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Greening Your Dorm Room: Saving the World or Just a Little Cash?

GreenMeadowIt may be modest, but your dorm room is likely your first chance to create a personal environment that really reflects who you are and what you care most about. Beyond posters on a wall, you have an opportunity to convey what is important in your life and how you want to live.

Or you might just need to keep it cheap and simple so you can focus on study and education.

Either way, finding ways to green your dorm room and college life make perfect sense. And it’s all relatively easy to do. Sure much of it comes down to a bullet list of common sense items, which we’ll get to in a moment, but beyond any list are the ideas and ideals behind the choices you make for your living space.

This quick article will help get you thinking about some of these ideas that you’ll carry with you as you move from a dorm room to an off-campus apartment and perhaps eventually to your own house or urban condo.

Years from now people will ask where you learned how to run such a low-footprint, energy-efficient house and you’ll say, “yeah, I learned that back in college.”

Let’s get started.

First of all, congratulations on making it this far; you’re studying at college or university – or you soon will be – and you’re getting ready to take on the world. Maybe some of your friends are still asking “is global warming real? but you know that climate, energy and sustainability are all part of the same problem. You know that the choices you make today will impact the future for generation to come. You also know that greening your lifestyle not only makes sense environmentally, but economically as well.

It all begins with the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle


Okay, you’re a poor college student living in a tiny dorm room – how exactly are you supposed to “reduce” when you’re living on peanut butter and skittles? You’d be surprised how, even in the most modest of dorm rooms, you can reduce – your energy use, your waste and your resource consumption.

  • Lighting

Use CFL lightbulbs, or better yet, LED fixtures. We won’t save the world by changing lightbulbs, but the Energy Information Administration estimates that about 461 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity were consumed in the United States in 2011 just for lighting. That’s equal to 17 percent of total electrical demand and represents some “low hanging fruit” for greening a dorm room (or any room for that matter). Granted, upfront costs for LED’s are still high, but they use a fraction of the energy of even a CFL bulb, and could last until you get your student loans paid off. With CFL’s or LED, you’ll save money in the long run.

  • Go Paperless

We don’t need to tell you, the savvy college student, about all the cool apps and programs available to help you go paperless. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to eliminate paper entirely from your college experience, but with services like Evernote, Google Drive, Dropbox and many others, you can be as paperless a student as possible.

Going paperless can extend to many areas of your life, too. Food, for instance. Carry a favorite mug for coffee or tea instead of an endless string of paper cups. Whenever possible, avoid using paper plates and napkins. Clean up with cloth towels instead of paper towels. You might be saving more trees than money here, but your actions just may catalyze others to do the same, saving even more trees in the process.

  • Energy

Beyond lighting, there are lots of ways to reduce energy consumption and their associated costs. Granted, you may not be paying for energy while living in your dorm room, but getting in this habit now will save money for the rest of your life.

It can start with sharing any appliances you don’t absolutely need in your dorm room – TV’s and refrigerators for instance; can these appliances be shared? If you do have a TV or fridge in your room, make sure they are EnergyStar rated – that goes for any appliance you own.

You can cut way down on energy for heating and cooling by adapting floor and window coverings to your environment. Put down rugs to keep your room cooler, roll them up when it gets warmer. On hot summer days open the windows and use curtains and blinds to either block the hot sun or let the air flow through. If you can, avoid using an air conditioner and opt for a fan instead.

  • Green mobile phones

Perhaps this one is a bit unexpected, as you look lovingly at your iPhone or Android, but your choice of smartphone can make a big difference in terms of manufacturing, packaging, energy use and product lifecycle. If you’re not looking to upgrade, then don’t. The greenest (and least expensive) thing you can do is to continue to use what you already have. But if you think you’ll soon get a new phone, consider your options for getting one of the greenest smartphones.


Much of what we’ve mentioned so far may not save you that much money right off the bat, but they help establish lifetime habits that will save you cash throughout your life and set a good example for your friends and family.

“Reuse” however, is a different story. In our throwaway culture the idea of reuse may at first seem a bit foreign. But it starts with simple things. When you do use sheet paper, make sure to use both sides if you can before throwing it in the recycle bin. Save big bucks by using or buying used appliances or clothing. Make sure to donate items you do discard to the Salvation Army or some other charity.

Be creative, find ways specific to your life that you can reuse materials and resources, it will make an immediate impact on your bottom line and help the world at the same time. Let us know the different ways you’ve found to employ this concept in your life!


This may be the best known of the three R’s. Recycle bins are becoming ever more evident wherever we go these days. And that’s a good thing. Recycling reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills. Americans throw away about 250 million tons of garbage every year, but only 32 percent of waste is now diverted to landfills nationwide. We can do better – much better!

The city of San Francisco diverts 80 percent of its garbage from landfills, and is on track to becoming a zero waste city.

But here’s a real challenge for college students everywhere: North Carolina State University now diverts as much as 93 percent of its waste from landfills. Surely you’re not going to let NC State one-up your school’s landfill diversion program – are you? (and if you’re from NC State – kudos!)

Save money, save resources, save the world

If only it were that easy, right? The fact is that getting started on the road to saving money, conserving resources and making the world more sustainable does really start with a few simple, common sense steps. Using a mug instead of a plastic cup, changing a light bulb or recycling old term papers won’t save the world or make you rich. But it’s a start.

By taking steps to green your dorm room and your college life you’ll lay the foundation for a better world – as Jeffery Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute puts it, a world that is economically prosperous, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

It starts with you, with me, with all of us.

About The Author:

Today’s guest article comes from Matthew Speer, the co-founder of

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