Feel Like You’re Unable to Make a Difference? Tips for Improving Individual Sustainability in College

By Anna Gaw

As climate change continues to threaten the Earth as we know it, it is as important as ever to examine the way we live and do our part to minimize our negative environmental impact. Yes, it’s going to take new policies being put in place and large corporations changing their ways to really reverse the forecast of the warming planet. However, change must start somewhere, and nothing will happen without the participation of individuals. If everyone makes a strong effort to reduce their carbon footprint, significant progress can be made. 

College provides an interesting context for trying to live sustainably. You may have little control over some things, such as building energy use, food impacts, and transportation to and from home. Additionally, it can be difficult to fit in or change certain habits when you are trying to balance classes, social life, work, hobbies, self-care, and more. However, there are still ways in which we can live more environmentally friendly lives. 

Here are a few college-specific ideas of small things that we can do that could lead to a big impact. We have all heard that we should do things like turn off lights, carpool, and take shorter showers. Here’s a slightly more creative list to add efforts that you may have already incorporated into your life. All statistics are sourced from Environmental Protection Agency reports. 

The average person in Colorado used between 101 and 125 gallons of water per day on average between 2000 and 2015.

Tips for Saving Water

Instead of pouring the water you used to boil pasta, wash dishes, or wash your hands down the drain, save it in a jar and use it to water your succulents and other houseplants. Just be careful not to use soapy water, as that may harm your plants. You can also use old water that has been sitting in a water bottle for a while, or dirty water from a fish tank (which provides lots of nutrients). 

27% (the largest category) of greenhouse gas emissions are from transportation.

Tips for Minimizing Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Whenever possible, try to bike instead of taking a bus, take a bus or carpool instead of driving a car alone, or drive a car instead of taking a plane.

Try to travel less in general. Maybe consider staying on campus for a block break, or exploring locally, rather than flying somewhere far away.

The average person produces about 4.5 pounds of waste per day.

Tips for Minimizing Waste 

Bring your own water bottle, coffee cup, utensils, and napkin. It’s a good idea to keep some of these things in your backpack so you have them whenever you might need them. 

For people who menstruate, try using reusable menstrual products such as cloth pads or a menstrual cup. 

26 million tons of plastic were disposed into landfills in 2015 alone.

Tips for Minimizing Plastic Waste

You’ve probably heard that you should bring reusable grocery bags when buying groceries. However, I don’t think people often remember to bring them shopping for other things as well. Also, when buying food, bring reusable produce bags. You can find mesh ones or make your own!

When buying groceries, I recommend getting what you can from the bulk section. You can save money and plastic this way if you bring your own containers (produce bags, old yogurt containers, jars, and reused plastic bags, for example).

Use a bamboo toothbrush instead of a plastic one.

Use bars of soap and shampoo instead of plastic containers.

In Colorado, climate change will specifically impact water availability, heat waves, snow melt, and forest destruction (due to fires, pests, and drought).  

Tips for Improving Your Overal Environmental Impact

Eat less meat. Seriously — animal agriculture uses tremendous amounts of water, releases greenhouse gases, and destroys native habitats. Even cutting back on some of your meat consumption, particularly beef, can make a positive impact. 

Make your voice heard. Participate in protests, email politicians, vote for environmentally aware candidates, and share facts with friends and family.

Volunteer for or donate to an organization working to fight climate change.

Purchase fewer things or buy used. Making less of a contribution to the manufacturing of new items can be a great way to reduce your footprint. Try buying from thrift stores, Facebook, or friends. Also, only buy what you really need and try to support sustainable companies. Or get creative and make your own things!

Think! Reflect on everything you do and see how ways you might be able to make a little less of a negative impact. Think about larger scale solutions as well. 

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