The Student
How to be a sustainable student

Are you interested in how to live sustainably as a student?  If you are, great; you have made the first step to reducing the pressure placed on the environment! This article, produced in collaboration with the Department of Social Responsibility and Sustainability, is a handy guide to some of the key ways you can champion sustainability as a student and help others too as well – you could even gain some useful skills for the future!

1: Join our sustainability champions network

Be a role model for sustainability in your course, residence and societies!  Get access to materials and events that can teach you about more sustainable ways of living and give feedback to the Department for Social Responsibility & Sustainability on their efforts to make the university more sustainable.  You can also attend the ‘Sustainability Champions Launch’ in October 2019! This is perfect if you are passionate about improving the sustainability of campus life as well as being a great addition to your CV.

2: Opt for reuse to help us achieve a #ZeroWasteUoE

#ZeroWasteUoE is a new campaign to reduce waste at the university, with the aim of encouraging students and staff to waste less, reuse more and recycle effectively. The overall goal is to become zero-waste as far as possible by 2030 by adopting a ‘circular economy’ approach to resource use.  This involves reusing and recycling materials and preventing waste. Steps towards a zero-waste university include:

  •     Learning how to effectively use University and Council recycling bins
  •     Reusing where possible including using a keep-cup, refillable water bottle and free water points, as well as bringing your own lunch out with you
  •     Becoming less wasteful by design such as going paperless
  •     Become a zero-waste champion and encourage others to by setting challenges in your accommodation or workplace to produce less waste

Don’t forget to point out great steps or improvements on social media by tagging photos with #ZeroWasteUoE!

3: Make sustainability part of your studies through our pathways

As a student of the University of Edinburgh, you can take part in cross-curricular ‘pathways’ that encourage you to reflectively learn about social responsibility and sustainability outside of your main course of study.  These give you skills, knowledge and graduate attributes! Pathways you can get involved in for 2019/20 cover the Circular Economy, Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Goals. You can apply whether you are an undergraduate or postgraduate student and gain skills in knowledge and communication as well as getting the chance to apply your learning in a practical way.

4: Join a student society linked to sustainability

There are many student societies at the University of Edinburgh which focus on social responsibility and sustainability issues.  Whether you are interested in the Amnesty International Society, Edinburgh Sustainable Projects Abroad (ESPA), Low Carbon Society or one of the many others on offer, you can sign up to one of these at any time throughout the year.  Alternatively you could join a student cooperative such as the Shrub Swap and Reuse Hub which aims to reduce waste and reuse items. You could also join the Hearty Squirrel cooperative run by students and volunteers, which aims to provide students and staff with healthy, ethical food, and runs food workshops promoting food sustainability.  If you are business-minded, you could join Prosper, the first student-run social investment fund in the UK. Prosper aims to create positive social impact in the community by engaging students in decisions on where to invest profits. There are many student-led options for encouraging and engaging with sustainability!

5: Follow our five steps to good food

Get out those cookbooks! It is time to master the ‘veggie one pan roast’ or the classic bean chilli that’s going to cover you for lunch and dinner for the next five days. Cutting out meat for a couple of days a week will reduce your carbon footprint and save you money. Good food means knowing what you’re eating; spend some time thinking about your ingredients. Can you shop locally or at the farmers’ market to reduce your personal carbon footprint? Or how about buying fairtrade to promote positive working conditions and environmentally friendly growing practices? 

Reduce food waste by getting your housemates together and combining your leftovers or food that’s heading out of date to whip up something tasty that you might’ve never eaten otherwise. Good food, good company… perfect. 

6: Travel responsibly: opt for public transport or cycling instead of taxis and trains over planes where possible

Edinburgh is a great place for sustainable travel. Walk and explore the beauty of our historical city as you go between lectures or maybe get yourself a second-hand bike. Local bike shops offer cheap, refurbished bikes and the university provides lots of practical support in the way of training, tools and maintenance. Or if you don’t fancy the commitment, hire one of the Just Eat Cycles! Conveniently located across the university, you can purchase single trips, a day pass or an annual membership. Plus, don’t forget to check out the Uni Pass Deal; for just £40 (instead of £90) you’ll receive unlimited one-hour hires throughout the year – affordable and saving the planet! 

For travel home during the holidays, look to grab a bus or a train. Commercial flights are one of the biggest contributors to climate change accounting for at least 7% of CO2 emissions in the UK. Sit back, enjoy the view and again, save a few pennies! 

7: Apply for funding for your sustainability project through our student project grant

Inspired to make a difference? Got an idea but not sure how to get it off the ground? The university and the Department of Social Responsibility and Sustainability have got you covered. The Social Responsibility and Sustainability Student Project Grant provides funding of £500 for student groups to develop and implement projects concerning climate change, the circular economy and reuse, food and drink and the community. Alongside this, the Sustainable Campus Fund helps anyone, both students and staff, to implement energy-efficient projects that will help the University towards its aim of becoming carbon zero by 2040. Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming application deadlines!

8: Pledge to buy things second hand and repair instead of replacing where possible

Do you really need that new pair of jeans? Or can you adjust or upcycle the pair you haven’t worn for six months? If not, can you trade them in at a second hand shop? Edinburgh is full of quality second hand shops that’ll kit you out with a new wardrobe, fill your bookshelves or stock your kitchen utensil drawer. Check out the ‘Edinburgh Charity Shop and Reuse Map’, a comprehensive guide to donating and buying from charity shops as well as reuse projects. In 2017/18, charity shops selling pre-loved goods kept over 330,000 tonnes of textiles out of landfill, that’s the same as the annual emissions of over 1.5 million cars in the UK! Make a pledge to the pre-loved.

9: Come along to one of our events!

The Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability have put together a great calendar of events for you to learn more about the climate crisis through film screenings, discussion groups, mixers and networking sessions. Come along and discover what your community at the University of Edinburgh is doing to help tackle climate change, get involved and take our mission further by championing sustainability. 

We hope this collaborative piece provides some useful tips that’ll help you to start living more sustainably as a student. Pick one point from this guide and challenge yourself to make that change over the next few months. No one can change the world overnight, but if we all make a couple of simple, important lifestyle changes, we can make a difference. 

Keep up to date with the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability by following their progress on social media;

Make sustainability a part of your studies:

For Practical Sustainability Advice:

Volunteer and develop your skills:

Attend events by the Department of Social Responsibility and Sustainability:

Apply for Project Funding:

And finally, some fun facts: 

    • 60% of the food we throw away could have been eaten
    • Raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the second-highest source of emissions and greater than all transportation combined.
    • It’s not much quicker to fly from Edinburgh to London versus taking the train, but it is also five times worse for the environment. 
    • Around 16,000 litres of water is consumed to make just 1 kg of beef.
    • Recycling a single 330 ml aluminium drink can save enough energy to power a TV for over three hours.
    • People can get cashback by recycling their old electronics such as cell phones, computers, mp3 or batteries.

Image: Gary Campbell-Hall via Flickr