Campus Sustainability

In case you have not heard, the environment is in some trouble and our unsustainable practices are largely to blame. Sooner or later, we are going to have to realize that in order to preserve the complex web of delicate ecosystems, biodiversity, natural and aesthetic resources, as well as many of the luxuries that we enjoy, we are going to have to give up some of the things that we seem to feel that we as Westerners are entitled to in order to move in the direction towards global environmental sustainability.

The West, being the primary consumer of natural resources and most reckless producer of environmental pollutants, should be leading the movement towards greater sustainability. It would further seem as though we, as university students have a very significant role to play in this process.

This article is meant to explore some of the on-the-ground solutions that we can easily pursue in order to move towards greater sustainability. The suggestions here are by no means exhaustive, but rather are a good place to start ensuring environmental security.


We in Canada are extremely fortunate to have access to the world’s largest supply of fresh water. Just because “it’s there” does not mean that we should go buck wild in our water consumption. It is a finite resource and must be used much more sparingly.

Showers: University students love their long showers. That being said, how can I justify taking a 20-minute shower, using 9L of water per minute (that’s 180L for one shower), when many people in developing countries are living off less than 20L per day? We are certainly no more entitled to the water than they are. One way of reducing the amount of water used is by simply cutting down your shower time.

Toilets: Toilets tend to contribute to more water waste than anything else in our homes. They consume anywhere around 10 to 24L per flush. It doesn’t make sense to use 24L of water to dispose of some toilet paper left behind by the last time you were there, or to double flush just in case. Consider a couple alternatives: (1) Dam your toilet. Get pop-bottle filled with water, or something else that will displace water, and put it into the water tank at the back of your toilet. It is easily done and then you can forget about and it will make a significant impact on wasting water. (2) Conserve flushes. Talk with your roommates and see how they feel about not necessarily flushing every time. Try as often as you can to let the yellow mellow.

Clothes and Dish Washers: In order to be sustainable, ALWAYS do full load and use cold water options more often.

Bottled Water: It is quite apparent that the water in Waterloo is not the most delicious thing ever. That being said, drink it anyway. Bottled water is bad news for the environment as it is estimated that only one in ten water bottles are actually recycled; the rest go to landfills. Spend a couple of dollars on a reusable water bottle.There are a number of ways of making Waterloo water more palatable. Invest in a water filter, or let your water sit in an open container in the fridge to allow the unpleasant-tasting chemicals like chlorine to vaporize.


The food that we choose to eat has a significant environmental impact, and we as university students need to adjust our eating habits in order to foster a greater sense of environmental sustainability.

Vegetarian Eating: Beef production requires more than 15 pounds of grain and considerable quantities of water in order to produce one pound of meat. As a result of this, more than half the world’s grain harvest, much of which comes from developing counties, is grown to fuel the meat industry. Try a little bit of tasty vegetarian and vegan cooking. I am not asking that everyone “convert,” but try devoting one day a week to eating vegetarian, and get creative in your culinary regime.

Fast Food: The speed, convenience, and low cost of fast-foods come at a high price when it comes to the environment and our health. Take the time to eat-in instead of taking-out; use reusable food containers—coffee mugs, Tupperware, etc. and eliminate the unnecessary extra packaging. Eating in is not only healthier, but also cheaper and more fun!


Our energy consumption as students is immense. Count the number of plug-in devices that you have in your house or dorm room. From an informal survey in residence, I counted over 20 in some rooms.

Turn it off: Many of the aforementioned devices are left on when they are not being used which not only waste electricity, but also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The simple solution is to turn it off when you’re not using it.
Heat: Turn down the heat and wear more clothes! Turn down the AC and wear fewer clothes! We consume so much energy by trying to control the temperature of our living spaces. Try to be a little more moderate and cool/heat yourself by other means than the kind that use technology.

Compact Fluorescent Lights: Incandescent bulbs are inefficient because much of the energy from them is lost through heat. The Compact Flourescent bulbs last longer and are better for the environment – switching your lights over is another easy thing that you can do to help move in the direction of sustainability.

The University

Overall, as students we need to hold WLU accountable for doing its part as well. When, for example, the renovations for the DAWB were being proposed, I sat on the restructuring committee as a student rep to try and secure some sustainable and green building practices and materials. The response that I received was that this is not a priority for the university, and consequently, would not even be considered. This university needs to consider the environment a greater priority in its policies and practices by encouraging greater recycling, more assertive energy conservation, further waste reduction, and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, to name a few areas – something to remember as a new St. Mikes building is being developed.

I think that we as students play a significant role in these processes and need to begin acting assertively. I challenge you to take some (or all) of these suggestions to heart in the name of our collective climate safety and ecological wellbeing.The tools are straightforward and simple, there simply needs to be a collective desire to wield them.

Much of the information for this essay comes from Karen Christensen’s ‘The Armchair Environmentalist’ and Peggy F. Barlett & Geoffrey W. Chase’s ‘Sustainability on Campus’.