The Internet is abuzz with the latest about what’s for sale at world-leading furniture retailer Ikea: solar panels. Yes, the haven for affordable, off-campus furniture shopping is moving into a new realm. Its UK stores are encouraging shoppers to help the environment, making owning solar panels an “affordable reality” for all, according to a spokesperson quoted by Susanna Kim in the ABC News blog article “Ikea to sell solar panels to heat those meatballs,” posted on September 30, 2013. But if you’re renting or living in the dorm, you can’t just add solar panels to offset your campus carbon footprint. What kind of green initiative can you use in the dorms? And what are your schools doing to go green on campus? And honestly, just what is environmental sustainability? Here’s what you need to know!
What is environmental sustainability?
Ensuring environmental sustainability is one of the goals put forth by the UN in the Millennium Development Goals signed by 147 nations back in 2000. The targets, quoted in an article, “Environmental sustainability,” in the Manilla Bulletin, are as follows:
- Implement national strategies for sustainable development by 2005, to reverse losses of environmental resources by 2015,
- Halve the proportions of people with no access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation or who cannot afford it by 2015, and
- Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million (global estimate) slum dwellers by 2020.
For the UN, helping the environment is about improving the lives of people as well: build in ways that don’t harm (or help restore) the environment, get more people access to clean water, and improve the lives in places that are the most impacted by poor environmental conditions such as air pollution and poor sanitation. Environmental sustainability boils down to living in a way that doesn’t use up resources and leave the future in the lurch.
Green initiatives on campus
Colleges have picked up that students care about environmental sustainability, and over the past few years, they’ve been implementing programs to entice students to believe that their green program is better than another university’s. Some campuses focus on green transit, biodegradable silverware and ride sharing. Other schools are practicing sustainable development in new buildings, installing solar panels (probably not from Ikea) and replacing old appliances with energy efficient ones.
Even campus sports are going green: Yale and the University of Maryland were among thirty college athletic departments to be celebrated in the National Resource Defense Council’s August 2013 report “College game changers: How campus sport is going green.” The University of Maryland has a laudable waste, recycling and composting program, which is highly dependent on the help of volunteer sports fans. The Yale athletic department’s sustainable practices are projected to actually save the school more than $100,000 this year.
Doing your part
But if you’re not a college big wig, how can you as a student make an impact on campus? Here are five ideas.
- Find out if your college has a clothing swap or free store. It might be an informal event or a once-per-semester organized freecycle. By giving new life to old stuff, you’re keeping those items out of the landfill – and saving yourself some money!
- Ride a bicycle or walk to and from your classes. These are even better ways to offset your carbon footprint than riding a hybrid public or campus transit vehicle. They’re also good exercise and easy on your wallet.
- Control your water usage and waste management. Most dorms offer recycling and many dining halls offer composting; if yours doesn’t, find out why! Talking about these issues with peers and administrators helps raise environmental consciousness.
- According to the National Wildlife Federation’s blog article “How are students staying green at college this fall?” posted by Sapna Batish on September 23, 2013, Franklin and Marshall College encourages students to “growing vegetables organically, eating at a fair trade café, and becoming aware of energy consumption through the campus energy monitoring program.” Find out if your campus has this type of program available; many colleges have at least a community garden.
- Take a stand. If you’re an environmental science or engineering major, find out if there are courses or extracurricular projects like the outdoor solar-powered table designed by students at George Washington University, also described in Batish’s article. You can also join a campus club or a national group, like the National Wildlife Federation.
However you get involved – whether it’s a passion or just making sure you sort your trash into the right containers – try making environmental sustainability part of your college experience.