“Sustainability” seems to be one of the hottest buzzwords in today’s lexicon; however, what does sustainability really mean? While some of the confusion on the topic may stem from the fact that there is no one set definition of sustainability, I think that much of the confusion surrounding the word is due to its broad scope, as well as the fact that many peoples’ current lifestyle choices and practices don’t necessarily line up with sustainability concepts. After all, it is one thing to define sustainability, but what does it mean to truly live sustainably?
Getting people to live more sustainably involves branching the gulf that exists between current lifestyle choices and more idealized sustainability practices. While some changes can be harder to make than others (and even more importantly, to stay committed to in the long run), making incremental changes in behaviors and incorporating sustainability concepts into ones’ life doesn’t have to be painful- in fact, many times the more “sustainable” choice is often more economical and/or efficient in the long run!
So what can living more sustainably look like, especially for Indiana University students? Even simple behavioral changes can have a huge impact on the sustainability of ones’ lifestyle (click here to determine your current Ecological footprint and see how sustainable your current lifestyle practices are.) Take for example the idea of incorporating sustainability into the house-hunting and rental process. Instead of choosing a place to live based solely on the parameters of price or proximity to ones’ friends, it’s important to remember to incorporate sustainability concepts into your considerations as well (check out the IU Green Renter’s Checklist for a full list of recommendations).
When looking for a new place to live, it’s important for students to consider such things as transportation, projected energy and water usage, and waste disposal and recycling opportunities. Part of living more sustainably means being able to rely less on fossil fuel-dependent modes of transportation, like walking or biking, so it’s important to consider how easily you’ll be able to get to and from the places you go to frequently without needing the use of a car (the website, www.walkscore.com can help you quantitatively define how walk-able your current, or future residence, actually is).
Recycling is another easy, more sustainable practice to incorporate into ones’ life, so making sure that recycling is offered at your new residence is another crucial consideration when students are searching for a new rental. Furthermore, considering what your energy usage will be like in a new rental can help you to look for rentals that have alternative energy sources, such as solar, geothermal, or wind power, or rentals that are properly insulated or offer energy efficient appliances and water-saving fixtures.
While changing every aspect of your lifestyle overnight to be 100% sustainable may not be a possibility, the ability to make a few small changes over time and share those practices with friends is within your reach. Start by incorporating sustainability concepts into a few areas of your life, and see how far you can run with it- when added together, all of those small, incremental changes really can have a great positive impact!
Written by Rachel Irvine, Living Sustainably Off-Campus Coordinator