How Can I Reduce My Carbon Footprint?

In 2017, when I was a third-year student at college, I had the privilege of taking a course on climate change. This was a discussion course, but I had to read scientific research papers which was not something I enjoyed. Nevertheless, I knew I had to make up my mind to read articles to avoid myself getting confused during the discussion session. One particular week, we were asked to read about carbon footprints and I started liking readings more than ever before since I found that a carbon footprint can be applicable to our daily lives. A carbon footprint simply means the total emissions of greenhouse gasses emitted by an individual, organization, or production process. My interest was in an individual’s carbon footprint and its contribution to reducing organizational carbon footprint. Five years later in 2023, going carbon neutral is an important and widely discussed topic, and becoming carbon neutral is an aim of many institutions. Now, as a graduate student, I feel students have great potential to reduce their personal carbon footprints and contribute to minimizing their college’s emissions.

So here are some key, basic, uncomplicated ways for anyone on a campus to begin.

How often do you use your own vehicle to commute to campus? 

Driving our own vehicle to campus every day is one of the most comfortable options we have. It gives us the freedom to decide when to leave home and to work flexibly with our own schedule. But it might not be the most environmentally friendly option as most of our vehicles still depend on gasoline and the massive drilling, production and transportation that get it into our tank. And, of course, our cars then release considerable greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, along with a number of air pollutants that lead to environmental health problems.  Whenever possible, then, we should consider using the multiple occupancy college bus or van. And some colleges have begun to use carbon neutral electric vans and buses.. Using the university bus might not be feasible at all times, however. So if you are using your own vehicle get to the campus, consider giving rides to colleagues who live nearby. In that way, you reduce your own carbon footprint and you help others to reduce theirs as well. Be sure, too, that you carry out emission tests for your own vehicle to ensure that your vehicle is under the required emission thresholds. Finally, if there are safe pathways that are not too far to campus, you can just head out walking or hop on a bicycle. You’ll have zero emission and exercise, too!

In the Dining Hall

College students often have a favorite dining hall at their campus. Often, that’s where we catch up with our friends and share meals. But while doing that it is important to order our food mindfully and avoid ordering extra. Portions can be so large that two or more people can consider ordering one meal. Many campuses now feature increasing vegetarian and vegan options which are an easy way of reducing your carbon footprint. Cut down, too, will be the carbon footprint and pollution that comes from producing meat or farming fish at an industrial scale.

Then segregating any food waste appropriately will help waste management of campus with all the carbon footprint it takes to haul large amounts away.

Reusables Instead of Plastics 

We can make a choice to shift to reusable bags and bottles to support minimal use of single- use plastics. In the middle of their busy schedule, college students dealing with multiple assignment submissions might forget to bring a reusable grocery bag when they shop. The result? Plastic bags every time. So keeping reusable grocery bags in your vehicle might be a good way so that you do not want to buy new grocery bags every time you do your groceries. Using reusable cups for your beverages is one of the best ways of contributing to low carbon emissions. This practice is even promoted by some beverage outlets like Starbucks who have introduced a 10% discount for consumers who come with reusable cups.

Have You taken any courses related to sustainability and climate change?

Most colleges and universities in the U.S. now offer courses on sustainability and climate change and many are doing far more to combat carbon emissions and the climate crisis. Most climate courses are interdisciplinary and open to students in any major. If you are passionate about sustaining a healthy environment and reducing carbon footprints, check your college catalog for sustainability courses. You can also check whether your university has a sustainability office where you can do some part-time work. It might be a great experience, too.

Be an advocate 

Take your time to do advocacy on climate change and reducing carbon footprints. You don’t want to start big. Just talk about these topics in your small circles of friends. This will help you to get connected to like-minded people who are working on climate change and carbon neutrality. So together you can conduct advocacy events as opportunities arrive (e.g., during your college Earth Day celebrations).

If you persistently and passionately contribute to the actions mentioned above, you will able to reduce your personal carbon footprint and your institution’s carbon footprint.

And, final advice. Just begin.

Chrishma D. Perera

RCC Fellow Chrishma D. Perera is a graduate student at Virginia Polytechnic and State University reading for a master’s in Geography. She was born and raised in Sri Lanka. She is passionate about working on climate change adaptation, health, and policy focusing on vulnerable coastal and Indigenous communities.