WashU Expert: Six ways to go green at college​​​

Reducing collective impact easy and important, Valko says

New school. New professors. New friends. Incoming freshmen already have much to consider without worrying about global climate change and public health challenges. Still, there are easy and important ways to reduce our collective impact at college, said Phil Valko, assistant vice chancellor for sustainability at Washington University in St. Louis.


“Universities have historically been at the forefront of addressing major global challenges,” Valko said. “Becoming a part of Washington University means joining a community committed to action, innovation and leadership.”

A leader in sustainability, Washington University has built 20 LEED certified buildings, provides all full-time students and employees a free, all-access pass to the St. Louis public transportation system, composts over 300,000 pounds of waste annually and was the first American university to ban the sale of water bottles.

Here, Valko provides six tips for going green at college:

Pack a reusable water bottle. Dine-in on campus to recharge with friends and to avoid single use products. Check if your college offers reusable to-go box program.

“It is estimated that 22 billion water bottles are discarded around the world every year, with most ending up in landfills or our oceans,” said Valko, noting the university’s bottled water ban saves approximately 390,000 plastic bottles each year.

Go car-free. Bring a bike to campus or take public transportation. A growing number of universities provide free access to local public transportation systems. Also, find out if your university offers low-cost bike and car rentals.

“Gasoline is the single largest source of carbon emissions for the average American,” Valko said. “Going car-free is easy and has a big impact.”

Conserve energy and resources. Purchase Energy Star electronics and LED lights, bring a “smart” power strip and take shorter showers. Bring a drying rack for air-drying clothes to save energy and extend the life of your clothing.

“Lighting, TVs and clothes dryers are the biggest direct energy uses for most students,” he said. “Students can cut their use in half by air drying clothes and turning lights and TVs off when not in use.”

Buy used. Many colleges host thrift stores or swap meets loaded with mini-fridges, shower caddies, hangers, laundry baskets and other dorm room basics.

“The lifespan of many dorm room essentials is much longer than the one or two years they are used,” Valko said. “Freshmen can save a lot of money and keep perfectly good items out of the landfill by buying used.”

Go meatless at least one day a week — and avoid high-carbon foods, including beef and lamb.

“The global livestock industry contributes as much greenhouse gas emissions as the entire global transportation sector,” Valko said. “It also depletes and pollutes water supplies. A diet light in meat can reduce your carbon and water ‘foodprint’ by as much as 75 percent.”

Join a campus sustainability organization. You’ll meet great people, impact important issues and gain important skills and knowledge.

“Whether you care about organic farming or climate change activism, there is likely to be a campus group that meets your interests,” Valko said. “These organizations are a great way to have a real impact and meet friends.”