Sustainable living as a college student

Butler students make efforts towards a greener planet. Photo by Francie Wilson. 

KIRAN BRAR | OPINION COLUMNIST | kbrar@butler.edu

“I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” 

Greta Thunberg ended a speech at the World Economic Forum on Jan. 24, 2019, with this statement. Thunberg has been an ardent advocate for environmental justice for years, and it’s about time United States leadership followed her lead.

One of Joe Biden’s first executive orders was to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, an international treaty that strengthens the response to climate change. After the U.S. withdrew from the agreement last year under Donald Trump’s presidency, this executive act by Biden signals that the U.S. is serious about responding to climate change.

The world is currently facing a host of environmental catastrophes including — but not limited to — food waste, food and water insecurity, global warming and plastic pollution. The actions of the government concerning climate change will directly affect the living conditions of future generations. 

With the U.S. rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, these issues can be more seriously faced in the near future. However, wide-scale change will depend on both holding our politicians accountable and making changes in our own lives. 

Regardless of the leader in the White House, Butler has continued to take action towards becoming more earth-friendly. Within the “Butler Bubble,” students and organizations are tackling environmental issues by implementing various sustainability practices. 

Jamie Valentine is the assistant director of The Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability at Butler. CUES, as it is commonly called, is a campus effort dedicated to the practice of urban ecology and sustainability. Valentine explained the organization’s role of the sustainability efforts at Butler. 

“Every year we have anywhere from eight to 20 interns, and we also have work-study students,” Valentine said. “What we’re doing is working on sustainability projects, either for Butler or the Indianapolis community, and then talking together as a group or a cohort to try to understand sustainability, learn from one another’s projects and have peer-to-peer support and connectivity,” 

These sustainability projects range from researching urban ecology, to working on the CUES Farm on campus, to connecting social justice issues to the environment.

Valentine also partners with Butler’s Operations and Facilities to figure out how to reduce energy consumption, works with faculty to incorporate sustainability into their curriculum and compiles sustainability and greenhouse gas reports to evaluate how Butler is doing with sustainability.

Butler students also play an important role in continuing the sustainability conversation.

Cambria Khayat, a junior peace and conflict studies, economics and international studies triple major, is involved in various sustainability-focused organizations on campus. She is the president of Eco Reps, an action-focused organization that strives to bring education and sustainable practices to campus. Currently, Eco Reps is working to implement educational panels, improve recycling in residence halls and advocate for increased use of reusable dishware in dining halls on campus. 

“There’s a lot of opportunities for sustainability on Butler’s campus, and a lot of opportunities for any type of student to be involved,” Khayat said. “It’s just a matter of if a student is willing to commit the time to educate themselves and pursue sustainability.” 

Erica Walters, a senior Spanish major and environmental studies minor, is working to promote sustainability within Greek life, as well as taking environmental science-related classes to further her knowledge. She also spoke on Butler’s sustainability-related efforts.

“[Butler] could be doing so much more to promote the sustainability measures they are taking,” Walters said. “For instance, Bon Appetit, our dining provider, is doing so many things with sourcing food responsibly and composting behind the scenes, things that they don’t advertise publicly. To me, that seems like a missed opportunity. If we as students, and as the public, can demonstrate that we care more about it, it will in turn become more of a campus priority.”

Small changes to your daily practices can be simple and more impactful than you would think. Valentine, Khayat and Walters shared some sustainability-related tips that are fairly easy to implement for college students.

Evaluate which sustainable practices will work for your lifestyle

Though environmental issues can seem overwhelming, individual actions can still make an impact over time. What matters most is committing to the new habits so that they stick.

“Don’t take on everything all at once… when you get comfortable with that, you can take on something else,” Valentine said.

Single-use items are some of the easiest things to overhaul. Making sure that products can be used more than once can make a big difference over time for our environment at large. Some simple practices include using reusable water bottles, bags and utensils. By using these items, less waste heads to landfills throughout the world

Incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet

“I think a lot of people have become more open to the idea of eating less meat. You don’t have to be vegan. You don’t have to be vegetarian. Eating fewer animal products, and especially less beef and pork, makes a huge environmental impact on greenhouse gases,” Walters said.

The environmental impact of meat production is important to consider when thinking about living greener. It can be difficult to change to a vegetarian or vegan diet, but ditching even one meat-based meal a week can make a difference over time.

Educate yourself

Butler’s many sustainability-related organizations offer plenty of opportunities for students to learn more about the environment and how to take care of it. CUES and Eco Reps are just a couple of examples, but there is an abundance of information online for people to utilize in order to educate themselves. Some examples include @intersectionalenvironmentalist, @pattiegonia, @earthrise.studio and @queerbrownvegan.

“It’s just a matter of attending the events and keeping your eyes peeled for them,” Khayat said.

Focus on your own waste

Waste is commonly overlooked because of fast-paced lifestyles. Slowing down and being mindful of your own waste can really add up and make a difference over time. The less you throw away, the less you are directly contributing to the problem. 

Reducing waste can be easily done with some mindful thinking and conscientious actions. Choose to purchase products with less packaging or recyclable packaging while grocery shopping; be sure to check the recycling labels for compliance with your city’s recycling program. Along with food purchases, buying second-hand items such as clothes and furniture reduces waste and saves money.

Vote and support candidates who take climate action seriously

While it is important to practice sustainability on the individual level, it is also important to vote for those that care about the environment and sustainability. In Indiana, there are many environmental bills to advocate for. If we take these issues seriously, so can our politicians. 

When each of us changes our individual habits, we can connect with the Butler community, and the world, with sustainable practices. It’s not until we work together that real change can occur. All it takes is being open to new information and practices on an individual level for changes to begin on a wider scale. 

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