Do students care about the environment?
The National Picture
More than 80% of students, surveyed in a new report, believe that sustainable development should be actively promoted and incorporated by UK universities, a belief which increases as they progress through their studies.
Launching on the same day as the landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report finding a 95% certainty of humans’ being the ‘dominant cause’ of global warming, this report is a valuable demonstration of students’ commitment to finding solutions to our environmental problems.
Simon Kemp, Academic Lead for Education for Sustainable Development at the HEA:
“This report clearly shows the importance students are continuing to place on sustainable development, and demonstrates why universities and academics should respond accordingly. Carrying out the survey over three years means we’ve been able to demonstrate students’ expectations and interest in sustainable development through university careers. The fact that interest in sustainable development has increased against the backdrop of the increased tuition fees proves that this is an issue of genuine concern for UK students. We discovered that students want to learn more about it as their studies progress, and that they’re consistently keen for sustainable development to be incorporated into their university and their courses.”
NUS vice president of society and citizenship Dom Anderson:
“This report demonstrates the clear demand for sustainable development among students in the UK, which is one of the core reasons that NUS does so much greening work. Turning students’ unions into hubs of sustainability at the hearts of wider communities isn’t just good for the environment, but also helps students’ education to develop in a more holistic way – and the results of this survey show that students recognise this too. We already see that sustainability is becoming more and more important to employers, and now this report shows that it’s just as important to students too. It’s crucial that we build on this research by supporting universities and colleges to develop greener curriculums.”
Last autumn NUS Services ran a survey and focus groups to help the University understand students’ sustainability attitudes, awareness, expectations and behaviours. The results showed that yes, students care quite a lot about the planet and the University is responding to help them do more.
We found that students are less afraid of change than the bulk of society and seek success and the esteem of others. This is not surprising given that they are in a transition phase in their lives and University is an ideal time for them to begin developing environmentally-friendly habits (such as recycling and buying ethical food with less packaging).
Girls and science students are the greenest
Most respondents felt that they were ‘environmentally-friendly’ in some of their behaviours but half thought that they would be doing more to help the environment in a year’s time, needing guidance and support to do so.
First years were significantly less motivated by feelings of responsibility or to save money than third years and were more motivated by the facilities and services provided by the University. Geography students were significantly more ‘pro’ towards environmental behaviours, followed by other science students such as Chemists and Medics.
32% stated that they did not carry out sustainable behaviours because it is too expensive, whilst over 20% also felt that they did not have time and it was too much hassle. These responses were more common from males.
Many students stated that they rarely bought bottled water on campus or elsewhere with 77% choosing tap water in reusable bottles, whilst 64% of students felt that putting more bins around the outside of the University would help them to recycle more, with 48% requesting clearer signage on and around the bins.
Over 80% of respondents felt that the University should be obliged to develop environmental and social issues whilst 62% supported energy saving initiatives such as switching off part of the library overnight outside of exam time (Geography, Medicine and History being the strongest supporters) and a further 62% supported the idea of £5 of their tuition fees being ring-fenced for a fund for student-led environmental schemes (particularly Biological Scientists, Geographers and Geologists).
Almost 60% of students felt that the University should provide teaching and learning about environmental and social issues with 43% feeling that it should be added to their current course and over 30% being prepared to attend non-compulsory workshops.
The Students’ Union ran a petition during Go Green Week in February to ask the University for more environmental teaching in the curriculum. It received over 600 signatures – a clear message to the University that students want to graduate with an understanding of sustainability issues, regardless of their degree subject.
What we learned
- Students expect the University to provide facilities to enable them to be environmentally-friendly whilst at Uni
- 80% of students believe that the University should be investing in sustainability
Students do not relate to terms such as sustainable or carbon dioxide; they prefer terms such as ‘environmentally-friendly’ or similar calls to action.
- Most students have a concern about the environment and would like to learn more about how they can be more sustainable, both through their studies and through Environment team initiatives. Those that are already taught such issues have a more positive attitude towards sustainable behaviours and believe that learning to be valuable to them.
The University’s response
- From next year, the Sustainable Futures course will be available as an accredited course for Physics and I-Science students and will also be available as an additional module for all other students.
- Estates are currently working on a project to put drinking water taps into bathrooms all over campus
- Spaces on the Sustainability Leicester Award for Employability have been doubled so that up to 50 students can take part in 2013/14
- We have plans to replace many of the litter bins around the academic campus with recycling bins. In addition to this, internal recycling bins with integral ‘point of use’ information have been and will continue to be supplied to the Halls of Residence.
- The University invests annually approx. £200K on small scale energy efficiency projects.
- The University is conducting an energy audit in buildings to identify energy saving opportunities and also trying to understand what are the regulated and unregulated electricity loads in buildings.
- Regulated energy is energy via fixed building services such as heating, cooling, hot water and internal lighting and unregulated energy, e.g. energy via small power equipment/plug loads, servers, external lighting, etc.
- More volunteering opportunities and training on conservation, food-growing, auditing and event management and communications will be available for Environment team volunteers.