A Guide to a Sustainable College: Take Action Right Now

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Student Lifehacks
students planning a sustainable college

Have you checked if you are studying at a sustainable college? Maybe your study environment does not answer the latest recommendations on sustainable use of resources and does not promote green initiatives. Don’t despair too soon: as a student, you have plenty of possibilities to take action. This guide will help you make a difference: in your lifestyle, on campus, and in your community.

The idea of sustainable living has firmly entered our routines. It is now hard to imagine grocery shopping without a canvas bag or regularly buying plastic bottles instead of filling in personal bottles. We are now more aware of extinguishable resources like water, and we watch for our energy consumption. At the same time, technologies provide us with new, more green solutions. 

Green solutions have been especially welcomed in cooking and shopping: we watch our food waste, compost, make broths, refuse to use plastic wraps, and buy bee-wax wraps instead. But what about other spheres of our lives, especially those relevant to college students? We can definitely benefit from any of these tips, but what else can be done? That’s why we’ve created here a comprehensive (but obviously not exhaustive) guide to a sustainable college lifestyle.

sustainable lifestyle at college
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Study Sustainably  

Can you make the process of studying more sustainable? When reading textbooks, ordering notebooks per post, and getting your lunch on campus? Yes, you can—with these crystal-clear tips.

Buy notebooks and paper made from recycled materials (look for the chasing-arrows logo to make sure that a product is made out of recycled paper). This is also valid for stationery: find those that are made out of recycled or recyclable materials. It takes a little bit of effort and research initially, but once you’ve found a satisfying green option, it is so easy to stick to it and enjoy your choice!

Instead of getting new textbooks every term, rent or buy a used copy. This will help the environment and your budget! If you purchase or rent used college books from BooksRun, you can become a part of the Loyalty Program that fights against deforestation. That would be a very conscious and sustainable approach!

Don’t print every slide or article the professor sends you. Print those materials that are utterly necessary for the long run. If you do print, use both sides of the paper.

Libraries offer ample resources for those in love with literature, but we tend to forget about the option of renting a book. Instead, we end up buying loads of new novels that just sit on our shelves after being done with them. Getting books from libraries is much more sustainable and cheaper!

If you have a lot of books and textbooks dusting on your shelves, it might be a good idea to sell them. You will allow other students to get used textbooks instead of investing in a new one.

Pack food with you in a lunch box. By doing so, you will avoid food waste (because you will get just the portion you need), and you will cut the use of extra wrapping that pre-packed supermarket food comes in. It will also be easier to eat healthily! 

Get a water bottle and your own tumbler. Coffee cups are non-recyclable most of the time (although they look as if made out of paper), and those plastic lids are devils in disguise. Bring your own mug to a coffee shop, and some might even give you a discount for being sustainable! 

Unplug when not charging and work in a safe-battery mode. It will be better for your electronics and the environment.

We are relying more and more on postal services these days. Why don’t you make some simple steps to make this sphere more sustainable? Of course, on a bigger scale, a lot depends on company policies and governmental legislation. But even as a customer, you can make a difference when choosing recyclable packaging and other sustainable solutions (more tips in this article). 

students should use recycled paper
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Go Green on Campus

Do you know if your campus can be considered green? There are several rankings available, so check them out and see where your college stands! The Times Higher Education Impact Rankings provide you with information about universities around the globe. Their ranking system is based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. 

You can also have a look at the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System and the Princetown Review’s assessment. What are the results of your college? Share them with us!

It is challenging to make changes campus-wide, but here are some ideas that you can implement together with your friends. Step by step, your campus will turn into a sustainable college.

Invite farmers’ markets to your campus. If this initiative has already been introduced, use it! Read about the colleges that welcomed local farmers on campus for everybody’s benefit.

Campus garden is another excellent idea! Together with other students, you will take care of the plants and make use of the harvest—it is an admirable community-building and sustainable practice! If your campus does not have a garden but clearly has the infrastructure for that, bring this question up during the next student assembly. My campus has a rooftop garden, and its fruits are later used for our cafeteria; isn’t that amazing?

