This fall, students in undergraduate programs across the state went back to dorms and apartments, but a few went back to a very different lifestyle. “Eco-houses,” the sustainability-focused equivalent of familiar college language houses, are a growing trend on Minnesota college campuses and across the country. From the University of Minnesota, to St. Johns and St. Ben’s in St. Cloud, to Southwest Minnesota State in Marshall, groups of students are living in college housing specifically dedicated to learning and teaching a sustainable lifestyle.
At St. Paul’s Macalester College, residents of the campus “Eco-House” are finding that while it’s not always easy being green, it is at least easier to use less, waste less, spend less and live comfortably when everyone under the roof is doing the same. “We try and work sustainability into our everyday routines,” said sophomore Maars Rudquist of himself and his roommates. “We share chores like composting and recycling, and check each other when it comes to taking short showers and turning off appliances.”
Rudquist is not an environmental studies or sciences major, as some might think, and neither are most of his roommates. At first, Rudquist says, he thought things like cutting back on packaged junk food and meat everyday could be a struggle, but “the refrigerator is always full of snacks, and the difference is that everyone else in the house is trying to do the same thing.”
Each year at the Eco-House residents choose a goal for the academic year. This fall, residents are hosting monthly workshops on easy ways to live green. “In a couple [of] weeks we’re going to teach people how to make their own thermal curtains that insulate windows,” says Rudquist, “it’s really cheap and you save money on your heating bills.”
In fact, saving costs is an implicit goal of students in Macalester’s Eco-House. “We’re still college students, we still have student budgets…I wanted to see if I could be sustainable and not spend anymore than usual.” So far residents are having success living sustainably on the cheap. Whether it is by buying foods in season at the farmers market or looking for products that are the easiest to re-use, college students are finding ways to meet their needs now without compromising future generations’ ability to do the same.
In the coming decades, balancing present and future consumption will become increasingly important. Colleges around the state are supporting students who are learning to balance frugality and sustainability, a skill that will benefit their current campus communities as well as future Minnesotan communities.