What's Inside the Nation's Greenest Dorm? Happy Students

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A college student’s desire to lead an eco-friendly lifestyle is often hindered by lack of opportunity in dormitories or residence halls. Limited access to recycling, composting and energy controls often make it difficult to keep on the green path.

However, a small college in North Carolina is changing that. The “EcoDorm” at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C. is home to 36 students who are dedicated to living an environmentally sustainable lifestyle, together.

Completed in 2003, the EcoDorm features permaculture gardens (gardens that use plants, animals and micro-organisms to create a self-sustaining environment), photovoltaic panels and composting gardens. Rainwater is collected to flush the low-flow toilets, the landscaping is edible and all appliances and fixtures are high-efficiency.

It is one of only two student residences in the country to receive LEED’s platinum certification, the highest rating.

Warren Wilson College's EcoDoarm is one of only two student residences in the country to receive LEED’s platinum certification, the highest rating. Photo: Warren Wilson College

Residents must commit to energy reduction and conservation efforts by not using hair dryers or personal refrigerators, being mindful of heat usage in the winter and drying all of their clothes outside. A large chef’s garden provides space for students to prepare their own meals or share community dinners.

Sherolyn Hopkins, the assistant dean of student life at Warren Wilson, said space in the EcoDorm is in high demand. “The community within the building is older, more mature and highly desirable.”

Students living in the EcoDorm, considered to be a “living laboratory,” are not only learning about sustainable construction and design from their surroundings, but sustainable living communities as well.

Some modern conveniences, such as air conditioning, are sacrificed and, similar to residents of ecovillages, students must all pitch in with weekly chores and make decisions together to keep the community functioning well.

But students don’t seem to mind. Hopkins said residents of the dorm have the same goals in terms of environmental sustainability. “They’re all like minded. They think, ‘We live here in the EcoDorm, we all have standard practices’,” she said.

Hopkins said while many other schools are using more green building techniques, most are not going as far as planning buildings like the EcoDorm. She believes it has worked so well at Warren Wilson because it is on such a small scale.

“It is a unique building. The people that live there make it what it is,” she said.

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