Sustainable Living Guide
This guide is designed to support students at the University of Oxford live in a sustainable way, and thus contribute to climate justice. Climate justice can be achieved through limiting warming to safe levels whilst recognising that those who have contributed least to this crisis will be impacted first and foremost. Whilst individual level action will have to play a part in reducing emissions, it is key to bear in mind that we also need systemic, wider level change. We thus encourage you to use this guide to do as much as you can to live sustainably, whilst also getting involved in wider movements if possible (see our Get involved page!). We also recognise that people’s abilities to carry out some of these sustainable actions will vary, and if there’s anything we can do to make this guide more accessible, please do let us know.
This guide is also evolving rather than fixed, so if you have any suggestions for what should be added/changed please do email me at email@example.com
This guide includes tips on:
In the UK, homes account for 40% of the total emission hence it is very important for you to keep an eye on your energy consumptions and lower it as much as possible, which also saves money!
Considering the rise in cost of living, here are some well needed tips to save energy/money.
Turning thermostat/ radiator down – if you’re only wearing light clothing, put on a jumper and see if you can be comfortable with a less heating. If you’re still cold, try our other tips as it’s important to stay warm! Also remember to only heat rooms you are using.
Whenever possible use Eco Setting on your appliances such as water heaters, dish washers and washing machines. The setting does not affect the outcome but only conserves energy by heating water slowly using less energy
Don’t leave your devices on standby. Devices on standby still consume some of the energy so it is better to shut your computer whenever you are not using it.
Switch off you lights – an obvious one which is often easy to forget! If you have communal spaces this isn’t happening in, perhaps put up a sign or sticker to remind people.
Switch to LED bulbs which are far more efficient than traditional bulbs, and if you're in college accomodation ask if your college can do this.
Close your curtains at night – this will keep the heat in!
Switch off your appliances at the wall. Devices connected directly to the socket such as TVs continue to consume energy unless switched off at the wall.
While making tea make sure to add only as much water in the kettle as you will be needing. Filing the kettle up to the brim takes more time and consumes more energy to warm the water.
Save water whenever you can – this includes but is not limited to taking shorter showers, using dishwashers and washing machines for full loads only, and turning off your tap while brushing and shaving.
If you are living in private accommodation, Oxford City Council also has Energy saving grants and offers you can access here.
On energy saving, as well as individual behaviour change, we also really need the buildings we live in to be decarbonised. Since many students live in college accommodation, it’s important your college is making an effort to do this. Check out our What should my college be doing? page to find out more.
Eating more plant-based
An important way you can reduce your carbon footprint is through eating more plant-based foods, reducing your meat and dairy consumption. Although not everyone can go fully vegetarian or vegan, even swapping a few meals a week or changing things where you can will make a difference.
Swapping out dairy: Swapping out dairy for plant-based alternatives is one option. Research has shown that dairy milk requires a lot more water, land-use, and results in more greenhouse gas emissions than plant-based milk. Whilst different plant-based milks sometimes have their own environmental drawback, overall, research suggests they are more environmentally friendly than dairy milk, with oat milk performing particularly well.
Reducing meat consumption: As the recent IPCC report highlighted, having a more plant-based diet with less meat results in lower greenhouse gas emissions. Some meats have a higher footprint than others, with beef having the largest footprint so reducing your beef consumption is a great place to start!
If you think your college isn’t providing enough sustainable food options, talk to your E&E rep and they may be able to talk to college about improving the options available.
Another way to reduce the environmental impact of your food consumption is through reducing the amount of packaging you use. You could do this through:
Bringing your own mesh bags to buy fruit and veg in (supermarkets often sell these now near the fruit and veg)
Using a reusable water bottle and reusable coffee cup. Try taking reusable cutlery and tupperware if you’re popping out for lunch!
Going to a shop which sells food in bulk, and taking your own containers. Shops in Oxford which do this include:
There’s also a number of markets which have lots of fresh, unpackaged produce so check out the council’s list here to find out more.
Reducing Food Waste
Food waste contributes significantly to climate change, with a study showing that in 2018, food waste in the UK represented 25 million tons of GHG emissions, and was valued at over £19 billion per year. Reducing food waste can therefore both save you money and reduce your environmental footprint.
If you have got food that needs to be disposed of, make sure you put it in a food waste bin, since this avoids it going to landfill where it would otherwise produce methane emissions.
Another great way to reduce food waste is by getting and giving food which would otherwise be wasted. There are apps which help you do this including:
OLIO, an app connecting neighbours to share food which will go off soon
Too Good To Go, an app which lets businesses list food and sell it at discounts to avoid food waste
Grow your own
Although Oxford University is often very busy with students having limited time, one way you may want to relax is through joining other students in growing your own food. This can have mental and physical health benefits, as well as connecting you to the food that you eat. Some colleges have their own community spaces to grow your own food – if you’re not sure whether yours has one, then reach out to your Environment and Ethics rep who should have more information!
Shifting consumption habits
Buying second hand
Buying second hand is a key way you can live more sustainably, and in Oxford there are many ways you can do this! These tips might be especially helpful when you’re looking for things to put in a room you’ve recently moved in to.
Charity Shops: In Oxford there are many charity shops, which have a range of clothes and homeware items! It’s easiest to find these by using a maps app. Outside the centre in Temple Cowley, there’s an Oxfam Superstore, as well as many charity shops in the Templars Square shopping centre – these can be reached by a cycle or bus up Cowley Road!
