Low-Footprint Lifestyle with Roommates

Having roommates/housemates can be a great thing, even for those who could financially afford to live alone. Besides the cost-sharing, other benefits include more safety/security, less social isolation, and the potential for sharing tasks.

If you’re lucky (or skillful with the “Roommate Wanted” posts), the people you share space with will also share your commitment to low-footprint living. But that isn’t necessary. Very few of my apartment-mates or housemates have been particularly green-minded, but I’ve found ways 1) to not let that get in the way of my personal green goals; 2) to even sometimes motivate them to participate in green practices, even if they’re not doing it for eco reasons.

Here are some things I’ve found that have worked:

– Find people who are motivated by thrift. People who want to keep their expenses low are far more likely to be willing to share my lifestyle of doing without air conditioning, conserving water, etc.

– Don’t stress out too much about other people’s consumption. My low-footprint lifestyle is based on a set of targets called the Riot for Austerity, which gives numbers for reducing one’s footprint to 10% of the U.S. average. Many of the Riot for Austerity categories (such as consumer goods, trash volume, and water usage) are calculated on an individual level. So I just keep track of my own numbers. For the ones such as electricity usage that are calculated on a total family/household level, I hit upon the idea of treating myself and each housemate as a separate “household.” In effect, we are separate households; we are not family and have no longterm plans together. What’s cool is that because of how I run my house, our total electricity usage still only ends up being about 20% of the U.S. average! Water usage also. I have learned not to dwell on housemates’ trash volume, though I make reasonable efforts to fish their plastic bottles and other recyclables out of the trash can when they forget to put them in the recycling bin.

– If your housemates cook at home (my current ones mostly don’t), you can set rules and procedures for water-efficient dishwashing practices. If that doesn’t work, and things get too out of hand, you might have to be in charge of washing all dishes.

– I also try to keep sight of the bigger picture. My low-footprint lifestyle is important to me, but so is connection with fellow human beings. And ultimately, our ability to live and work with other people, not the fact that some people aren’t bothered by lights left on and plastic straws, is what will make or break human civilization.

I meant to post the Riot for Austerity file for your reference awhile back, but either I didn’t or it got deleted. So I’ll dig it up and post it for you here when I can. OK, here you go:

This PDF contains the Riot for Austerity (90 Percent Reduction Challenge) rules. Note, according to my understanding, these rules were written in the mid-2000s by Sharon Astyk and Miranda Edel, the two bloggers who started the Riot for Austerity movement. They are based on the global/policy targets set forth by George Monbiot in his ground-breaking book HEAT: How To Stop the Planet Burning. The phrase “Riot for Austerity” itself was inspired by Monbiot’s observation that no one ever riots for austerity (though it might be in our interest to promote voluntary austerity).