Opinion | A student's guide to making a real difference in the world

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By Naufal Jailani, Fourth Year Mechanical Engineering

Students are massive consumers in our society. That is why it is so important that we educate ourselves on ways that we can live more sustainable lives. With so many societies and resources available to us, this task is easier than it's ever been before.

We consume a lot. From food, clothing, and energy, to media and electronics. We also waste a lot. And the planet can only give so much and take so much without being forced to deliver a large-scale correctional adjustment. This fix, while not necessarily to the benefit of humankind, is for the system to return to a state of ecological equilibrium-and this change is already being observed.

Hitherto the living standards that we relish today are courtesy of the less fortunate part of the world as well as the unborn. This two-dimensional space and time resource allocation is remarkably skewed towards the developed world and soon enough the fabric will tear apart once the physical boundaries are reached and the developing world catches up with increasing purchasing power. How we as students move the needle back to an ecological balance is the complex question of sustainability.

A dedication to creating a sustainable future| University of Bristol press office

Hitherto the living standards that we relish today are courtesy of the less fortunate part of the world as well as the unborn.

On the evening of Halloween, I joined a small congregation of people for a workshop hosted by the Bristol University Sustainability Team (BUST) to examine the effectiveness of individuals in making a difference in the real world. This workshop was aimed to untangle the issues of personal responsibility and whether a shift in individual behaviour could cause a corresponding shift in the system.

So, can students make a difference to the world? We found that the answer to this question is a resounding yes, but with some caveats.  As long as it is not at the expense of your well-being and others, it is always possible to make small (or big) lifestyle changes. We found there are three ways to make the biggest impact as individuals.

1)     Education

Educate yourself as a consumer by finding products that hold society and the environment to a higher standard. Fairtrade would be a good start. An informed consumer demanding better-sourced products would signal the market for a shift in supply, hence affecting the whole outcome. The other part of education would be investing in yourself by learning more about sustainability so that you could incorporate its fundamentals within your own domain.

An informed consumer demanding better-sourced products would signal the market for a shift in supply, hence affecting the whole outcome

2)     Communication

As the 2010s are coming to an end, one of the highlights this decade has seen is the explosion of social media. We did not ask for it nor did we vote for it, but it seems to be influencing a lot of important political decisions. Whether you are an active user or not, what goes on around social media does not stay within the system boundary and the effects trickle down to all pockets of society, good or bad, directly or indirectly. Regardless, it provides a tool for which people can use to communicate their opinions. As someone who possesses such an influential tool, you could use it by facilitating discussions and improving upon ideas.

3)     Join your community

There are more than a dozen sustainability-related societies at the university you could join

Finally, the change you can bring about in an environment scale up exponentially when you join forces. There are more than a dozen sustainability-related societies at the university you could join. It does not have to be within the university, even the city Bristol itself provides lots of opportunities that one can get involved in. A Google search will go a long way-or, rather, an Ecosia search, which is a search engine that plants trees.

The search engine that plants trees| Ecosia 

The common belief is that regardless of the positive impact choices that one makes, the system is governed by large corporations and ill-informed decision-makers who make negative impact choices. This is supported by a recent study which found that only 100 companies are responsible for 70% of global carbon emissions, so one person deciding not to eat meat on one day of the week would not make much of a difference. However, even though a large proportion of carbon emissions is by mostly oil companies and not by us, it is definitely for us. The supply side is fuelled by demand. We also have the power to vote for people who stand for the environment instead of against it. So, there is hope and it lies within every one of us, both individually and collectively.

Featured: University of Bristol press office


What changes are you making for a more sustainable future?

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