Enabling change in our Society, Environment and Economy (SEE)

Share houses

Living sustainably in Share Houses – Not always an easy concept

November 2009, by Tyne Gough and Peta Wright

In our time at SEE-Change we have experienced first-hand how possible it is to make small changes in our houses to become more sustainable. However, living in group houses with other young people who are busy studying, travelling, working and socialising, we have found that encouraging changes within our own homes has been much more difficult than we had first thought.

I, Peta, personally try to make small changes for example, turning off power-points or recycling products better, yet this seems to be a much more difficult topic to broach with flat mates whose concerns are not the environment or anything remotely relevant to making changes in a group house.

I currently live with two house mates, a girl and a guy – one from country NSW and one from Sydney.  I have found that they travel a lot, to and from their families which means that they do not really think about things around the house.  I have tried turning off power points and turning the washing machine onto an eco setting, and making a compost.  I have found that as I don’t have the support from my flat mates it makes my job a lot harder to keep these things going.  I really think that in making changes for more sustainable living you really need support from the people you live with.  The question that I am now faced with is how do I drum up this support within my house?

Do I keep bugging them over and over again?  I don’t think this will work as we can go days without seeing each other. Do I leave notes for everyone; I have to say when I get notes from my flat mates telling me what to do, I generally get annoyed/grumpy.  Doing washing, one of my flat mates only ever does half a machine load of washing – how do I broach that, I’m not doing their washing (I barely do my own) and I don’t know when they do their washing.  Composting… honestly I think that one of my flat mates doesn’t even know we have a compost let alone what would go into it.

So again I ask the question how in a group house of 20-something year olds do we change and make our house a greener more sustainable place to live in?

I, Tyne, live in a group house with two other girls. Apart from the difficultly of sharing one bathroom in the morning between three girls there are other issues that arise. Last week we received our gas and electricity bill. As I opened the bills I shrieked – the electricity bill was $400 and the gas bill was $200; our house is only a small three bedroom unit! Not to mention that one of my flat mates was overseas for 6 weeks during this period.  I believed that I was reducing my carbon emissions throughout this 3 months period. Obviously something was going on within this household that I was unaware of.

I arrived home late one night, walked in the back door and the dryer was on. I previously have discussed with my flat mates that the dryer should not go on unless it is an emergency.  After turning the dryer off I walked into the lounge room, every light was on and so was the heater (at the end of October!). I was horrified and very angry about this, the two main reasons being that it is bad for the environment and it is taking money out of my pocket.

The change is evident in me from 2 months ago when I started my placement until now, as before I would have not have been bothered about the dryer being on or having the heater on. Now I grab a blanket to keep me warm rather than turning on the heater.  I do try and convey the importance of turning appliances off at the power points to my flatmates but it doesn’t seem to be working. I believe education in this area is vital as without the knowledge I have gained at SEE-Change about becoming more sustainable I would still be using the dryer.

We have both come to the realisation that living in share houses are difficult environments to convert into living greener; however every small step towards becoming sustainable is a step in the right direction and so we will not give up hope.

With thanks to our


  • ACT Government Environment and Planning
  • The Association of Independent Schools of the ACT (AISACT)
  • Catholic Education Office (Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn)
  • Education and Training Directorate
  • ACT Government