Generation Conscious = student org + sustainable detergent sheets
Generation Conscious, a Registered Student Organization (RSO) at Williams, aims to educate students around climate justice, help Williams College fulfill its institutional goals with regards to the Strategic Plan and Zero Waste Action Plan in tangible ways, and provide students with hands-on experiences in activism and disrupting unjust systems that disproportionately affect people of color and disadvantaged communities. Generation Conscious is a Black-owned small business in New York City with many chapters in peer institutions such as Connecticut College and Bowdoin College.
Working closely with the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, GenCo student leaders host workshops that educate students about climate justice – how climate change and social justice are two sides of the same coin – and empowers students to engender change. GenCo @ Williams will provide funding for the free laundry detergent sheet program that simultaneously addresses hygiene insecurity for low-income, first-generation, and international students and reduces the laundry-related carbon footprint of Williams College by avoiding wasteful and environmentally damaging traditional laundry detergent products.
The refill station is plugged into an outlet in the lobby of Mission and dispenses 10 detergent sheets each time a student enters their email address into the machine. Throughout the 2022-23 academic year, all Williams students will have an unlimited number of free refills per the school’s contract with Generation Conscious.
The Zilkha Center and its campus partners are thrilled to bring Generation Conscious to Williams as we work toward reducing waste on campus and furthering environmental justice.
The GenCo refill station is located in the lobby of Mission Park; upon entering the building through the entrance facing Frosh Quad and Paresky, it is immediately on your right.
To use the machine, enter your unix on the touch screen and select “scented” or “unscented.” (In the words of one student, the scented kind smells like “the platonic ideal of fresh laundry.” It’s a fan favorite.) Wait for the machine to dispense 10 sheets, put them in your aluminum tin or recycled container, and store them in your backpack or clothes hamper.
When you’re ready to do laundry, tear a detergent sheet into quarters, throw all four directly into the washing machine, and hit “start.” One detergent sheet is needed for one load of laundry.
- The GenCo refill station and detergent sheets reduce packaging waste and transportation emissions, resulting in a more environmentally benign system than Tide Pods, the current market leader in laundry detergent.
- For a typical university package installation of the refill station, detergent sheets, and 150 reusable aluminum tins, the GenCo station needs to dispense less than 4,000 sheets to reach carbon parity with Tide Pods. Every refill dispensed thereafter saves ~1.36 kg of carbon dioxide from being produced, so after dispensing another 4,000 sheets, the refill station saves 5,440 kg of CO2—the equivalent of 1.1 homes’ annual electricity use or 6,027 pounds of coal burned.
- GenCo’s detergent sheets embody 97% less carbon emissions than conventional detergent pods, and they are 20% cheaper than Tide Pods.
- GenCo detergent sheets are made out of just four ingredients that are 100% plant-based and 99.8% biodegradable. (The ingredients are sodium dodecyl sulfate, fatty alcohol polyglycol ether, deionized water, and polyvinyl alcohol.)
- GenCo stations have been installed at a number of other colleges and universities across the country, including Rice University in Texas, Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and the University of California San Diego.
In addition to laundry detergent sheets, GenCo hires Williams students as interns who will maintain the machine, promote awareness of the company’s products and values, collect feedback on a regular basis, and determine the demand for more refill stations in the future. In particular, GenCo encourages first-generation, low-income, and/or BIPOC students to apply. In addition, GenCo also awards stipends for students to work on creative projects related to climate change and social justice. By working directly with Williams students, GenCo creates a "circular" relationship with the institution by directly reinvesting back into the community.
During the summer of 2021, Zilkha Center interns Jacob Chen ’23.5 and Simon Kissam ’23 got feedback from fellow students on two GenCo products, the laundry detergent sheets and toothpaste tablets. Positive feedback on the detergent sheets (the toothpaste tabs were less popular) led to the current effort to install a refill station on campus. (Read about the development of the “GenCo program” in Ali Hashim’s April 2022 update.)
During the past academic year, Ali Hashim ’25, Petra Hinds ’24, and Nick Stefanelli ’23 worked with Mike Evans, the Deputy Director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, to identify other campus partners. The Office of Campus Life (OCL) and the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (OIDEI) joined the Zilkha Center in funding the refill station, the Davis Center's Community Engagement Fellows advised on the project, and Facilities/Operations and the Office of Information Technology (OIT) provided logistical support. In the summer of 2022, a refill machine was installed in Mission Park residence hall.
In the spring of 2023, GenCo student leaders submitted an application to become a Registered Student Org (RSO) and were approved. The RSO will begin programming in the fall of 2023.
GL Genco, the CEO and founder of Generation Conscious, grew up near a waste transfer station in Jamaica, Queens, NYC before moving to Long Island with his Trinidadian-Italian family. Seeing the health impacts of the waste station on his community motivated him to found Generation Conscious, which radically rejects systems that perpetuate racial and economic injustice through emitting carbon, producing plastic, and wasting water. Instead, Generation Conscious creates sustained change by replacing these systems with ones that generate true environmental sustainability, racial and economic equity, and accessibility.
Utilizing ecosystemic design principles to build zero waste infrastructures, Generation Conscious helps everyday people reimagine the culture of the United States as a culture concerned with the well-being of the environment and of economically vulnerable communities. Most importantly, Generation Conscious shows that by acting on these concerns, we can create an equitable and healthy world for all life. Read more about GenCo’s values here.