Hey guys, let’s get rid of those trays! Photo: Totsie14

Adapt these ideas from my alma mater and help your college go green.

Earlier this week, I received a copy of the alumni magazine from my undergrad alma mater, Emory University.

Believe it or not, it’s always an interesting read, and it’s often packed with inspiring stories. This issue included a handful of articles about some programs that students and staff have implemented to expand environmental awareness on campus and in the Atlanta community while reducing the university’s carbon footprint.

These projects seemed pretty adaptable, and set me to thinking about how they could be replicated on other campuses. Here are five ways you can help your college go green if you’re a student. Tomorrow, I’ll offer five ways you can help your college go green if you’re an alum.

Current students can:

1. Talk with the campus dining director about trayless eating…
When I was an undergrad, students would crowd their trays with an entree plate, a bread plate, a salad bowl, a soup bowl, a glass, and a dessert dish. They’d eat too much (remember the freshman 15?), waste too much, and generate a lot of plates to wash.

Consider this: The dining hall introduced a trayless system in January. Throughout the spring semester, students had to carry their plates individually to the table and, when finished, to the wash area.

The result? A 14,587-pound reduction in food waste compared to the same period a year earlier. Water consumption also decreased significantly, as there were no trays that needed to be washed.

There’s no data about students’ waistlines, however.

2. And while you’re at it, talk to them about composting.
Though food waste declines when a trayless serving system is introduced, plenty of food is still thrown out. As an alternative, ask if it’s possible for the dining hall to set up a disposal area where uneaten food can be collected in preparation for composting.

3. Advocate for a campus garden.
At Emory, the overall sustainability goal is to purchase 75% local or sustainably grown food by 2015. That’s a good goal, but what if the food was ultra local… as in, on-campus local?

Take a look at your college’s or university’s academic programs. Is there a department or course where planning and growing a garden might fit into the curriculum? Emory has just launched a degree program in the field of sustainable development… growing an on-campus garden seems like a natural fit, and one that converts classroom theory into community-based practice.

“Convince university officials that your school should be an incubator for sustainable practices.”

4. Advocate for greener transportation.
This is especially important at large universities with spread out campuses. If your school offers shuttle buses, how are they fueled? Could they be hydrogen run or converted to vegetable oil engines?

These may seem like big changes–and they are–but a university is the perfect place for students to get hands-on experience. Convince university officials that your school should be an incubator for sustainable practices.

5. Advocate for degree programs that bridge the theory-practice gap.
As I mentioned above, Emory has just announced a new degree program in sustainable development. It’s only one of 10 universities in the United States that offers such a degree.

Combining classroom teaching with in-the-field experiences in agriculture, policy-making, health care, engineering, management, environmental science, education, and nutrition, this seems like a practical degree that won’t leave you wondering why you accumulated so much debt. Talk with the dean of your division to see if similar programs are on the drawing board at your school.

Community Connection:

Thinking about studying abroad? Look for a university that embodies sustainable environmental and social practices. Here are seven countries where graduate school is a fraction of US costs.