A Sustainable Student

Words | Elena Webster

Image via Flickr 

My house is brimming with students; there are five in total.

The newest of our motley crew is Anna.

I met Anna a month before we moved in together, we clicked straight away.  Her quirky and introverted personality makes it easy to like her. She’s the one who will pick up my slack with the dishes and won’t complain if I wake her up when I get home late. But her resolute kindness isn’t the point of this article, it’s her commitment to sustainability.

Sustainability in the words of a environmentally switched on student, means “meeting the needs of the present, while also ensuring that the needs of the future can be met as well.” This is an integral part of Anna’s lifestyle, and she has become accustomed to sacrificing some of life’s luxuries in order to live as sustainable a life as possible. Anna believes that “we can’t live our lives too frivolously because humans are not going to be able to live this way forever.”

Anna is studying a Bachelor of Property and Real Estate, majoring in sustainability. This means her student life directly affects her lifestyle, and it keeps her curious and interested in her studies. Her degree gives her an outlook on sustainable living that is not known to most students. Solar panels, double glazed windows and locally sourced materials are all smart options for sustainable housing.

It’s not likely that a large percentage of students are even thinking about buying houses. Especially with current trends in housing markets within Melbourne and Sydney’s inner suburbs. With millennials struggling to even broach the world of real estate, spending more money on sustainable options is out of the question.  Commercial infrastructure is leading the way, with green ceilings and walls becoming increasingly popular. Anna assures me that this means actual plants on roofs and walls, which have effective insulation properties while also collecting rainwater for reuse throughout the building.

Knowledge was what prompted Anna’s change in lifestyle. She believes that researching all you can about sustainability will change your perspective and life.  Anna made made the choice to live as green as possible as a teenager and she believes that everyone should know the impact they’re having on earth before they make changes.

Anna made these lifestyle changes whilst living in her family home in Perth. Her diet differed greatly from the rest of her family and being independent when it came to food was the first step in living more sustainably.

As an adolescent, Anna lived on a pescetarian diet for a while as her parents didn’t allow her to transition immediately to vegetarianism, concerned about the sudden change in diet’s impact on her.

“I think once you realise how scarce our resources are, it becomes ingrained in you and you’re forced to change, it’s almost like you don’t have a choice.

This ideology is how Anna keeps focused on her mission. If she forgets her Keep cup at home, she won’t let herself have a coffee that day. If she leaves her shopping bags at home, she will carry all her groceries home in her arms.

“It definitely can be more expensive”, admits Anna, who has had to make many sacrifices in order to live sustainably whilst studying full-time and working part-time. By prioritising needs and wants, she is able to afford products that are more environmentally friendly.

“I guess I’m at a point now where I’m starting to realise that there are a lot of things we spend our money on that we don’t need, so giving up things like clothes and that sort of stuff and spending more on food that I know is sustainably sourced.”

Her shops of choice are opportunity stores (a now popular post hipster hobby) and uses sustainable products. Our bathroom is filled with Thank You products and a stockpile of various creams and face treatments from Lush. Living sustainably and ‘treat yo self’ definitely isn’t mutually exclusive.

The difference between Anna and the majority of university students is that she is actively trying. That’s it. The copious amount of empty glass jars and piles of plastic spinach packets in our house, waiting for a second life and her enduring spirit to be sustainable in modern society, sets her apart.

Her sacrifices have not held her back. She isn’t drowning in debt or unable to party on Saturday night. Being sustainable does not meaning giving up a ‘normal’ lifestyle, it means being smart about what you buy. When you enter Anna’s room you are surrounded with an eclectic mix of furniture, clothing and décor that could easily grace a magazine cover. Second-hand items, plants and discounted home wares from her part-time job create an environmentally aware bedroom and a more refined room than anywhere in my parent’s house.

She knows living sustainably can help future generations thrive. However she hasn’t lectured or tried to discourage other housemates from making their own choices. Living with an assortment of different people makes her aware that not everyone wants to live sustainably, but just in case you’re thinking about it…


Anna’s Simple Sustainability tips:


  • Reusable shopping bags


This is the easiest step, but no one ever remembers. Keep your plastic bags in the boot of your car or in an easy place to reach, so you can remember on your way out the door!


  • Think about the products that you’re buying


Learn about the products you buy and whether there is a sustainable option. If there is, then why not pay an extra few dollars to help out the planet? And maybe cut out something that you really don’t need, like that iPhone case I bought on Amazon for $18.


  • Keep cups


Anna is a big believer in keep cups, because really how many coffees do uni students need? The answer is endless amounts, which is also the number of paper coffee cups tossed out. A Keep cup is a reusable and easily transportable cup. The cost can be anywhere from $3 – $20, dependant on the brand and design. It will minimise your impact on the earth drastically while also making you feel better about the amount of coffee you’re consuming.


  • Join a group


Anna may not attend RMIT, but if you’re reading this I’m guessing you probably do. Joining groups is a great way to be supported and be sustainable. Join the Sustainability Champions at RMIT and/or get involved with some of the programs at RMIT’s centre for Environmental Sustainability and Remediation.


  • Save your spinach bags!


Coles have free soft plastic recycling. This means that any of the following products can be dropped at the RED-cycle bins outside a Coles store; bread bags, biscuit packages, frozen food bags, rice and pasta bags, confectionary packets, newspaper wrap, plastic shopping bags, old green bags. The items are recycled into outdoor furniture for schools and communities.


  • Be aware of what you’re doing


Knowledge! Find out where all your plastic goes when you throw it away. Know where your dairy products are sourced and just make sure you’re informed!

Anna abides by these rules, with no exceptions. Although she’s not living completely sustainably yet, she aims to eventually purchase all her groceries at farmers’ markets and to buy sustainable clothing.

“I’m still not living a fully sustainable life,” admits Anna, “I think that I have so far to go but… I’m enjoying the ride.”

Putting in a little effort makes a difference and it can change your perspective. Caring about the environment is a lifestyle. It takes only 66 days to form a habit, and now is as good a time to start as any.

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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