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Is Your Campus Focused on Sustainability?

College helps shape our future leaders, but is your institution taking steps today to ensure a better tomorrow?

ByJon Behm| Last Updated:06/15/2023
Students walking on the sidewalk of a campus green with a brick domed building in the background.

Sustainability Initiatives to Start at Your College

Having a hard time finding recycling bins on campus? Looking for a smarter way to get rid of food waste? If you’d like to see your school go green, you can make more of an impact than you might think. From community service opportunities to campus recycling programs, there are plenty of ways your college can promote sustainability on campus.

To get students thinking green, The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) holds Campus Sustainability Month every year. From campus recycling to more out-of-the-box sustainability projects, we rounded up a few green ideas for your college to limit its environmental impact, with input from The University of Southern Mississippi, The University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point and Cleveland State University

What Is Campus Sustainability Month?

October 1st marks the start of Campus Sustainability Month, a period dedicated to encouraging sustainable practices on campus and engaging students in topics that range from renewable energy to recycling.

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education logo.
Julian Dautremont-Smith, Director of Programs | AASHE

"Hundreds of higher education institutions celebrate Campus Sustainability Month to inspire students to get involved with sustainability efforts on campus. Each institution decides for itself how it wants to participate, but celebrations typically include a variety of educational events and service projects. This year, many celebrations will include a focus on civic engagement and participation in the November elections."

Employees and the Viking mascot of Cleveland State University celebrate Earth Fest.

10 Ways to Promote Sustainability on Your College Campus

1. Set Up Recycling Stations Around Campus

The first step toward college campus sustainability is to make recycling as easy as possible. A great example of this is Bowling Green State University’s single-stream recycling initiative. Every trash bin on campus is paired with a recycling bin for students to toss plastic bottles, paper, glass, cans and cardboard without having to sort it beforehand. Using this system, the university hopes to achieve a 50% waste diversion rate.

If your school doesn’t currently have a robust recycling or waste diversion scheme in place, you can:

  • Contact local recyclers and determine what types of materials you can drop off with them.
  • Work with your school’s facilities department to find spare bins and make sure they are clearly labeled with accepted materials.
  • Place the bins in highly trafficked parts of campus. Designate a team of volunteers to collect the recyclables every week, making sure to weigh each bag so you can demonstrate how effective your program is.

2. Plan an E-Waste Recycling Drive

College campuses are swimming in broken and outdated electronics. That’s why setting up an e-waste collection event is a great idea for promoting campus sustainability.

  • Get permission from your facilities department to set up collection bins in an on-campus parking lot.
  • Contact local recycling businesses and vendors to see what kinds of electronics they accept and make sure they are willing to accept bulk drop-offs.
  • Check to see if there are any additional fees for recycling certain items.
  • Reach out to your university and local businesses to sponsor the recycling drive.
  • Use social media to spread the word about your event and include a list of accepted electronics.

3. Organize a Donation Program During Moving Season

When the time comes to move out of the dorms, college students have a lot of clutter to sort through. From extra food in the cupboards to the sweaters you didn’t wear all semester, your college can save these items from the landfill and send them to those in need. The University of Southern Mississippi holds Move Out and Move In Madness events to help charities in the area.

University of Southern Mississippi logo.
Melissa Olsen, Sustainability Coordinator | University of Southern Mississippi

"Move Out Madness is a landfill divergent program that allows students moving out to donate unwanted items and non-perishable food rather than throw it away. Last Spring, we were able to collect 6,713 pounds of reusable goods that were distributed to local charities in our community and to our Eagles Nest Food Bank."

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4. Start a Bike Rental Program

Biking to and from campus can have as little as 1/7th the environmental impact as driving a car. Starting a bike share program can make it easier for students to ditch their cars for the semester. Approach your school’s administration to see if they will cover the cost of bikes, locks, racks and maintenance.

Benefits of Bike Share Programs:

  • Promote exercise and healthy living.
  • Reduce vehicle emissions around campus.
  • Fund additional campus sustainability initiatives with bike rental fees.
  • Encourage those who wouldn’t normally ride a bike to start using greener transportation.
A student presents his findings to a professor at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education conference.

5. Visit Sustainability Summits

The best way for students to learn about sustainability is to mingle with like-minded individuals. Consider researching upcoming sustainability events and organize a trip. For example, The University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point funds a trip to a student-formed summit where participants can learn about new sustainability initiatives and bring them back to campus.

University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point logo.
Jenessa Gilarski, Office of Sustainability | The University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

"I just returned from the Sustainability Summit. This was the 8th annual event and it’s formed by students to bring a group of 60 dedicated individuals off campus and build a strong community of sustainable-minded students. Following the summit, they work together on initiatives like food justice, waste reduction, social justice, etc. It is an incredible experience every year and a great agent of change at our school!"

