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Sustainability in school isn’t as hard as you think 

Going green in your dorm isn’t as hard as you think

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Synergy, my home for this past year at Colorado College, is a sustainable living community consisting of 12 students, two houses, a garden and a greenhouse. Through living with a shared goal of environmental sustainability, my housemates and I grew a portion of our own produce, composted all of our food waste, and saved all jars and containers to be used as cups and makeshift Tupperware. Notably — and sometimes confusing to non-Synergists — in order to reduce usage of natural resources, one of our initiatives was to shower into a five-gallon bucket that would then be used to flush toilets in the house.

This might seem cumbersome and extreme, but not only did we reuse over 300 gallons of water monthly, but our water bills for a six-person house were always low. Even if saving your water is not a realistic option where you live, Synergy’s collective goal towards sustainability encompassed things as small as turning the lights off in an empty room, buying local food when available, and only buying vegetarian food with the money each housemate contributes to stock the kitchen each month.

In its orientation handbook, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs includes a list of expectations of sustainability from its freshman class, in short, asking new students to be aware and intentional of their energy and water usage, waste and means of transportation. In terms of living communities, both UCCS and CC have environmental and suitability-focused living/learning communities in underclassman dorms. Additionally, CC’s Eco-RA program delegates residential advisors to bring environmental consciousness into residential halls to promote what the college Sustainability Office calls “peer-to-peer education to foster sustainable living practices on and off campus.”

There are over 3,500 new students entering residential colleges or universities in Colorado Springs this fall. Every fall, there is a whole new group of students that can take initiative to live intentionally and show appreciation for our local resources. Your school is there to help you, so pick something small to start with; it’s a lot easier than you may think.

“I think the most important thing incoming students can do is to keep the broad definition of sustainability in mind and look for ways that they can become stewards in their own life and in their own way,” says Ian Johnson, Sustainability Director at Colorado College.

Moving into your dorm room or living space, even if you can’t save your shower water or have your own apple and peach trees, there’s still a lot you can do to stay sustainable:

Turn it off

Reducing your electricity usage in your dorm room may be the easiest and one of the most impactful ways to make your year more sustainable.

• Unplug it. Even if your electronics are turned off, they still use standby energy waiting for you to turn them on again. Since there’s a large portion of the day when you’re either sleeping or out of your room, take the extra second to plug them back in when you’re ready to use them again. To make things simpler, get a power strip for all of your devices to be able to unplug everything at once.

• If your room has a thermostat, keep it at a consistent temperature in the winter. Adjusting it every once in a while saves a lot more energy than turning it on and off.

• Keep it short. Many parts of Colorado are consistently at risk for drought. A five-minute shower or less is best. Use a low-flow shower head with a shut-off nozzle to save even more water while soaping.

It doesn’t all belong in the trash
There’s a place for everything. Sometimes, it does belong in a trashcan, but probably much less than you think.

• Find a new home for your food waste. While you will likely eat most of your meals in dining halls, everything leftover in your dorm room doesn’t need to go in the trash. Try collecting your personal food waste in any sized sealable jar and finding your nearest compost bin.

• Not only is it better for the environment and for your body, a BPA-free reusable water bottle is also an economically sustainable investment. If you buy a one dollar plastic water bottle every day for a year, you end up spending around $355 dollars more than one sturdy water bottle that can last you all of college.

• Know how much food to buy. How much will you actually eat before it goes bad? At the same time, if a food or drink is sold in a large container that you know won’t expire anytime soon, opt for larger quantities and ultimately less packaging. Share with your roommates.

How badly do you actually need that?

Even in a small room, it’s easy to lose track of what you have, so it’s no surprise that the greatest waste created by college residence halls is at the end of the year.

• Before you decide to get rid of something, consider if someone else could use it. Your college will likely have a space or Facebook page where students exchange clothes, textbooks, etc.

• Choose the ARC or Goodwill over a dumpster if you think an item can enjoy a second life. The popularity of dumpster diving each year when school lets out speaks to just how much usable materials enters the trash stream unnecessarily.

With the chaos of the first semester of college, it can be hard to remember to take a step back. Start the year off with a personal intention to live more sustainably, one small thing at a time.

“In many ways, that’s what a liberal arts education is doing. Our students become comfortable with paying attention to their surroundings and with becoming curious about them enough to ask deep questions that will help inform their decisions. We try to make sure that they see and understand the connections to sustainability and their studies and life choices through their classes, through the opportunities that we provide, and hopefully through the example that we set,” says Johnson.

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