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Written by Sabrina Chow, Co-Community Engagement Chair

I’ll be the first to admit that I have not been the most environmentally conscious/sustainable person my entire life. When applying to undergrad, I had received an application to be a part of a Leader-Scholar Community, which meant living together with a group of first years who were passionate about a topic similar than I was. Those topics happened to be Media & Politics, or sustainability. Politics is by far not my niche, so sustainability had to do.

I dug out my application essay out of my archives and one part of the essay struck me the most. “My generation will be a major contributing factor in how well our planet will be able to adapt to the growing population and urbanization. Two key contributing factors that will significantly affect the outcome of my generation produces are outlook and knowledge.” If only I knew back then the impact that joining this community would have on not only my undergraduate career and experience, but also the current career path trajectory I find myself down.

Being actively involved in the sustainability and climate realm during my undergraduate career at Brandeis University, the biggest lesson that I’ve continued to take with me and try to actively share with others is the idea that small changes can make a big difference. In a world with over seven billion people, it’s hard to think that something you do will make a difference on a far-reaching scale. I felt that way for a long time. I could not wrap my mind around the concept that not using this one plastic water bottle would make a difference in the grand scheme of things, because if I didn’t pick up and use that water bottle, then someone else surely would have. So why do my actions matter at all?

One of my mentors then taught me a new way of thinking.

What if, today I chose to bring a reusable water bottle and not take a plastic water bottle and five of my friends saw me not take that water bottle; then, it could spark them to bring their own reusable bottle and not take the plastic water bottle. And if each of them inspired five more friends to do the same, hundreds of thousands of people would be affected by my one simple action. I’m no economist, but if hundreds of thousands of people are choosing to use a reusable water bottle, then the supply for plastic water bottles will decrease, reducing the need to produce as many.

Never underestimate how far your network extends, it’s probably much farther than you think! Small differences that you make in your everyday life may seem small to you, but people notice, and act. Below are some suggestions for small adjustments that you can make in your life to not only help the planet, but also your own health.

Use a reusable water bottle instead of a plastic water bottle

Eating 1-2 vegetarian/vegan meals per week:

I became a vegetarian as an effort to reduce my carbon footprint, and many of my friends were shocked that I had immediately gone cold turkey and stopped eating meat, which was inherently false. I slowly started to wean myself off meat, first stopping red meat, the poultry, and finally fish. And whenever someone told me they could never become a vegetarian, but still wanted ways to reduce their carbon footprint, I told them that they didn’t have to go to the extreme and become a vegetarian/vegan to reduce their carbon footprint. Just going a meal or two each week without eating meat over time will make a huge impact on your carbon footprint without having to think about it much.

Unplugging all your electronics when you’re not using them:

Fun fact, even if you’re not charging anything and just have your plug in a socket, that is still taking power and electricity!! Be sure to unplug all electronics when you’re not using them to help save power (and a few dollars on your electric bill)

Wash your clothes with cold water:

You may not think about this much, but when you wash your clothes in warm/hot water, it actually takes A LOT of energy to heat up the water to wash your clothes. Almost 90% of the energy used by your washing machine to wash your clothes in warm water comes from heating the water. Not only does washing cold help save money on your energy bill but keeps your clothes from shrinking and slows the fading of color!

Air dry your clothes:

Fun fact, your dryer emits more than a ton of CO2 per year, which is more than a tree can absorb over their first 50 years of life. By air drying your clothes, it decreases your carbon footprint and helps your clothes last longer (though it will take a little longer to dry)!

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