6. Host a Sustainability Fair

If you’re having trouble finding sustainability events to attend, start your own. The University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point hosts several events to increase awareness on campus.

A fair is a great way to introduce concepts such as energy efficiency and sustainable living to a broad audience. Invite both on and off campus sustainability advocates to come and show attendees what they can do to reduce waste, save energy and minimize their impact on the environment.

University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point logo.
Jenessa Gilarski, Office of Sustainability | The University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

"October 25 is National Campus Sustainability Day which is when we host our Campus Sustainability Day Vendor Fair. This event is open to students as well as anyone in the community who wants to learn. Vendors that attend the fair include student organizations, local shops and businesses, campus departments and more."

7. Tour Renewable Energy Plants and Sustainable Buildings

The Green Energy Ohio Tour is one of the highlights of Kent State University's campus sustainability programming. This one-day event offers students the opportunity to take self-guided tours of the school’s solar array and LEED certified buildings around campus. These tours offer a hands-on learning experience for students interested in sustainable architecture and renewable energy.

If your campus is home to a renewable energy plant or sustainable building, consider setting up a tour with yourself as the guide. If there’s a solar installation or wind farm in your city, contact the owner and see if they will give you a tour of the grounds. Seeing sustainability initiatives up close is a great way to learn about the possibilities and bring ideas back to your campus to start planning your own green projects.

8. Start a Campus Community Garden

Sometimes, creating a green campus means getting your hands dirty. At The University of Houston, students participate in a community garden where they grow organic produce and educate campus and community members about healthy living. All of their produce is donated to local food pantries to give low-income individuals access to fresh vegetables. In addition to donating food, your school could even harvest your crops for farm-to-table dining on campus.

9. Start a Composting Program

From cafeterias to the university coffee shop, food waste piles up fast. Composting is a great way to minimize the amount of food your school sends to the landfill. Cleveland State University composts in their dining hall and even uses biodegradable tableware.

Cleveland State University logo.
Jennifer McMillin, Director of Sustainability | Cleveland State University

"We started off with a behind-the-scenes kitchen waste composting program, which included scraps from food preparation and also food waste left on plates from the dining hall. Earlier this year, we expanded our composting program by switching from disposable plastic to 100 percent plant based compostable tableware for all catering. Last year we sent over 20 tons of organic material to be composted."

10. Adopt Long-Term Campus Sustainability Goals

Establish goals to motivate your school and push towards eco-friendly practices beyond what’s planned for Campus Sustainability Month. Take this ambitious initiative by the University of Southern Mississippi: “Our goal is to work with the campus community to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050,” said Melissa Olsen, the university’s sustainability coordinator. In 2008, USM signed on to the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, a pledge between schools that have agreed to neutralize their greenhouse gas emissions and foster research and educational efforts to combat climate change.

University of Southern Mississippi logo.
Melissa Olsen, Sustainability Coordinator | University of Southern Mississippi

"Overall, we have learned that once students have been introduced to sustainable practices and informed of environmental issues, many seem to make a more conscious effort in continuing these habits. The challenge is getting the face of sustainability out there and to make our presence known, and we do this through education, demonstrations, and our programs here on campus."

Is Your Campus Going Green?

Campus Sustainability Month is about making a difference and engaging in green living initiatives. For example, The University of Cincinnati’s Clean Up Cincy program brings student volunteers together each semester to beautify the neighborhood with projects like building community gardens, clearing overgrown lots and cleaning riverfronts. These are just a handful of examples to help you get started. If you’re looking to take your environmental efforts a step further, neighborhood cleanups are a great way to get students outside and positively impact the community.

Expert Contributors

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education logo.

Julian Dautremont-Smith

Julian is one of the co-founders of Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), an organization based in Philadelphia that strives to increase sustainability practices at universities across the country. He served as Associate Director from 2004-2009, then returned in 2015 to serve as the Director of Programs after attending graduate school. Julian was a key part in creating the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) and was also heavily involved in developing the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

University of Southern Mississippi logo.

Melissa Olsen

A 2013 graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi, Melissa returned to the Hattiesburg campus in 2017 to serve as the Sustainability Coordinator. In her position, she serves as the public face of the university's sustainability initiatives, while developing and implementing new techniques and strategies to revolutionize the campus's green initiatives.

University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point logo.

Jenessa Gilarski

Jenessa took her passion for sustainability and turned it into her career. She began her work as a Communications Specialist in the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point's Office of Sustainability in 2016. Her goal is to make the intersection of human and environmental health a priority not only in Wisconsin, but throughout the country.

Cleveland State University logo.

Jennifer McMillin

Jennifer helps to push for sustainability in Cleveland, starting with her work at Cleveland State University. Since 2016, she has served as the University's Director of Sustainability. Her key tasks include managing the university’s ongoing efforts to reduce emissions and waste, enhancing alternative energy use and increasing overall environmental quality on campus.

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