Sustainability Column: Sustainable Practices As A College Student

Anya Steinmetz, Staff Writer

The climate is finally getting the attention that it deserves from the United States. In the last few years we have seen a surge in wildfires, severe hurricanes, devastatingly high temperatures, floods and droughts. Our planet is in distress like never before. Part of this is due to the United States being almost entirely absent from acting in accordance with the rest of the world in trying to save the planet, despite this country being the second highest contributor to CO2 emissions in the world. Thanks to President Joe Biden, it seems like the U.S. is starting to return to making an effort to save our planet. In the meantime, it is important to look at ourselves critically and try to change our behaviors to be more sustainable. As a college student during a pandemic, it may feel overwhelming to figure out ways to act sustainably. However, making small changes in your everyday life might be all it takes to improve your carbon footprint.

It is critical to examine why acting sustainably is so valuable right now. Over the past four years, former President Donald Trump rolled back over 100 environmental rules and regulations. He took the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, lowered limits on carbon dioxide emissions for power plants and vehicles, rolled back methane restrictions and removed federal protections for wildlife reserves. Within President Biden’s first days in office, a number of environmental protections and regulations have been restored. Biden has reinstated the U.S. into the Paris Agreement and he rescinded the construction permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. He even signed an action to shift the entire government’s vehicle fleet to become electric. Sections of the Green New Deal are expected to be put into place and millions of jobs related to environmental causes are said to be made by the Biden Administration. In accordance with other powerful countries, the U.S. is going to be able to start making progress in terms of saving the climate. We are also likely to start to put pressure on countries who act without concern for the environment such as China, Brazil and Russia. Despite these positive changes being made, it will likely take multiple years to fully restore previous climate regulations and restrictions in the U.S. to what they were before Trump was in office. It is much easier to take away regulations than to put them back in place. With this in mind, we are not off the hook. It is still entirely up to individuals to take control of their actions and behavior while the planet suffers.

The thought of acting extremely sustainably might sound daunting to a college student living in a pandemic. Our motivation has been sequestered by Zoom fatigue and accepting the pack of plastic utensils is easier than washing your own utensils every day. But changing your everyday behavior to be more sustainable is easier than it sounds, and it is actually rewarding. 

One step that a student can take to become more sustainable is to try to switch up their online shopping habits. It is fun to receive packages in the mail, especially when life otherwise is not too exciting, but it can also be fun to limit online shopping to once a month when you purchase a nice, sustainable item. Brands such as Pangia, Reformation and Veja have great products with a small carbon footprint.

Additionally, when Colgate is out of quarantine, it will be rewarding to interact with local businesses in purchasing essentials for your dorm. We all know who Jeff Bezos is, and would we really rather give our money to him or the friendly people at the bookstore when it’s time to buy a new notebook? Knowing that your carbon footprint is much smaller than it would have been if you ordered from wasteful online companies will bring you joy and security knowing that you are supporting businesses that are doing right by the planet. 

Another step that we can take to be individually responsible for helping the planet is to make an effort to eat less meat. An easy way to do this is by implementing “meatless Mondays” in your life. Frank, the Coop and countless restaurants have amazing vegetarian options. For some people, it is not sustainable in their lifestyle to be a full-time vegetarian. At a university such as Colgate where there are the resources to be vegetarian, there is no harm in trying to be one once a week. Meat products are the highest greenhouse gas contributor of all foods by 50%. By cutting down meat consumption even once a week, you can cut down on your carbon footprint significantly. This action will inspire you to eat new vegetarian foods even when it is not Monday. It will be an exciting adventure to tackle each day and the planet (and the animals) will thank you for it.

There are so many ways to can make small tweaks to your everyday life that are sustainable. You can challenge yourself and make goals. Feeling rewarded in the midst of a dark winter in a pandemic will certainly bring you joy. It might also bring you joy to know that you are doing what you can to help the environment, especially when it was entirely abused for the last four years.