Earth911 Back to School Guide: College Edition

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2009, 9.1 percent of the population of Americans over the age of 18 are enrolled in college or graduate school. Photo: morgueFile/cohdra

It’s almost time to start heading back to school, and whether on year one of a four-year undergraduate degree or year five of the four-year plan (sorry, Mom and Dad), there are many ways to ensure that this is your greenest school year yet.

1. Pack light and share

Whether driving or flying to your dorm, apartment or frat house, you and all of your belongings leave a hefty carbon footprint.

Try to minimize what you need to bring by contacting roommates ahead of time to see what can be shared. Students often arrive on campus to find that they have duplicates of everything from dishware to televisions.

Also, think twice about buying “disposable” furniture that will be used for a year or two and then tossed. Try to find necessities at a local thrift store once you arrive. You’ll be saving the cost and fossil fuel needed for transportation, and you’ll be reusing rather than buying new.

2. Re-store

Some colleges and universities have made the reuse process even easier by running stores on campus that gather cast-offs from years past, reselling everything from perfectly functional couches to computers the following year. Check with your campus sustainability office before arriving on campus to see what you might be able to procure.

As an added bonus, the proceeds from many of these”re-stores” often go to environmental programs on campus.

3. Battle climate change with your bucks

From paper to clothing, trendy, eco-friendly options for back-to-school supplies abound. Look for clothing, sheets and towels made from organic cotton or fast-growing bamboo, paper with a high level of recycled content, printers with easy-to-recycle cartridges and even reusable to-go silverware.

4. Remember to recycle when you upgrade

If it is time for a new computer, make sure that your old one doesn’t become part of the growing stream of e-waste. The National Cristina Foundation will match your old computer with a school or organization in need of technology, and you can also check with local schools and organizations to see if your equipment could be useful to them.

Many electronic manufacturers also offer free recycling services, and some even offer trade-in programs. Dell, for example, offers free pick-up of computers and accessories, or customers can drop-off equipment at Goodwill and Staples stores nationwide. Customers who donate old Dell computers to the National Cristina Foundation will get a coupon from Dell towards new equipment.

Student meal plans of the past were filled with fast food choices. Now, many colleges have healthier, organic and even local dining options. Photo: New York University

5. Do your research

Before purchasing anything, find out which companies are making the grade on climate change. Climate Counts has launched the Back-2-Cool Campaign to inform consumers about the climate action records of companies selling popular products ranging from apparel to software.

A visit to the Climate Counts website will help you to make choices about the companies you want to support as well as offering you easy ways to take action on climate change.

6. Fighting the “freshman 15”

One of the major complaints of college students is that it is difficult to find healthy, affordable dining options on campus. Many schools are responding by trying to integrate more organic and local foods into the menus of their cafeterias and cafes.

Students can aid this process by employing the simple economic principle of supply and demand; the more students who ask for healthy and environmentally-friendly food, the more likely the school is to provide it.

Also check to see if a community garden or even a farmers market is on or near campus, as well as student groups working to bring more local fare to school. Community gardens can almost always use an extra hand as can students working to educate the school community about the benefits and pleasures of local and organic food.

7. Join the club!

Speaking of groups, almost every campus now has a club geared towards those interested in environmental initiatives, and most schools have many. Check out your options at the student activities office, and if you don’t see a club or group that fits your interests, start one!

Many green-forward universities have gardening programs for student and local participation. Residents work in the Song neighborhood community garden at EcoVillage at Ithaca. Photo: EcoVillage at Ithaca

Many major environmental groups have student chapters all over the country. Starting a chapter on your campus is as easy as contacting the national headquarters and asking for help.

The process of founding a club or chapter on campus varies from school to school, but it is usually as simple as filling out an application and explaining why there is a need for your group.

More and more colleges and universities also have offices of sustainability and coordinators. Sustainability departments often spearhead recycling and reuse initiatives as well as educational programs to help schools go green. These offices work with students, faculty, and the administration to raise the profile and efficacy of sustainability programs on campus.

If you have your own ideas about ways to improve or start environmental initiatives on campus, the sustainability office is a great place to find support, resources, suggestions, and like-minded people.

8. Make the grade green

As demand grows for more sustainability-minded grads, colleges and universities are responding by offering more programs focused on fields like environmental science, organic agriculture and forestry, sustainable architecture and engineering, as well as programs geared towards those interested in transforming major infrastructures like transportation systems and big business into more eco-friendly endeavors.

9. College is the place to get started on sustainability

Many people begin their eco-endeavors during their college years. Tom Szaky took advantage of feedback from friends and readily available materials for compost and reusable materials when he launched Terracycle while at Princeton.

Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre were clearly paying attention in a class aimed at fostering innovation. They were able to tap into the many resources at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute while starting their successful company, Ecovative Design, which produces an alternative to polystyrene foam.

No matter what you decide to pursue post-graduation, the experiences you have and the courses you take in college can go a long way towards making you more marketable once you hit the green job scene.

10. Take some tips from our interns!

Who better to deliver some college greening tips than students who are already there?

The Intern Files: How to Green Your Dorm
While you prepare for move-in day, keep in mind that being green can still apply. It’s absolutely possible to create an easy, eco-friendly living environment for everyone involved, whether you have one, two or several roommates.

The Intern Files: Eco-friendly Student Care Packages
To help you show you care in eco-friendly style, we’ve gathered some great green care-package ideas for your favorite smarty-pants.

Related articles
5 of America’s Greenest Colleges
8 Ways to Green Back to School
The Princeton Review Releases Guide to Top Green Colleges

Read more from Libuse Binder at Weekly Way and Ten Ways.

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