Sustainable Lifestyle Tips

Energy Use

As a university with over 16,000 undergraduate students, roughly 5,000 faculty, and about 11,000 staff members, University of Southern California uses copious amounts of energy. Some of that energy is useful to the success of this prestigious university, but the total amount of energy used could be significantly decreased if students, faculty, and staff were educated about and put more effort into efficient energy practices.

Light Bulbs

There are three commonly used lightbulbs in our society:

  • Incandescent lightbulbs – the least energy efficient, and most commonly used These lightbulbs produce a lot of heat, which is inefficient because the energy used to make the heat could be better allocated to just produce light, and not heat. And that is what CFLs fix…
  • Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) – good energy efficiency and starting to get used more often. These light blubs look visually distinctive, as they have a twisty shape.

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) – the newest technology – most upfront cost, but last the longest and use the least amount of energy.

Energy Efficiency and Costs:









Watts of electricity used equivalent to 60 watts

 6-8 watts

13-15 watts

60 watts

Energy used per year (30 incandescent bulbs equivalent)

329 kW

767 kW

3285 kW

Annual Operating Cost (30 incandescent bulbs equivalent)




Environmental Impacts:





Contains Toxic Mercury?




CO2 Emissions (30 of each respective bulb type)

451 lbs/yr

1051 lbs/yr

4500 lbs/yr


Vampire Energy Use

Did you know that even when you aren’t using an electronic, it still pulls energy from the wall?

Most people are unfamiliar with vampire energy, so I will go ahead and break it down for you. When applicances are plugged in, but not on, they can still pull energy out of the socket. For instance, anything that has a red on/off switch or a standby light (like your TV), uses energy to power those things. Even more surprising, your cell phone charger pulls energy from the wall even when your phone isn’t charging, so unplug it each day when you leave. Even though it seems like there is no way that these appliances can really make that big of a different – they actually can! Eliminating vampire energy use would be the equivalent reduction of CO2 emissions as removing 18 million cars off the road (GOOD magazine You Tube film)! In addition to the wasted emissions, vampire energy is currently costing Americans about $4 billion per year (GOOD magazine You Tube film). Want to learn more about how you can save money and reduce energy waste?

Hot Water

Many people overlook the large amount of energy it takes to heat water.  About 80 to 85 percent of the energy used to wash clothes come from heating water (Ottman, etc 28).



Did you know that a strawberry not grown locally travels approximately 1,830 miles to get to your plate? Locally grown strawberries on the other hand, travel only 56 miles. Imagine how much carbon emissions you would save by buying locally grown food! With food, USC students like you can sustain not only themselves but also the rest of the world in the following ways:

Visit USC’s Urban Garden

USC provides an urban garden that allows students to volunteer and maintain the garden weekly on Tuesdays from 3:30 – 4:30 PM and Thursdays from 4:45 – 5:45 PM. Everyone can give back to the local community by going to 3015 Shrine Place). The garden provides all necessary tools, seeds and soil for volunteers. What makes this project sustainable is that no pesticides or chemical pesticides go into growing these vegetables.

Buy Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

What? The South Central Farmers Collaborative reach out to Joint Educational Project to deliver USDA organic-certified produce for USC  students in the Community Supported Agriculture project. Each box is only $20 (or less with the student discount!).

Why? Students receive healthy, organic produce with convenience while supporting the local community. Half of what you pay goes toward the 501c3 SCF Health and Education Fund and is tax-deductible. Discover and try the varieties of season foods farmers pick out for you.

When? Students can place an order by 5pm on Mondays and pick up their own box of fresh, seasonal produce for only $20.

Where? Pick up your very own box of fruits and/or vegetables at The Lot next to GFS and SGM.

How? E-mail or visit to place an order or ask questions.

Stay label-conscious

Get involved with the GE labeling initiative!

A campaign organization called Just Label It is petitioning to get their initiative on the upcoming election’s ballot for the FDA to label all produce if they are genetically engineered (GE) crops. Such crops would also be more defined on exactly what is inserted into their  genetically modified produce more specifically. Genetically modified produce contain specific genes or traits taken from another organism to increase their growth or other traits in some way. Help Just Label It by signing their petition to tell FDA about labeling and informing the public about GE foods.

