Sustainability and education: the student perspective

Michael Mackenzie has been working as an intern at the EAUC-Scotland offices engaging professional departments in sustainability. He began this working during his MSc, Global Environment, Politics and Society at the University of Edinburgh, and has returned to engage more FHE professional departments.

Returning from a post-study jaunt at the other end of the globe, I had almost no time to adjust to the Scottish weather before moving into a flat with three of my MSc coursemates and picking up my project work again with EAUC-Scotland. If I wasn’t already feeling guilty about my international air travel, I was certainly about to feel guilty about my everyday habits.

Having studied environmental issues for a year, I consider myself relatively well read and engaged when it comes to saving the planet. As soon as I moved into my new flat, I realised how wrong I had been.
My mother had given me a gift of some flat essentials for my new place (sponges, washing up liquid, laundry detergent, etc.) but I was immediately chastised by my flatmate for bringing toxic, plastic, and other non-biodegradables into her home. My flatmate strives to live a life sending no waste to landfill, and cares deeply about conservation.

  • Makes her own toothpaste (baking soda), and uses a wooden toothbrush
  • Uses shampoo bars to wash her hair
  • Uses environmentally friendly powdered deodorant
  • Buys only palm-oil free cosmetics and food products
  • Bulk-buys toilet paper from a company that donates to WaterAid (which is, of course, made from recycled paper)

I realised that these everyday products don’t tend to be the kind of thing you actually buy every day, so it’s very easy to forget the impact they’re having on the environment. While I switched to a veggie diet, I was still buying shampoo in bottles and picking up cheap plastic toothbrushes as an afterthought in the supermarket.
Then I showed up to work on Monday and was told that, to celebrate Recycle Week, the EAUC-Scotland team were banning all non-recyclable waste. Not too hard, I thought, as I usually bring my own food to work. Of course I was wrong – I was immediate shamed by a co-worker as I grabbed a paper towel to dry my Tupperware (she even posted to Twitter to add to the shame: By the end of the week, I found myself forlornly looking at flapjack packets in vein. No spontaneous snacks for me this week: none of the packets was recyclable, of course.

Having a few people to chastise you isn’t such a bad thing, though. I’m now hyper-conscious of the waste I’m producing because of the products I purchase; mostly because I’m afraid of making it onto Twitter again, I might add.

These recent experiences have showed me that, while studying (environmental) issues in detail is important, acting in a manner that reflects what you’ve learned is just as difficult as that initial study. Even small efforts to protect the environment can actually be pretty difficult if you really have to change what you consider to be “normal” in your lifestyle. I’ll be graduating in a few months, but I feel like I really do still have a lot to learn!

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