In recent years, climate change has consistently been highlighted as a top global worry for young people, but are institutions’ sustainability efforts living up to expectations? And how can we build a greener planet for future students?

Universities are vital hubs of research and teaching on climate change. However, as large organizations, they also produce a significant amount of emissions, contributing to our climate crisis.

In a People & Planet’s University League survey, 82% of students said their universities were already promoting recycling on campus and 60% said their institutions used biodegradable products. 

But when questioning whether this is enough, student’s have suggested many other ways in which universities can create a greener future for their students. 

What other initiatives can universities introduce?

Other initiatives mentioned were universities using renewable energy, sustainably built campuses/buildings, along with cycle-to-campus schemes and partnering with sustainable businesses..

Although many universities have made a start with some of these suggestions already, some will need to become more ambitious as climate action leaders. After all, shouldn’t all universities take meaningful and visible action, setting an example for their students?

With a global population of over seven billion people, the UN predicts that over 400 million tons of plastic waste is produced every year. This is set to double by 2034. However, as important as it is to recycle, it's imperative to reduce and to get people consciously thinking about the amount of unsustainable materials they’re consuming. 

Promoting items on campus such as reusable coffee cups and tote bags is a good way to communicate with students. However, introducing them to change their shopping habits off-campus can also be beneficial, as consumers in Britain buy the highest amount of clothing in Europe.

A lot of universities are now following American University, which not only became the first carbon-neutral university in the United States but it was also the first urban campus and the first research university to accomplish the achievement of having a net-zero carbon footprint.

Are universities doing enough for their students?

And how do student’s feel about this bold move? Well, according to a recent survey, a staggering 93% of students expect brands to take a stand on environmental issues. 77% of those surveyed even said they would be willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products. 

The results also showed that 82% are more likely to buy a product if it’s environmentally friendly. So with higher education being increasingly expensive and degrees being seen as an investment, it makes sense to be aligned. And we know most colleges are, so why not showcase that?

How can you make a difference? Urge your university to divest from fossil fuels, use renewable energy and commit to achieving net-zero emissions within realistic, actionable timeframes. Organize a campus sustainability initiative, or promote further your current one.

After all, “it’s only one straw,” said seven billion people.

Article by

Katie Baker