How to Live Green on Campus

Live green? Why? I’ve heard about whales eating plastic and the weather getting crazy, but what does that have to do with me?

I could tell you all the doom and gloom reasons why you should make more choices that support a healthy environment while on campus, but that is just sad and depressing. Tune into almost any news network and you’ll find all the harrowing stories about climate change you’ll ever need.

No. I’m not going to go that route. I’m going to focus on the good things. Living green is simply a no-brainer that makes sense.

First and foremost: we’re kind of a big deal.  Laurier was ranked the #1 Green Campus in Ontario in 2017 by Corporate Knights magazine. Other universities and colleges are now looking to us as an example for how to get things done right. Plus, being #1 is pretty good bragging rights, right? Yassss!

Moving on.

Have you ever heard of something called the Earth Overshoot Day? It’s the day of the year where if everyone on the planet lived and consumed that way we do, we’d have used as much from nature as the planet can renew in an entire year – basically when we run out of resources we need to live (i.e., clean air & water, energy, landfills, etc).  I punched in my consumption habits into the Global Footprint Network’s online calculator and realized my own Earth Overshoot Day turns out to be October 9th!  I thought I knew how to live green and didn’t even make it through the year ‘living like me’. So, I decided to ask myself: what things I can do better? Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Food:
    • Eat a more plant-rich diet – Did you know that if cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases? Not only that, meat is hugely inefficient in terms of land, water and energy use. It takes 14 times as much biologically productive land to produce 1 ton of beef as it takes to produce 1 ton of grain, 4,650 L of water to produce one steak and roughly 25 times more energy to produce one calorie of beef than one calorie of corn for human consumption. Given this, I’ve decided that one of easiest and most effective ways I can lower my impact is to switch to a more vegetarian diet. There is one small catch though – I like meat. So, I’m going to start-off by being a “weekday veggie” – where I only eat meat on the weekends – and go from there. I think with cookbooks and blogs like My New Roots, Thug Kitchen, and Oh She Glows I’ll be making delicious vegetarian meals and hardly notice I’m not eating meat!
    • Eat local – Did you know that the average plate of food in Waterloo Region travels 4,497 km? It’s true. This equals 1.3 kg of greenhouse gases (GHGs) per kilogram of food imported. The crazy thing is that almost 60 of the most commonly imported food items are produced locally and can be sourced right from our own backyards! If we choose to buy more local foods, not only would we be supporting local farmers and economies but we would reduce our carbon footprint significantly (imported foods create an average of 161 times more GHGs than if the same foods were sourced in Waterloo Region). At Laurier we’re making it super easy to choose local food. Veritas Café is offering ready-made local food take-home meals and uses local food in approximately 80% of it’s menu items. We’re also launching the Laurier Local Food Marketplace, where students and staff can place weekly orders online directly from local farms and producers and pick up their groceries right on our Waterloo campus (at Veritas)!
  2. Transportation:
    • Avoid Single Occupancy Vehicle (drive alone) trips – approximately 40% of the Region’s carbon footprint is from transportation, making this potentially the single most impactful choice you make. We know that almost 60% of students live within 1-5 km of campus so walking, cycling, skating, blading and transit should be easy choices to make. There is plenty of bike racks, including secure racks, on campus and we even have our own Fixit station complete with bike pump and repair tools. Laurier also has it’s own private carpool matching tool through TravelWise that is super simple to use – login to the Laurier student network, enter your Point A and Point B, then look for matches! TravelWise also tells you additional info like the cost, energy use (calories burned) and carbon footprint of each of your travel options. Lastly, there are two great carshare options for students, VRTUCAR and Enterprise Carshare, that are very affordable and have a number of cars on or near campus.
  3. Energy:
    • Control what you can – you may think that there is not much you can do while in residence or renting, but you have more control than you think! Here are some really easy ways you can conserve energy (and save money!):
      1. Do full loads of laundry – it may be tempting to do a quick wash of your top before heading out or to heat up your blanket before bed in the dryer (yes – people do this!), but these are incredibly wasteful uses of energy. Wash your laundry in full loads and in cold water – they’ll be just as clean and can save up to 80% of the energy required to wash your clothes.
      2. Power strips – many electronic devices (TVs, Monitors, etc.) use electricity even when they’re turned off; it’s called Phantom Load…wooooooo scarrrry! You can prevent this by plugging them all into a power strip and turning that off when you’re not using them.
  • Embrace National Sweater Day – setting your thermostat a few degrees cooler in the winter and a few degrees warmer in the summer won’t impact you too much but it will save big on energy. As my dad always says, “If you’re cold, put a sweater on!” WWF’s National Sweater Day is on February 7, 2019 – so you’ve got lots of time to find some stylish threads!
  1. #ZeroWasteLaurier:
    • Reusable mugs, bottles and containers – I’m going to build myself a portable little zero waste kit, which is basically a few essential items I need like utensils and a collapsible plate/bowl stashed in a cloth bag or wrapped in a cloth napkin. This kit along with my reusable coffee mug and water bottle allows me to get pretty much anything while I’m out and generate zero waste while doing it. This is particularly good at Laurier considering a large portion of our campus waste is coffee cups, plastic bottles and take-out containers. This is an easy, easy, easy way to reduce our waste. And Laurier makes it even easier on campus with the Eco-Container program; $5 gets you a card that you exchange for a reusable container right at the food outlet on campus (available at Veritas, Wilf’s, Terrace – Union Market & El Torito, Frank’s Coffee Haus, and BYTE 75). When you’re done you simply return the container and get your card back! Another really cool development in the area is a new zero waste bulk foods store opening up just blocks from campus in Uptown Waterloo. And they’ve got a real clever name; it’s called…Zero Waste Bulk!
    • Get Thrifty – did you know 10% of Ontario’s landfills are filled with textiles (aka clothes)? Although fashion trends move fast, I’m starting to ask myself “Do I really need this new shirt? Or can I get something at a thrift store?” There are even a number of really great boutique thrift shops in Kitchener-Waterloo that have curated selections (Luster & Oak, Meow Boutique, Patina Vintage Consignment, Carousel Clothing, Unique Boutique, etc.) and there’s always the standard thrifts shops like Talize and Value Village or mobile apps like Kijiji, Bunz and LetGo. If you’re back on campus during September 2 – 7, we’ll be giving away clothes, household items and furniture as part of our first ever Freestore!
  2. Educate yourself:
    • Join a club – there are many great sustainability club on campus you can get involved in including 1st Year Sustainability Council, Ecohawks, Enactus, Sustainability in Business Laurier, Laurier Naturalists, Net Impact, Laurier SDG Advocacy Network and many more!
    • Enroll in a course – Did you know Laurier has a Sustainability Option? How about a Business and Sustainability concentration? No? Well, we’ve taken the guess work out of finding sustainability programs and courses. Check out our Academics page to find one that’s right for you.
    • Become a WWF Living Planet Leader – Laurier is a founding partner in WWF’s Living Planet @ Campus Login to the Laurier dashboard to learn more about how you can live a more sustainable lifestyle on campus. Earn enough credits and WWF will bestow upon you the honour of Living Planet Leader (great for your resume / LinkedIn).

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Blog written by Tyler Plante, Outreach + Program Coordinator for Wilfrid Laurier University’s Sustainability Office