Sustainable Living in Trinity Accommodation

by Ellen Duggan

As we fall into another Michaelmas term, many of us are returning to student accommodation for the first time since May – and some of us are entering it for the first time. Between the difficulties that moving brings and the beginning of the academic year, the challenge of living sustainably in often poorly designed accommodation is the last thing on the minds of even the most environmentally-conscientious among us. Dodgy heating, flatmates who refuse to recycle… and what about those of us living in Trinity accommodation? The college prides itself on its sustainability initiatives, from the TCD Green Labs scheme to the array of environmental societies and programs students can get involved with- but just how easy is it to live sustainably on campus and in Trinity Hall?

A big part of the problem is with modern lifestyles emphasising convenience over conservation, students, who are often short on both time and money, tend to gravitate towards cheaper and more easily available goods and services. Takeaways wrapped in layers of plastic bags, disposable coffee cups and cutlery while getting food on the go between classes, deliveries from fast fashion brands such as Shein and PrettyLittleThing in order to have an endless supply of outfits for nights out results in a lot of waste and an increased carbon footprint. While Trinity may promote more sustainable options (e.g. selling KeepCups in the SU shop and offering discounts for their usage), there will always be those who will understandably reach for what is readily available instead, such as the disposable cups available in every shop and café on campus. 

Even students who do their best to live sustainably can find their efforts thwarted. While recycling and waste management form a large part of Trinity’s environmental commitments, it is thought that up to 40% of recycling on campus alone is contaminated. Asking students to be individually responsible as a part of environmental efforts is all very well and good, but when those individual efforts are so easily undone by others, many students may find themselves frustrated and less willing to try. While individual efforts to curb consumption and wastage are necessary, it is far more important to implement systemic change among businesses selling non-recyclable and unsustainable products in order to see greater impacts to undo the climate crisis nationally and internationally. 

“From 2006-2021 Trinity achieved a 35.9% improvement in energy efficiency thanks to projects undertaken by Trinity’s Estates and Facilities team”

For those lucky enough to be living on Trinity’s historic campus, there are plenty of opportunities to live more sustainably, as well as amenities which support this. From 2006-2021 Trinity achieved a 35.9% improvement in energy efficiency thanks to projects undertaken by Trinity’s Estates and Facilities team. Projects completed this year include the development of a low carbon Fabric Retrofit strategy for the Rubrics building to improve thermal efficiency (but within reason, to avoid jeopardising material stability or the building’s historic character), a planned ventilation upgrade for the Berkeley library and the continuation of transitioning from fossil fuel to electric machinery for landscaping on campus. Sustainable Procurement, a term used to describe ‘consciously purchasing products and services that are produced in a socially responsible way’ according to the Trinity Green Pages, remains a priority along with reducing overall consumption. 

Being in the centre of Dublin means campus is ideal in terms of access to public transport, but for those interested in cycling, the Dublin Bikes rental scheme is located at the Science Gallery, Nassau Street, as well as a variety of other locations around the city. There are also secure bicycle parking racks by Botany Bay, the Hamilton, the Sports Hall, and elsewhere on campus for students bringing bikes from home. Online sustainability handbooks created by the college contain guides and maps to sustainable facilities around campus, such as Green Maps (available as Google MyMaps links on Trinity Green Pages ‘Know your Campus’ https://www.tcd.ie/provost/sustainability/resources/knowyourcampus/) of waste disposal facilities, public transport options and water-saving projects for students looking to mitigate their individual impact, and get familiar with infrastructure around Trinity and Dublin City. For those looking to get even more involved, societies such as Enviro Soc, Bot Soc and Vegan Soc, and the Green Campus Committee are great ways to find out more about active sustainability projects on campus and to meet other students who are passionate about the environment. 

While a lot of sustainability initatives on campus are also relevant to those living in Halls, there are also some a little closer to home. The Green Halls Committee organises environmental events throughout the year and particularly during Green Week, with successes last year such as the second annual swap shop and an urban gardening workshop. Alli Dixon, the incoming Trinity Hall JCR secretary shared her hopes for the environmental committee this year; 

   “I hope to fully integrate sustainability as the standard for all JCR events and have all subcommittees work together as a team to ensure the most involvement in all aspects of our events. I would love to expand the Halls swap shop into an online formal for halls residents for the second semester to loan and rent formalwear, as [college] balls place huge burdens on students to spend money they may not have and turn to fast fashion to find affordable pieces. Additionally, I would like to do a holiday swap shop so residents could pick up Christmas gifts for their family and friends with less strain on the environment and their wallets.”

Regarding policies she hopes to implement to make JCR events more sustainable, Dixon says the JCR want to focus on events that engage residents directly in saving energy, as well as ones which inspire unity in a community reaching a common goal, as opposed to focusing on individual efforts. “One idea the committee has thought about is regular Halls-wide blackouts, where houses compete to see who can save the most energy over a night… also fun events like Dartry park clean ups, especially in collaboration with other JCR subcommittees such as Ents, Sports and International.”

While trying to live sustainably in student accommodation may come across as a daunting task, and there is certainly room for improvement in Trinity’s approach, it is very much possible, with a range of amenities and opportunities provided by the college which students can take advantage of.

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