Going to university is one of the most exciting times in your life. Studying abroad is a great experience: You will not only learn new exciting things at university; you will also experience life in another culture, meet people from all over the world, and really get to spread your wings. But studying abroad usually means lots of travelling back and forth, and that can be harmful to the environment.
University is the place that will get you ready to take on the world, but what is the point if there isn’t going to be a world worth taking on? How can you have your great adventure and still do your part to help the planet? Well don’t worry, we have some great tips for you right here.
Reduce, reuse, recycle is a popular slogan that encapsulates core concepts of living sustainably, and in English-speaking countries it’s often taught to school kids. The three R’s have been with us since the 1970’s and they are as relevant today as they were back then – perhaps even more so!
Consumerism causes huge damage to the environment. We are brainwashed by advertising companies to always buy new things. But these new things have to come from somewhere! The pillage of our planet for raw materials causes habitat loss, affects the climate, kills animals and dislocates people from their homes. So, reducing your consumer footprint by reducing, reusing and recycling is one of the best ways you can help the environment.
Being a student is a busy time – not only do you have classes to attend, studying to do and essays to write; you also have new friends to make, clubs to join, sports to play and adventures to go on.
Making good choices to help the environment can seem like a daunting task, but there are lots of easy, small things you can do to make a positive impact:
1. 🙅 Say no to plastic bags. When you go shopping, bring reusable bags or a backpack with you. If you like vintage style, why not invest in a nice wicker basket? If you cycle, have pannier bags or a basket. Within the European Union, plastic bags are mostly banned for grocery shopping. And it’s a good thing, too: There are lots of more practical alternatives to single-use plastic bags!
2. 🚆 Go by train or bus instead of flying if you can. Flying is one of the worst things you can do to the environment, and it’s worth exploring alternatives. Yes, it can take a little longer, but travelling by train or bus is often cheaper and more comfortable than flying. You don’t need to worry about what you are packing or weight limits; the view is much more interesting; and there is usually free wifi on trains and buses.
3. 🌳 Compensate your CO2, if you can afford it (and yes, you can). There are many companies that now offer ways for you to offset your carbon emissions, such as Atmosfair and myclimate. These organisations take your financial donation and use it to offset carbon by investing in projects that reduce carbon, for example by planting trees. Reducing CO2 in the atmosphere can then help mitigate the effects of the climate crisis.
4. ♻️ Recycle as much as you can. Our planet’s resources are finite, but much can be preserved by separating recyclable materials from other waste. Recycling is common pretty much everywhere in Europe and depending on your apartment building or student accommodation, there might be separate bins for metals, plastics, and paper. Recycling is one of the best and easiest ways you can help the environment.
5. 🚰 Use a reusable water bottle. Tap water in most European countries is high-quality drinking water and often better than most bottled water. A reusable bottle saves money and reduces the amount of single-use plastic in the environment. Reusable water bottles come in all sizes and styles, so find one that you really like, and you’ll want to use it every day.
6. ☕ Use reusable coffee mugs or have your coffee “to sit in”. Paper cups with plastic lids are terrible for the environment. Just in the UK, as one example, 2.5 billion coffee cups are used and thrown away every year! Using a reusable coffee cup has the same benefits as a reusable water bottle: You reduce litter and you can save money – many coffee shops offer a discount to customers using reusable coffee mugs.
7. 🪛 If something is broken, repair it rather than buying something new. Don’t know how? Youtube has a wealth of knowledge on how to repair things yourself. You can also find repair shops locally that can do the job for you. It reduces waste and saves you money. Don’t buy the cheapest crap you find on eBay, Amazon or AliExpress (and be aware that good reviews can be fake) or throwaway discount fashion. Your granny was right when she said “if you buy cheap you buy twice”: A more durable product might be more expensive, but will outlast cheaper options that need to be replaced after just a few months.
8. ⚡ Save energy. Switch things off when you are not using them, turn off lights, put on a sweater at home before you crank the heat up. This is not only good for the environment but good for your bank balance too. Using less energy saves the planet and makes your bills lower. And if you have any influence on picking the electricity supplier where you live, see if you can switch to a plan that relies solely on renewable energy sources.
9. 🥕 Eat less or no meat, and reduce dairy consumption. Eating meat is not just bad for the animals (obviously), it’s also bad for the environment. 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gases are emitted from the meat and dairy industry. Having vegetarian food a few days a week is not only good for the environment, but it is also good for your wallet and your health. If you are buying meat and dairy, buying local and/or organic produce will mean a lower carbon footprint.
10. 🧺 Buy locally produced foods. This can be a difficult one depending on where you live. Try to find out if there are any farm shops near you and keep an eye out for local produce when you are in the shops. Perhaps there’s a regular farmer’s market that you can go to.
11. 🚶 Walk or cycle more. Student accommodation is usually within walking or cycling distance of the university. Walking or cycling are great ways to get from A to B. You will also be getting your daily exercise in and saving money. Listening to music or an audiobook can make the walk seem even quicker!
12. 🚌 Use public transport. If it is not feasible to walk or cycle (or the weather is too bad) using public transport is a cheaper and easier option than driving. Keeping and running a car is hugely expensive, and cars are an awful burden on the environment. You also have to worry about finding a parking space. None of these things are an issue if you choose public transport.
13. 🧑🤝🧑 Share. There are lots of things we use everyday that we can share with our friends or housemates. Items such as textbooks, hairdryers, irons, printers, etc. Lots of things can be shared between several people. It saves money, reduces waste, and also makes your life easier if you’re moving – you don’t have all these extra things to be carrying around.
14. 🧵 Get creative. Learn how to cook, how to sew, how to make things. Being creative is a great thing to learn and helps you make the most out of the materials and resources you have.
15. 🏛️ Petition your university to take action. As a student, you are the next generation of game-changers in the world. Start now by petitioning your university to become more environmentally friendly. Simple acts such as asking your university canteen to have meat-free days; asking coffee shops to encourage users to have their own reusable mugs (or at least not always giving people plastic lids); having recycle bins available around campus. There are lots of ways you can help your university improve their carbon footprint.
So, you’re putting in all this effort - but is your university? Many universities now have green action plans in place to help make them more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. Check your university’s website to find out what steps they are taking. Many universities have already invested in energy-efficient lighting and electronics; they provide lecture notes in digital form to save paper; and many other activities to reduce their impact on the environment.
A simple walk around your campus should reveal the many, everyday ways that your university is fighting climate change and promoting sustainability. Are there recycling facilities? Does the canteen use reusable plates and cutlery? Most importantly, does your university promote a green and responsible message? Do they listen when you ask for change? Universities are creating the leaders of tomorrow – that’s you! – so don’t be afraid to speak up if you see an opportunity for improvement.
If sustainability and climate change are passions of yours, then why not turn them into your degree!
There are lots of subjects that you can study that will get you ready for a career in sustainability. Just a few examples:
But there are many other options, too. Universities have been adapting the curricula of many other subjects. Sustainability as a topic has become important enough to be included as a key theme into modules across all subjects. Make a wise choice – and do your part!12076 Programmes in Europe