It’s the perpetual problem of the idealistic college student: We want to save the world, but we don’t know how, or we don’t have the power, or we have a midterm next week, so the world needs to just chill for a second. How does a college student make an impact on his or her world–on his or her campus, even–while still being, you know, a broke college student? How can you serve a cause close to your heart? That’s easy: Live a little greener.
Your Cause and the Environmental Movement
Until human beings become gods who can survive without food, water, and shelter, we will always be highly dependent on our environment. Maybe your passion isn’t environmentalism, but that doesn’t mean that eco-friendliness and your cause won’t intersect. A lot of the world’s problems can be traced back to the way we allocate–and often waste–resources, as well as to climate change.
Do you care about poverty? According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a 15% reduction in food waste would be sufficient to feed 25 million more Americans. 783 million people do not have access to clean water. Reducing waste is absolutely necessary to reducing poverty.
What about violence? Droughts and rising sea levels are leading to instability overseas as resources become even more scarce, which leads to people actually killing other people for food and water.
Disease? According to Do Something, more than 3 million children under the age of five die every year as a result of environmental factors.
Women’s rights? In regions that are more susceptible to climate change, women generally feel the impacts more than men, and their empowerment is one of the keys to combating climate change in these areas, according to the UN.
You might not be passionate about sustainability, but if you care about anything at all, it’s extremely likely that sustainability is one way to make it better.
It’s the Little Things
Here are some easy, accessible ways to make a positive–or at least a less negative–impact on the world.
While you should definitely reduce and reuse before recycling, recyling is probably one of the easiest ways to make a difference. Check out your school’s recycling policies, which, if they aren’t online (Google “[your school] recycling”), are probably the same as the recycling policies of the county your school is in (Google “[your school’s county] recycling”).
2. Use a reusable water bottle
The Pacific Institute estimates that in 2006, it took 17 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic used for water bottles. Gross.
3. Print double-sided
If your professors aren’t extremely picky, that 10-page research paper may only require 5 pieces of paper, saving money and trees (or, like, a portion of a tree).
Electronics, even when not in use, use electricty. Think of your cell phone charger, your laptop charger, your TV, etc. Unplug them to save energy!
5. Meatless Monday
The meat industry has a huge environmental impact. Not eating meat once a week reduces annual carbon emissions by the equivalent of not driving your car for a month. Um, that’s awesome. While vegetarian options at your school might be limited, cutting out meat is probably doable.
I’m not going to tell you that recycling a single plastic bottle will solve all of the world’s problems, but I will tell you that it’s a start. Turn these behaviors into habits, and spread the word to your friends. When you multiply a sustainable action enough times, it can make a huge impact.
Big Things Are Cool Too
If this cause is important enough to you, you can make an even bigger impact on campus and try to implement permanent changes.
EcoReps programs differ from campus to campus, but at my school, the EcoReps are a group of freshmen leaders who learn about and promote sustainability within their residence halls, to create a more environmentally conscious student population. If your school doesn’t have one, it needs one, and you could be the person to start it up.
The average residential college student produces almost 142 pounds in food waste every year. Gross, especially considering not only the number of people without food but also the fact that food could be composted! If your school doesn’t already compost, try to set up composting at your school–in dining halls, in residence halls, or everywhere on campus.
3. Sustainable Dining
Everybody eats, but we don’t have to do it unsustainably. Do some investigation into dining on your campus. How much of your food is produced locally–and can there be more? Is there a more sustainable way to serve the food? Where does the meat come from? If anything seems like it can be improved, bring it to the attention of Dining Services.
As a college student, it’s easy to feel like you can’t change anything. The truth is, you have more power than you realize, and if every college student dedicated themselves to saving our planet… Well, it would be saved.