Ten Small Steps To Be A Sustainable College Student

As college students, it can be difficult to effectively help the environment. We typically have very little money and hardly have the time to think about anything beyond our next exam. But as consumers, we still have the power to impact the industries around us by supporting more sustainable practices and saying no to unsustainable ones. Here are 10 ways (from most challenging to easiest) you can easily lower your carbon footprint as a student:


Take an Environmental Science Class 

Taking an environmental class will benefit you and positively impact your college experience in so many ways. Not only will you learn even more ways to adopt a sustainable lifestyle, but you will become an expert on climate change and be able to educate those around you. One of the best ways to combat the climate crisis is education and awareness. 

Environmental science curriculums typically include lessons involving not only science, but human rights, politics, and economics. Even if you’re not a STEM major you’ll surely find some part of the course interesting.


Join your Schools’ Environmental Club 

Joining the environmental or sustainability club at your school is a great way to become educated on current environmental issues but to and advocate for more environmentally friendly policies for your campus. College students across the country are pushing for their schools to divest from the fossil fuel industry and striking for more comprehensive policy to combat climate change every Friday. 

If your school doesn’t have an environmental club, get together with a group of passionate students and start one yourself!


Take Advantage of Public Transportation

If you live in a city with an extensive transportation network such as Boston, take advantage of it rather than driving or calling an Uber. When you go home on breaks, choose to take a bus or a train. If you’re unable to do that, try to find someone at your school who’s from the same area as you and might be able to carpool.


Support local, ethical, and sustainable businesses 

Reducing consumption is our ultimate goal. But when we can’t do that, we can do our best to support more environmentally friendly businesses. A business that cares about the environment is transparent, sources their resources responsibly, and committed to lowering emissions. See my article “How to be a Sustainable Shopper during the Holiday Season” for more information. 

One of my favorite companies is Burts’ Bees. Most people have heard of their lip balm, but they actually have an extensive line of other body products such as moisturizer, face masks, makeup, tooth paste, and even products for babies! Burts’ Bees uses naturally sourced ingredients, recyclable packaging, and respects nature. Their website even includes sustainability reports.


Pay Attention to your Eating Habits

Globally, hundreds of millions of people suffer from hunger, yet  In the United States, an estimated 31% of food is actually wasted. If your dining hall is like Simmons and you swipe once to get unlimited food, to avoid wasting food, start with small portions rather than piling everything onto your plate at once. Afterwards, if you’re still hungry, you can go back and get more. If you can, compost any food that you do waste or try to put any leftovers into containers for later. 

If you don’t have a meal plan, try as much as possible to eat locally. This can be difficult (and often expensive) especially if you live in a more urban area, but every little bit helps. Limit your animal product consumption and support small farms. It takes significantly more water, land, and energy to produce animal products than plant-based ones.  


Buy Used Clothing 

The clothing that we buy contributes to climate change more than we think. The fashion industry uses a significant amount of pesticides, water, dyes, and energy to grow, construct and ship the fabrics that we wear. Most clothing, unfortunately is not worn for a very long period of time before being thrown out, despite being perfectly intact. 

Clothing swaps are also a great way to find new clothes, as well as get rid of any you are sick of wearing, without spending money or contributing to climate change. A few clubs at Simmons decided to organize a clothing swap and it was a huge success! 


Use Reusable Containers

Most of us already have reusable water bottles that we use on a daily basis. Why not go even further? If you buy coffee to go everyday, consider buying a reusable coffee mug if you don’t already have one. Disposable coffee cups contribute a significant amount to plastic pollution, and many cities are considering banning them anyway. Buying a reusable coffee mug is a small investment that will save you money in the long run. 

Also, consider buying tupperware if you regularly get food to go from your dining hall. At Simmons (where I attend school), the boxes provided in the dining room are compostable, yet only a small amount of them actually make it into compost bins. If they end up in a landfill and don’t have access to oxygen, they will decompose anaerobically and produce methane. 

If everyone brought their own containers and reused them everyday we wouldn’t even have to produce single use containers in the first place.


Learn how to recycle properly 

Since China adopted stricter recycling standards, most of the recyclables in the United States don’t actually get recycled. This is often because they are contaminated with food residue, placed into the wrong bin, or sometimes not even able to be recycled in the first place. 

Make sure you’re recycling properly and educate yourself using this online guide to recycling. But remember that reducing and reusing are the first steps to reducing waste.


Use a rug in your dorm room

This may not sound like it would help much, but simply putting a rug down in your dorm will help preserve heat and lower the total amount of energy it requires to keep your room warm enough.


Use Ecosia! 

This is the easiest ways to help combat the climate crisis. Ecosia is a browser that plants a new tree roughly every second. Ecosia uses about 80% of its monthly profits to plant trees in areas that need them the most. It takes about 45 searches for a tree to be planted, but they add up quickly. So far they have planted over 82 million trees! 

Ecosia is transparent, privacy friendly, and their servers run on 100% renewable energy! If you’d like to help plant trees by simply using the internet, download Ecosia and set it as your default browser. 


Remember that your actions impact the planet more than you think. If you want to take a look at more specific ways to limit your impact, calculate your carbon footprint to see which areas of your lifestyle are having the biggest effects.