28 Feb 2007

Ten Ways for College Students to Conserve Energy

Earth YinyangSustainability, energy conservation, and recycling have been on my mind a lot lately. I've started to attend monthly roundtables on sustainability and meetings of the global warming subcomittee of Grassroots, the activist group on campus. Also, UR is currently involved in Recyclemania, a 10-week competition involving more than 200 schools for highest per-capita recycling rate. As of week 4, UR is ranked 101st.

I think that most college students believe that there is little that each of us can do to bring about positive climate change, because we don't control many aspects of our energy usage. So I put this list together as a jumping-off point for people to start thinking about easy ways that they can save energy. I'm also hoping to motivate myself to do more of these things by actually writing them down. If you have any other ideas, please share them in the comments.

If you want more statistics on world energy usage, a good place to start is the Energy Information Administration of the US Department of Energy.

  1. Shut your computer off or put it to sleep when you aren't using it. I know that we all like to leave our computers on all the time, me included. It's much more fun to come back and see IM's and emails waiting, but it wastes a lot of energy. If you use your computer as an alarm clock, get a program that is able to wake your machine from sleep in the morning (such as Alarm Clock, so you don't have to leave your computer on all night. If you have a second LCD monitor, shut it off when you aren't using it.
  2. Take a shorter shower. Everybody likes to take long showers, especially when you don't want to go to class in the morning, but just standing under the water is really wasteful. Shortening your shower by 3 minutes can save anywhere from 7-15 gallons of water, depending on the showerhead.
  3. Shut off the lights. This one's easy. Don't leave lights on when you leave the room, ever. Don't turn them on during the day. If you are using your computer at night, only turn as many lights on as you need to keep from straining your eyes.
  4. Get fluorescent light bulbs. They are 4-6 times more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs, meaning that you can buy a 15W fluorescent bulb that produces as much light as a 60W incandescent. In addition, fluorescent lights produce less heat, and last an average of 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Simply replacing one 100W incandescent bulb with a 27W compact fluorescent will save the equivalent of 800 pounds of energy-producing coal and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 365 pounds over the lifetime of the bulb. Students here at the U of R can't complain that fluorescent bulbs are too expesive - the school will give them to you for free.
  5. Use public transportation and carpool. Many college students have cars when they could really get by without them. Public transportation, although a slight inconvenience, is much more environmentally friendly and more economical, as most schools offer free bus lines. If you are going home for break, find other students from your area to carpool with. You'll save a lot of money and have more fun. U of R students can use the online rideboard to post ride requests or to look for potential passengers.
  6. Turn your cellphone off at night. No reason for it to stay on, only that there is the possibility of getting woken up during a really deep sleep. If someone absolutely needs to reach you, there are other ways.
  7. If you can, turn down the heat. Better to wear more clothes to keep warm during the cold months than to overheat your room. If you can't turn down the heat, talk to your campus facilities department and complain that the dorms are too warm (most are).
  8. Print less, print double-sided. Many professors ask students to read online or pdf excerpts from books and magazines. If at all possible, read them on your computer screen, not on paper. It's not that bad if you make the font large and adjust the contrast levels to make it easy on your eyes (some LCD monitors have a "text" setting). If you do have to print, use the double-sided setting, and set the ink level to light. And when you are done with it...
  9. Recycle. Especially paper. The more we recycle, the less has to be produced from scratch. When you recycle last week's homework, or today's newspaper, you save energy from being spent on cutting down new trees, and also those trees are now able to reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Each citizen in the United States uses an average of 650 pounds of paper each year, compared to 40 pounds a year in developing countries. If you are able to, buy recycled paper to use in your personal printer. Buy notebooks made from recycled paper. Recycle everything possible, and if your school doesn't have a recycling program, find out why.
  10. Share these tips with everyone you know. Be the person that walks around shutting off lights and dripping faucets. Educate your friends and those you live near. To effect significant climate change, there must be a huge reduction in the world's current carbon emissions. The irony is that to produce this huge reduction, everyone must do their part to live a more sustainable lifestyle.