Conscious College Road Tour - Teaching Sustainable Living 101

College isn’t typically thought of as a time for moderation or sustainable living. College, if we are to trust its depiction in pop culture, is a time for plastic red Solo cups, irresponsibility, shenanigans, and excess.

This is the stereotype and it does have some roots in reality – that heady feeling of being on your own for the first time is a vital part of the post-secondary experience. The freedom to make your own choices – good and bad – can be overwhelming and it often takes a semester or two (or five?) to learn that delicate balance of social life and academics, dating and deadlines, work and play. Deriding this process does young twenty-somethings no favors – it’s a tough road, but one that’s absolutely necessary to walk down in order to become a fully fledged adult.

But by focusing on the stereotype of the drink-addled student late for class, subsisting on ramen and KD or chronically pulling all-nighters to cram for exams, we ignore the incredible, voracious appetite for knowledge which exists amongst these young adults. I can’t remember ever being more challenged intellectually than those first few years at university. I was immersed in knowledge, new ideas, discussion, and debate. My mind was open to being challenged and changed.

Sustainable Living U.

It’s precisely this spirit of learning and open-mindedness that inspired an organization called Turning Green to create an environmental group which exists solely to encourage this specific age group to embark upon a lifetime of sustainable living. Turning Green is a global, student-led organization and in addition to its mission of providing resources, eco-friendly living challenges, fellowships and internships, Turning Green recently embarked upon a road tour of college campuses in the United States, spreading a message of health, Eco-friendly living, and sustainability.

From the Turning Green website, “[The Conscious College Road Tour 2016] is six-week fly/drive university tour to inform, inspire and mobilize students to transition their lives and school campuses from conventional to conscious. Each stop features a robust tabling event and a Town Hall meeting to kick start a sustainability project on each campus.”

Sustainable Living 101 - Conscious College Road Tour
Image Credit: Turning Green

Mobilizing minds

From March 21-May 5, from Idaho to California, the Conscious College Road Tour provided a “unique, interactive, hands-on opportunity for students to become informed about conscious living mindful consumption, and mobilizing around sustainable solutions”

This is the sixth year this program has run, traversing the country to bring their unique message of youth empowerment and sustainable living to interested college students. Each stop features a mix of resources, collaborative activities, and discussion about issues related to sustainable living and how to best resolve them.

The tour encourages and empowers students to take action against pollution, toxic chemicals in everyday products, and climate change. Without identifying these tangible actions it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the size and the scope of the problem, but with easy to understand resource materials which list ways to live a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly life (including editing your cosmetics to include greener options, and choosing sustainably made clothing) it’s easy to know where to start.

Mentoring minds

Sustainable living advocates at college
Image credit: Teens Turning Green Blog

The involved colleges benefit from a partnership with Turning Green, collaboration amongst students concerned with sustainable living, and even after the Turning Green group leaves campus for their next tour stop they still stay on board, offering support and mentorship in order to create, develop, and run campus-specific projects.

Programs like this are vital to teaching sustainable living to those just beginning to create a life for themselves. For many college students, stepping foot into college campuses marks the first time they’ll be living out from under the parental roof. They suddenly have autonomy, and part of the balancing act I touched on above is realizing that with all of the excitement comes a heaping dose of responsibility; including the responsibility of very mundane, but ultimately important tasks like buying their own toilet paper, dish soap, and deodorant.

Crafted categorizes

The resources provided by Turning Green go beyond vague edicts to purchase eco-friendly goods, they break them down into six easily approached categories

  1. Food
  2. Style
  3. Zero waste
  4. Space
  5. Clean and
  6. Body

Each category is supplied with specific brand names of products which are manufactured with sustainable living in mind. It’s a tangible, specific list and makes approaching this task far, far easier so students are able to find brands which make recycled toilet paper, eco-friendly dish soap, and natural body care products.

Sustainability 101

For example, Turning Green’s “Sustainability 101” handout features sections which each end with Facts, Action steps to take, and Resources to further educate oneself on the issue if so desired. Their “Style” section runs through the impact of fast fashion on the environment and our wallets, and suggests,

“Locate and visit the closest vintage, consignment, second-hand, or thrift shop to your campus. Browse through your options and come up with an entire outfit that suits your style. Add up the price tags and calculate how much cheaper this outfit would be versus a similar new one from a department store. You may even like it enough to buy it! Let this inspire you to add a new section to your wardrobe, perhaps right next to the stripes? Call it… ethical style”

Turning Green

For a secondhand shopping devotee, this is music to my ears. I’m elated that this organization is spreading the world that second-hand stores are good for so much more than just Halloween costumes. Information on Style and other concerns is presented in direct, accessible way and at each college stop, info sessions and round-table discussions allow students to offer new insights, debate options and ask questions of  Turning Green members.

The 2016 Conscious College Road Tour has now wrapped up, but if you or someone you know wants to submit your college to be included in the 2017 road tour, just click here. It’s a fantastic way to earn an A+ in sustainable living.

Feature image credit: Conventional To Conscious 

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.