How to save the planet: Small changes you can make for a big impact

The College of St. Scholastica By  The College of St. Scholastica  |  @StScholastica  | 

A group of students sitting on the lawn near the college

How to save the planet: Small changes you can make for a big impact

Does this sound familiar? You’re concerned about the environment and would like to reduce your carbon footprint, but you don’t know where to start. You know your limits: maybe you aren’t the type of person who eventually hopes to live off the grid, growing your own vegetables in a solar-powered adobe hut somewhere deep in the wilderness. Instead, you’re in search of sustainable, realistic changes you can make in your everyday life that will have a real impact. Sound good? Keep reading!

How to cut your carbon emissions

The nonprofit organization Carbon Fund, which facilitates carbon offsets and works to raise awareness about climate change, offers some eye-opening statistics. For instance, did you know that the average American’s carbon footprint is 50,000 pounds a year? This offers lots of room for improvement! Read on for a few specifics from Carbon Fund on how you can reduce your energy consumption in your car, at home and while shopping.

Eco-friendly driving

You can save a whopping ton of CO2 each year through simple adjustments to your driving habits. Maintain the speed limit and drive at a consistent speed, accelerating slowly and smoothly. Keep your car’s maintenance up-to-date through regular tune-ups, and make sure your tires are properly inflated. Or, reduce your dependence on your car altogether by carpooling, using public transit, biking or walking to your destination.

Consume energy wisely at home

Make your home more energy efficient by using compact fluorescent light bulbs or LED light bulbs. Both use far less energy than a regular incandescent bulb. Be sure to turn off lights and electronics when they’re not in use; consider that some items even consume energy when they’re turned off. You might want to unplug them if they are going unused for long periods. Shopping for something new? Look for efficient ENERGY STAR appliances and electronics. If you’re able to do maintenance at your residence, think about installing a programmable thermostat and adding insulation, weatherstripping and caulking to reduce drafts and save energy.

Smart, sustainable shopping

We also have opportunities to reduce our carbon footprints by taking a close look at the goods we buy and the food we consume. Buy locally as much as possible to reduce emissions associated with shipping and packaging. Reduce your meat intake; vegetarians save about 3,000 pounds of CO2 a year compared to meat eaters. Cut your junk mail intake by visiting a website like ecocycle.org, which helps people remove their names from mailing lists.

How to recycle correctly

Also, be sure that you’re up-to-date on best practices in recycling! Waste Management, Inc. has recently released new guidelines to optimize the amount of goods recycled.

According to Waste Management, recyclable items include:

  • Plastic bottles and containers
  • Food and beverage cans and cartons
  • Flattened cardboard and paperboard
  • Mixed paper
  • Glass bottles and containers

The following items should not be recycled:

  • Food waste
  • Plastic bags and film
  • Foam cups and containers
  • Needles and other medical waste
  • Bagged recyclables

To address the problem of contaminated recycling, all recyclables - including plastic bottles, glass, cans, paper and cardboard - must be cleaned of any food particles or liquid. Recyclables should not be bagged. If these guidelines are not followed, entire loads can become contaminated, becoming trash. For more recycling tips, visit earth911.com.

How to find a career in sustainability

Are you interested in making a career out of helping the environment? Whatever your specific area of interest, there might be a role for you. Governments, corporations, religious institutions, academic institutions, non-profit organizations, hospitals, etc. are all incorporating principles of sustainability into their everyday practices. Check websites like sustainabilityleads.com or greenjobs.net for examples of environmentally minded positions. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects strong job growth in sustainability and conservation-related jobs.

Sustainability at St. Scholastica

At The College of St. Scholastica, sustainability has been a priority throughout our 108-year history. In fact, stewardship, the wise use of resources, is one of our foundational Benedictine values. Our contemporary expressions of this value include new academic offerings and a more intentional campus-wide focus.

Studying sustainability

St. Scholastica has launched a new major specifically for students interested in these issues, especially as they relate to social justice: Sustainability Studies and the Environment. This interdisciplinary program focuses on the three E’s of sustainability: environment, economy, and equity. Students can choose between two tracks: Environment and Behavioral Change, or Public Policy, Community Action and Advocacy.

Stewardship around campus

Beyond the academic major, St. Scholastica’s campus, which is on a wooded hillside overlooking beautiful Lake Superior, places a focus on sustainability in student activities.

The student-led Earth Action Club aims to create awareness and sustainable practices on campus and in the surrounding community. Some of its goals include reducing the use of single-use plastics on campus, raising awareness about energy consumption on campus, and promoting sustainable living ideas.

St. Scholastica is working to make sustainability a part of the entire College curriculum across all majors. It has been awarded a grant of $425,000 from Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies. The grant established the Sustainability TREE (Teaching Responsibility and Educating for Engagement) initiative, with a goal of making the College a regional hub for educating future leaders who are prepared to advocate for sustainable practices.

In the spring of 2019, the College hired Ryan Ihrke for a new position: facilitator and instructor in sustainability. He offers professional development training for faculty on how to integrate sustainability into their classrooms. He has started a Sustainability Advisory Council made up of students, faculty, staff, Sisters of St. Scholastica Monastery, and people from the community.

In essence, sustainability is promoting good stewardship of the environment and resources to ensure the needs of future generations are met. Whether you are interested in pursuing a career that focuses on this specifically or are just looking for ways to be a better steward in your everyday life, there are plenty of ways to get involved and make a difference!

The College of St. Scholastica


The College of St. Scholastica is an independent private Catholic Benedictine college with locations across Minnesota, in addition to many high-quality programs available online and through convenient evening and weekend formats. Since 1912, St. Scholastica has been preparing students for a life of purpose and economic gain by engaging students in the love of learning and active citizenship in the world. Our mission is to provide intellectual and moral preparation for responsible living and meaningful work. 

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