A College Student’s Guide to Low-Stress Sustainability

Let me start by saying this: I’m not a fan of buzzwords. In fact, that’s an understatement. I’m not big into social media to begin with, but even yet I’ve seen the confusion these words can cause. It feels all too often that important topics, and necessary conversations, are reduced to clickbait. 

It seems any true meaning is lost somewhere in the translation of conversation to headline and the buzzword itself becomes the focus rather than the issues it was supposed to stand for. 

The irony is baffling. Somehow increased exposure – increased access – has not only failed to lead to increased awareness, but it has actually diminished any awareness we might have had to begin with. To me, the real drawback of buzzwords is this: they tend to betray their own importance. 

In most cases, the consequences of this are relatively low. But when crucial conversations begin to fall prey to the same processes, that’s when I begin to get scared. In sum: I hate buzzwords. But I really hate those that seem to jeopardize important agendas. And no buzzword bothers me quite as much as “sustainability”.

buzzwords are not positive change

Toxic. Guilt-tripping. Shameful. All words that come to mind when I think of the way “sustainability” is emphasized these days. The buzzword seems to have overtaken us and a term that should stand for positive change has become a topic of contention and guilt.

It shouldn’t be stressful, but it is: both in a meta the-whole-world-is-collapsing-around-us sort of way, and in a much more personal, how-the-fuck-am-I-supposed-to-navigate-all-these-issues sort of way.

I’m no scientist. And to be perfectly honest, none of us at BeSababa are going to be much help in mitigating the first of these two stresses. But maybe we can start a conversation about the second, more personal side of sustainability. And maybe in starting this conversation, we can even begin to help solve the larger issue too. Let’s dive in.

If my campus is anything like yours, “sustainability” is a word used in every third sentence.

thought bubbles, sarcasm, sustainability

[ “Oh you HAVE to try this new shampoo, it’s so sustainable.”

“Have you heard about this brand? Everything’s made of sustainable fabrics.”

“Oh, idk if you’ve heard about this, but that company you’re wearing is controlled by a board of directors, one of whom is best friends with another investor who also invests their personal money in fossil fuel corporations and it’s killing polar bears in the Arctic. You really need to think more sustainably.” ]

Well… fuck.

For those of us who aren’t experts, it becomes a feat to simply wade through all these conflicting ideas about what it means to be “sustainable”. And, in my experience, when faced with all these targeted suggestions, the result is rarely positive change. Instead, it’s this type of one-sided dialogue that pushes people away. And now what? Now we’ve lost the whole message. We’ve driven people away from a cause that we all need to be a part of.


The issue is not that people want to contribute, nor is it that people want to encourage others to do the same. The issue lies in the tone: the tendency for these “suggestions” to come across as more critical than constructive.


The confusion begins when all of these suggestions, and all of the opinions attached to them, are all being forced onto someone who doesn’t understand what’s going on – someone who wants to help, but isn’t necessarily ready to renounce all their worldly possessions in order to live “more sustainably”. So, in order to help our readers navigate this confusing landscape of sustainability, we decided to put together our own list of suggestions in an effort to help you identify easy, low-stress ways to incorporate sustainable thinking into your own life. Think of it as a resource to help you identify areas in your own life where you can live more sustainably, without the pressures that come from aggressive, albeit passionate, eco-activists.

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    How to think sustainably when…

    …Buying things:

    1. Buy used –All hail thrift shop culture! Buying used avoids adding new items to the cycle. You’re already spending money on ripped jeans, might as well get ones with real holes.
    2. Use up – Get the most out of the things you buy! Buy high-quality items that will last a long time rather than disposable, replaceable versions.
    3. Repair things – When things break, fix them. Hole in your shirt? Ask your artsy embroidery friend to help you. Try to get things fixed before throwing them out. Some brands even provide free repair services (e.g. Patagonia, Outerknown, Finisterre, and more)
    4. Buy less – This is the goal. Everyone has grown more and more conscious of the ethics involved in their own consumption but, although this is great, the goal should be to change the mindset, not just the products. That’s not to say that we should all own one shirt, one pair of jeans, and walk around barefoot, but it’s always good to be conscious of how many things we own.

