Living a sustainable lifestyle as a student

Maria Cooper explores how YOU can live more sustainably

Sustainability is a buzzword we’ve all heard of it, and have a rough idea of what it means. The concept became a highly debated issue after the 1987 Brundtland Report produced by the United Nations, which defined it as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The report came with its share of controversy and criticisms, mainly due to its Western-centred ideas about pollution from developing countries, but the message of living sustainably is ever-important.

To be fully sustainable is nearly impossible in the world that we live in today. However, this shouldn’t be used as an excuse for not trying – even the smallest of actions has an impact. That being said, here are some affordable and achievable ways to reduce your impact AND sustain your wallet as a student… because, who said sustainability needs to be expensive?

“On a global level, more than a quarter of food produced is wasted.”


What we eat has a huge impact on the environment. Food production, transportation, packaging, processing and what we do with the leftovers all requires land, water, fuel, fertilisers and many more elements with degrading effects. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland generates 1.1 million tonnes of food waste each year. On a global level, more than a quarter of food produced is wasted. This is neither sustainable nor efficient. While the common argument is to just “go vegan”, this isn’t a diet accessible to everyone for factors including health reasons and prep time (quick on-the-go options are often expensive and limited). Reducing your meat consumption does have a big impact, but here’s other ideas which everyone can try:

  1. Eat locally and seasonally. Buying homegrown reduces transport pollution and helps local farmers. Eating what fruits and vegetables are “in season” (foods that are grown naturally at this time of year in the country you live in) are likely to be local and better for the environment. This practice isn’t new of course, but it has been forgotten by many people in the age of globalisation and importing products from abroad. It also doesn’t mean you need to pop down to a farmer’s market every weekend supermarkets like Lidl and Tesco offer a wide selection of affordable produce grown close to home.
  2. Check your packaging. Take the time to review if what you’re buying can be recycled. Does it contain a lot of unnecessary extra packaging, and do I really need it? Reducing the amount of packaging we use is the most important step, followed by reusing it and then recycling it. Putting it in the bin should always be a last resort. Furthermore, always clean what you send off for recycling!
  3. Too Good To Go. In 2015 the mobile app Too Good To Go was founded to help reduce food waste in cafes, shops, restaurants, takeaways… you name it! It works by offering customers a discounted price on items that are left over at the end of the day but are still good to eat, which you can book and pay for on the app and then collect in store at the designated time slot. Unfortunately you won’t know what you’re getting, but if you’re not picky, it’s a great way to save both food and money. For example, you can pick up a surprise bag of groceries from Aldi worth €12 for a third of the price at €3.99.

“Sustainability doesn’t just apply to fixing environmental problems, but also to sustaining livelihoods and protecting people.”


We all want to look our best, especially in the Arts Block where it seems like everyone is ready to step onto a runway at any time. Sadly, the way we get most of our clothes today is incredibly unsustainable and unethical. Sustainability doesn’t just apply to fixing environmental problems, but also to sustaining livelihoods and protecting people. Many clothing companies profit from setting up factories in countries with poor labour rights, stealing designs from small businesses, and paying “influencers” to market to a huge audience. The exposure of the harm that the fast fashion industry causes has led to a growing market in sustainable and ethical so-called slow fashion, which is a great alternative to the likes of Shein, Adidas, Penneys, etc. Unfortunately for students, these alternatives are simply unaffordable, even though they’re worth the price. Luckily there are still plenty of other options if you’re willing to spend a little time, and in the process you’ll spend a whole lot less cash!

  1. Take advantage of the charity shops near College. Around George’s Street and Temple Bar you can find quite a few vintage stores if you’re looking for a specific style (they are, however, quite a bit pricier). All throughout the city you can find quality pre-loved items for a bargain, lessening how much goes to landfill and going easy on your wallet.
  2. Re-wear outfits! Think carefully before you make a purchase and don’t be afraid to wear a good outfit again. If you do need to buy an item, make sure it’s one you’ll want to wear multiple times donating to charity shops is great, but cycling through loads of clothes isn’t.
  3. Good On You. Check out the website: Good On You, which rates hundreds of clothing brands on their impact on people, planet and animals. You can research brands you know and would buy from frequently or find new ones to invest in which are rated highly.

“It’s important to really think about where something comes from, who made it, how did it get to you, how will you use it, and where will it go after it has been used.”


It can take a lot of work to start thinking about what we consume differently and seeing all of the hidden connections between everything we use, but this is a great step towards living more sustainably. It’s important to really think about where something comes from, who made it, how did it get to you, how will you use it, and where will it go after it has been used. You’ll find there are ways to live more sustainably in every aspect of student life!

  1.   Joining an Eco-Friendly Society. There’s an array of options from College’s Environmental Society, the Botanical Society to the Young Greens
  2.   Switch to the browser Ecosia, which uses advertisement revenue to plant trees
  3. Deleting old emails and unsubscribing from unwanted lists. This saves carbon by reducing the amount of energy that is used when sending, receiving and storing emails
  4. Add plants to your bedroom!
  5. Get a coffee mug and a refillable bottle

Finally, read and educate yourself! There’s plenty of new and unique ways to be sustainable out there (more than just buying yourself metal straws and bamboo toothbrushes). The essential step is a change to the whole system from a government level, and you can help further by joining environmental advocacy groups and putting pressure on your local representatives.