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As members of Generation-Z, it is imperative that we take responsibility for preserving the sanctity of our ecosystem. Now, this by no way means embarking on a holy crusade for sustainability. Instead, it would be more practical to consider small steps that lead towards a greener future – especially when that future in question belongs to us.
University life is often infamous for the pressures it hoists onto the shoulders of its students. Challenges seem to come in every form: academic deadlines, financial independence and even, personal responsibilities. Therefore, it seems quite reasonable that sustainability usually takes a backseat in the list of priorities.
What we need to realize, however, is that sustainability is not about remolding our entire life to a new set of hard and fast rules. Rather, it is about finding inspiration and mindfulness in a few conscious choices that altogether contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle. This article will offer some tips on adopting greener practices and explore some ways that students can work in tandem with colleges and organizations to drive sustainability forward.
The Food Recovery Network has shockingly predicted that around 22 million pounds of uneaten food is thrown out by campuses in the US alone. One reason for such a high number is the buffet style dining halls in some colleges. It may seem like a food utopia at first glance, but it always lends to tremendous wastages. To play your part, try starting off with a small portion and going back for seconds. This way you’ll be able to better gauge how much food you need and reduce the amount of leftovers. By being sensible and raising awareness you can also prompt universities to tackle these issues at a more foundational level. For example, the University of California, Santa Barbara has introduced the concept of trayless dining in their halls. This simple and easy to implement system has already shown success in limiting their food waste.
While food easily comes to mind when discussing this topic, it is also imperative to consider other forms. Plastic water bottles, disposable cutlery and coffee cups (most students are guilty of this!) also increase our waste footprints significantly. In fact, members of the Columbia University Greens discovered that the average college student creates 640 pounds of solid waste every year. To counter this, it would be wise to invest in eco-friendly options such as reusable containers for food and drinks, stainless steel cutlery or wooden straws.
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Purchasing groceries is likely to be a core task for students staying in independent accommodation and for those who share a passion for cooking. One of the easiest ways to ensure more considerate shopping is to look out for locally sourced and in-season produce. Doing this will allow you to reduce your carbon footprint by avoiding foods that are flown or shipped in from other countries. Now for a tricky one – when buying meat products, try opting for locally farmed ones, which are better for the environment than those from the industrial agriculture industry, if you find it difficult to give up or reduce the quantity you purchase. It's important to remember that local farms usually employ less damaging practices that look out for animal welfare and a healthier future, so it's generally good to lend them your support.
When checking out of grocery stores, it's quite ideal to have some sturdy, reusable shopping bags at hand. Perhaps designate a few as your dedicated ones and use them every time. If you’re forgetful like me, try keeping them near to your room door or in a specific location to make sure you remember to bring them.
In the realm of consumption, if food takes first place, then clothes surely come second. Fast fashion plagues the environment with its signature traits of overproduction, excessive waste and pollution. As per the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the equivalent to one garbage truck of textiles are either dumped in landfills or incinerated in a single second! Thus, it would be better to avoid the industry as a whole and stop yourself from buying into the trend.
A cheaper alternative that promotes sustainable consumption is to pursue through thrift stores or charity shops. This is already quite popular amongst college students, with limited funds, unbridled energy and a passion for stylistic expression. Buying second-hand pieces of clothing reduces demand for new production and decreases the amount of textile waste. This introduces concepts of reusability and on a large enough scale, has potential to engender a period of responsible consumerism.
|No.||University||QS World Ranking||Significant Initiative|
|1.||Stanford University||5||Solar panels, water conservation programs|
|2.||University California, Davis||118||Arboretum, environmental classes|
|3.||Brown University||73||Carbon footprint reduction|
|4.||University of California, Berkeley||10||Natural gas plant, dedicated office for sustainability|
|5.||Colorado State University||409||Agricultural research, green spaces|
In regards to reducing our energy consumption, what is advantageous for many people is that you don’t have to make large, extreme efforts. Small habits like unplugging chargers and small appliances when you have finished using them can go a long way in conserving energy, and help us break free from the ‘use mentality’. You can also turn on energy saving settings on your electronic devices and switch to using more energy efficient lights in your rooms such as compact fluorescent lights that last longer. These practices are also likely to reduce your electricity bill as well.
Studies and online trends have unequivocally shown that Gen-Z are the most concerned for the planet’s green future and usually succeed in encouraging others to consider sustainability when carrying out buying decisions. This can be seen in a survey by First Insight and the Baker Retailing Center at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania which found that 75% of them would choose sustainable options over brand names.
Considering this power of suggestion and positive influence, doing things as a group could be a more fun and rewarding way to instill sustainable practices. Collaborating with your roommates or friends when ordering food and online grocery shopping can result in fewer car trips and has the added benefit of allowing you to split the delivery cost. Another thing that groups enable is bulk buying, which not only reduces packaging waste but is also financially more efficient in the long-term!
Taking the notion of ‘beyond the individual’ to a larger scale, joining sustainable societies at your campus is great for raising awareness and being part of the latest initiatives. Organizing or leading recycling programs or energy conservation endeavors can also encourage universities to promote sustainable practices.
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Higher education institutions can become main hubs driving such change. Stanford, for example, uses the playful and quirky name ‘naughty nuts’ to entice students into eating climate-friendly foods. This snack in particular was part of an effort to introduce more plant-based items and contributed to the decarbonization strategies of the college. With this in mind, we should leverage the platform that colleges offer and bring them into the fold.
In short, as students, we are custodians of the future. Therefore, we should approach the topic of sustainability by taking small steps and then turning those practices into habits, and those habits into routine.
Khushi Nagpal is a second-year History student at the London School of Economics. When she isn’t off gallivanting in fictional worlds, Khushi spends her time writing and self-studying data analytics, which she hopes to pursue after college.