The student guide to sustainability

Do your bit to save the planet and follow some of these helpful tips from other students on how to live a more sustainable life 

April 25 2019
sustainability, climate change, recycling, plant-based, sustainable, green

Whether you are making small changes to improve your carbon footprint or lobbying your university to make big changes, there has never been a better time to be aware of how your actions are impacting the world.

It can be daunting though. We hear urgent warnings from climate change activists every day that the earth is in grave danger and that action needs to be taken now. But where do you even start? How is just one person supposed to make a difference? 

Well you can. If everyone in the world made a small number of changes then the impact that it would have on the world would be phenomenal. 

In order to get started here are some tips from students around the world on how you can make changes. 

Ayashe Ramey, global studies major, Spanish and sustainable studies double minor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

- At University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill , free reusable water bottles and straws are given out to students, making it easy to skip the plastic alternatives. It’s worth asking if a club or organisation is willing to sponsor water bottles on your campus, or invest in your own.

- Another easy way to be sustainable is by taking alternative forms of transportation, like a bus, bike or even walk to campus. You could save major cash by not having to pay parking fees.

- Finally, students at UNC practice sustainability by staying informed and joining organisations that promote change on campus and off. From things like environmental honours fraternities (student groups) and the Environmental Affairs Committee, to annual events like the Clean Tech Summit and Climate Change and Resilience Symposium, UNC students use their time here at Carolina to make positive impacts and carry sustainability into communities outside of UNC.

Rosie Green, sustainable future collective president 2019, University of Auckland

- Bring your own lunch in a reusable container. You will save money, as well as avoid using single-use plastic and you will probably eat healthier too. If you don’t have time to make your own food at least bring your own container to buy food in. And if you are one of those people who needs a coffee in the morning, get a reusable cup. A lot of cafes have discounts for bringing your own cup so it will pay for itself in the long run.

- I’m not saying you have to give them up altogether, but eat less meat and dairy. Meat and dairy farming consumes a ridiculous amount of resources on top of contaminating our environment.

- Take short showers. Water is our most valuable resource, it’s something every person relies on every day so don’t waste it.

- Do you have a garden? If so, support your pollinators by planting bee-friendly plants such as lavender, rosemary and borage. Keep away the pesticides too. 

- Op-shop (charity shop or thrift shop). This is probably the most fun tip I can give. There’s an endless amount of clothing that already exists, why do we need to use precious resources and unfair labour to make more? You will end up with a much more unique wardrobe too.

- Probably the most publicised tip out there (but still a good one) is say no to single-use straws. 

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Fernando Sanchez Miñaur, sustainability technology programme, KTH Royal Institute of Technology

- Embrace other cultures. You never know what you can learn about recycling from your Swiss roomie, or what secrets your South African neighbour has for saving water. We are a world of cultures impacted differently by environmental issues, so let’s learn from one another.

- Be proud of your school while loving the planet. Check your university’s shop for sustainable accessories: eco-cotton tote bags with the university’s emblem, hoodies, caps and shirts, reusable water thermoses and more.

- Don’t sit on the sidelines. Many universities have organisations that take climate action locally and even internationally. Student-run groups like KTH Students for Sustainability work on grassroots’ action, meanwhile the university hosts sustainable innovation seminars and events almost every week. Take advantage of every knowledge-sharing activity you can.

- Ride a bike. Plentiful parking racks and bike lanes make KTH (and Stockholm) a good place for non-motorised transportation, but this can be applied to many cities around the world. Buy a second-hand bike and you can extend the product lifecycle (no pun intended) and reduce emissions, all while keeping active.

- Apps are a must for reducing food waste and saving money. Student dorms at KTH also set up social-media groups for buying and selling second-hand furniture, equipment, cloths, and more. This is something you could try to implement at your university.  

Shakti Ramkumar, member of Sustainability Collective student group, University of British Columbia

- Transform your university’s food system. Recognising that the global food system is one of the largest contributors to climate change, student-led groups like the UBC Climate Hub and UBC Sustainability Collective are working in partnership with staff to increase the availability of affordable plant-based options on campus. Students also organised a climate friendly food forum to gather recommendations from the university community and share the importance of food sustainability.

- Making sustainable choices like switching to a plant-based diet (or choosing more plant-based foods), saying no to single-use plastics, and staying away from fast fashion are a lot easier and more fun when you do it together with your friends. Campus sustainability groups at UBC, like Common Energy, bring together hundreds of students on a regular basis to discuss strategies on making these important lifestyle changes, while demonstrating how easy they can be with delicious vegan meals, clothing swaps, and DIY workshops. Being part of a sustainability community can also make it easier for students to mobilise for bigger political action.

- Start a political movement. Meaningfully addressing climate change requires bold political action at every level, from student governments to federal governments. As youth around the world strike for climate action, universities and university students have a powerful opportunity to demonstrate what political change looks like, so get involved in your student government, or local government. At UBC, our student union divested from fossil fuels to demonstrate that students didn’t want to support companies that profit from climate wreckage. Campus groups like UBCC350 work to hold politicians and institutions accountable, while teaching students how to build effective social movements.

- Vote! Empower students to vote in elections by improving voting accessibility at your university. Civic engagements and being informed about local and national political decisions are an important factor in climate action. As voters, we have the right and responsibility to make informed decisions about who we vote into our democratic institutions. As climate change becomes a more important topic in political discourse, it is important for voters to research candidates platforms and keep climate change as a top priority.

- After two years of development, UBC’s student-led refill initiative team has launched Mugshare. This innovative programme allows students to check out reusable mugs from many cafes on campus and return them at any outlet when they are finished using them. Mugshare is even spreading beyond campus into Vancouver and Whistler!

Read more: Top universities for climate action


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