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Tips for a More Eco-Friendly Dorm

Lucas shares a (totally incomplete and unofficial) guide to some relatively Earth-friendly alternatives to common dorm essentials.

Lucas shares a (totally incomplete and unofficial) guide to some relatively Earth-friendly alternatives to common dorm essentials.


In 2004, Carleton became the first American college to install a wind turbine, one which generates the equivalent of approximately one third of the campus’ energy use. In 2011, an additional turbine was added to cover a further quarter of the electric load. Cassat and James‘ dorm buildings are outfitted with solar roofs, and most recently, Carleton began constructing three geothermal well fields estimated to cancel a whopping thirty-five to forty percent of the campus’ carbon footprint! This innovative commitment to environmental responsibility was one of Carleton’s most unique draws for me when I was a prospective student, and I wanted to share some of the ways I’ve tried to start living by the school’s strong example.

This is by no means a comprehensive or ideal list, and I encourage anyone who considers taking any of the following advice to do their own research against mine beforehand — I seriously doubt I’ve found the best or most perfect solutions! However, I hope this list (composed primarily of alternative products to popular dorm essentials) can serve as a good starting point for anyone else invested in reigning in the impact of their consumption in the hopes of living a bit more consciously and sustainably.

So, let’s get started!

Switch to gentler cleaning products

Established companies such as Seventh Generation and method offer a number of cleaner alternatives to your standard offerings from the likes of Clorox and Tide. For example, I’ve switched from those classic Clorox wipes to Seventh Generation’s zero percent synthetic, ninety-eight percent biobased multi-purpose wipes. They get the job done, and are scented more mildly (and in my opinion pleasantly) than their competitors.

Once I finish up my current set of Tide pods, I plan to switch to method’s naturally derived detergent packs. I’m going to stick to pods because they help me avoid overusing product. There are a multitude of other kinds of merchandise from both companies, from household paper to hand soap, so I recommend giving these brands (and other similar ones) a try next time you restock on anything! Additionally, I’ve started using these reusable lint remover thingies instead of the traditional paper-based rollers. They work pretty well and do a great job of reducing per-use waste!

Switch to more responsible personal products

The cosmetics manufactured (or should I say handmade?) by Lush aren’t just wacky and amazing-smelling — they’re pretty darn natural and responsibly sourced as well! Not only can you find products made entirely from natural ingredients (like this comforting face and body scrub), you can also find ones where one hundred percent of the price is donated to charitable causes. The company donates a heck ton of its proceeds to a plethora of ethical campaigns. Lush’s offerings are packaged in biodegradable, post-consumer materials, and their version of a rewards program is bringing emptied, clean containers back to stores to re-use them in exchange for a free face mask!

Now, a lot of the things Lush makes are a little more expensive than usual, but I’ve also found that in most cases a little goes a long way (a way longer way than average, I mean), so the cost-benefit is up to you to judge. On the simpler side, you can always make the switch to something like a bamboo toothbrush (I think these ones are cute) next time you replace!

Be mindful of your energy use

This one’s pretty simple, but easy to overlook. When your room gets stuffy, simply opening the window is often way more effective than using a fan — and doing so takes zero electricity. If you want to challenge yourself while simultaneously cutting back on your technology addiction, you could try rationing out how much time you let yourself spend charging your devices.

Limiting yourself to, say, one phone charge every two days will force you to budget your time on it more consciously while also reducing the total electricity you end up pouring into your tech. Try to get creative with the modest, efficient shortcuts and altered habits you come up with. It’ll be good for both you and your planet!

Of course, there’s so much more to do than the few things I’ve gotten myself to incorporate into my life as listed above (the Carleton Bookstore has some cool on-brand reusable water bottles . . . and hey, you could always just move to Farm House), and the biggest impacts to be made probably come down largely to way more fundamental shifts in terms of personal lifestylesgeneral cultural values, and societal norms. Voting is a thing, too. But you have to start somewhere, and there’s no reason to ignore the small things!

P.S. This post was inspired by my friends’ amused reactions to a Google Document they spotted me writing one time. When asked what class I was working on, I answered none, which surprised them. I explained that I was instead compiling a (hyperlink-heavy) list of greener alternatives to some of the products I’ve found myself using most since coming to college, which seemed to get a real kick out of them. Maybe I’ll deem that doc worth sharing to the public one day!


Lucas is in his freshman year at Carleton, bringing with him a passion for all things nerdy and a talent for overthinking and awkwardness (and self-deprecation). He hails from Pasadena, California, and yes, he realizes it gets cold out here. Currently wildly undecided, he can see himself attempting a Physics and Cinema and Media Studies double major, although ChemistryEconomics, and Computer Science (among many other subjects) have been tempting him as well. He misses his bearded dragon.

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