When you need to buy an item for your room or a piece of clothing, big marketplaces like Amazon should become your last choice. Instead, you can turn to local markets, Facebook local selling groups, Etsy, or other sustainable marketplaces. And don’t save these finds for yourself! Make a list of local thrift shops, sustainable marketplaces, and Facebook local groups where you can buy or sell stuff and share it among your friends. This can become a part of the welcome package for the incoming students or be available on your student hall homepage. This way, your whole community will turn towards sustainable shopping options. Organizing and taking part in student “garage” sales for upgrading your room is actually a lot of fun!

Transportation matters: walking, cycling, or using public transport is environmentally better than driving a car. You will also save quite a bit on gas and parking! Reserve cars for fun weekend trips; on weekdays, it might be more efficient with other means of transport. Consider that! If your campus infrastructure is not at its best, take action and bring it to the agenda of your student union or other responsible units. For example, you can come up with an initiative to introduce bike rentals for students.

Exchange your experiences and tips with other students. Especially international students can bring up fresh ideas for tackling waste-problem or cutting down on resource usage. Set up a Facebook group for sustainably-minded students, or just bring it up casually when chatting!

Don’t skip on recycling—that’s as straightforward as it is.

Make the necessary precautions before leaving your room for the holiday season. During these few weeks, your room shouldn’t consume power and heating. So take 5 minutes to check the water (no dripping taps), windows,  heating, lights, and electronics (all should be unplugged). Remind your friends about this as well! 

farmers’ market on campus
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Take Action for a Sustainable College

Student activism is not a path that everybody feels like doing, but if you are interested—be brave and join! As a student, you can adjust the university policies and make your campus more sustainable. Join student clubs (or set up your own) or actually enter the student government. It does not immediately imply that you will become a public orator or almost a politician. You can contribute with your resources—time and money—to conduct necessary research and draft policies for a sustainable college.

Have a look at this guide for green activism with useful links and case studies. Another helpful resource is offered by SOS (Student Organizing for Sustainability International). So far, they’re mostly based in Europe, but their programs, campaigns, and tools are something that you can opt to implement around the campus. 

AASHE (The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) also has an extensive toolkit on all spheres of campus life: transport, food, work, and research. AASHE presents real-life examples and suggests workable solutions, backed up with data. If you’re a part of your college’s sustainability group—consulting this toolkit could be your starting point. In the end, you can not only use the mentioned resources but also reach out to these organizations for help and advice. 

Educate Yourself and Stay Connected

Why don’t you take an intro course on sustainability? Many colleges are offering this kind of course and if you have enough passion and time in your curriculum—go for it. This counts as priceless baggage you will carry on with pride, trust me.

If you want to take your concerns about sustainability to the next level—consider studying sustainability and environmental science as your major or minor. Read here in more detail about possible study programs at colleges. It turns out that environmental specialists are getting one of the best payoffs and are really needed on the market; indeed, this trend will only grow.

We’ve prepared a list of eco blogs, books, Facebook groups, and podcasts for raising your everyday awareness about ecology and sustainable use. They are immensely helpful for learning about initiatives that you can introduce in your life, working space, campus, or community. 

Treehugger publishes articles on every topic of sustainable living, our planet, the environment, climate crisis, and so on. These are very educating reads without being overwhelmingly scientific. This blog is excellent for learning about current problems and getting more perspectives on sustainability (it’s not only about reducing plastic or CO2 emissions).

Get some books about a sustainable lifestyle to ground your knowledge even more. Live Green: 52 Steps for a More Sustainable Life and Sustainability Principles and Practice are just two of many examples. 

Watch documentaries about current environmental problems and ways to turn the tide. The True Cost is revealing the dark side of fast fashion, and after watching this movie, it is hard to shop the same way we did! Trashed and A Plastic Ocean are equally powerful.

We all love podcasts, right? There are plenty of educational shows about books, history, and politics, but is there anything for your green ears? Yes! Get to Sustainability Defined: it is an informative show on different aspects of efficient living, climate change, greenwashing, and so on. And check out Think: Sustainability for new insights. 

It is also crucial to stay connected to like-minded people with whom you can discuss your current concerns, share tips, and policy innovations, and ask for advice. BooksRun Green Community does precisely this, so join if you want to go green together and work towards a sustainable college environment. You will get a chance to connect to green-minded people and receive everyday tips and food for thought.

There are many more resources out there; start exploring (there is even a comedy show on green lifestyle)—that can be your homework! On a final note, don’t forget that you not only should diligently consume all the useful information but also Act. Today. Now. 

Stay safe; stay green! 

Iliana K