Sustainability Tips for Incoming Students

This month, thousands of new students, both undergraduate and graduate, will be preparing to start their first semester at the University of Michigan. Picking classes, completing required orientation materials, figuring out financial aid and housing, moving or preparing to complete the semester virtually, meeting new classmates – it’s a lot to mentally prepare for, even more so in the middle of a pandemic. So, with the help of a few of my colleagues in the Office of Campus Sustainability (OCS) and Student Life (SL), as well as several returning students who are a part of the Student Sustainability Coalition (SSC), I’ve gathered together some tips that can help you start your college journey in a sustainable way.

Sustainability Tips for Back to School

Greenhouse Gas Reduction

  • Turn off the lights when you do not need them, and keep the windows closed in your residence hall room. Both these steps can be impactful ways to save energy. – Aaron Boockvar-Klein, SSC 
  • Get in the habit of unplugging electronics whenever you are not using them or using a power strip to turn them off completely. Encourage those you live with to do the same! – Ken Keeler, OCS

Fuel Efficiency

  • You’ll receive free use of Ann Arbor Area Transit Authority transportation with your MCard. It can be incredibly helpful to get around town, but a surprising number of people don’t know about it! – Jessie Williams, SSC
  • Walk, bike, and ride the bus to get around campus. U-M offers resources like bike parking maps and live-tracking of U-M buses to make getting around sustainably that much easier. – Emily Spilman, PBA

Waste Reduction

  • It’s always really useful to have a set of reusable utensils and a small container in your backpack. Especially when dining halls and restaurants will be doing a lot of carry-out meals, this may help you cut down your waste. – Grace Hankes, SSC
  • Learn the rules for disposing of waste on campus. Note: they may be different from the rules in your hometown! The Office of Campus Sustainability provides resources so you can confidently “know where to throw.” – Tracy Artley, OCS

Protecting the Huron River

  • Wash your laundry only when you have a full load, and consider rewearing items that are still fresh to cut back on the number of wash cycles you need to do. – Kelly Jones, PBA
  • It turns out that people typically consume much more water through buying new products (produced using water) rather than by taking showers or washing clothes. So, shop second hand! It’s incredibly efficient from both a resource and an economical standpoint. – Aaron Boockvar-Klein, SSC

Sustainable Food

  • Zingerman’s has baguettes and bagels half-off after 5 pm, and they still taste amazing! Also, if you are on a tight budget or restrained from getting to a grocery store, visit the Maize and Blue Cupboard for equitable access to healthy, nutritious foods. – Jessie Williams, SSC
  • Choose plant-based foods. Research shows that meat, particularly beef, has an outsized impact on greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental metrics. – Keith Soster, MDining

Community Engagement

  • If you have a question about sustainability in your residence hall, contact your Planet Blue Student Leader at – Clara Gamalski, SL
  • Sustainability is about taking care of each other as well as the planet, so be sure to wear a mask, wash your hands, and visit the maize and blueprint website for more COVID safety information. – Alex Bryan, SL

Current Planet Blue Ambassadors, what tips would you give to incoming students? Incoming students, let us know what questions you have that we didn’t cover, and feel free to share your own tips too!

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