A dorm outfitted with composting toilets and kitchen cabinets made from recycled fence-posts is bringing new meaning to the concept of living “green” at college. 

The EcoDorm, home to 36 undergraduates at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C., was designed to be sustainable from top to bottom, or in this case, from its rainwater-collection system to a permaculture garden.

Residents – who have sworn off hair dryers and gravitate toward acoustic music – see “an integration between their actions and their values,” Margo Flood, the executive director of Warren Wilson’s Environmental Leadership Center, told The New York Times Magazine.

Across the country, colleges have been looking to become more sustainable and more than 600 schools have already pledged to become carbon neutral. Nationwide, some 90 dorms are LEED certified, but EcoDorm is one of two dorms that have LEED’s platinum rating.

At Warren Wilson, a liberal arts school with fewer than 1,000 students, the sustainability drive came from the student body. The EcoDorm concept was hatched a decade ago by two undergraduates; a planning committee initially suggested building materials like corncobs or straw bales.

Although the architects, Samsel Architects, nixed those ideas, they came up with other creative solutions: Wood siding was taken from trees on campus that were suffering from a pine-beetle infestation, and rainwater is collected in an old railway tanker car and pumped back into the house to flush the low-flow toilets. There are two composting toilets and students shovel wood chips into them after each use.

All in all, the dorm uses nearly two-thirds less electricity than a similar-sized conventional building would.

But even the most sustainable homes need follow-through from its occupants. And in the case of EcoDorm, students live by their words. Most also take advantage of the dorm’s permaculture garden, planting and harvesting artichokes, figs and other fruits and veggies. “I didn’t have to worry about paper towels being wasted or feeling bad about drying my clothes outside,” senior Jeremy Lekich, who oversees the garden, said. “Basically, it has made my life easier.”

EcoDorm offers 'green' college living
A dorm outfitted with composting toilets and a permaculture garden is bringing new meaning to the concept of sustainable college living.