Sustainability made simple

How to incorporate easy sustainable practices into your everyday life

By Emma Ryan, Collegian Staff

Given the current state of the planet and the ominous idea that climate change will soon be irreversible, it is more important now than ever to make efforts to live sustainably. Oftentimes, sustainable living can seem intimidating, unapproachable and hard for a college student, but there are tons of easy sustainable practices that allow you to help the planet and even help yourself at the same time.

Plant-based diets have become all the rage recently, and they are very good for the planet, but it’s important to understand that any effort makes a difference. You don’t have to completely give up that steak or burger that you love so much; eating one meatless meal a day, or even one a week, makes a positive impact on the environment. According to the New York Times, implementing a vegetarian diet could reduce carbon emissions by one third or more, but even if you just replaced a portion of the red meat you eat with other kinds of meat, like poultry or pork, it can still have a positive impact.

A major concern around meatless diets is that you’re going to lack protein, but there are tons of plant-based protein sources that you can incorporate into dishes you already like. Make your own burrito bowl but include extra black beans and quinoa as your protein sources rather than chicken or steak. Even eating a handful of nuts as a snack or using plant-based protein powder in a smoothie can be a significant source of protein in your diet.

Another way you can help the planet is by unplugging devices and appliances when they’re not in use. It seems like such an obvious thing to do, but it’s easy to leave your phone charger plugged into the wall on the way out your door. Chargers, devices and appliances still draw energy when they’re plugged into the wall, so if you’re not using a device or it’s fully charged, unplug it and you can reduce your carbon footprint and your electricity bill at the same time.

Another sustainable practice that is friendly to the planet and your wallet is thrifting. The fashion industry contributes to global carbon emissions by about 10 percent. By buying clothes second hand, it decreases the demand for new clothing to be produced and allows the resources that would’ve produced a pair of jeans to be used elsewhere. Now, it’s unrealistic for everyone to thrift their entire wardrobe. Realistically there are people who are in financial need who rely on thrifted clothes and also people who may not be able to find proper sizing at second-hand stores. If you are financially able, you can also support sustainable clothing brands rather than fast fashion. Otherwise, making an effort to check a local thrift store or a second hand website like thredUp can save you money and simultaneously lower carbon emissions.

Along with the food and fashion industries, transportation contributes heavily to damage on the environment, which is why we should take full advantage of the PVTA bus system that operates on the UMass campus. Bus systems, although stereotypically viewed as undesirable, are a great way to decrease your personal carbon footprint. The PVTA is a highly successful public transportation system and is used as a model for transportation systems across the state;. Plus, it’s free or discounted for students. If you’re not in the Pioneer Valley area or you cannot make public transport like a bus or a train work for your schedule, try to work out a carpool system. Especially with online school and work, you’re probably home for the majority of your time, so try to plan your schedule so the times you run errands line up with that of your family or roommate. This way, you can minimize your carbon footprint by not driving to the same place separately, and you also get a friend to run errands with.

While reusable bags and water bottles are still important to the environment, easy sustainable living can extend a lot farther than that. Even if you choose just one of these things, it still makes a difference, so take it one step at a time and be gentle on yourself. You can’t save the planet by yourself, but you can certainly do things to help!

If you’re going to do anything to help the environment right now, start with voting. Take a look at your options for candidates and their environmental policies and choose accordingly, because while you can do things as an individual, implementing the right nationwide environmental policy will go a long way.

Emma Ryan can be reached at [email protected]