Pre-sustainable Student Behavior

With the arrival of thousands of students come thousands of hours of showers, electricity use, and empty beer cans. Local institutions are doing their best to develop programming specifically geared towards instilling sustainable habits to not only make their campus as environmentally friendly as possible—but so that when their students graduate, they continue to treat that other campus known as planet Earth in good condition as well.

Sustainability at Ithaca College, according to its website ( sustainability), has three inter-related aspects: curriculum and research, campus operations, and community outreach. IC Sustainability Programs Coordinator Mark Darling said it is very simple for new students—or any student—to take their first step in becoming sustainable on campus, and in life.

“The first thing they need to do,” he said, “is know how to pick up their trash and recycling. That’s the first big step in becoming a sustainable student. What we’re trying to do is get them to develop what we call sustainable behaviors. So being aware of what they use—that’s why recycling and picking up trash—those two are what we call ‘gateway behaviors,’ they lead to other conservation behaviors. Those are the big things we push. Then we get them Eco Reps program, those are for students that want to be leaders in the environmental movement. So that’s how we get them started.

“We’re all concerned about climate change,” Darling continued, “and these behaviors that they adopt now will reduce that negative impact. So doing things like remembering to recycle, turning off the lights when you don’t need them, taking a five-minute shower instead of a 30-minute shower—these are all good habits they can [adopt] that will have a positive impact now and for the rest of their lives. The nice thing about some of these behaviors is they’ll also save you some money once you get use to them.”

Darling added that sustainability programs at IC, and other colleges, have evolved in recent years as the awareness for the importance of being environmentally conscious has grown.

“The sustainability program has been around since 2003,” he said, “but we’ve been educating people to doing these types of behaviors here in Ithaca since 1989. The program has evolved from just talking about environmental protection to talking about social justice and financial sustainability. So now we’re hitting all aspects of sustainability: people, planet and profit.”

Similar sustainability programming can be found at TC3, where, according to its website, sustainability means “meeting the needs of the present without sacrificing the needs of the future.”

“At TC3,” it continues, “we will strive to create a culture of sustainability to ensure that we have minimal negative environmental impact on our campus and our community. As a college, we will incorporate sustainability into our overall decision making regarding purchasing of goods and services, production of energy, construction of new building, curriculum design and implementation, and collaborative efforts in the community.”

TC3’s website also offers students information on recycling and compost, solar panels, and Meatless Monday, “an international movement to help people reduce their meat consumption by 15 percent to improve personal health and the health of the planet.” TC3 additionally offers its students a sustainability literacy program, and a “Kill-a-Watt Loan Program,” which helps students to be aware of their electricity use. More information on being sustainable at TC3 can be found at

Over at Cornell, sustainability is also stressed. According to its website, “Cornell supports research, scholarship, and the practical application of knowledge that address one of humankind’s greatest challenges: achieving a sustainable world for all.” Available classes, lab opportunities, Cornell’s comprehensive “Sustainable Campus,” and other outreach, there are plenty of ways for students to immerse themselves in Big Red sustainability. More information can be found at  

Darling noted that all sustainability programming at colleges throughout the world is crucial to righting poor human habits. 

“Our lives depend on it,” Darling said. “This is about protecting our life support systems. So those life support systems: food, water, air—we’re just protecting those things on this earth that we need that we all share.”

“Students may not know that mini-fridge in their room is using as much electricity as that regular size refrigerator at their parents house. So it’s our job to make sure they do [know that].” §


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