skip to Main Content

Looking Back at My Sustainable Student Journey

Looking Back At My Sustainable Student Journey

This month, I officially finished my bachelor’s. In these last few weeks, I’ve been looking back on my journey as a student, as well as my sustainability journey. In this article, I want to share the four important lessons I’ve learned during my degree. 

Lesson 1: Learn about sustainability and intersectionality

The first lesson for me was learning about sustainability and intersectionality. I wanted to know why it was so hard for others to be more sustainable? My knowledge on intersectionality was there, but limited.

By understanding intersectionality, I understood that environmental challenges disproportionately affect marginalized communities. Marginalized communities often face additional barriers, such as economic disparities, discrimination, and limited access to resources, making matters worse.

Not every lifestyle is feasible for everyone and we need to find solutions that support a variety of people. Not everyone is able to switch to a vegan lifestyle, for example, for a multitude of reasons. To be more sustainable, we need to take intersectionality into account during decision-making.

My advice to learn more about intersectionality and sustainability, are:

  • Read about the ‘poor people pay more’ concept
  • Read books and watch videos on sustainability and intersectionality. You can find a few books that changed my sustainability journey here.

Lesson 2: Incorporate sustainability slowly instead of all-at-once

As I was studying finance, I often tried to find efficient ways to save money. For me, saving money and sustainability worked great together. If you are able to incorporate and invest in a sustainable lifestyle, you can save money in the long run. A prime example of saving money in the long run would be cotton pads: if you invest in reusable cotton pads that you can wash and reuse, you’ll never have to buy disposable cotton pads ever again. 

Incorporating sustainability is almost the same thing as riding a bike. I would be very surprised if you, without any help or prior training, could step on a bike and safely make your way through Amsterdam. When I just started university, I was mindful of the stuff I owned, but I wouldn’t call myself sustainable. Now, I am more conscious of what I buy and the changes I can make.

You’ll often see ‘zero-waste’ or ‘plastic-free’ lifestyles and inspirations, and even though the mindset is great, it is not feasible to incorporate a new lifestyle within a day. Nor would it be sustainable to throw out everything you own and start with a fresh ‘plastic-free’ lifestyle. Not every lifestyle is feasible for everyone, so try finding something that works for you.

Before you start buying everything with a green credential: stop! Samir has an informative article on why not everything with a credential might be the right option. Most of my savings regarding sustainability have actually come from asking myself: “Do I really need this?”. More often, I could make use of something I already had.

My advice would be: try to be as sustainable as you can with the stuff you already own. Try to challenge yourself how long you can make a product last. When it’s finally time to replace the product, look for sustainable or local products. Carmen has written articles on how to make certain areas of your home more sustainable, inspire yourself by her latest article here.

Additionally, look into the incentives the government (local and country-broad) has for incorporating sustainability into your home. Whereas you might think this only counts for big purchases (such as solar panels), think again! In some areas you can get financial support when purchasing products like LED-lights and self-adhesive weatherstrips. By incorporating sustainability, you’re not just making a positive impact on the planet – you’re also nurturing a healthier and wealthier future for yourself and your community. Now that’s what I call a win-win!

To conclude this lesson, I want to emphasize that shaming yourself or others into being sustainable does not work. Try making the experience as fun and motivating as possible. It will make the transition to a more sustainable lifestyle much smoother.

Lesson 3: Personal and global sustainability are not the same

There’s quite a difference between personal sustainability and global sustainability, yet they are connected.

With personal sustainability, we can make a huge difference by being mindful consumers. Every purchase we make is an opportunity to support environmentally responsible companies and avoid products with high carbon footprints. It might be hard to grasp, as the results of our consumerism might take longer to see, but it is good to realize that as consumers, we hold the power to influence industries and drive them towards more sustainable practices. 

However, individuals (and organizations) are not perfect and we cannot expect them to be. Embracing sustainability is about progress, not perfection, and every positive step we take contributes to the greater goal of securing a sustainable future for our planet.

The global sustainability challenge involves not only individual actions but also systemic changes. We need collective efforts and global policy changes to deal with the current situation. As an individual, these policy changes and collective efforts might feel out of your control. In my next lesson, I will tell you how I coped with that feeling.

Lesson 4: Coping with what you can’t control

As I became more aware about climate change, I started freaking out. I wanted to change the world, but how? Even though my lifestyle was more sustainable than ever before, climate change was (and is) only getting worse.

Coping with what you can’t control about sustainability and climate change is essential for maintaining mental well-being and taking meaningful action. While individual efforts are important, the scale of the crises can be overwhelming.

First of all, I want to let you know that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed, sad or angry about the situation. Second of all, there are things you can do to feel more in control about the situation, such as:

  • Donating your time or money to organizations that can change the narrative. I wrote an article about sustainable volunteer work here. These organizations often have the expertise and resources to implement impactful initiatives and advocate for policy changes on a broader scale.
  • Engage in local politics and write letters to your representatives. These people are able to make a difference and you should let them know what is important to you.
  • Vote
  • Reading about eco-anxiety. There are plenty of resources to help you and can make you feel less alone.
  • Talk to your friends and family: how do they deal with it all? Even if there is no solution, it can help finding comfort with others.

For me, I started to cope by doing volunteer work. With volunteer work, I started meeting like-minded people with whom I could talk about my frustrations and make a difference. Additionally, reading the book ‘The Carbon Almanac’ made me understand how my individual actions made an impact and changed the way I contributed to the climate conversation.


Looking back, I have grown a lot in the past few years. I’ve accepted the fact there is not one perfect way to live sustainably and I am prone to making mistakes. However, I try to make conscious decisions with the knowledge I have today. I am eager to improve myself and cannot wait for what the future holds.

If you could give your past-self one piece of advice on sustainability, what would it be? Let me know in the comments!

Geef een reactie

Het e-mailadres wordt niet gepubliceerd. Vereiste velden zijn gemarkeerd met *

Back To Top