Q How can my dorm go green and what can I do to convince people?
A I have to high-five you. You're living in the sex-, drug- and rock-'n'-roll- laden lair that is the student dorm, but instead of spending all your time engineering beer bongs, you, my friend, want to shrink your building's ecological footprint. Or maybe you want to do both.
Either way, the good news is you're not alone, as the help hotlines say. Students and schools continent-wide are trying to green their residences.
First off, if your school has a sustainability office, you should pay it a visit and see if the staff there have anything in the works you could help out with. If not, it's time to start spearheading your own campaign. Put up signs to see if anyone wants to form an enviro team. Get reps to push different themes every month, like turning off computers and taking shorter showers (see U of T's Rewire project at rewire.utoronto.ca).
Sierra Student Coalition has a great campus climate challenge kit you could adapt to your dorm mission (www.ssc.org). It's full of ideas for stuff like holding a Do It In The Dark kick-off party where you give out flyers with the top 10 conservation tips .
Don't stop there. Hand out handy eco dorm prizes (like an organic snack basket) to those who really jump on the conservation train. Hold green movie nights to show films like Who Killed the Electric Car? and An Inconvenient Truth.
Once you've lined up support from other students, head to your campus's administrative office and book a meeting with whoever's in charge about energy-saving retrofits of light bulbs, toilets and shower heads. If you've got a creaky old rez, you might want to push for new windows and insulation, or at least some good caulking and weatherstripping.
To ensure new dorms are built in an environmentally friendly way, UBC developed its own green building assessment program that mandates more bike storage spots, energy-efficient appliances and lights, low-VOC building materials and low-flush toilets. Talk to your admin about establishing similar standards at your school .
Inspire some higher-ups by telling them about the 400 lucky devils at York U who get to call Pond Road Residence (with its 1,000-square-metre green roof, solar panels, eco carpeting and in-floor radiant heating and cooling) home. This green dream unit uses 68 per cent less energy than other buildings for heat, cooling and light.
Of course, eco-fying your residence isn't just about major building retrofits that will have you tangled in red tape. You want to make sure your own personal pod goes green, too. If your mom's donated bedding and towels, stick with those. If not, bet you didn't think you had the cash for organic sheets and towels, did you? Well, Linens N Things (www.lnt.com) has pesticide-free sheet sets for under $100, and bamboo towels for 6 to 13 bucks.
Ikea's a good spot to get pillows, desks and bookcases free of headache- and smog-inducing formaldehyde and other major nasties. You can buy a funky PVC-free shower curtain for a tenner, to boot.
Reuse is the second rule of environmentalism, so scour second-hand sites like Craigslist.com and Kijiji. com for gently used gear (like those Ikea desks and bookshelves I was talking about at half the price).
Can't survive the school year without your soaps? You don't want your TV, DVD player, even your cell charger sucking power from the wall when they're turned off. Stop the phantom power-hogging by putting all your electronics on a power bar and shutting it off when you leave the room . And keep rechargeable batteries on hand.
If you have a kitchen area, a toaster oven can be your best friend this semester. They're way more efficient than real ovens and can do anything they do (even bake small batches of spelt cookies). Slow cookers rock, too, letting you feast on a potful of healthy stew or soup. Microwaves are actually the most energy-wise way to heat up food , though I wouldn't recommend cooking vegetables in them, since they zap nutrients.
And, hey, to make sure you're munching on plenty of fruits and veggies instead of crateloads of KD, look into signing up for FoodShare's Good Food Box (www.foodshare.net). You can pick the basic $12-a-week box or bump it up to strictly organic produce. It's delivered right to T.O. campuses.