How to Deal When Your Roommate Isn’t as Eco-Conscious as You

You’re mindful about turning off the lights when you leave the room; your roommate leaves them on without a thought. You try to keep your showers short-ish and toss every scrap of paper that crosses your path into the green bin; she luxuriates and seems not to have gotten the recycling memo. Sound familiar? College is definitely a four-year test in getting along with all sorts of different people, but that can feel particularly challenging when you’re living under the same roof, and, hey, the planet is at stake. It’s not easy being different shades of green, but it doesn’t have to be a constant battle either.

I’ve been through all the ups and downs of cohabitation and have learned a few things along the way. Here, my top tips on how to deal when your roommate is eco-oblivious, so that there will be peace amongst you (and in your conscience).

Do you.

People often assume that they can’t live sustainably if the situation isn’t perfect. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As with most things in life, there is rarely a “perfect” time to get started — if we all waited around for that one shining moment to arrive before taking action, nothing would ever get done. Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing — or in this case, not doing — and go ahead and act on your own. Don’t let what others think hold you back. Live the life you want to live now.

How, exactly? Cook yourself plant-based meals, shop secondhand, buy food and products with minimal or no packaging, walk, bike or take public transport instead of hopping in the car — these are all important and impactful lifestyle choices that don’t require your roommate’s sign on.

Another reason to dive in and do you: If you want other people to change, you have to start with yourself. Lead by example and you’ll inspire others to follow suit, especially if they see how you’re making changes effectively. It’s a win-win.

Know your audience.

As with so. many. things with your roommie, it’s all in the delivery. Environmental issues concern everyone, but giving your housemates a lecture on the findings of the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change may not be the best way to inspire them to action.

I’ve always found that people are way more receptive when you talk about sustainability issues in a (non-judgmental) way that jives with their interests, concerns and priorities.

For example, I once had a roommate that wouldn’t drink tap water. It didn’t make sense to me, but it’s just how they did things at her house growing up. Every week, she would come home with a huge pack of bottled water — I never let on, but it drove me nuts. I decided to buy a Brita Pitcher to see if I could get her to stop buying bottled water (and, bonus, it’s so compact it could fit in a mini-fridge, so it didn’t take up too much space). When I told her about it, I focused on how it makes my water cleaner and taste great, and how it filters out mercury, cadmium, chlorine, particulates and more. I mentioned how using it could help her save some cash — that and the effort of lugging 15 liters of water up four flights of stairs. The enviro benefits were just an added bonus! It took a bit of time to convince her, but she eventually bought into the idea and ditched her bottled water habit. When she moved out, I let her keep the pitcher as a parting gift (just in case).

These tactics can be used elsewhere, too. If you and your roommates are all on a tight budget, chances are you could make a pretty solid case for things like installing a water-efficient shower head, washing clothes with cold water and keeping the thermostat turned down. If you can better understand why people make the choices they do, you’ll have a better chance of getting them on board with change.

Find fun ways to share your passion.

Going all preachy isn’t likely to produce much of an effect beyond eye-rolling. Look for engaging opportunities to bond with your housemates that also introduce them to sustainable habits: Plan a girls’ night in watching Blue Planet on Netflix or invite your roommate on your next trip to the secondhand shop where you scored that jacket she obsesses over.

As someone who loves to cook and is passionate about how my food choices affect the planet, one of my favorite strategies has been to offer to cook dinner for everyone. It’s a great way to show how plant-based eating can be delicious and super easy. I’ve tested this method on numerous occasions with my boyfriend — who previously couldn’t imagine a meal without meat — and now a few vegan meals are among his favorites. Works with housemates, too!

Make it easy.

We, as humans, are far more likely to do something if it’s convenient. When you want to encourage friends  to live more sustainably, think about how you can make it as easy as possible so that the sustainable behavior becomes second nature. After all, the easier it is to build a habit, the more likely it is to actually become a habit.

For example, I found that placing a clearly labeled recycling bin next to the garbage can and offering to be in charge of emptying it on the regular was totally successful. Other ideas: Keep reusable shopping bags by the door so they’re easy for everyone to grab on their way out, and make sure you’re always equipped with the items you need to encourage low-impact living (baking soda and vinegar to make cleaning products, clean hand towels instead of paper towels, reusable food storage containers to eliminate plastic wrap).

People can have great intentions, but if the practical support isn’t there, the action often won’t happen. Help ‘em out.

Give the gift of sustainability.

Your roommates might be more likely to use eco-friendly items if you put them right in their hands rather than if they have to buy them themselves. Whether for a holiday, birthday or no occasion at all, give gifts that will help your housemates live a greener existence. Opt for smart finds that are easy swaps for what they’re currently using (bonus points if they’re money saving swaps too). A stainless steel Brita filtering bottle to carry around campus will help your roomie fill up anywhere while reducing the taste and odor of chlorine and other contaminants often found in tap water — and each filter can replace up to 300 disposable plastic water bottles. Reusable totes they can toss in their bag (these foldable ones from Baggu are my go-to), washable makeup remover pads and a reusable coffee mug for their daily caffeine fix will all help reduce waste, too.

Stay positive (even when it’s tough).

Sometimes it’s hard to stay upbeat when those you live with day in and day out don’t share your views or your same sense of urgency about doing your bit for the planet. But don’t give up! Stick with it and find strength in your belief that what you’re doing is important and makes a difference. Be optimistic and hold your head up high — others are more likely to take your lifestyle seriously, and even follow suit when you’re not apologizing for your habits (which implies that sustainable living is a hassle) or being defensive (which can majorly put people off).

Take the pressure off.

No one likes to be judged. I wouldn’t want anyone telling me what to eat or how to live, so why would I do the same to them? So, baby steps. Plant seeds, but don’t count on changing anyone overnight. Remember — little changes can really add up. And every swap is a small victory. The mere fact that you’ve inspired even one change in your campus household is something to celebrate. Share your knowledge, be a resource and celebrate every step of their journey (perhaps even with a yummy, fruit- and veggie-forward home cooked meal)!