Changing the College Mindset

Going Green in a Dorm Room Really Is Possible

The green movement came as more of a slap than an epiphany. Sitting on the floor of my college dorm room, I was surrounded by pizza boxes, notebooks and paper cups by the dozen. It was finals week and I was running on four hours of sleep, caffeine and greasy, sugary snacks. My roommates were in no better shape: our sagging faces and sticky hair proved we were no match for sleep deprivation and macroeconomics. Being eco-friendly was not on the agenda.

Going into college my eco-awareness consisted of a combination of disjointed public school activism, a few camping trips and the most basic forms of recycling, gardening and being "green." At home, we had separate areas for our recyclables, a vegetable garden and the assurance that if a light was left on someone was going to get scolded. But college proved to be different. Away from the demands of our parents, we tossed papers into the wastebasket, took extra long showers and bought water bottles in bulk. Time and efficiency took the place of money and activism. For us, college stood as the Mecca for disposable waste, where reusable goods took second place to plastic cups.

In college, being eco-friendly is not always on the agenda, but after 20 minutes of online shopping, one can buy reusable bags, a stainless steel water bottle and recycling bins.
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The idea of going green was always an ideal — a way to better myself in the future like doing yoga everyday, hiking and eating organic. The sheer size of the environmental movement stood as an intimidating reminder that I should be doing something more. I conveniently placed it on the backburner promising myself (and my eco-friendly RA) that next time, perhaps tomorrow, I would really go green.

My ambitions have always been a bit grand. Like most Americans, I have a habit of setting lofty goals, expecting to achieve them without a hitch. Tomorrow I will stop eating desserts for good, I will run an extra mile and I will begin writing my award-winning novel. Easy, right? So, after a few calculations, I presumed I could transition from wasteful college student to poster child of the green movement with just a few productive days. Turned out, I didn't even need that. After 20 minutes of online shopping, I'd bought reusable bags, a stainless steel water bottle and recycling bins, and was on my way.

A basic eco-friendly education is necessary on most college campuses. And the place to connect with students is through their wallets. Most green changes are also money-savers. By appealing to the money-tight, time-crunched student, environmentalists have the ability to train a generation to be eco-conscious before they enter the job market, get married, have children and expand their carbon footprints. Investments in green education at the college level will lead to a compounded awareness in the long-term.

Changes do not need to be large or threatening. Committing to a green lifestyle is often regarded as a huge dedication of time and money. This is largely misguided. Accessible green solutions are as easy as a stop at a local shopping center: Buying a BPA-free water bottle replaces the price of plastic water bottles bought each week. Students can also eliminate money spent on paper plates and cups by buying reusable bowls and cups. Creating an extra box for recyclables only—separating plastics, cardboard and paper—for use in your individual room and entire dorm can add up. A simple bottle collection could produce large savings at local groceries. These small changes actually encourage students to save money while producing environmental benefits that can really make an impact if adopted campus-wide.

My own personal transition to green living was guided by my education. I knew I had the capabilities to change for the better—I was just choosing not to do it. The change led me to not only pocket a little extra cash but to feel psychologically better. Knowing that my small contribution to the planet would add up led to an abundance of feel-good emotion: I felt less cluttered and cleaner. I was making a difference.

As environmentalists look forward, it remains increasingly important to educate the college community today. By harnessing our students" potential, green educators and activists alike can expect to see substantial, positive change towards a greener tomorrow.

More suggestions for green changes can be found at: Green Tips for College Students; or at www.goucher.edu.

SHANNON GOMBOS is an editorial intern at E.