Blog Post

Sustainable university living

I’ve escaped from my desk to come and sit in Park Eat café/bar to write this article. Immediately I arrive, I’m confronted with an environmental dilemma.

I’ve brought my Sustain It mug (of course!) for a cup of tea, but realise I can’t get any milk out of the machine because my cup isn’t chipped. The catering staff offer to put some milk in a paper cup. I insist I don’t want a paper cup and they insist it’s no bother. How should I respond? Back down politely and take the cup, or stick to my green guns and insist it’s a waste of resources and I’d rather have no milk? I decide to politely explain I don’t want to take a disposable cup, she understands and helpful gets me a china cup to put the milk in instead.

Sustain It Bottle

An insignificant story, and the kind of decision we each make multiple times a day. My point though is this – each decision we make in our day to day lives has an impact. Maybe, it’s made the staff member think about our conversation, and maybe she’ll approach it differently next time. Certainly, it made me feel good that I stuck to my guns and didn’t use a paper cup. Certainly too, that is one less disposable item thrown away after a single use.

Our actions matter, and those small actions, when added together, have big impacts. I resolved this year to always refuse paper cups; to go thirsty if they were the only option, and so far, I’ve been true to this (and I drink a lot of caffeine!)

So what can you do to make a difference to the environment? What changes in your everyday life can you make that can really reduce your environmental impact, and help sustain the rich but finite resources this planet has to offer?

Without a doubt, climate change is the major environmental threat of our time and finally, the UK and the world really seem to be waking up to the realities of this and the urgency of action to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is big and it’s daunting, it permeats every part of our modern lives. It is also a hugely exciting time to work in sustainability. The renewed feeling of hope coming from the UK Government’s recent commitment to declare a climate emergency is unprecedented in my time in the sector, and one that we can and must capitalise on.

Here then are my thoughts on a few of the steps we can all take to make a difference:

Save energy

There are many ways to save energy, and if you’re living in private rented accommodation, chances are you will be paying the bills and can save yourself money too.

  • Switch off! It’s the easiest and most obvious way to save energy – whether that’s lights, TVs, computers or chargers if you’re not using it, turn it off and nag your housemates to do the same! And if you’re the last one to leave a class, do the right thing and cut the lights as you go.
  • Check your light bulbs are LED – which are usually much more efficient than other alternatives – and 5W – 6W bulbs usually give plenty of light.
  • Cook together, and then wash up together!
  • Only boil the water you need. Sounds obvious, but kettles are big energy consumers.
  • Use your washing machine efficiently – avoid half loads, wash at 30˚C and dry your clothes naturally if possible!
  • Control your heating! Turning your heating down 1˚C can save 8% on your energy usage. Understand how your heating is controlled and agree with your housemates when the heating needs to run. It’s usually cheaper to turn the heating off than leaving it running on low (but if you’re away in cold weather, it’s recommended to have it running on low to ensure your pipes don’t freeze!)
  • Make sure your hot water is set at 60˚C – this should not be set any lower due to health/hygiene reasons, but higher temperatures will waste energy.
  • Check if you can control your hot water separately. If so, a few hours each morning and evening should be sufficient. A good guide is 30 mins per person each morning/evening (but this will depend on your system and might take a bit of trial and error!)
  • Check how much insulation is in your loft and speak to your landlord if it is lacking. 27cm of insulation is the recommended standard for houses.
  • Limit your shower time. Long showers not only use a lot of water, but use a lot of energy too!

Buy well

Think about the items you buy, and their environmental impact.

  • Look for ‘green’ labels. Labels such as Fairtrade, Certified Organic and FSC are a great guide to making the right decision
  • Buy less, and buy to last. Cheap clothing often means poor worker conditions (but look for the green labels!) It may also mean the clothes don’t last.
  • Buy in bulk. This will often save money and reduce packaging too.
  • Refuse those paper cups – and recycle them if you can! There are now dedicated cup recycling bins across campus.

Travel well

We all need to travel. Sometimes we need to fly. Think about the decisions you make and the alternatives available to you.

  • Walk or cycle those short journeys when you can; helping to keep fit as well as reduce your environmental footprint
  • Check out the good deals. Train travel can be expensive, but booking ahead or splitting your tickets can still secure some great prices
  • If you’re travelling to Europe, check out – the most comprehensive guide to European train travel you can imagine
  • Travel less, but travel well. There’s a big, wide world out there, but frequent flying will be the biggest environmental impact you have. If you can, go for longer, take in more, but fly less.


We can all make a difference. We can all have an influence. What difference will you make today, and who will you influence?


(This article originally appeared in the June/July 2019 edition of Reading Rep –

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