Epigram survey reveals 87.6 percent of students feel they should do more for the environment

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On their website, the University of Bristol claims that ‘sustainability is part of everything we do’. For Epigreen Week Epigram conducted a survey to establish whether the university’s students consider this to be the case, and whether this statement could also be true of the students themselves.

It appears that for the 161 students who completed the survey sustainability is certainly a feature of their lives, if not part of everything they do. The overwhelming majority (97.5 percent) felt that as part of their current lifestyle they did at the very least ‘one or two things that are environmentally-friendly’ if not more. However, a mere 1.4 percent of respondents feel that they are environmentally-friendly in everything they do and the vast majority (87.6 percent) felt that they could do more to help the environment.

Almost two thirds (61.9 percent) of respondents said that they considered themselves to be environmentalists – a quasi-religious label but one that can be considered important when assessing the extent to which people value sustainability.

The survey found that most students made ‘Green Choices’ – choosing to buy and do things that help the environment – 38.5 percent did this often, 54 percent sometimes, and only 7.5 percent did this infrequently or never. The most common ‘Green Choices’ made were concerned with disposing of waste and altering their consumer habits – including veganism/vegetarianism which 64 percent of respondents cited as being a form of Green Choice they made.

Personal desire to help the environment was by far the biggest factor persuading people to make these environmentally-friendly choices – 90 percent of respondents cited this as their motivation to make Green Choices, whereas only 15.6 percent stated that social or peer pressure was a motivation. Green choices being cheaper or more convenient were also factors but considerably less common, with 50.6 percent stating the former was a motivation and 28.1 percent the later. A few students also cited their ‘genuine fear of environmental apocalypse’ as their motivation for making these choices, with one student noting ‘climate change is f---ing terrifying’.

Despite their willingness to make ‘Green Choices’, the survey also revealed that the respondents were reluctant to sacrifice personal enjoyment or pleasure in order to be more environmentally-friendly. It was more evenly split between those who do so sometimes or often (50.3 percent the former; 6.2 percent the later) and those who did so infrequently or never (33.5 percent; 9.9 percent the later).

Looking to the future 91.6 percent of respondents wanted their careers to have a positive environmental impact but only 36.9 percent of respondents wished to pursue a career in sustainability when they graduated, perhaps indicating the difficulty of knowing exactly how to achieve this ambition. Moreover, only 21.7 percent of respondents said that they were currently involved with organisations whose purpose is directly related to sustainability.

The survey also revealed the widespread ignorance of – and dissatisfaction with – the university’s green policies. When asked whether they were satisfied with the environmental policies and pledges made by the university, almost half (47.2 percent) of respondents said that they were not aware of them, whilst the other half was split almost evenly between being satisfied (26.7 percent) and dissatisfied (26.1 percent).

Those who were satisfied stated that they felt the University’s policies were ‘realistic and achievable’ or that at the very least they were ‘making an attempt’ regarding sustainability. Unsurprisingly given the response, lack of visibility for their policies was the most common complaint. The issues raised by those who were dissatisfied with the University’s policies ranged from the micro (more recycling bins in particular buildings and a reduction in single use plastics in cafes on campus) to the macro (ensuring the University does not invest in fossil fuels or companies with ties to dirty energy).

However, the respondents were equally quick to condemn their fellow students as the majority disagreed that the student body are sufficiently aware of environmental issues (53.4 percent disagreed; 13.6 percent strongly disagreed), or that they do enough to act in a sustainable manner (52.7 percent disagreed; 21.1 percent strongly disagreed).

Almost three quarters of students disagreed that there were issues more important than sustainability (46.5 percent disagreed; 26.7 percent strongly disagreed), indicating the desire for – and necessity of – positive environmental action from both the University administration and student body.

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: 'Sustainability is core to the University's vision and strategy and addressing social and environmental challenges is at the heart of everything we do. As a continued commitments to our city's recognition as Green Capital in 2015, the University has made a variety of pledges including becoming a net carbon neutral campus by 2030 and decreasing our transport footprint.

'As a result, there has been a 17% reduction in carbon emissions in the last year alone. Communicating sustainability and our sustainable initiatives to staff and students is vital, and we are working to develop this by giving students opportunities for education such as our Sustainable Futures online courses. We continue to work alongside Bristol SU and various student groups to run events and promote sustainable behaviour change.'

Featured image credit: Sergey Turkin / Unsplash

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