Emma Pettit

This article is part 1 of a 4 part series on "Greening your college life."
As a college student, I know first-hand that it can seem difficult to lead a sustainable life in college. Dorm buildings are often less energy efficient, recycling options might be limited, and students don't have extra money to splurge on eco-friendly products.

However, even if you live in an older building — and even if you're not in college — it's still possible to make a difference and have a positive environmental impact.

Here's how

One of the most important ways a person can affect change is by lowering the amount of energy they use on a day to day basis.

There are two simple things every college student can do to make their dorm or apartment use less electricity.

1. Invest in a Smart Power Strip
A lot of people are unaware that appliances like computers, phones and other plug-in devices do not stop using power when they are turned off or put in stand-by mode. “Phantom loads” or “vampire power” refers to all the energy used by these gadgets while they are plugged in, regardless of whether they are turned on or off.

Many students invest in power strips that expand the number of electrical outlets available in their dorm room. But this encourages people to leave their devices plugged in, thus wasting money, electricity and increasing carbon output. According to experts, these “phantom loads” are about 5-10 percent of an average homes power consumption, and around 1 percent of worldwide carbon emissions.

This is where Smart Power Strips come in. A smart strip is able to reduce a room’s power usage by shutting down electricity to products that are plugged in and go into standby mode. When the strip detects a drop in an appliance’s power consumption, signaling it went into standby mode, the smart strip detects the change and cuts power to that specific outlet. Some strips now have motion detectors and surge protectors that make them even easier to use. The benefit of a Smart Power Strip is that it doesn't require a person to remember to unplug an appliance. It does so automatically, saving a significant amount of power and money even for a dorm room.

2. Use LED Light bulbs
The second thing that any student can do to green their dorm or apartment is use LED light bulbs instead of incandescent ones.

LED lights are free of harmful chemicals, are recyclable and are ecologically friendly. A conventional light bulb only converts about 20 percent of its electricity to actual light while 80 percent is lost as heat. For an LED bulb, the stats are reversed, as an average bulb converts around 80 percent of the electricity being used to light. LED bulbs also last much longer than regular bulbs and give off almost no UV radiation. Any student can save energy and money by using LED lights in all of their dorm and apartments. 

Saving energy through LEED

Not only is saving energy important for college students, but it is also vital for LEED certification. The newest version of LEED (LEED v4) requires a Minimum Energy Performance credit which aims “to reduce the environmental and economic harms of excessive energy use by achieving a minimum level of energy efficiency for the building and its systems.” Buildings must show a 5 percent reduction of energy usage in the proposed performance rating over the base performance rating, with a minimum of 2 percent of that 5 coming from building power and cooling infrastructure. Buildings are also encouraged to pursue an Optimize Energy Performance credit by establishing an energy performance target during the design phase to go above and beyond the predetermined level of energy reduction.

These credits help LEED certified buildings save power and money, and do less harm to the environment. A smart power strip and LED light bulbs can help college students do the same.