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Colleges Can Influence Sustainable Behavior for Life

By Sharon Chen
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At Ithaca College, students are taught to make sustainable lifestyle choices that will follow them long after graduation. According to the college’s Sustainability Programs Director, Mark Darling, the first thing students need to do is simply pick up their trash and recycle. Darling calls these two things “gateway behaviors” that will lead to other conservation behaviors. By emphasizing these actions, the college hopes that students will become more aware of what they’re using and how to dispose of it, thus taking the first simple steps in developing a mindset more focused on sustainability.

As noted in other findings about effective climate change action, simple and consistent actions are often the most effective ways to go green. Giving people an easy way to take personal action – such as recycling – is a non-overwhelming way to introduce them to climate change action. College campuses are ideal places to introduce people to sustainable behaviors, as climate change messaging can be seamlessly integrated into dormitory life, dining halls, and sporting events. If institutions of higher education emphasize these sustainable “gateway behaviors,” students will continue a green lifestyle long after leaving campus.

Living the Greener Life On Campus and Off

Michael Nocella | | August 27, 2015

With the arrival of thousands of students come thousands of hours of showers, electricity use, and empty beer cans. Local institutions are doing their best to develop programming specifically geared towards instilling sustainable habits to not only make their campus as environmentally friendly as possible—but so that when their students graduate, they continue to treat that other campus known as planet Earth in good condition as well.

Sustainability at Ithaca College, according to its website ( sustainability), has three inter-related aspects: curriculum and research, campus operations, and community outreach. IC Sustainability Programs Coordinator Mark Darling said it is very simple for new students—or any student—to take their first step in becoming sustainable on campus, and in life.

“The first thing they need to do,” he said, “is know how to pick up their trash and recycling. That’s the first big step in becoming a sustainable student. What we’re trying to do is get them to develop what we call sustainable behaviors. So being aware of what they use—that’s why recycling and picking up trash—those two are what we call ‘gateway behaviors,’ they lead to other conservation behaviors. Those are the big things we push. Then we get them Eco Reps program, those are for students that want to be leaders in the environmental movement. So that’s how we get them started.

“We’re all concerned about climate change,” Darling continued, “and these behaviors that they adopt now will reduce that negative impact. So doing things like remembering to recycle, turning off the lights when you don’t need them, taking a five-minute shower instead of a 30-minute shower—these are all good habits they can [adopt] that will have a positive impact now and for the rest of their lives. The nice thing about some of these behaviors is they’ll also save you some money once you get use to them.”

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