college student holding sign at climate change protest

As more young activists speak up for their future and the future of our planet, colleges and universities are taking note. More institutions of higher education and student groups are focusing on environmental and sustainability concerns. Campus-wide initiatives range from composting programs to reducing consumption of paper and plastic to better reuse and recycling options.

If you want to reduce your environmental impact while at college or university, don’t feel that you have to head up a campus-wide program. There are many simple steps you can take. In the following article, Waterlogic presents five ways you can be kinder to the environment while away at school.

Your Habits Make a Difference

Global warming, climate change, and plastic pollution have become topics we hear about regularly in the news and on social media. And a glance at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Global Warming of 1.5 ºC report confirms the unmistakable impact of our unsustainable habits. Glacial melt is causing sea levels to rise to unprecedented levels, putting coastal regions at risk of flooding. Fresh water supplies are running low, leaving cities around the world on the verge of running dry. And carbon dioxide levels are higher than they’ve been at any time in the last 400,000 years.

With 20 million students dotted across university campuses throughout the United States, the next generation can play a leading role in driving change. By developing sustainable habits early, you can ease the strain on Earth. Your proactive mindset can create a healthier society that both consumes less and produces less waste. College students and other young people have a crucial role in this environmental crusade. Not only do your sustainable habits make a difference, but you can urge your college or university to adopt sustainable practices.

What Is Your University’s Sustainability Rating?

The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) offers a transparent self-reporting framework that lets universities measure their environmental performance. The system awards points based on categories covering academic research, campus engagement and promotion of policies, air quality and climate management policies, energy efficiency, waste management, and water usage — among other metrics.

STARS designates a rating between bronze and platinum, using a badge to designate a university’s leadership when it comes to the environment. While the system is not the only way to track eco-mindedness, it offers a reliable benchmark.

Which Universities Are the Most Sustainable?

Colorado State University has long been heralded one of the greenest universities in the United States. In 2015, it was also the first U.S. campus to achieve the top platinum status under the STARS framework. The university conducts sustainability research in more than 90 percent of its academic departments as well as offering eco-oriented extracurricular activities. The university claims to use less water than other institutions, while it manages to divert 93 percent of all waste produced by on-campus dining facilities to be recycled or composted. The university promotes eco-friendly transportation methods through its bike-friendly campus, transit shuttle system, and electric car charging stations.

Stanford University makes sustainable living a core part of the university experience. The Stanford Energy Innovations Program aims to reduce carbon emissions by 68 percent, cut water usage by 15 percent, and recycle or compost 75 percent of all waste produced by 2020. Stanford also offers clubs that promote sustainable practices. For example, the Gleaning Project harvests fruit and organic vegetables to donate to local hunger-relief organizations.

On the global stage, universities are pioneering a number of different strategies in their bid to top the sustainability league. In the United Kingdom, People & Planet offers independent ranking of institutional sustainability based on environmental and ethical commitments and actions. The measures span over 100 areas — including carbon reduction, student and staff engagement, use of sustainable food, workers’ rights, ethical investment, and education on sustainability.

Manchester Metropolitan tops the rankings, thanks to its high performance across each criterion. Imperial College London, on the other hand, falls at the low end of the rankings, owing to the campus’ lack of environmental policies, low ethical investment, limited staff and student engagement, and poor water usage reduction initiatives.

La Trobe University in Bundoora, Australia, has received plaudits for the green design of its Institute for Molecular Science. The building is characterized by a distinct honeycomb façade and uses extensive natural light to balance the internal climate. The structure received a 5-star rating from the Green Building Council of Australia — Australia’s primary authority on the sustainability of buildings and communities — for its use of design as a key factor in the university’s environmental performance.

students talking outside on college campus
Your actions can make a difference to the planet — even while you’re at college. Image: Adobe Stock

5 Ways You Can Be Eco-Friendly at College

Campus-wide initiatives are a key part of making colleges and universities more sustainable. However, individuals can make a difference as well, provided they know what to do. Here are five actions you can take to help the planet.

1. Reduce printing by reading on-screen

Stop Waste estimates that, on average, 17 percent of everything printed ends up as waste. With nearly every resource just a screen-tap away — and device-based note-taking simpler than ever — consider reading something on screen rather than printing it. You’ll cut down on waste and ease deforestation, as 42 percent of all felled trees end up as paper.

2. Stop buying bottled water

The global population buys 1 million single-use plastic bottles a minute. Many of these bottles end up in landfills, or as litter, adding to the growing hazard of microplastics in our waters. If you choose a reusable bottle, you can help reduce the 8 million tons of plastic waste that enters our oceans every year.

3. Refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle

Join the Plastic Pollution Coalition and take the 4Rs Pledge:

  • Refuse: Say no disposable plastic whenever possible.
  • Reduce: Cut down on buying products with excessive plastic packaging and parts.
  • Reuse: Opt for reusable containers, utensils, and other items over single-use plastic. Carry your own reusable water bottle, coffee mug, and straw.
  • Recycle: When you can’t abide by the above three options, recycle what you use rather than adding to the 91 percent of unrecycled plastics worldwide.

4. Be smart with your water usage

By the simple act of turning off the tap when you brush your teeth, you’ll save up to 200 gallons of water every month. If you live off campus, you can cut your water usage by 60 percent by installing a water-saving showerhead. Whether you live in a dorm or off campus, shorter showers will save water. If you have to run the water to warm it up, consider collecting the water in a bucket or pitcher. You can use it to refill your water bottle, make coffee, or water your roommate’s plants. Simple choices lead to significant change, so act smart with water.

5. Help promote groundbreaking initiatives

Stanford operates the Gleaning Project to produce organic vegetables that it donates to local organizations. Colorado University has built a bike-friendly campus and encourages students to use greener transport methods. Learn what other campuses are doing to help the planet and encourage your college or university to implement initiatives that can truly change the world.

Become an Environmental Change-Maker

Everyone can become an environmental change-maker. Take the two sophomores at George Washington University who started a student organization to make campus closets more sustainable.

The organization, called Clean Closets, seeks to raise awareness around sustainable fashion, runs clothing drives to promote charitable donations and recycling, and encourages students to question the practices of the businesses they buy from. It’s a meaningful cause that shows — while as an individual you may struggle to make your voice heard — if you collaborate with others, you can open the world’s eyes to an issue.

About the Author

Sidrah Ahmad is a writer and marketing coordinator at Waterlogic, an international provider of office water dispensers, and has contributed to many blogs on environmental and health issues such as improper waste disposal, the use of single use plastics, and water pollution. She is passionate about health research, medical discoveries, and environmental news.

Feature image by Markus Spiske from Pexels

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