    …Getting around:

    1. Walk/bike – It’s amazing how often we drive places when we don’t need to. Invest in a used bike (preferably with brakes). Just walk places. Skateboard. Ride a scooter. Anything!
    2. Public Transit – Ok, so maybe this isn’t a great option at the moment. But under normal circumstances, ride the bus. Take a train. Use one of those little electric scooter things.
    3. Carpool – Find some friends and make them drive you places. Plan to go grocery shopping on the same day. If you need to go to the same place, why pay for double the gas?

    …Eating stuff:

    1. Shop local – Put on your sandals, grab your tote bag, and hit the farmers’ market! Food grown near you means it took less gas to get it there.
    2. No bottled water – Drink tap water. If you go to school in LA like me, buy a Brita.
    3. Limit your meat – More meat = more cows = more cow farts = more methane = bad juju (or something like that). Have a salad.

    …Using energy:

    1. Turn stuff off – It’s that simple. Leaving a room? Turn off the light. Brushing your teeth? Turn off the water. Taking a shower? Don’t leave the water on for the whole album.

    …Throwing stuff away:

    1. Avoid single-use items – Not everything needs its own Ziploc bag. Already using a Ziploc today? Rinse it off and use it again. Even better, use a bag you didn’t buy. Those bags that loaves of bread come in? It’s incredible how well your sandwich will fit in there…
    2. Recycle + Compost – Go outside your door. See that row of cans? Learn which is which. Got it? Now whether it’s a layup, free throw, or a game-winning shot from your dorm window, make sure stuff gets in the right can.

    Oh, and one last thing…



    This list is meant to be a resource for you. It’s meant to save you time and help you manage your busy schedule. Now take some of that time we just saved you, and vote. In fact, this is probably the easiest way to promote sustainability. Please. Vote for social rights. Vote for green initiatives. Vote to protect the environment. Vote for people you believe in. Just do it.

    In sum…

    Living more sustainably is not hard, but when faced with mountains of research and frequent unwanted suggestions, getting started can be overwhelming. We hope this guide has alleviated some of this anxiety and can act as a resource for you by providing easy, low-stress ways for you to incorporate sustainable practices into your daily life.

    Now, to wrap up some thoughts on eco-messaging:

    This goes out to those of you who are already sustainability gurus. You know who you are. This is for all you hemp-wearing, tote bag carrying, crunchy-ass hippies.

    First off, know that in many ways I am one of you. I am passionate about pushing the agenda of sustainability and eco-activism. 

    And if this also sounds like you, I’m sure many of these tips and tricks are not exactly breaking news.

    They’re not supposed to be. In fact, many of you might even be frustrated with me for pushing the idea that these tiny little changes are enough. I know they aren’t. A shortlist of resources won’t ever be enough. 

    But I want to address those of you who feel this way and say this: something is better than nothing

    Not everyone has the time, money, or mental capacity to invest every spare minute into reducing their footprint. And so yes, you’re right, this isn’t really enough. 

    But it is something. And I think it’s important that we focus on bringing people to this cause rather than pushing them away with overwhelming, and potentially shame-inducing, messages surrounding sustainability.

    And if that means starting small, and inspiring some change, I think we need to be ok with that. Not satisfied, but ok. Afterall, to work toward real sustainable solutions will require full participation from everyone. 

    I bring all this up only for the sake of awareness. I don’t want to discredit those of you who are already passionately doing your part. Rather, I simply hope to open a dialogue surrounding sustainability and to shed light on the ways we approach these sorts of conversations.

     We’re all on the same side. We all live on the same planet. And so, when engaging in this dialogue, let’s remember our common ground. 

    For those who consider themselves well versed in these topics, look to guide, not condemn. And for those who are less familiar, look to learn before you reject. 

    By working to break down the barriers present in eco-messaging, we can shift our focus back to our goals. And, perhaps in doing so, we can forget about the buzzword that “sustainability” has become, and instead work together to promote everything it stands for.


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      Spencer Nicholas
      Guest Contributor | + posts

      Hey! My name is Spencer Nicholas. I’m a sophomore at Pitzer College studying Environmental Policy. My free time is spent with good food, great music, and even better friends, preferably all at the top of a mountain.

      Content Creator / Social Media Manager | Website | + posts