The Sustainable Student

Although I’ve studied sustainability and understand how it works on a societal level (insert complicated jargon here), my personal habits have somewhat lagged behind. I eat meat, I fly, I lose or break my phone once a year, I take longer showers than I probably should, and maybe I have one too many pairs of shoes.

In my defense, though I could arguably be doing better, having a more sustainable lifestyle as a student is hard: the world is against you.

Vegan Food
Needing to unclog my arteries after my most recent adventure in Colombia, where they eat meat three times a day, I decided to do a meatless May. Since milk is a no-no for me, the only animal products I could have were eggs.

It was hard giving up meat: chicken feeds not only my stomach but my soul. The first few days, I really thought I would quit. I was going through what felt like withdrawal. 

From this challenging experience I’ve learned three main things. 1) I can survive without meat; 2) If you don’t know how to prepare it, vegetarian food is extremely bland; 3) People aren't excited to join your vegetarian meals day after day.

Ultimately, I did revert to my old habits, though with a more open mind and a willingness to eat beet burgers more often.

More recently I’ve tried some of the more expensive vegetarian/vegan brands, like The Vegetarian Butcher (De Vegetarische Slager) or Impossible Burgers -- and yes, with those products, I could see myself quitting meat entirely one day. But they’re 50 to 200 percent more expensive than a regular burger!

Voting with your wallet
Same goes for clothes. I've banned Primark, Zara and their fast-fashion friends from my wardrobe, but good luck finding quality, sustainable clothes that fit into a student’s budget.

The latest addition to my shoe rack is a European circular brand called Sessile, but those shoes cost 150 euros, twice as much as a similar pair.

A friend of mine was recently looking into buying a Fairphone, a modular phone where you can replace components one by one. Again, it’s twice as expensive as phones with similar specs.

I understand that people should vote with their wallets, but that’s hard to do when your wallet isn’t that deep. The only reason why I can afford these sustainable-ish goodies is because I work part-time.

The Sustainability Luxury   
Don’t get me wrong, I am trying hard to turn over a new leaf. I didn’t hesitate implementing waste sorting in my house when I learned that was a possibility in my neighbourhood, for example. I also measure my monthly CO2 emissions through the GoGreenEasy app, cut back on clothing purchases and recently gave away half of my wardrobe to charity.

I’m trying to be sustainable, but as a student, sustainability feels like some sort of luxury. My best guess is that, despite their best intentions, most students will only become sustainable once society at large has taken the leap.

(Disclaimer: I am in no way endorsed by or beholden to the companies mentioned in this column)