Save Some Green

Students living off campus may wish to buy organic everything and put LED bulbs in every lighting fixture in their house, but as college students, few people have the disposable incomes to do so. However, that does not mean that living in an environmentally conscious and inexpensive way is impossible. It just takes a little extra planning.

Julia Eagles, Metro Clean Energy Resource Team (CERT) Organizer, said that people use the most amount of energy heating and cooling their homes (roughly 55 percent), followed by lighting and electronics (20 percent), then appliances (15 percent), and finally heating water (10 percent). In addition to the advice Eagles provided, which is included in Sustainable Living Off-Campus Tips, she recommended benchmarking utility bills (paying attention to changes month-to-month) in order to have a better grasp on controlling energy consumption.

“Students, especially when it’s their first time renting, don’t really think about the utilities at all,” said Suzanne Hansen, Macalester’s Sustainability Manager. She advised asking about utility bills before signing the lease for an apartment.

“I like some of the behavioral stuff that actually saves you money,” said Nola Pastor, Sustainability Office worker. She recommended carrying reusable items like handkerchiefs, Tupperware, water bottles and reusable bags for shopping. In relation to the changes she has made in her habits, Pastor said, “I like being more conscious about my day in general and the things that I’m using.”

Eating locally and organically can seem difficult and expensive, but the Twin Cities have quite a few options to achieve this goal (see our Sustainable Living Off-Campus Resources for more information). In addition, students can consider composting and gardening if there is space on their rental property, as long as their landlord approves.

For those students looking to score a free meal and help the environment, volunteering to work at Clean Plate Days is a great opportunity to do both. Contact Food Sustainability Worker Karen Weldon for more information.

Living sustainably off campus can be integrated into a student’s life through small adjustments much the same way that living sustainably in general can be incorporated into people’s lives. “When you have to think about your actions as meaningful or things that you use as meaningful and you do that in a communal way,” Pastor said, “it becomes about relationships that become meaningful, too.”

Tips for living sustainably off campus

1) Did a light bulb burn out? Replace it with a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL). Or, better yet, replace it with an LED bulb that does not require the mercury-recycling of CFLs (to recycle CFLs, take them to any hardware store or the Sustainability Office on campus). They might be a little more expensive, but they last a lot longer and can save you $26 a year in energy. Don’t forget to turn off your lights when you leave the room.

2) Turn the thermostat down in the winter and up in the summer. Two degrees can save you $52 per year. Try to turn it down eight degrees in the winter and up eight degrees in the summer when no one is home. A programmable thermostat can help manage these settings depending on housemates’ schedules so they do not have to think about constantly changing the thermostat. Lower the thermostat on the water heater to 120°F. To keep your house warmer and more humid in the winter, grow plants or set out pans of water in the house.

3) Turn off lights, appliances, power strips and electronics when not in use. If you can unplug it, even better! Use power strips for electronics, small appliances and that ever-used laptop charger to avoid phantom load (losing energy through plugged in devices, even if they are turned off).

4) Wash your clothes in cold water and dry them outside in the summer or on an indoor drying rack to avoid running the dryer and save up to $177 yearly in energy costs.

5) Use a fan instead of air conditioning in the summer. Have fans move cooler air in through windows at night and close windows in the morning to keep cool air in. Keep the house cooler by closing blinds and curtains during the day. Try to avoid space heaters in the winter because they use a lot of energy, and if you do use one, remember to turn it off when you’re done with it, as they are fire hazards. Using timers can also help minimize the use of fans and space heaters. Be sure to arrange furniture so that it does not block vents or radiators.

6) Install low-flow faucet aerators and showerheads. Take shorter showers. Save $59 this year by doing both. Or, if you are really committed, take a “navy shower” and turn off the water when you are sudsing/shaving/shampooing.

7) When you need a new appliance, offer to buy it for the house and have your landlord deduct the price from your rent. This way you can purchase an Energy Star appliance or the most efficient model available. Energy Star Certified appliances can use 20 to 30 percent less energy.

8) Have the Home Energy Squad visit your house and do four installs in addition to updating your water saving measures. Make sure to okay this with your landlord, and while you’re at it, ask them to cover the $40 charge (a nice student discount as opposed to the regular $80 price) that will help their unit save $190 to 200 per year on energy. See for more information.

9) Invest in a bike if you live far from campus or travel around the Twin Cities often. Save energy and money on transportation costs (in the long run).

10) Air seal and weatherstrip leaky windows and doors. A quick and cheap option is to use extra towels under leaky doors. Further insulate windows with plastic wrap or bubble wrap coverings. 11) Try reducing food waste by composting. Recycle all that you can (check your recycling service’s website for details). #5 plastic containers (not usually accepted by municipal recycling companies) can be recycled at the Whole Foods on Fairview.

12) Reuse! Reuse yogurt containers, jars, plastic silverware, plastic bags, etc. Use cloth napkins and handkerchiefs instead of paper towel and tissues. Remember to bring reusable bags for grocery shopping.

Household energy saving tips:

On-campus resources for sustainable living:

Financing, rebates and incentives for better energy consumption and Home Energy Squad Visits:

Ways to reduce household waste:

Eating locally and organically off-campus: