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Some college students are expecting their home away from home to inspire and assist them in leading greener lives.
Public and private colleges and universities are responding to students' requests — and acknowledging their role in sustainability — by building eco-friendly and energy-efficient dorms and updating existing residence halls. Schools recognize they can play a role in encouraging the next generation to consider the Earth.
"Some high school students, I've actually heard that they aren't going to go to a college because a college isn't making a stand to be more environmentally friendly," says Brett Barnes, a 2009 Texas Tech graduate who was involved in the spring pilot of the U.S. Green Building Council's collegiate initiative, simply called USGBC Students.
More students are asking about schools' green practices, especially in the dormitories, related to air quality, energy usage and water conservation, says Brandon Anderson, manager of student and young professional programs for USGBC, which administers the LEED certification program for new and existing buildings.
"We can tell that basically the interest in what USBGC has to offer college students to transform their campuses, communities and career, is definitely highly sought after," he says.
When students arrive at college, they often expect to be able to recycle where they live, just like they do at home, and to experience other sustainable living arrangements, says Andy Wilson, assistant dean of campus life and director of residence life at Emory University in Atlanta. Many students are coming from high schools that are LEED-certified, he adds.
There are 327 LEED-certified buildings on college campuses, 36 of which are residence halls, according to the USBGC. Another 781 higher-education projects are LEED-registered, which means they are pursuing certification.
Schools seeking the certification are motivated by the possibility of trimming expenses through green initiatives that include system updates. Installing monitors can show students how much energy and water they are consuming and encourage them to use less.
That's one of the environmentally friendly features at Emory, where its East Village student residential complex is one of only a few dorms in the country to have earned LEED Gold. The school also has installed a stormwater system that collects rain from the roof and uses it for the building and for irrigation of its grounds.
Efforts to green up the dorms aren't without bumps. At Emory's new residential complex, the technology used for the plumbing system caused problems heating and cooling the water, Wilson says.
DIY in the dorms
Student initiatives that Barnes saw at Texas Tech included a recycling program for glass and paper in the dorms. The students then took the items to recycling centers at United Supermarkets and elsewhere around town. Curious classmates logged onto the Energy Star website to conduct an energy audit of their dorms.
Stylish dorm rooms also can have a more eco-conscious focus, too. Here are five suggestions from Theresa Gonzalez, co-author with Nicole Smith of Dorm Decor: Remake Your Space with More Than 35 Projects, (Chronicle Books, March 2009).
1) Embellish items you already own, from pillows to lampshades, to freshen them up. "Just work with what you have," Gonzalez says. Consider using renewable materials such as cork.
2) Purchase organic linens, which even are available from mass-market stores such as Walmart and Target.
3) Decorate your walls with poster art printed on recycled paper, or make your own art by using scrap pieces of fabric or cutting pages out of a magazine.
4) Use your parents' dishes. Your mom may have an old dish set she's not using anymore, Gonzalez says.
5) Research what's in your toiletries. Gonzalez recommends Skin Deep's cosmetic safety database. "You don't really need to spend a lot of money to be green," she says.
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