How to Be a Sustainable Online Student

On campus, students are supported with recycling services, composting initiatives and a university-wide goal to produce zero waste by 2025. However, the Ohio State community has shifted to virtual instruction, prompting many students to become virtual learners in their own homes for the very first time.

Despite not being on campus, students can all still contribute to Ohio State’s sustainability initiatives at home. Now is the perfect time to assess our daily habits in our own homes and become more mindful towards our individual environmental impact. With practice and patience, you can be sure to emerge from social distancing with new eco-friendly habits.

Conserve energy.  

For students learning at a distance, technology is your classroom. It may make sense to keep your tech gadgets plugged into the wall to charge at all times. They aren’t going anywhere, right?   

Unfortunately, keeping devices constantly plugged into outlets wastes energy, even when the items are not being used. Conserve energy and save on your next electricity bill by unplugging your chargers from outlets when they are not in use.  

Ohio State’s Green Home Technology Center has additional resources to offer when it comes to auditing your home energy efficiency in order to make practical changes. 

Be your own cafeteria.  

Spending an increased time at home has had an unintended side effect: everyone is learning to cook. Whether you are a master chef or have never used the oven, social distancing has encouraged increased creativity in the kitchen. Cooking for yourself can be an empowering hobby. When preparing your meals mindfully, home-cooked meals are oftentimes a bonus for the earth.   

When preparing a large meal, store leftovers in the fridge or freezer to enjoy later. If you are not one for leftovers, try your best to prepare only what you or your family will eat in one sitting. By portioning recipes and properly storing leftovers, food waste can be minimized.  

At Ohio State’s dining services, food waste is composted. Learn how to compost at home through Ohio State’s guide to indoor or outdoor composting. Ohio State researchers have also found that beginning to compost yourself creates a spillover effect for other positive behaviors such as conserving more water and energy. 

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has compiled healthy recipes that are easy to make at home. Take your sustainability up a notch by opting for a plant-based recipe, which places less stress on the environment compared to consuming animal livestock. Check out Ohio State’s Plant-Based for Beginners resource if you are interested in learning more about the lifestyle. 

Replace mindfully. 

As a virtual student, your home can become your campus. In light of the current pandemic, many students are faced with this very reality. As you spend more time at home, lights may burn out and appliances may need to be replaced. Before clicking the “order now” button, pause and see if you are opting for the most energy efficient option that is available to you.  

Just as you would search for a used textbook, popular technology websites often have certified refurbished options available for purchase. If you find yourself needing to invest in a new tech accessory, try searching for a pre-owned option first.

By replacing mindfully and reusing items wherever possible, fewer resources are required and waste can be diverted from landfills leaving the earth (and your wallet) in a better place. 

Explore your neighborhood.  

When are you ever going to have the time to appreciate the outdoors this much again? Explore your neighborhood by taking a walk to appreciate the local landscape while adhering to all CDC guidelines for social distancing. You can even turn the outdoors into your RPAC by participating in a virtual 5K hosted by Ohio State on April 18th-19th.  

One of the best ways to appreciate the earth is by getting to know it. Become involved in local efforts by supporting your neighborhood Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). CSA's are a partnership between local farms and the community. Comparable to a subscription service for fresh produce, households invest in the farmer's crop-yield before the season begins in exchange for weekly in-season produce. 

Get educated. 

Now is the time to dive into new interests and read up on your lingering questions. Utilize the flexibility that comes with online coursework and schedule a time to research an environmental topic that you have always be curious about.  

Here are some ideas to get you started:   

  • Check out a TedxOhioStateUniversity talk by faculty member Bartow J. Elmore, an environmental historian. In just 15 minutes, Elmore, an associate professor of history and core faculty member of the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State, outlines the history of Coca-Cola and its impact on the environment.  
  • Enroll in a self-paced class through Ohio State’s Open Learning initiative. Open Learning classes are free and open to everyone, not just Ohio State students. Consider selecting from a variety of courses including: Environmental Public Health, Biology and Management of Weeds and Invasive Plants, or Earth’s Environment: Soil, Water, and Air
  • Read an eBook through Ohio State’s expanded online library services offered in response to COVID-19.  

Lead by example.

Learning new ways to lessen your environmental impact can be exciting. You might even find yourself wondering why everyone doesn’t adopt the habits you have discovered. However, it is especially important to approach environmental awareness humbly and without judgment.  

Stacey Fineran, an assistant professor of professional practice who teaches environmental assessment in the School of Environment and Natural Resources and an affiliated faculty member of the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State, has a compassionate approach to learning about the environment.  

“It is a personal journey,” Fineran says, regarding individual environmental responsibility. “You are caught up in a complex system, and there needs to be systemic changes allowing you to be empowered to make better choices.”  

 Large-scale systemic change is needed to create a sustainable future. However, by seeking answers and approaching environmental awareness with an open mind, we can all become active members of the conversation.  

Find positive ways to be a part of environmentally conscious activities that bring you joy. Share your favorite vegan recipe or sell that used keyboard you haven’t touched in years.

With these tools in mind, being a virtual student can maximize your knowledge of your relationship with the earth.   

“Have a humility that we don’t know everything yet, but we have this goal, passion and good reason for why we are trying to pursue this goal,” says Fineran. “That is what makes you a learner.”