You don’t have to quit using shampoo or go totally vegan to make your lifestyle more sustainable. There are tons of tiny ways you can minimize your resource footprint, and simplify your life. Here are some easy green living tips that will help save resources, and might even save you time and money!
You may already be using a laptop or tablet for convenience—these electronics use less energy and require fewer resources to manufacture than desktops. Whatever you use, make sure to activate the device’s energy-saver settings. You’ll prolong the life of the battery, as well as save energy when plugged in. And try not to fall asleep in front of streaming video: that bright screen isn’t just sucking up electricity, it’s messing up your sleep cycle!
Your chargers and small appliances (like a coffee maker) suck up standby power even when not in use. To cut down on wasted electricity (and wasted dollars, if you’re paying your own electric bill), keep these items plugged into a power strip and flip its switch to “off” when you leave the house.
Use compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) instead of regular bulbs (and steer clear of those Halogen lights which are ubiquitous on college campuses). They last 8–12 times longer and use 25 percent less energy.
Always ask for paper bags—never plastic (plastic bags are not biodegradable). Better still, bring a cloth bag when you shop, or if your purchase is small enough, don’t take a bag at all. While you’re at it, pick up a BPA-free water bottle, a water-filtering pitcher, and a reusable portable insulated mug. You’ll save money on bottled water, and many coffee shops offer a discount when you bring your own cup.
Buying locally doesn’t just have to mean your groceries. Before you stock up on dorm room essentials over the summer, think about the impact, and cost, of shipping your stuff from home to school. Why not wait until you arrive to buy what you need?
College towns are great places to find used furniture at the local second-hand shop or even on the sidewalk when students are moving in or out of dorms and apartments.
Cooking odor, sneakers, dirty laundry—dorm rooms can get smelly. Instead of a plug-in or aerosol air freshener, try plants to improve air quality, and dried lavender to neutralize odors.
When you shop for a new appliance, like that hot plate for your dorm room, look for the Energy Star label. This means that the appliance saves energy. Avoid products that contain ChloroFluoroCarbons (CFCs), because these destroy the ozone layer. Before you splurge on that mini-fridge, however, see if you have a communal fridge in your common area or if you can go without.
There are tons of ways to conserve water: turn off the water when you’re not using it (like while brushing your teeth). Check all your faucets for drips. Challenge yourself to take shorter showers (you might end up with a few extra minutes of sleep in the morning!). Only do laundry when you have a full load, stick with cold water (this will also help prevent your clothes from shrinking or transferring dye), and use the recommended minimum amount of detergent.
Cut down on the need for artificial lighting during the day by arranging desks and reading chairs near the window, and make sure large items aren’t blocking radiators. Maximize heating and cooling efficiency by opening the curtains and lifting the blinds during the day and closing them at night to insulate the windows.
Wipe up kitchen spills with a dish cloth instead of a paper towel. Only print out homework when necessary, and use the backs of old print-outs for class notes or scratch work. Always use paper products made from 80–100 percent recycled paper, preferably with high post-consumer content.
Use reusable containers for food storage instead of wrapping food in foil or plastic wrap. Make it a point to buy products with recycled contents and/or recyclable packaging. Start a backyard composting bin for yard clippings and donate your unwanted furniture, appliances, and clothing so that they may be reused.
Making these small lifestyle changes are some of the easiest things you can do to reduce your impact on the environment. You can also join green organizations on campus and help organize sustainability education initiatives for your peers, local businesses, and even your school.
If your time is limited and you would like to support sustainability in another way, consider making a donation to a favorite nonprofit: Dollars are welcome, but so are your old clothes, computers, dishes, bicycles, cell phones, and furniture (if you’re working enough hours for the federal government to withhold taxes, you can write off charitable donations and increase your tax return, too!).
Finally, if you feel that you want to study sustainability in college and make a career out of it, by all means, do so! The schools profiled in this guide are great destinations for learning about the environment and prepping for careers related to sustainability—a job market where we expect to see significant growth over the next decade.