Lehigh University has become one of the first 200 universities globally to launch the Little Book of Green Nudges program, in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme.

The initiative aims to develop sustainable and eco-friendly habits in college students, as undergraduate universities are “ideal places for instilling the pro-environmental values needed to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”  

In Lehigh’s implementation of the Green Nudges program, it is specifically aiming to make sustainable options more prominent for the Lehigh community. While the pandemic may limit opportunities for students to develop sustainable habits, it has not changed the on-campus student’s need to access dining halls. Thus, the Office of Sustainability is partnering with Lehigh Dining to promote the Eco Container Program.

Beginning in Spring 2021, every student with a meal plan was automatically enrolled in the Eco Container Program, in which every student was given a reusable clamshell take-out container that they are to return to the dining hall to be sanitized upon their next meal.

Audrey McSain, Sustainability Program Manager in the Office of Sustainability, noted that the implementation of this program during the COVID-19 pandemic is a progressive move, as many universities across the country have shifted back to single-use containers. Additionally, given that the majority of students allowed to live on campus this year are first-years, McSain is optimistic that these students will be accustomed to the usage of these reusable containers in the future, thus instilling sustainable habits.

Implementation of the UNEP’s Green Nudges Program is just one of an extensive series of major steps taken by the university to achieve sustainability. During the 2020-2021 academic year, Lehigh’s Sustainability Strategic Plan 2030 was released, the development of the Climate Action Strategy was initiated, and the university won the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Eduction’s 2020 Campus Sustainability Award for the university’s solar power purchasing collective. Lehigh will additionally be submitting a case study on the Eco Container Program to the Zero Waste Competition at the end of the 2020-2021 academic school year.

The implementation of the Eco Container Program, as part of the UNEP’s Green Nudges initiative, will create sustainable habits in students while reducing the amount of waste generated from single-use disposable items, according to McSain.