How can universities make study more sustainable?

Zenith UK talks about the sustainability findings in the latest Natwest Student Living Index.

The 2019 NatWest Student Living Index shows that just 1 in 5 students rate their university campus as ‘very committed’ to promoting sustainability. This is a worrying stat. Not just because university-age students tend to be highly-engaged with this issue, but also because they will be forced to live with the consequences of inaction.

So, how can universities do more to promote sustainability and give students an eco-friendly space to study?

They need to do three key things:

  • Invest
  • Educate
  • Inspire

Investing in sustainability
There’s no point educating students on the need to live sustainability if universities aren’t prepared to invest in making campuses more sustainable.
Big ticket items like making the campus carbon neutral or investing in renewable energy are important, but only if they are matched by smaller, less glamorous initiatives.

Does the campus still use paper handouts? Are there water refill points scattered throughout the university? Are new students given a pack that makes sustainable study affordable, or is it up to them to buy their own metal straws, reusable cutlery, water bottles and Keep Cups?

Investment doesn’t have to expensive. Getting food from local suppliers, getting some organic waste bins and setting up on-campus donation and swap initiatives are all little ways for university campuses to make a big difference.

Educating for the future
Good universities offer education outside the confines of coursework, and good universities produce good citizens – not just people with degrees. Students need to be given the knowledge and tools they need to go out and make the changes necessary to drive sustainable initiatives.

Whether they’re studying history or medicine, they deserve access to educational opportunities that don’t just highlight problems, but offer solutions.

Teaching sustainable initiatives should be a core goal of the university’s curriculum, and finding passionate and talented individuals to teach students is how universities can produce eco-conscious students.

Inspire students to take charge
University campuses have always been hotbeds for change. Students come into university eager to learn and they are ready to be inspired, so:

  • Give them opportunities to take leadership
  • Open up channels of communication with people in power
  • Get them involved in local community and grassroots campaigns
  • Empower them to take risks and become problem solvers
  • Encourage discussion, debate and the critical thinking 

Inspired students inspire positive change, angry students just want to place blame. So, which type do you want to create?

Making study more sustainable is about more than solar panels and symbolism. It’s about changing behaviours and making the institution and the people within the institution accountable for what the future looks like.

If the people in charge refuse to take the future into account, universities need to. Creating sustainable campuses, teaching sustainability and inspiring students to turn a crisis into an opportunity is how universities can make an impact.

1 in 5 is an alarming stat, but it’s one that can quickly improve if universities are prepared to meet their students half way.


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