It's a Green Life for Some at Arizona State

In the heat of the Arizona desert, air conditioning is generally considered a necessity. But in one section of Barrett, the honors college at Arizona State University, free-flowing cool air has become somewhat of a luxury, a luxury that about 200 students are willing to do with less of this year.

A new, two-building, "sustainable" section of the Barrett residence halls opened in August as part of the new, $130 million, 8.2-acre campus that houses the honors college in Tempe. Called SHAB (Sustainability House at Barrett), it was developed in part by ASU students who said they wanted to do everything in their power to live in a way that's friendly to the environment.

Natalie Fleming, 20, a sophomore sustainability major, moved to SHAB from a large suite-style dorm room where she said she took full advantage of the limitless utilities.

VIDEO: Students choose a sustainable dorm and they conserve energy.Play
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"We didn't have a cap on air conditioning, and I don't think that's a good thing, because, honestly, we blasted it all the time," Fleming said. Now it will only go down to 75 degrees in the entire complex. "Seventy-five is actually a comfortable temperature, and I don't need to be spoiled with extra air conditioning," she said.

Check on Energy

Aside from the air restrictions, SHAB is equipped with state-of-the-art technology. Using the university's Campus Metabolism Web site, students in SHAB are able to monitor energy use in the complex and compare it to the rest of campus.

For the honors college, going green was an exciting investment, according to Dean Mark Jacobs.

"It cost us 1.3 million extra dollars to build the building that houses the sustainable-living community to the specifications that we wanted," Jacobs said. "We believed in the students who were in that group, and we wanted to give them a living space that they wanted."

SHAB was paid for by the honors college and did not tap university funds, Jacobs said.

"We felt that caring, intelligent students coming in from high school to any college in the United States these days should have these issues in mind, and we wanted to encourage it as a college."

It doesn't cost extra to live in SHAB, but students must apply for SHAB housing, so "they know what they're getting themselves into," said Joe Canarie, 21.

Students like Canarie took an active part in designing the new community. Canarie worked directly with the college administration, project designers and architects to create a community in which green-minded students could live "green" easily and comfortably.

"You're always surrounded by people here who are trying to do the same thing," Canarie said. "Whether it's living sustainably or continuing to be a vegetarian, for example." Being part of a group makes the changes associated with living sustainably a little easier, he said.

Designing Dorm

Since students have taken an active role in designing the community, they have a lot of freedom to adjust the spaces to help them live as sustainability as possible, Fleming said.

There are washers and driers for laundry throughout the buildings.

But "a few days after we moved in, someone said, 'Hey, I think we should hang clotheslines' and they made it happen," Fleming said. Now, it isn't strange to see T-shirts or boxer shorts dangling overhead in the open-air lounge area.

At about 230 square feet, the students' rooms are big enough to house a loft bed, a desk, a dresser but not much more.

"I had a huge room," Fleming said. "But I didn't really need it."

And sustainability doesn't stop with size.

"In the bathroom, we have low-flow sinks, and we also have low-flow toilets and showers, " Fleming said.

A "gray-water" system throughout the complex takes recycled water from the sinks and showers to water the landscaping, she said.

'Treasures From Trash'

Part of being sustainable means turning everything into a cycle, Fleming said. Instead of sending old clothes or unwanted items to a thrift store or to the Dumpster, "in SHAB we say put it in the 'free store,' " she said. "Someone will want it."

The "free store" is a series of shelves in the courtyard, full of clothes, a hammock and other unwanted items. A sign on the "store" reads "Treasures From the Trash."

Plastic buckets are a temporary home for compost that's destined for a 1,300 square-foot roof-top garden.

Furniture in the building's common areas is made of recycled materials.

Freshman sustainability major Haley Graham, 18, was placed in SHAB unknowingly. But she said she wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

"I find it incredibly easy" to live here, she said. "I walk into my room and open the blinds instead of turning the lights on. We're in Arizona, so there's a lot of sunshine."

This past summer, the Princeton Review named ASU one of the nation's "greenest" universities, and SHAB has been awarded a "Silver" rating in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Universities like ASU, and young people in general, have grasped and promoted the "green" movement more than any other sector, according to Rachel Gutter, director of education at the U.S. Green Building Council.

Driven by Students

"Students are driving this more than any other decision maker in the country, including the president." Gutter said. When the Green Building Council asks universities where the interest in sustainability started, "They answer, almost always 'the students started it.' "

Aside from certifications and awards for students like Jeremy Mudd, 21, who's studying urban planning, college is the right time to go "green."

"It is the perfect time to think critically about your lifestyle," such as what to eat, how to get around, what to do and buy, Mudd said. "After graduation comes graduate school, jobs, family or some combination that might not allow time for such reflection."

For Fleming, living sustainably was a matter of downsizing.

"I'm just a college student," she said. "I'm not trying to raise a family. I don't need a lot of space."

ABCNews.com contributor Toby Phillips is a member of the Arizona State University ABC News On Campus bureau.