasingly scarce well-paid jobs.”

So students are taking on more debt for much longer. Yet they have less chance of getting the well paying jobs that higher education used to promise.

We’re just scratching the surface here but what’s clear is that all of this adds up to higher stress levels for students.

And you might be wondering, what are schools actually doing to promote wellness and where does sustainable furniture fit in this story?

The Emergence of Wellness Centers & Programs

Colleges and Universities are taking this surge of student stress and anxiety seriously. And now, they’re responding to it in a number of ways.

To begin with, many schools have established wellness centers that administer wellness programs and resources for students.

Dartmouth’s Wellness Center, for example, provides a full index of guided meditations and mindfulness courses as well as courses in Emotional Intelligence.

The University of Maryland’s Health Center promotes the 8 dimensions of wellness on their website. As we noted above, one of the 8 dimensions is Environmental.

Environmental wellness inspires us to live a lifestyle that is respectful of our surroundings. It involves understanding the dynamic relationship between the environment and people and recognizing that we are responsible for the quality of the air, water, and earth that surrounds us and in turn, that social, natural, and built environments affect our health and well-being.

We’re going to come back to the topic of environmental wellness in just a moment. First, let’s look at a few more ways schools are promoting wellness.

According to the College Planning & Management website:

Institutions are all looking at the issue of health and wellness which translates in different ways on individual campuses. Offices for counselors, small fitness rooms (typically cardio equipment), meditation rooms, community kitchens where dietitians can interact with students are all examples of spaces we are designing to promote wellness in residence halls.”

The Salutary Role of Live-Learn Communities

Residence halls are increasingly ground zero when it comes to promoting student wellness. For example, in addition to wellness centers, live-learn communities focused on wellness are on the rise and offer students an effective approach to mitigating stress.

According to the College Raptor:

Wellness dorms are basically living learning communities–like-minded students living together in the dorms. It may be a floor, or an entire building, but it’s a smaller group of students within the larger college campus community. The difference is that rather than being grouped together based on your major, you’re grouped in with other students who are focused on a healthy lifestyle.

So how does sustainability fit into all this? How does it help students manage stress?

Synchronizing Student Wellness & Sustainability

First off, let’s look at the relationship between student wellness and sustainability. In an articleexploring different trends in college housing, the authors make some interesting observations.

GenZ has grown up in an era of continuous discussion of civic responsibility and the importance of protecting our environment. Sustainability is a lifetime learning tool, and colleges and universities are leveraging cutting edge green features and technologies to influence student behavior, promote wellbeing, provide educational opportunities, and enhance the overall curriculum.

Residence halls have a unique opportunity to serve as sustainability learning centers – buildings that actively teach in addition to providing housing. From green roofs to outdoor classrooms to ecologically-friendly design choices such as LED lighting, low-flow shower heads and toilets, and high efficiency washing machines, the spaces in which students live impact their awareness and understanding of sustainability.

At Wake Forest University, for example, they use innovative furniture design solutions to engage students out of doors as an active way to combat stress.

“Like a lot of universities, our students are on a treadmill, sometimes very stressed and anxious,” says Penny Rue, vice president for campus life at Wake Forest University. “The thought was to create environmentally sticky spaces where they would sit and interact.”

There’s a lot to this. At DCI, we’ve observed that sustainable furniture can have a huge impact on student wellness.

Indoor Air Quality and Student Wellness

For example, indoor air quality is incredibly important for students. In fact, a 2015 study from Harvard’s School for Public Health showed that poor indoor air quality can have a dramatic impact on students’ academic performance.

The findings suggest that the indoor environments in which many people work daily could be adversely affecting cognitive function—and that, conversely, improved air quality could greatly increase the cognitive function performance of workers.

The implications for student wellness are huge. I can think of few other places where the implications of these findings are more important than a university residence hall.

Ensuring that students study and work in green buildings that support learning is a cornerstone of environmental wellness.

And because residence hall furniture is a major—if not primary—determinant of indoor air quality, it’s important for student health and performance that you insist on getting furniture that is MAS Green certified.

The dramatic findings in the study support this assertion.

They found that cognitive performance scores for the participants who worked in the green+ environments were, on average, double those of participants who worked in conventional environments; scores for those working in green environments were 61% higher.

This is why we are MAS certified and use VOC-free UV-cured water based wood finishing processes for all our furniture.

It’s also why all our furniture contains no toxic flame-retardant chemicals. All our furniture adheres to Cal-117 standards.

The Bigger Picture

In terms of the bigger picture, the story of our furniture is a story about local people, local economies, and the thriving forests of the Vermont and New Hampshire North Country.

It’s the story of a family committed to running a business based on the principles of sustainability.

We own every stage in the supply chain for our hardwood furniture. And we’ve worked hard to hone every step in that process. We minimize our impact on the ecosystem that sustains us.

At the same time, we craft beautiful furniture designed to last for generations. We strive to inspire students with the process and principles that go into building this furniture as much as with the furniture itself.

For example, we power much of our operation with our own waste—renewable biomass fuel. That means that we burn all our sawdust and wood byproduct in our steam boilers to generate our heat and power our energy-intensive kilns.

In essence, we run a zero-waste operation.

All of this is part of our commitment to student wellness. If students understand the context that informs and defines the furniture they’re using, it improves their quality of life.

(Photos via Flickr CC: Jisc infoNet,