College Greening

(Photo illustration by Mark Finkenstaedt for The Washington Post)
By Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 31, 2008

The greening of the dorm room is underway. As college students move into their new homes in the coming weeks, they'll be mixing organic cotton towels and abaca fiber hampers with the usual plastic shower caddies and guitars.

This year there's a noticeable trend toward eco-friendly lifestyles on campus, although some environmentalists scorn the idea of shopping your way out of global warming. Because creating a home base in a college dorm requires a bit of consumption, retailers have rolled out hundreds of green products to appeal to eco-sensitive college kids.

Students this year will be spending about $600 each for back-to-college products, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation, down 7 percent from 2007, in part because of a faltering economy and $50,000 annual tuition, room and board at some local private colleges and universities.

In many cases, eco-friendly merchandise costs more, but retailers are hoping committed students will crunch budgets to fit in some sustainable style.

Being green, of course, isn't all about what you buy; it's also what you don't buy. Students are famous for creatively reusing castoff chairs and dumpster sofas. Daily, they scour Craigslist and Freecycle for stuff that can be repurposed. The Class of 2012 shouldn't think it is part of the only green generation in history. In the 1980s, my brother took old shoes he found on the street in front of his dorm at Northeastern University and turned them into planters.

The Home section unloaded a stash of green gear, above, in front of Nebraska Hall, American University's first eco-friendly dorm, which reopened last year after renovations that included non-toxic, low-VOC paint, chemical-free Marmoleum flooring and Energy Star appliances.

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