A Greener Back to School: College & University Edition
Well, I hate to even type the words, never mind utter them out loud… But summer is winding down and back to school season is approaching quickly *shudders* . Although I am not a student any longer, I still feel the chill of midterms on my neck and finals looming in the distance. But why does it have to be so stressful for our student-body? Well for one we make it increasingly more expensive for our undergrads every year. Tuition is always going up, along with transit and parking passes and the endless number of textbooks you’re forced to buy without ever opening (not that I speak from experience *shifty eyes*)
But it doesn’t need to be that way! Since studying environmental geography and sustainability for 5 years, I quickly got a handle on how the education system as a whole isn’t any different from any other capitalist-based industry, “keep overhead low, charge more, achieve the greatest profits”. I wonder what that is in Latin? Anyway, the school system can be incredibly wasteful in the number of textbooks printed, the use of cheap high VOC inks, printing paper, endless writing tools lost, sticky notes lost, planners, binders, technology, coffee cups and straws. The list goes on.
So here are my personal top 10 ways to stay green and save money while going back to school:
- Wait to buy your textbooks. First of all, many professors actually earn money from with writing, contributing or editing textbooks they assign to you. Some may be required, recommended or just bonus reading, but the bookstore will 99% of the time say they are required (because they also make money off of their sales). Wait to get a syllabus to see which books are necessary. One book may only cover one chapter, so prioritize your purchases. This leads to #2.
- Borrow or share books. You know that one book that’s required but it’s really just one chapter? Well before you spend your hard-earned money or student loans, check the library to see if they have it and borrow it when the time comes. Or, if you have a close classmate consider sharing the expense and the book. Not only do you get a study buddy, but you get to save some money.
- Buy used books. Often publishers release new editions of textbooks which contain the latest and greatest data. But lots of times they don’t. I actually purchased a 3 edition old text for a 400 level course only to find out the information was exactly the same but just the chapters were rearranged. Sneaky buggers! So I only needed to take an extra couple seconds to find the right chapter since the page numbers were different from the course outline. You can find used books through craigslist, notice boards, and Facebook groups for your school.
- Buy second-hand technology. I never had a class that required “iclickers”, but many lower division classes did since their class sizes were enormous. If you don’t know what I mean here is information about iclickers. By the time I entered 3rd and 4th year, the classes were so small that iclickers weren’t used and my fellow students would sell them. So look around on Facebook for a buy/sell group for your school.
- Prioritize. Sure those Herschel backpacks are the latest in school fashion, but does your current bag do the trick still? The number one thing I learned in University is that we all get to the stage of exhaustion where we don’t care what we look like. So although during the first week you want to look your best with the newest fashion item, hair done, makeup on point, but remember that at some point you’re going to show up in your pajamas or sweats and NO ONE is going to think about your backpack.
- Caffinate intelligently. Coffee: the lifeblood of a student. But how many one-time-use cups are you going to go through this semester? Let’s do the math: Let’s say you get 3 cups of coffee in your average school day (AM, afternoon pick me up and late night study session coffees) x 5 days per week x 16 weeks (one semester including finals). That’s 240 coffee cups! Not even including those weekend stops at Starbucks to catch up with friends! So be smart! For one, save your money and bring your own coffee from home. At 0.20 cents a cup you’re saving major cash! Second, bring your own mug. It’s easy. I always had two on the go: one clean and one dirty because I was lazy and unorganized. Not only do you skip the garbage, but your save money too since you usually get a personal cup discount.
- Go Digital. So I often have the conversation that sustainability is for the privileged (which is definitely is since if you’r struggling to feed your family, you don’t have the time to think about saving the planet, I get it.) But many students have the privilege of owning laptops, tablets, smart phones and more. This is a great opportunity to switch from analogue to digital (aka paper notes to typed.) I bought myself a cheap Acer tablet for $150 and a wireless keyboard for $25 on Amazon in my 3rd year. Not only did it save my back from carrying my enormous laptop around, but it also all fit on to those tiny little fold down tables. I also managed to save a TON of paper and pens because I was able to keep all my notes organized on Google Docs- saving myself the expense of having to buy Microsoft Word. Have a Prof who prefers paper? I approached one of my profs about my desire to lessen my ecological footprint and asked if I could submit my assignments online and he had no problem with it! Now make sure you are polite about it and accept the answer if they say No, because you want them on your side at all times possible!
- Buy the right paper. Alright, I get it, not everyone can afford the technology for a digital conversion and some of you might prefer handwriting. That’s cool! Just make sure you buy paper or note books which contain post-consumer fiber (more the better.) This means that recycled paper products were used to make new paper and notebooks, saving trees all around the world. The average paper refill will have 30% post-consumer fiber like this one but there are options with higher percentages like this sugarcane option from Canefields. Also, try and avoid buying supplies at your campus bookstore. I find they hike the prices even compared to office supply stores.
- Take the bus or carpool. This was one option I wish I had! Unfortunately I always lived so far from campus that the buses didn’t run early enough for me to get to my 8:00 am classes in Metro Vancouver’s terrible traffic. My solution was to carpool when the opportunity allowed it. You can offset an enormous amount of your carbon footprint by changing the way you move around the city, so always look for the chance to save yourself some money and lower your emissions through this point!
- Live close to campus. Alright, so I know this is a difficult one in a city like Vancouver where the rental market is literally in crisis, but if you get the opportunity to live within walking distance to campus you are going to save big time! No need to buy a transit or bus pass, no car payments or insurance, you can easily walk home for lunches or dinners and skip all the added costs of being a commuter. In addition, if you are living close to campus try to get some roommates to offset your costs and carbon footprint! By sharing electricity, gas, cable/internet and potentially bulk food purchases you distribute the household carbon footprint between many people rather than just one lowering your overall score.
Lastly I have a bonus tip! If you are in Canada, grab a Student Price Card! At the moment Well.ca has a promotion going that those with a SPC can get $10.00 off their purchase of $40.00 or more. Well.ca has one of the best overall selections of green living products, so they can help you pick up some of those much needed back to school essentials.
Hope this helps! Now go and enjoy these dog days of summer! – Heather