Buying secondhand online: If you’re looking for something specific, it can be useful to use online shops where other users can buy and sell different items. These include Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree and Ebay.
Swapping with your friends and neighbours
A great way to reduce your environmental impact is through borrowing and sharing things rather than buying them for yourself. You could do this with the friends you know – swapping outfits you wear to formals, and sharing appliances so you don’t all have to own them!
There are also a few ways you can swap with people beyond your close circle such as:
Joining facebook groups set up for this. In 2021-22, a student-led group ‘Let’s share our clothes’ was hugely popular in enabling students to swap ball outfits, saving money and the environment. Look out for these and you may well find your ball fit can be pre-loved and just as glamorous.
Using apps - OLIO has introduced a function for sharing items between neighbours. You might find you don’t have to splash out to use an item – instead you can just borrow and share!
Using the local ‘library of things’ organised by Share Oxford, who enable people to borrow items.
If you think it would be more helpful to have a college-based library of things (perhaps for items such as blow up mattresses, baking equipment, a toolbox, birthday banner etc) – why not try set one up? Your E&E rep may be able to help you!
Repairing the things you already have
Another tip is to make an effort to repair the items you already have. Increasingly, there are repair workshops where people who know how to repair different items (e.g. clothes, bikes, electrical applainces etc) will help you! This is a great way to connect with the community and learn how to look after the things we have. Check out Share Oxford, which runs free repair cafes!
Who you bank with
Many major banks continue to be fossil fuel funders, with the biggest 60 banks having provided $3.8tn of financing for fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal in 2015. One way in which you can protest this financing is through switching your bank provider to a bank which does not provide fossil fuel financing, and joining this wider campaign. You could also campaign for your college or other organisations you are involved in to lobby their bank to stop financing fossil fuels, and switch to a more ethical bank. You can find out more about the campaign and the different banks here and here.
Waste and Recycling
Recycling is an essential part of the solution. The more we recycle the less garbage ends up in our landfills. It also saves the production cost and energy while reducing the negative impacts of the extracting raw materials. Oxford City Council has its own guide that you can access here to see methods to deal with different items and the location of recycling points within the city.
Within the university you will find many points for recycling your items. Many of the suppliers that the university works with takes back their packaging and recyclable waste. You check the list of university’s preferrable suppliers here. Colleges has their own recycling policies as well; you can contact your E&E Reps to know more about that.
In your college, you should have access to bins for recyclable, non-recyclable and food waste. If you don’t, or the bins aren’t clearly labelled, or you’re not sure what can go in each, reach out to your college Environment rep as they may be able to ask college to provide students with more information.
Here are some of the tips you might need to know before recycling in your room:
Always clean any food residue from the plastic containers. The cleaner the item is the easier it would be to recycle it into high quality items
If you’re not sure if the item is recyclable (and you can’t find it on this A-Z Guide ), leave it out. One non-recyclable item chucked in with the recyclable ones can risk ruining a whole batch. This is because non-recyclable items pose a threat to damaging the machinery at the recovery plants.
While most types of plastics are recyclable – some of them are not! Make sure to check the item for a recyclable icon. You can take single use/soft plastic (such as crisp packets, bread bags and fruit/vegetable packaging) to your nearest Tesco for them to recycle those.
This sign does not mean that the item is recyclable, it just means that the producer contributes financially towards recycling. Have a look at the recycling symbols and what they mean here
To know more about what you can/cannot recycle have a look at this A-Z Guide.
Emissions from transport make up one-fifth of the total global emissions, making it an important part of the living sustainably discussion. Where possible, try to avoid car travel and go for cycling, walking or public transport.
Travel in Oxford
Whenever you’re travelling within oxford try and avoid using your car. There are many modes of transport that you can access easily around the city such as:
Cycling is a very popular mode of transport in Oxford, and is a great way to get around quickly and sustainably. It’s really important to stay safe whilst cycling, and the SU is working closely with the University to try to make cycling safer.
It’s really important to have a front white light and a back red light – you can buy discounted rechargeable ones here. It’s also important to wear a helmet, and the University is offering a £10 discounts on helmets with information of where you can buy them here.
Check out a detailed guide for tips to make you safe here, and get free in-person training available to all students and staff - information here.
The SU also runs ‘Bike Doctors’ three times every term, where you can get a free check over of your bike to make sure it’s in safe and working order. When the dates are fixed, Bike Doctors gets listed on our events page. Make sure to get there early as the mechanic often gets fully booked!
Trains and Busses
Oxford has two train station namely, Oxford Parkway (North of the Oxford) and Oxford Rail Station (0.7 miles away from the City Centre). You can travel between these two stations and other cities using train companies such as GWR, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry and many others.
Any students (including if you are over 25) can also get a railcard, which is likely to save you money if you get the train regularly.
Oxford City Council also has some useful information on train and bus routes here.
Long Distance Travel:
We have lots of students who come to Oxford from different parts of the world, and long distance travel is therefore often necessary. When it comes to sustainability considerations, it’s important to reduce your air travel as much as possible, whilst also acknowledging that not everyone will have the same capacity to do so. Check out this BBC article here which has a useful graph of the emissions per km for different modes of transport.
If you’re taking a short-haul flight, it may be possible to take the train instead, with guides such as Man at Seat 61 useful for working out routes. It also can be cheaper to look at interrail tickets if you’re taking a longer journey by train.
In terms of business travel, the University has made a travel policy to try to reduce the amount of flying, but this policy does not impact students flying to and from their homes.