Student life – how to be ethical and sustainable

Affordable and Ethical Shopping

A common dilemma as a student is being able to afford healthy and organic foods that have been ethically sourced. Buying such products contribute towards generating a positive impact in the world, but can your student budget afford them?

Here are some tips to get you on your way to sustainable and ethical shopping without it breaking the bank…

  • Shop in the evening for reduced prices: At this time, supermarkets sell food that’s close to its sell-by date at a reduced price. Don’t avoid it though, as often these foods, such as bread or fruit can be frozen and eaten later.
  • Budgeting your weekly shop is cheaper: Choose one day in the week to do a big shop. Plan your meals to avoid getting tempted and overspending. If you stock up on all your food groups in bulk, you’ll save money, save on transport and can reduce unnecessary packaging.
  • Frozen vegetables can be incredibly cheap. Not only will they last a long time, they will retain their nutritional value. Freezing fresh vegetables will also avoid finding a week-old broccoli shrivelled at the back of the fridge, cutting down on food wastage.
  • Shop at the Co-op. The Co-operative is one of the UK’s leading ethical retailers and its food leads the way on responsible food retailing. It only sells free range eggs, all toilet rolls are FSC accredited and community projects are supported across the UK. To top it all off it offers a NUS Extra discount on all products!
  • Using your own bag or lifelong bags instead of the plastic or paper ones reduces waste.Some retailers now offer rewards to customers who do not request disposable bags. This means less waste in landfills, which release large amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.


  • The 16-25 Railcard saves members a third on rail fares throughout Great Britain. This makes it easier to reduce environmental impacts from travel and make the most of this low-carbon mode of transport.

Make your Own

Sometimes the best and most affordable option is to make your own.

  • Coconut oil is a brilliant replacement for lotion, deep conditioner and face wash. Its natural nutrients will help healthy hair growth and gives your hair a shiny quality. It is also highly effective conditioner and helps the re-growth process of damaged hair. Not only that, it is perfect for healing dry and damage skin, ideal for treating eczema and dermatitis.
  • Try home-made cleaning products. There are several inexpensive and environmentally friendly ingredients in your cupboard that can be used to make cleaning products. Baking soda is great on tough stains and white vinegar helps cut grease and remove wax build-up. Lemon is also one of the strongest food-acids, making it most effective against household bacteria.


The amount of paper used through printing, especially at university or school, is phenomenal and how does this much paper affect the environment? How much of that paper is actually necessary?

The pulp and paper industry is among the world’s largest users of energy and emitters of greenhouse gases, and a significant source of water pollution and landfill waste. In some places, such as in Indonesia, deforestation caused by unsustainable pulpwood harvesting contributes to climate change.

Here are some small actions you can carry out at university that can have a big impact on the world.

  • Print fewer documents.Electronic software makes it possible to avoid wasting trees. Microsoft Word has built-in commenting, change tracking, and collaboration features, and PDF documents can be highlighted and marked-up using Adobe Acrobat or free PDF software.Many universities allow students to submit essays and work electronically via e-mail or Blackboard, saving more paper. Electronic notebooks such as OneNote and Evernote help provide easy ways to organise your thoughts, without over-using paper.
  • Print less of the document. You can use print preview to help identify which exact part of the document you need and always choose to print double-sided. When printing from a website, some websites offer a Printer-Friendly version which will omit the unnecessary graphics and ads. When printing lecture slides, PowerPoint slides can be printed out in a variety of paper-saving configurations, such as 4 or 9 slides per page.

Electrical appliances

  • Switch off your electrical appliances at the mains .TVs, DVD players and computers still use 10-60% of power even when on ‘stand by’. Some cost nearly as much to run in stand-by mode as when they are switched on! One very easy thing you can do is to turn them off when they’re not in use.
  • Don’t multi-task. Do you find yourself working on your laptop or tablet, while you have the TV on in the background? You may not realise it then, but not only are you running up an expensive electricity bill,  you’re using up limited resources and unessesarily  producing more emissions. The same idea goes for having multiple lights on in your room or turning the heating on, when in fact slipping on a jumper would keep you just as warm.
  • A laptop is now an essential to a student’s life but make sure you turn it off at night, not just set on hibernate. Remember to enable the power management function on your computer; contrary to popular belief, screen savers do not save energy. Unplugging chargers for mobile phones and other mobile devices when you’re not using them will have a significant effect on the environment, not just your bill.

Saving Water

  • Buy your own water bottle. At some campuses the installation of ‘hydration stations’ – basically taps in the wall – makes it easy to refill and re-use water bottles. The idea is to cut down on packaging waste and carbon emissions from transportation. Bobble bottles have become quite popular reusable water bottle as it has a built-in filter that removes chlorine and organic contaminants from ordinary tap water. If you are more inclined to buy from ethical companies, check out Give Me Tap and Dopper.

Lunch Time

  • Make your own lunch using local fresh ingredients. Eating lunch out every day between classes can become quite expensive, even if it is a cheap sandwich from Sainsbury’s and easier than making something with fresh products.  However, the ingredients for a healthy diet can also help the planet, especially if those ingredients are locally grown. Resources are also required for all of the additional packaging for those processed lunches and that packaging, which is typically non-biodegradeable, adds to growing mountains of landfill.
  • Think when you order a coffee. Coffee is an important factor in a student’s daily life, but make sure it is one of UK’s Fairtrade and Ethical Coffee companies.. Each year, we throw away billions of straws and stirrers. Skip the stirrer to save on waste, but that doesn’t mean drinking your coffee black. Simply put your sugar and cream in first, and then pour in the coffee or even break off a piece of pasta from the cupboard!

Get it Second-Hand

  • Books – Consider if you really need to buy the hard copy of the book your university has recommended. If not, go to the library or use an online version instead. And if you do, don’t forget to look online for cheaper second-hand copies or consider older editions.
  • Household appliances – Moving into student housing? Look on Freecycle to search for household appliances or goods that you might need to fill your university house. Charity shops also have great bargains. Before you throw something away, think about if someone else might need it. Donate it to a charitable organisation, hang up flyers around university or post it on a website designed to connect people and things.

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