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Cornell University

How to live more sustainably as a Cornell student

Many students — famously frugal as they navigate newfound independence and financial responsibility — believe it takes excessive effort or funds to make sustainability a priority; however, there are many small actions students can take to minimize their resource footprints and lead greener lifestyles both on and off campus.

Cornell is a global leader in sustainability and climate change research. Rated as the greenest Ivy League institution, Cornell has an action plan to be 100% carbon neutral and use 100% renewable energy by 2035. In addition to groundbreaking sustainability research happening at Cornell, there is a multitude of resources available to students looking to engage or learn more about sustainability.

Think about your individual climate goals as you check out these tips for living more sustainably at Cornell.

Green-light your transportation choices

One of the simplest ways Cornellians can reduce their greenhouse gas emissions is by using alternative transportation methods to get to and from campus. Walking and biking are not only kind to the planet, they also have positive mental and physical health benefits, create opportunities to enjoy Cornell’s beautiful campus and may introduce you to fun communities like the Cornell Cycling Club.

The TCAT bus system is another great option: The bus is free for first year students and to all Cornell students after 6:00 pm and on weekends. There’s even an app designed by Cornell students to help plan your trip and make sense of the bus schedules.

Make reusables part of your routine

Warm beverages are essential for many in Ithaca, especially throughout the winter months. Drinking out of a reusable mug is a simple but important way to reduce plastic waste — did you know you can save 10% on all self-serve hot or iced coffee, tea, and fountain beverages simply by bringing a reusable mug or cup to Cornell Dining Café locations on campus? Eco-Takeout reusable to-go food containers and utensils are also available at several dining locations.

Similarly, Cornell makes it easy to use reusable water bottles instead of bottled water: Fill up a reusable bottle with tap water or at one of more than 30 filling stations across campus.

Put sustainability on the menu

Diet decisions can have widespread environmental impacts. Choosing to minimize meat consumption and eating more plant-based meals from locally-sourced producers helps to minimize your resource footprint. Cornell Dining is committed to providing sustainable options for students: 27% of produce and 90% of dairy purchases come from within 250 miles of campus. And, 45% of Cornell Dining’s food budget is directed towards purchasing locally or sustainably sourced food; 60% of meals at Cornell are local, sustainable or plant-based.

Minimizing food waste is also an important way to eat more sustainably. Composting bins are located in every dining hall as well as in a variety of other dining locations around campus — dispose of your extra food scraps, napkins or paper towels there. Cornell Farm Services collects this organic waste and composts it at Cornell’s Industrial Compost Facility.

Want to become part of Cornell’s team working to reduce food waste contamination? Students, staff and families living in on-campus housing can become Compost Managers.

Recycle the right way

Starting a recycling bin in your home and using Cornell’s recycling programs are great ideas, but in order for them to pay off, it’s important to keep your recycling free from contamination.

Recycled items must be completely clean before being placed in a bin, as contaminated bins are thrown away completely. Wash or wipe items before disposing of them, and make sure to remove all food waste. Items that can be properly recycled through Cornell’s single-stream bins include glass bottles, plastics #1, #2 and #5, aluminum and metal cans, paper and cardboard.

Recycling is a great waste reduction strategy, but you can take it even further: Think about ways to reduce your consumption of resources in the first place to make the greatest impact.

Flip the switch to energy conservation

Cornell’s campus energy systems are not only a great example of conservation and renewable energy supply, they are also a testbed for energy solutions and cutting-edge sustainability research. Solar farms, hydroelectric power, Lake Source Cooling, energy conservation projects and more combine to create a highly efficient system as Cornell transitions to renewables.

In addition to Cornell’s energy strides, there are simple personal habits that can go a long way in reducing energy use — and save money. Join your fellow Cornellians, who already use three times less electricity than other New York state residents.

Turn off the lights when leaving a room and when you change the bulbs, look for more efficient LED or CFL bulbs. As the Ithaca weather changes constantly, keep room temperatures at efficient levels and make sure windows and doors are sealed tightly. Washing laundry cold reduces energy use by 90%, and air drying not only saves energy, but it can also make your clothes last longer. For residents of on-campus housing or rentals, report water leaks and drips to maintenance or your property manager as soon as possible.

Get involved and take action

There’s no shortage of opportunities to engage with sustainability efforts: Cornell offers over 730 sustainability-focused classes, at least 40 student sustainability clubs and dozens of sustainability-oriented jobs on campus.

April is Sustainability Month; seek out events and explore sustainability features in every corner of campus.

The Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability is Cornell’s hub of collaborative sustainability research focused on reducing climate risk, accelerating energy transitions, increasing food security and advancing the health of humans, wildlife, livestock and the environment.

The Campus Sustainability Office is Cornell ‘s central coordinating unit for all things campus sustainability, from operations and carbon neutrality to engagement programs, campus culture and support for living laboratory research and teaching.

Written by Alexandra Gray `22

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Cornell’s mission is to discover, preserve and disseminate knowledge, to educate the next generation of global citizens, and to promote a culture of broad inquiry throughout and beyond the Cornell community.

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