Opinion: ASU needs sustainable students, not just a sustainable campus

Students are not exposed to enough sustainability initiatives in residence halls

ASU has made a name for itself in the field of sustainability. Between founding one of the leading sustainability schools in the country and creating ambitious goals to reduce carbon emissions, the University is trying to be more environmentally conscious. 

However, some students on campus may not be taking up the same cause. 

Students living on an ASU campus have the luxury of not having to pay for utilities.

While this might seem nice at first, it also has the propensity to foster bad habits as far as energy consumption is concerned. With this system, students are at liberty to use as much energy as they please without seeing the financial or environmental ramifications.

ASU, as one of the leading academic institutions in sustainability, should work to introduce sustainability initiatives into all of the residence halls, showing students how to build good habits for reducing their carbon footprint and what it means to live sustainably.

Auriane Koster, senior sustainability scientist at ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, said that students are simply not encouraged to pursue sustainable lifestyles for themselves. 

“They don’t really have the incentive,” Koster said. “It’s not like, ‘hey, you should save energy and we’ll reduce your cost that you have to pay.’ The other problem is that people also can’t see it. You can’t see how much you’re using and you can’t see how much you’re using compared to other people.”

While ASU’s campus metabolism does show the energy consumption per building, it is impossible for individual students to tell exactly how much energy they are consuming.

Some colleges, such as Aquinas College, Berea College and Bowdoin College, encourage students to embrace sustainability by holding competitions between residence halls measuring students' waste or energy consumption. 

Although ASU does encourage students to contribute to their sustainability initiatives, such as their Ditch the Dumpster project during move-out, throughout the year, many students are left on their own to use as much energy as they want without being made aware of the consequences of their actions.

“I’ve found that, working in school districts, it’s good to provide incentives and transparency of information,” Koster said. “People need to know the impact that they’re having … People try to do the best they can with the knowledge they have. If people don’t know the information or feel that it doesn’t impact them, they’re not going to be really worried about it.”

Although ASU requires classrooms and offices to be maintained at temperatures between 68 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit, the same restriction does not apply for residence halls.

“This is kind of teaching you life skills,” Koster said. “Someday you’re going to be in a home or in an apartment, and you’re going to have to pay for these things. You’re going to be shocked to see how expensive they are. You start at home and you’re only preparing yourself better for the future.”

While ASU should emphasize sustainability initiatives to all students, rather than just the ones living in the Sustainable Residential Community, students should also keep in mind the impact that they can make.

Brigitte Bavousett, student recruitment and retention specialist senior, said that individual efforts contribute to cumulative changes to the environment.

“If you’re in a dorm and you’re brushing your teeth, and you turn the water off while you’re actually brushing, you might think, ‘Oh, yay, I just saved half a gallon of water, who cares?’" Bavousett said. “The reality is you multiply that a couple times a day (for) every brushing, and multiply that by 365 days a year, it’s actually a huge water saving. It does add up.”

This cumulative difference should be promoted by both students and the University in order to ensure that students, as some of them experience living on their own for the first time, learn how much energy they need to use as well as how much they can save.

Changes in even one student’s lifestyle in the residence halls can have a significant impact on the environment. For example, even washing laundry on cold can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by anywhere between 1.2 and 14.9 pounds per load washed.

“It can be overwhelming when we look locally at what’s happening,” Bavousett said. “As a reminder of feeling optimistic, those small, everyday choices make a huge difference collectively. I like to emphasize the collective difference.”

Reach the columnist at kalbal@asu.edu or follow @KarishmaAlbal on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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