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Going Green in College: A Guide for Students

The concept of sustainability was formalized in 1987, after several countries for the United Nations published the Brundtland report, also known as the “Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future.” Throughout the years, the impacts of our day-to-day lives took a noticeable toll on the environment, the world began to notice, and regulations were set in place to start making a change.

The importance of going green spread like wildfire through advertisements and awareness campaigns. Society began to understand how their daily habits were affecting the world around them. However, despite the increase in awareness, some still struggled to find ways they too could make a positive ecological impact.

Typically, at some point within your college career, you’ll learn about sustainability — whether it’s in business, biology, or even environmental science courses — it is sure to be discussed. However, what some college students may not know, is just how important their role is in world conservation, regardless of the classes they take.

Why Should College Students Care About the Environment?

As a college student, you’re often encouraged to think about your life after graduation. You’re most likely asked questions like “What will you do next?” and “Where do you see yourself in five years?” from family members and professors alike, especially as you find your schooling coming to an end.

With that being said, you may not receive as many questions about how you might hope to handle the future state of the world after you graduate. However, these questions are just as important, especially because college students are the future. If they don’t take action early on, the quality of the world around them could continue to decline.

Considering going green while still attending college also gives students access to different tools and resources — like the campus library, courses, and college professors — to help educate them on their ecological impact and the changes they can make to do better.

Tips for Reducing Your Carbon Footprint as a Student

Implementing green practices into your life as a college student can benefit your studies, your personal life, and the environment. As a college student, you have a unique daily routine that differs from most members of society — a routine that would greatly benefit from sustainable action. Let’s take a look at the different areas of a college student’s life that could benefit from sustainable swaps.


Researchers for a green living project at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that on average, students residing on the UCLA campus used over five kilowatts of energy each week. This is of course significantly lower than the common household which uses on average 893 kilowatts of energy per month. However, there could always be room for improvement, even when it comes to the energy consumption habits of students.

Here are a few ways you, as a college student, could improve your energy usage:

College students living in dorms aren’t paying for their electricity bills but this doesn’t mean they can’t do their part in reducing the amount of energy they use.

Food and Dining

How food is prepared, especially in establishments with large dining areas like colleges and universities, plays a large role in the environment. Some establishments are focused on catering to a large mass number of students rather than the actual source of the food.

And while it may seem beneficial to meet the demands of students' desires for fast food, it can take a negative toll on the environment if the food is not sustainably sourced and/or prepped.

You may not have control over how food on campus is prepared but there are still ways you as an individual can make sustainable changes in your dining habits.

Don’t be afraid to bring it to the college’s attention that you’re concerned about the sustainability practices within its dining facilities — change has to start somewhere.

Spending Habits

In 2020, college students spent on average $39.6 billion on food alone. Some believe this is due to the influence students feel — whether it be by social media or their friends — to dine out even if they can’t afford it. Food isn’t the only area students are influenced to spend money. It’s normal to want to finance life experiences while attending school.

Even if you’re able to afford it, spending money just because you can isn’t as ideal as you’d imagine, especially if you’re wanting to go green. Here are a few ways to reduce your spending habits to help reduce your carbon footprint (and make for a happier wallet):

Another great way to reduce your spending habits while curing your craving for new things is to host a swap meet with other students. This allows you to form new connections while being mindful of your impact on the environment. If you find yourself struggling to pay for basic needs, you may consider selling unwanted items like DVDs, CDs, clothing, and school supplies like textbooks and calculators for a little extra cash. This is a great option for those that don’t want to support the large carbon footprint that most book publishing companies hold. After all, the publishing industry was responsible for 12.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2006 alone.

By selling your textbooks for some extra cash, you’re also supporting the act of reusing materials that could inevitably end up as waste.

Schooling and Studies

Working sustainability into your schooling is a great way to make a positive impact in areas most members of the public don’t have access to such as the carbon footprint of colleges and universities. By following the tips below, not only are you benefiting from your green initiatives, but you’re helping your school go green as well.

You may even consider keeping your textbooks and other supplies after graduation to pass down to other students later on.


It’s no secret that transportation is directly correlated to climate change. In fact, according to an article on carbon pollution from transportation published by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “greenhouse gas emissions from transportation account for about 29 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, making it the largest contributor of U.S. GHG emissions.”

To help reduce your carbon emissions caused you can:

It’s worth noting that most colleges and universities offer free public transportation for college students with proof of college ID. Inquire with your university to see what transportation options they have for their students.


One of the most simple, yet effective ways to go green is to limit your waste output. It can be difficult to recycle when living on campus but this doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

It will just require you to research alternative disposal methods of recyclable goods. This could mean investing in a bin to separate your recyclables from trash and taking the bin to a recycling center yourself if a recycling receptacle is not nearby.

Aside from recycling, you can improve your waste management by:

If you live alone, reducing your waste can be easy. But if you have roommates, you may consider speaking with them about your desire to go green and the changes you’re making to do so — that way you’re all on the same page. Who knows, you may inspire them to do the same.


Water consumption is another contributor to the decline of climate change. As a society, we need to better educate ourselves on how we use water and the ways it impacts the environment. For instance, the less water we use, the better our country can withstand long periods of drought.

Here are a few ways you as a student can keep a better eye on your water consumption habits:

While the water supply at your university may seem plentiful, it is anything but. Do your part in water conservation by following the tips above.

Additional Sustainability Resources

It can be hard finding a place to start but making changes that better yourself and the environment make it all worth the while. Listed below are a few additional resources, groups, and educational sites to consider through your journey towards sustainable living.

Rather than thinking of yourself as just a college student who can’t make a positive impact, think of yourself as a leader paving the way for future students to come. We must come together, students or otherwise, if we desire to create a sustainable world.