Higher Education: Green 101

Recent research by the Princeton Review suggests that parents and college-age students are more likely to pick a school based on its environmental record and initiatives than ever before.  Media coverage of late shows that colleges and universities admit they are using the green phenomenon to attract students with sustainable buildings, academic programs and other offerings.

Yet just last year, researchers found themselves somewhat surprised to tell the world that the younger demographic – including the college-aged – were the least likely group to recycle anything.  So what gives?

Obviously, green is cool these days.  It’s also politically correct, if you will, which may have us all fibbing a little on our interest in really doing the right thing when it comes to Mother Earth.  Let’s face it – we’re all a little more interested in our pocket books these days, and overall, we’re always more interested in what makes our lives most convenient. 

But it’s possible to help yourself and the environment at the same time – even with a college student’s budget and lifestyle.  Here are a few ideas – some are even educational:

First things first – if you’re really not recycling, start there.  Plastic bottles and packaging; cans, beer or otherwise; cardboard boxes from care packages – what ever you have that can be recycled.  If you’re campus does not offer a comprehensive recycling program or for that matter any recycling program at all (don’t be shocked – everyone thinks college’s are the cradle of the environmental movement these days but there are administrators who still don’t get it), look outside the boundaries.  If you find the right recycling facility, you may even get some cash for your cans.  Even without the financial incentive, consider organizing campus drives where you collect recyclables from the student body and staff and transport them to the local center.

Second, use foot power.  Don’t be lazy on a pedestrian campus.  Chances are, in wooing you to enroll, your college or university has found ways to offer almost everything you may ever need within walking distance.  If not, local entrepreneurs are probably filling the gaps.  If you have a car on campus, don’t drive it two blocks to a drive through, or for that matter around campus to an academic building you don’t feel like walking to.  Get up and walk.  Or bike if you have one.  Find a job you can walk to, and consider transportation when looking for off campus housing.  The only exception to this rule comes when safety is of major concern.

Third, be progressive.  It may surprise many to know that old “activist” tactics are wearing thin on the world. Most have heard the green message – they just want to know how they can help sans the lectures. Many groups still use publicity stunts – think PETA putting naked women in cellophane wrappers like grocery store meat – but the truth is, many are realizing that hard-line demands and silly antics only create more distance between “greenies” and their goals.  If you want something green done on your campus, find out who to talk to and make an appointment to discuss it.  Again, no demands – make a case for what you want.  Show financial savings, show good public relations, show great interest on the part of the student body.  You just may get what you want.  If however, your administrators are more archaic than most, feel free to revert to the old school protest model.

Fourth, think.  Colleges and universities, with multitudes of students, staff and faculty living out most of their day on campus are ripe for waste and actions that are not exactly environmental.  So look for opportunities like these: 

Need a charity project for your sorority or fraternity?  Collect athletic shoes for Nike – if the shoe giant has a gear contract with your athletic teams, they may even help you promote it or cut you some breaks on shipping what you collect to them.  Collect used fleece in the spring and get it to Patagonia to use in the manufacture of new clothing. Look for ways to reuse and recycle the things you and your fellow students use most.
No brainer – buy used books and sell them back when you can.
Inventory your room.  Consider downsizing your mini-fridge, or purchase and Energy Star model.  Are there electronics you can share with roommates? Take shorter showers and watch what you’re sending down the drain – certain substances and chemicals can wreck havoc on sewer systems. Don’t run the water while you’re brushing your teeth or applying beauty products. Plasma televisions are one of the greatest energy hogs of the current era– limit your time in front of the tube.  Unplug the appliances and electronics you leave behind over breaks.
Invest in a refillable drink bottle or two, and ditch the single serve bottles of water and soda, and the individual coffee cups at your favorite barista.
Precycle – when mom and dad visit buy the things you need in bulk or in sizes that use less packaging.  Take reusable bags to the market and even to the bookstore when you need something.
Paper is the most landfilled item in the country.  Do as much work as you can online, and try to avoid printing hard copies when you can. If you need to print, do it double-sided.  Cut back on flyers to advertise your campus organization’s events, and find viral or alternative means to do so. Use a white board instead of sticky notes to leave messages for friends and roommates.
It should go unsaid, but don’t litter.  If you’re tailgating at a sporting event, bring a bag for trash and recyclables.  Don’t toss cigarette butts, gum or wrappers as your traversing the campus.  If there’s a need for more trash receptacles in high traffic areas around campus, talk to someone in the physical plant.  And don’t leave random trash in classrooms and public areas either.
If you’re campus doesn’t have a student group dedicated to the environment, start one.  Show students how small actions can make a big difference. Work with – not against—your campus administrators to implement sustainable living initiatives.  Invite environmental professionals to talk about their careers on campus, and find ways to activate environmentally minded citizens and businesses in the greater college community.

Have a great idea about how to live more sustainably on campus?  Are you attending a school that’s really progressive?  Let us know!


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