In recent years climate change has consistently topped the list of global worries for young people, so it is no surprise that when we asked our panel of over 141,000 students about sustainability, 9 in ten students told us that their university’s sustainability policies are important to them. What is surprising is that almost a quarter of current students told us they do not know what their university’s sustainability policies are. Whilst your institution may be working hard to positively contribute to the fight against climate change, are your efforts being communicated effectively?
The youth climate change movement shot to prominence in 2018 with the rise of Greta Thunberg and the subsequent ‘Fridays For Future’ marches, which were attended by students across the globe. This mirrored a shift in the general population, with attitudes towards climate change becoming more urgent and mass movements such as Extinction Rebellion consistently dominating headlines.
Universities have not been deaf to the shift in urgency. With the recognition that Gen Z rank climate change as one of the most important issues of their time, institutions are making positive strides in the right direction. Recently, Liverpool John Moores University, Greenwich University and Northampton University have added climate change degrees to their course offerings. Universities are consistently taking affirmative action to reduce carbon emissions, with efforts in recycling, water usage and green energy. But is your institution missing the mark on how these efforts are communicated?
When it comes to engaging students in the conversation around climate change, universities must tread a fine line between meaningful engagement and profusion. Recently, a Greta Thunberg statue erected at Winchelsea University sparked controversy, with students calling the £24,000 installation a ‘Vanity project’. Although this life-sized sculptural ode to Greta may not have gone down well with all students, it is a testament to the commitment universities are making to join the fight against climate change. And after speaking to our student panel, we know there is a real appetite for meaningful engagement on the subject.
So, how to get the conversation on sustainability right?
Engage, listen, share. Does your university have a sustainability committee? If so, engage with them and find out what they would like to see happening. Already going the extra mile with your fight against climate change? Whether you’ve switched to a green energy provider, cut down on red meat on your campus menus, upped your efforts in recycling, or, like Goldsmiths University, pledged to go carbon neutral by 2025, let your students know about it! Embed your sustainability efforts in recruitment messaging for prospective students, in student inductions for new starters, and continue to keep students engaged in meaningful conversation throughout their time at university.
Students connect with universities that align closely with their own principles. So listen to what they want, implement meaningful change, and then keep them informed. When your students know they’re contributing to a brighter future, they will be proud to be part of your institution.