As we move into 2022, sustainability is still top of the student agenda. Last year, our Student Pulse panel revealed that universities’ sustainability policies are crucially important to the vast majority of students. But are institutions’ sustainability efforts living up to expectations?

A recent university league by People and Planet found that only 46% of higher education institutions were on course to reach their sustainability targets in 2021. Whilst some universities may already be hitting the mark, these results show there are vast improvements to be made going forward. But what should universities be focusing on? And how do students really feel about their university's sustainability approach? We spoke again to our Student Pulse panel to find out. 

The results, although not surprising, show just how critical it is for universities to not only commit to sustainability, but to really embed it at the heart of their brand. 84% of students would like their university to have a sustainability initiative, whilst 61% of students are more likely to buy a product from a sustainable brand, and a huge 91% believed that all companies have a responsibility to help reduce the impact of climate change.

For students whose university did have a sustainability initiative, 63.7% were proud to study there, 38% were more likely to recommend their university to a friend, 33% felt more engaged with their university, 33% felt happier at university and 26% were more likely to continue studying at their university, whilst only 14% felt none of the of these. 

The results also showed how savvy students are when it comes to greenwashing. 75% of students think brands exaggerate their environmental claims in adverts and 46% don’t believe brands live up to their commitment to sustainability, while only 16% believe they do. Meanwhile, 88% of students would like to see more advertising that shows where a product’s materials come from and whether it can be recycled, and a whopping 90% said they thought companies should be legally required to publish information around their environmental practices to the public. On top of this, 66% of respondents said that if they believed a brand is not authentic about their commitment to sustainability, they would not purchase from them. If you are not already backing up your words with actions, now really is the time to walk the walk as well as talking the talk. 

The results also showed that institutions need to communicate their sustainability efforts effectively. While 63% of students said their university had spoken about sustainability, only 51% said their university had a sustainability initiative and 43% said they were unsure. This indicates a discord in messaging around sustainability efforts. If you are doing your bit to help the environment and have exciting initiatives in place, make sure you are engaging your students in this so they can get behind you and support you in your efforts.

Interestingly, 82% of our student respondents felt that universities have a responsibility to educate wider society about sustainability. So even if you already have a strong environmental stance, now isn’t the time to sit back and relax. Taking a more active role in leading the conversation around sustainability is a win-win situation, providing insight and guidance on best practice whilst resonating with current and prospective students.   

So how can universities do their bit? 82% of students said their universities were already promoting recycling on campus and 60% said their institutions used biodegradable products. Other initiatives that students mentioned were renewable energy (30%), sustainably built campuses/buildings (32%), cycle-to-campus schemes (35%) and partnering with sustainable businesses (24%). Becoming sustainable does not need to be a sweeping and hugely expensive overhaul; starting with smaller initiatives and choosing your partners carefully will go a long way to showing your commitment and authenticity. 

Whatever stage you’re at in your sustainability journey, it’s clear that every university's New Year's resolution should be solidifying their environmental efforts to become an institute their students are proud of. If you’d like to talk to our experts about embedding sustainability in your comms and avoiding greenwashing, get in touch today.

Article by

Tilly Howarth

Marketing Events and Campaigns Executive