(By Tess Riley/Guardian) We’ve all been there. Faced with a reading list longer than our iTunes collection, a bank balance smaller than the cost of a tin of baked beans and a social life better than ever before, it’s no wonder environmental sustainability isn’t a top priority for every student.
However, as our awareness about environmental issues from climate change to depleted fish stocks grows, the need for everyone to do their bit is vital.
For those living in student housing, it may feel like the options for choosing to live more sustainably are limited.
Yes, you can take your own bags to the shops rather than accumulating yet more plastic with your purchase. But what’s the point if you can’t insulate your home, pop a few solar panels on the roof and convert the concrete jungle of a patio out the back into a productive vegetable patch worthy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall?
Fret not, for there are a huge number of ways that you can green up your lives, even if you live in student housing. With no time like the present, let’s dip our toes into the green world of student sustainability:
1. Let’s talk urine…
Once upon a time, my lovely friends Ben, Clare, Rich and Will lived in a shared student house with a sign on the loo that read “if it’s pee, let it be; if it’s brown, flush it down”.
For those not keen on that idea, how about peeing in the shower to save water? That’s what two students from the University of East Anglia have suggested we do. In their go with the flow campaign they encouraged people to use their morning shower as an opportunity to take their first wee of the day.
The pair have calculated that if every one of UEA’s 15,000 students took part, they would save enough water over the course of a year to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool 26 times over.
If all of this is just a little too intimate, remember: it’s always worth turning off the tap while brushing your teeth; dishwashers (if you have one) are generally more eco-friendly than doing the dishes by hand; and there’s no need to wash those jeans every week… or ever.
2. It’s getting hot in here
If you live in student halls, you don’t get to choose who supplies your energy – but that doesn’t mean you can’t influence those who do. The green electricity marketplace provides a handy tool for calculating the cost of switching to a green tariff, so approach your university staff armed with data.
If you’re a tenant and directly responsible for paying the electricity or gas bills, you have the right to choose your supplier under Ofgem rules. If you live in a shared house, you can either choose a green energy company such as Good Energy, or discuss providers with your landlord.
Whether you live in halls or a shared house, everyone can turn the lights off when not in a room, switch off electrical appliances at the wall, turn the thermostat down and put on a jumper. Not sexy enough for you? Check out this Dean Chalkley graphic and never be lost for inspiration again.
3. Home sweet home
The University of Brighton Student’s Union (BSU) is currently running a project that looks at improving poor quality student housing.
Funded by the National Union of Students (NUS), the bright ‘n’ green programme trains students to identify – and advise on – a wide range of criteria, including energy, water efficiency, building structure and well-being.
“Over the years we’ve heard reports from our students that their properties are mouldy, cold and expensive,” says Tai Ray-Jones, an MA student in sustainable design, and living green co-ordinator at BSU.
“We’re want to see what’s out there and work with landlords, letting agents, the council and local charities to make much-needed improvements to student homes.”
4. Stuff it
Kitting out a new home can be expensive. From pots and pans, to bigger items like beds and sofas, you don’t want to have to buy these things for unfurnished student accommodation, only to pack it up and move it again in a year’s time.
Enter Streetbank, a project that enables neighbours to share and give away things. As with popular freebie site Freecycle, with Streetbank you can get useful household stuff for free. You can also share skills with neighbours, so if you need a bit of electrical advice, a hand moving boxes or some input on your CV, just ask a Streetbank neighbour.
Once you’ve equipped your home, you can stock the shelves. Keep your food fresh, local, seasonal and as minimally packaged as possible by buying food that’s been produced locally; for example at farmers’ markets, or through projects like The Food Assembly and Big Barn.
5. Sex, cars and money
There are plenty of opportunities to green up your sex life and get you into the environmental rhythm. From solar powered vibrators to vegan lubricant, making eco whoopee has never been easier.
Some ways you can enjoy eco sex include, keeping the lights turned off, wearing ethical lingerie, using planet-friendly vibrators and sustainable aphrodisiacs, such as asparagus and bananas.
Then there’s transport. As train fares get more expensive, it’s understandable that students are looking for cheaper transport options. If you’re going to opt for the car, at least share the journey – or the car itself – with projects like Zipcar and BlaBlaCar.
And finally to money. For students like Jack Hodges, a history undergraduate at Durham University, the key reason for many student decisions is the cost:
“If an environmentally-friendly action is more expensive, I’m unlikely to do it – which is terrible, but unfortunately it’s just how students (and the broader population) think when they’re watching the pennies.”
However, as Jack points out, there are ways to save money and live more sustainably: “It can take a bit of effort and time to implement new ways of living, but it’s worth it.
“I walk and cycle to most places, and don’t eat meat, but I’m aware I could do more. A lot of people my age need to up their game.”