The Sustainability Experiment

This article was written for InterMission online magazine and is about living a sustainable life as a student.

I like to think that I am a pretty environmentally conscious person. I recycle, volunteer with the university conservation group, am an active supporter of organic farming methods, walk to and from uni (and everywhere in Bristol come to that), buy British and ‘in season’ as often as possible, have short showers and try to keep the electrics switched off when I’m not actually using them. However, when I think about it more deeply there is much more that I could do to live a more sustainable student life, and indeed one that would save me money. This article aims to set out a plan for how I can change my lifestyle to do my bit to help both the planet and my bank balance.

Many students think that they have too little money in order to live ‘more sustainably’. Visions of solar panels and construction of mini wind-turbines on their roofs tend to wash away other thoughts of how to improve their lives and do their bit for cutting wastage and energy costs.

1)      Grow your own – a few seeds, a medium sized pot and some decent soil is all you need to grow yourself some delicious vegetables. This, I do not do, even though my student house has been mentioning doing it for quite a while. In fact, for somebody who has been told off in the past for preaching about food miles and the dangers we face in the future regarding food (I’m a farmer’s son and my life pretty much revolves around food so I like to think I have some background that justifies this) I feel bad that this is not something I have actively done. It is however very easy and will be cost effective in the long term. This will be a long term plan for this year.

2)      Buy local – again food related (but as I’ve said my life tends to revolve around food so please forgive me) but I am told that buying local food from local food suppliers can both help your bank balance and reduce food miles. It is said that you can find some really good deals at local markets (try St Nicholas’ Market or the Mall in Clifton) and of course you can haggle without feeling awkward (like you probably would in a supermarket). The food is going to be fresher, of better quality and, depending on your haggling skills and your food prices knowledge, a better price. I will admit that the convenience of supermarkets has made me lazy in my shopping habits. Being a final year student means that time isn’t really on my side but if I work food shopping at markets and independents into my ‘allocated free time’ (yes, it’s really got to that stage – already!) then I will be more relaxed when I buy food and maybe even enjoy the experience, not something that can be said when I trudge round Asda, Tesco or Sainsburys on a busy Saturday morning. I have already started taking a veg box from a local farm which is actually proving cheaper, saves me time (as I don’t have to worry about buying extra veg) and the quality of the food is fantastic.

3)      Walk or Cycle – for longer journeys the train or the bus are better than the car which means that certainly during the course of my experiment I’m going to have to hide the car keys. Again it’s a convenience thing and I love having my car in Bristol. However, it isn’t a cheap thing to run and I know that actively taking a decision to not use it for a while will save me money. If I’m going somewhere in Bristol I tend to walk anyway so this at least won’t prove any different to my current lifestyle.

4)      Be more energy conscious – this will mean being far more critical and conscious about switching lights and plugs off, having shorter showers (and not having baths) and wearing extra layers during the winter months rather than having the heating on when it’s not necessary. This should be the biggest cost saver.

5)      Cooking in bulk – I have become better at doing this (mostly as it saves maximum amount of time in my final year) but I could be even more organised and plan ahead for the week, saving energy, money and time.

6)      Look for new ways to reuse things – I am actually generally criticised for being a hoarder and don’t like to throw anything anyway. I tend to see value in most things, including every bit of old paper. I could however be more inventive in the ways I reuse things. Upcycling is definitely the way forward.

7)      Use simple cleaning solutions – the old methods of baking soda and vinegar (as well as a good deal of elbow grease and some essential oils like lemon and orange) can be used to clean a surprisingly large number of things. I will do my best to convince my student house to the benefits of these – could take some persuading but I’ll give it my best shot. Should again save money and still do the job. Plus, if you have any concerns about the disastrous effects that bleach has on our environment (my dad has banned the stuff at home!) there are benefits there also.

8)      Use freecycle – Hand me downs are great (depending on who they are from) but now one can look for hand me downs from all sorts of places through the genius medium of freecycle. I have registered already and intend to use it as often as needed. However, I’ll have to keep transport of items in mind.

9)      Volunteer for Bristol University Conservation Group (BUCG), Bristol University Sustainability Team (BUST) or FoodCycle – just some unashamed advertising for these inspiring student groups.

So, that’s my rather short list of how a Bristol student can live a more sustainable life. I’ll have to see how I do. Some things will be easier than others but as a whole I hope that I have shown it is possible to live more cheaply and more sustainably, whilst not going and living the Thoreau lifestyle in a wood for years or building your own eco-house, at least in principle.

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2 thoughts on “The Sustainability Experiment

  1. My boyfriend and I have now reached the 6 week mark in our first place together, and best of all, it has a small, peaceful back garden that is perfect for growing fruit and vegetables! So that is the job for this winter – bring the wilderness back under control and grow our own food! It also means that we are using as little energy as possible to save money, so we are also doing our bit for energy consumption.

    As to using public transport more, I wish I could, but unfortunately with my line of work, you need a car. So I did the next best thing earlier this year – I knew I would be travelling a LOT of miles over the summer, so a sold my wonderful little, but old, ford fiesta, and bought a brand new Corsa. Not only is this cheaper for me in the long run, but it is much more efficient, has much better fuel economy, and the CO2 emissions are much, much lower. So I don’t feel AS guilty…!

    Good luck with living more sustainably!

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