Most college students are a part of Gen Z, one of the most eco-conscious generations yet. More than 80 percent of Gen Z is willing to pay up to 10 percent more for sustainable products, according to a November 2021 study by First Insight, a digital testing platform.
However, popular eco-friendly products tend to cost more than standard options. Conventional deodorant and toothpaste cost $3.90 and $5.50 respectively compared to $7.00 and $9.95 for eco-friendly alternatives. There’s a roughly 713 percent difference between the prices of conventional clothing and eco-friendly clothing, The Minimalist Vegan reported.
Gen Z’s willingness to spend more on eco-friendly products may not be sustainable for their wallets, as many students have a limited budget. One in five college students has less than $100 in the bank, according to a 2022 poll by Study Finds.
While students should continue doing what they can to live sustainably, they shouldn’t forfeit their financial security to pursue a perfectly green lifestyle nor should they feel guilty for doing so.
“From the beginning of my freshman year to now, I’ve only been hanging off of money from my savings and money that my family gives me to buy my necessities,” said Lorena Garcia, a sophomore psychology major. “Typically the eco-friendly stuff are the things that I can’t really afford.”
Reducing climate impact is not limited to buying eco-friendly products, and there are alternatives that allow students to be sustainable without overspending.
To minimize their carbon footprint on a budget, students can replace single-use plastics with reusable products, like water bottles and containers, and Uber with public transportation to help reduce pollution emitted by cars. Both options can help save money and the planet.
Shopping locally is another low-cost, sustainable habit. Students can participate in Temple’s EcoRep excursions, which visit affordable farmers’ markets. They can also visit the Temple Community Garden on North Carlisle and Diamond Streets to learn how to grow and consume organic vegetables.
Still, it is almost impossible to always be green, especially in college, as many aspects of daily life include wasteful product consumption that may not always be avoidable.
Varasiddhi Vinay, president of Thrift and Flop, a repurposed fashion club at Temple, believes students should try their best to be sustainable, but shouldn’t feel guilty for not being able to fully commit to the lifestyle.
“A lot of people don’t have the privilege to have extra financial support,” said Vinay, a junior speech language and hearing science major. “They need to buy their school supplies for themselves, so having this eco or sustainable lifestyle is not attainable for everybody.”
While some social media influencers may promote fast fashion, others may shame people for participating in environmentally harmful trends, but this is counterproductive as the blame should be placed on the companies producing it, The Inside Climate News reported.
As a result, students frequently feel guilty about not always being sustainable, but resources are available to support students navigate these emotions. Temple’s Office of Sustainability partners with the Wellness Resource Center to host Climate Cafes, which provide a space for students to share their feelings about environmental and climate change, often including guilt.
“Guilt is not something that I ever want to inspire within my role at Temple,” said Caroline Burkholder, senior sustainability manager. “A whole, hugely important part of the environmental justice movement is understanding that [people] are forced into unsustainable choices based on structural inequities.”
The reality is most students are more capable of spending a few dollars on a mass-produced shirt than upwards of 40 dollars on a similar, sustainably made shirt. Even if students feel the need to buy unsustainable products occasionally, they can still use them sustainably.
“If you’re just buying a shirt every once in a while, there’s nothing wrong with it,” Vinay said. “Especially if you’re gonna buy it and use it for several years, that’s also very sustainable.”
Additionally, shopping for clothing second-hand can help students cost-effectively and sustainably build their dream wardrobes.
Students can shop at local Philadelphia thrift stores, like Philly Aids Thrift, The Wardrobe and Goodwill. On campus, the Office of Sustainability will be hosting thrift pop-up events with all items under $10 at the Bell Tower on Oct. 11 and 18.
If students can’t reach their sustainability goals in college, they can still plan to decrease their consumption of non-sustainable products in the future, when their finances are hopefully more stable.
“I’m doing what I can, but that just doesn’t really include buying the sustainable things as of right now,” Garcia said. “In the future, then I definitely will make that a priority.”
Students can begin or continue their budget-friendly sustainability journey on campus by accessing the Office of Sustainability’s Green Living page, which provides local resources and a 10-step resource toolkit on how to live sustainably. Some of its suggestions include conserving water, using power strips and minimizing food waste, all money and energy saving habits.
Attempting to live sustainably is admirable, and should be a priority, but it is okay to stick to a budget. Students should focus on being sustainable within their financial means, and accessing Temple and Philadelphia resources is a great way to start.