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What Can You do At Your College to Address Global Warming?

written by: Sylvia Cini•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 5/10/2011

In the past century, college campuses and other educational facilities have built a rich history of being at the heart of socio-political conflict. Find out what students are doing to develop solutions on campus to global warming.

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    Campus Activism

    Students protested against civil rights violations in the mid-1900s. They burned brassieres to symbolize the end of women's oppression. They marched and rallied against war while their peers were drafted and died in the Vietnam War.

    Today, activism on college campuses has a different feel. Instead of burning effigies of George Bush, students joined to support voters rights and empower youth to take advantage of their Constitutional rights.

    Instead of flocking en masse to New Orleans, students raised thousands of dollars for relief efforts, they shipped care packages to families in need and hosted round tables to discuss the inadequacy of the response from the federal government.

    This style of peaceful protest, education and local action is at the heart of current campus solutions to global warming. Here are some things that are happening at college campuses across the country. Read on and start thinking about how you can make lasting changes at your own school.

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    Source Reduction

    An ounce of prevention beats a pound of garbage...or something like that. Educate your peers with some dirty facts about garbage.

    Every year Americans toss out:

    • 7 billion pounds of PVC
    • 500 disposable cups, each
    • 10,000 sheets of copy paper, each
    • 290 million tires
    • nearly 5 pounds of waste a day, each
    • 1 billion shopping bags--that's 300,000 tons of landfill waste

    and barely 25% of all that waste gets recycled.

    Combine educational efforts with these solutions for reducing personal waste.

    • Use a reusable lunch bag
    • Cover your books with a reusable cloth cover
    • Monitor the amount of food you put on your plate to reduce wasted food
    • Turn off the lights when you aren't in a room
    • Before throwing something away, check to see if your roomie could fix/use it
    • Hang on to recyclable waste until you reach a recycling bin
    • Evaluate shopping habits (Did you buy three pillows because you NEED three? What is the environmental cost of careless buying?)
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    Reuse and Recycle

    Reusable items prevent global warming by:

    • preserving resources (wood, water, plants, animals, habitat)
    • cutting back production (limiting the number of items made)
    • limiting byproducts (smog, smoke, chemical waste)
    • reducing transportation (shipping resources to factory, product to store)

    Reusing and recycling decreases your carbon footprint--the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere as a result of your daily activities and choices.

    Reusing can also save you money. It costs $3 to buy a box of plastic wrap which needs to be replenished, while a reusable bag costs $1--less if you make it yourself. Sharing a ride to class or the supermarket makes use of existing resources and limits consumption. You save on gas and wear/tear.

    Contributing to the preservation of the planet is personally beneficial to all who rely on the Earth for food and shelter. And helping out feels good. Reuse-related activities can provide opportunities for hanging out and making new friends.

    Incorporate these reusable products into the product line at your campus store.

    • Cloth shopping bags with the school logo
    • Lunch boxes
    • Coffee mugs
    • Hand towels
    • Dry erase boards

    Or start a program that helps redistribute used goods to those who need it:

    • Textbook buy-back programs
    • Share-a-ride network
    • Donating gently used clothes
    • Sharing used art and school supplies

    Wondering What You Can Recycle?

    • metal food and beverage cans
    • glass jars and bottles
    • ANY plastic marked with a number between 1 and 7
    • junk mail
    • magazines
    • catalogs
    • office paper
    • shredded paper bags
    • old newspapers
    • cardboard
    • paper board
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    Even if your school is already recycling, you can increase good recycling habits by making recycling bins more accessible. Start a recycling club to monitor the use of recycling bins. If necessary--move them to areas with higher traffic.

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    Environmental Action Plan

    • A professor prints a two-page handout for each of his classes.
    • A janitor throws away an expired bottle of floor cleaner.
    • An admissions counselor sends out a mass mailing to prospective students.
    • A campus paper prints the weekly edition.

    Students and professionals on campus make decisions everyday that affect the success of campus solutions to global warming. A campus-wide environmental action plan is an agreement between these individuals that sets clearer guidelines for establish procedure and making choices.

    Examples of S.M.A.R.T.--sustainable, measurable, attainable, realistic, timed--goals for an environmental/sustainability action plan

    • Increase understanding of sustainability
    • Eliminate paper tests
    • Involve all stakeholders in green projects
    • Help local primary schools recycle
    • Decrease waste by 30%
    • Improve performance on an energy audit
    • Double the number of recycling bins
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    Be the Change You Want to See in the World

    Get some inspiration from these other colleges:

    • The John F. Kennedy School located in Washington, invited their mayor, Greg Nickels, to speak about global warming and politics.
    • The University of Oregon hosts a website that educates campus leaders about running a recycling program.
    • Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics invited a speaker from Hebrew University, Nir Shaviv, to talk about global warming.
    • New York University awarded over $100 thousands to its Sustainability Task Force--a group of students, faculty and staff members devoted to increasing sustainable practices through research and education.
    • Clark University committed to achieve climate neutrality by 2030--net zero greenhouse gas emissions.
    • The City University of New York helps New Yorkers reduce energy consumption.
    • University of Miami President Donna Shalala signed the Talloires Declaration, a commitment to green campus solutions. She's in good company; over 300 colleges and universities have signed the document and promised a greener future.
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    What Will You Do?

    Still looking for more ways to support current green initiatives at your college? Check out these resources for ideas and tips.

    • The Heights (Boston College): Waiting On The Campus To Change (
    • Campus Activism: Home (
    • Clean Air Council: Waste and Recycling Facts (
    • Nature Conservancy: Carbon Footprint Calculator (
    • NYU: Sustainability Fast Facts (
    • University of Oregon: How to Setup A Recycling Program (
    • Clark University: Sustainable Clark (
    • CUNY: Smart Grid (
    • Clark University: Climate Action Plan (
    • The City of Bloomington: What is Recyclable? (
    • University Leaders for a Sustainable Future: Talloires Declaration (