This month, college students throughout the country will be getting an education in sustainable living. Oct. 1 officially marked the start of Campus Sustainability Month, a month dedicated to encouraging sustainable practices on campus and engaging students in topics ranging from renewable energy to recycling.
Wondering how you can get your campus involved? Here are a few campus sustainability ideas you can use to raise awareness and get your own school involved.
Biking to and from campus can have as little as one-seventh the impact as driving a car. You can make it easier for your fellow students to ditch their car for the semester by starting a bike share program. Approach your school’s administration to see if they will cover the cost of bikes, locks, racks and maintenance. If funding is scarce, solicit donations or start a GoFundMe campaign to cover the initial costs. You can also look into purchasing used bikes from local shops, but make sure they are inspected before handing them off to your fellow commuters.
Reducing waste is a big part of Campus Sustainability Month, and a great way to accomplish that is by setting up recycling bins around campus. One of the best examples of this is Bowling Green State University’s single-stream recycling initiative. Every trash bin on campus is paired with a recycling bin that allows students to toss out plastic bottles, paper, glass, cans and cardboard without having to sort it all out beforehand. Using this system, the university hopes to achieve a 50 percent waste diversion rate.
Image via BGSU
If your school doesn’t currently have a robust recycling or waste diversion scheme in place, contact local recyclers and determine what types of materials you can drop off with them. Next, work with your school’s facilities department to find spare bins and make sure they are clearly labeled with the types of materials you can accept. Place the bins in highly trafficked parts of your campus, especially dorms and recreational areas. Designate a team of volunteers to collect the recyclables every week, making sure to weigh each bag so you can demonstrate how effective your recycling program is. You might even convince your school to get serious about recycling and campus sustainability.
Sometimes, the best way to encourage sustainability is to actually get people into the great outdoors. That’s right, it’s time for a nature walk. And there’s no better season to do it than fall, as Debbie Kasper of Hiram College can attest to. As part of her school’s Campus Sustainability Month events, she’s planning to take her fellow classmates on a “color trek” through a local trail to see the beautiful fall colors, learn about the local ecology and enjoy some live music.
Want to plan your own nature getaway? Organize a group of interested students, then find a nearby state or national park so you can fully immerse your group in nature. The only potential difficulty will be organizing transportation, but most schools have a fleet of shuttles or buses available for student activities. If that’s not an option, try carpooling with the people in your group – and make sure your passengers chip in for gas.
If there’s one thing college campuses are swimming in, it’s broken and outdated electronics. That’s why a great idea for promoting campus sustainability is setting up an e-waste collection event.
Speak with the facilities department to get permission to set up collection bins in an on-campus parking lot. Then, contact local recycling facilities and vendors to see what kinds of electronics they accept and make sure they are willing to accept bulk drop-offs. You should also check to see if there are any additional fees for recycling certain items. Lastly, use social media to spread the word about your event and include a list of accepted electronics, noting which ones carry fees.
The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point hosts several events to increase awareness on campus, but perhaps its biggest is held towards the end of the month. “October 25th 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 to come learn about sustainability. Vendors that attend the fair include student organizations, local shops/businesses, campus departments, and more,” said Jenessa Gilarski, who works in the university’s office of sustainability.
A fair like UWSP's is a great way to introduce concepts such as energy efficiency and sustainable living to a broad audience. To plan your own, reach out to local organizations and companies to see if they will come and show fair-goers what they can do to reduce waste, save energy and minimize their impact on the environment. Whether it be a demonstration of how solar panels work or an exhibit showing just how much trash the average person tosses out every day, there are plenty of fun and interesting ways to educate your community about the importance of green living.
One of the highlights of Kent State University’s campus sustainability events is the Green Energy Ohio Tour. 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 acting as tour guide. If there’s a solar installation or wind farm off campus, contact the owner and see if they will give you a free tour of the grounds.
Establishing long-term goals will motivate your school to keep pushing for sustainable practices after Campus Sustainability Month. Take the University of Southern Mississippi for example: “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 colleges and universities that have agreed to neutralize their greenhouse gas emissions and foster research and educational efforts to combat climate change.
Since joining, USM has implemented a successful recycling program alongside initiatives such as Move-In/Move-Out Madness, allowing students to recycle cardboard boxes and donate food while moving in and out of their dorms. “Since 2009, we have diverted over 698,000 pounds of recyclable material from the landfills,” said Olsen. “We have learned that once the students are introduced to sustainable practices, they seem very enthusiastic 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.”
Campus Sustainability Month is about making a difference and teaching students the importance of sustainable living. These are just a handful of examples to help you get started. To see how other schools are celebrating this month, check out #CampusSustainabilityMonth on Twitter or go to The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s website.