Students should not only be convinced to make  to more sustainable choices but should also understand what it means to be sustainable. Click here to see what your own food product’s labels really mean. Since there are so many different labels on food products regarding sustainability, here are some common terms you may see on many food labels:

The most common definition of sustainable development according to the Brundtland Commission of the UN is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Thus, when any process related to food is considered sustainable, there are no negative effects or high costs on the environment or anyone else affected. A sustainable supply chain that grows and distributes eggs ensures that workers and the environment involved are not impacted negatively and/or that there is little to no waste produced from the processes. Sustainable practices include maintaining proper, safe working conditions as well as treatment of chickens in this situation.

Organic foods involve the product, producer and farmer meeting USDA standards. A USDA-approved certifying agency ensures that organic foods were grown without synthetic ferilizers, chemicals, sludge and are not genetically modified or irradiated (exposed to radiation to kill microorganisms). The feed for livestock raised for food must also be organic and not treated with any hormones or antibiotics. Animals also need access to outdoors and/or a pasture.

Cage-Free: Usually applies to egg-laying chicken conditions in which they are not confined to cages. However, this does not address the problem of still being confined indoors in a crowded location. The best option would be to look for pasture-Raised or pastured lables.

Grass-Fed: “Animals graze on pasture and eat grasses. They should not be supplemented with grain, animal by-products, synthetic hormones, or be given antibiotics to promote growth or prevent disease (though they might be given antibiotics to treat disease). This is the same as pastured or pasture raised.

Natural: There is no consistent definition for “natural” foods. USDA defines it as foods that underwent little to no processing and contain no artificial ingredients or preservatives. Natural foods are not always sustainable, organic, humane, hormone-free or antibiotic-free.

Pesticides: Did you know that approximately 1-5 million farmers suffer from pesticide poisoning every year? Chemicals used to eliminate pests such as cockroaches, lice, rodents and more can be harmful to consumers and the environment, especially if they are synthetic. They can be sprayed on the produce that people consume or on grains that livestock consume. In the end, humans are affected by these pesticides, as they are possible causes of cancer. Farmers that do not use pesticides have alternatives such as crop rotation . The best way for students to avoid them is by purchasing organic food with the USDA certified organic label on foods.

Hormone-free:  This means that the animals were raised for food were not given any added growth hormones. However, hogs and poultry are already prohibited from being given hormones by law in the US, so this label is meaningless. As for other meats, check your labels or ask your farmer/butcher whether or not they use hormones.

Venture local farmers markets: To find a greater variety of fresh, locally grown and/or organic produce, checking out the

local farmers markets would be the best solution. USC has its very own weekly farmer’s maket on University Avenue with local vendors selling not just produce but also prepared foods. They are open every Tuesday. We have also been compiling a list of farmer’s markets around the Greater LA area that are open on different days of the week.



USC has implemented a number of on-campus recycling programs, and we have partnered with Athens Services to improve our diversion rate of recyclables from the landfills. One of the major challenges that we face lies in educating students and staff about the materials that constitute “recyclables.” This page highlights measures USC has taken to promote recycling around campus, and it also suggests actions that students may take to live more sustainably.

Athens Services: Costs and Values of Education

You’ll notice blue recycling bins in dorms and classrooms all over campus. These bins are for everything from plastic and glass bottles to paper and cardboard products.  All of this is properly sorted by housekeeping staff before being shipped off to Athens.  Athens will then package each type of recyclable accordingly and sell it to China for remanufacturing.

In case we don’t separate our trash properly (or just can’t find a recycling bin), our trash is further sorted by Athens employees at the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). While this service increases the amount of recyclables diverted from landfills, it reduces the number of recycling bins around campus.


USC has big white metal trailers located around campus near dining halls and the bookstore to collect cardboard. We also have our own baler that readies the cardboard for shipment.  Athens buys our cardboard back at roughly $60 per ton.