Students worry more about climate change than Covid-19, our survey reveals

16 Jun 2021
By Unite Students, Staff writer at The Common Room
Of the 1,000 students who took part in our recent climate change survey, over half (60%) agreed that climate change was one of the top three most urgent priorities for world leaders to address today. Covid-19 came after, at just under half (46%). 

We also found that over half of students (53%) had checked, or now planned to check, universities’ specific climate change policies and reputation - with 31% saying they would not apply to a university with a poor reputation on climate change. 

A ban on single-use plastics on campus had a similarly high level of backing, with 70% saying universities should impose this themselves. And coming close, 65% agree that universities should cut ties with any companies that have a negative impact in terms of climate change.

‘I certainly think nothing a university sells or serves should include single-use plastics anymore, but the same goes for any kind of shop or establishment. I don’t know how a ban on folk bringing their own bag of crisps or cereal bars could be enforced though…’  - Ellie, student writer for The Common Room.

A small portion are calling for universities to be tougher on students who don’t behave sustainably - with 33% agreeing that they should fine students who fail to adhere to guidelines or rules around living in an environmentally-friendly way. Another small but not insignificant proportion of the respondents (14%) went so far as to say that campuses should be meat-free.

‘While I agree with banning single-use plastics on campuses and moving towards more sustainable packaging at campus food outlets, I disagree with fining students; they should definitely be encouraged to recycle but student life is stressful and this would only add to it. In addition, there may be obstacles in the way of recycling such as access to resources or financial barriers’  - Joy, student writer for The Common Room.

These opinions are in part driven by frustrations at what students perceive to be a lack of action on the part of governments. Despite the UK government pledging to sign into law its pledge to reduce emissions by 78% for 2035, just 18% of participants think that the UK government is doing a good job of tackling climate change, and less than a quarter felt that their targets were ambitious enough.

Even fewer - only 15% of those surveyed - think UK businesses are doing enough - something which is increasingly playing a part in their employment decisions: more than a third said that they would not apply for a job at a company that had a poor track record on climate change - while 21% even agreed that they would turn down a job offer with a high salary if this was the case.  

A huge 80% wanted the UK government to impose targets on companies around climate change, with fines for those who failed to meet them. And crucially for us, 63% think it should be compulsory for their student accommodation provider or landlord to help them live in an environmentally-friendly way.

Taking matters into their own hands, nearly 9 in 10 students now say they limit the number of flights they take for environmental reasons, while 76% said that it was important that the brands they buy from are working towards climate change.

‘Given our lack of jobs and student debt, I was initially quite surprised so many said they’d buy environmentally friendly brands, but it certainly makes me more hopeful for the future to know that us young folk find sustainability very important!’ - Ellie, student writer for The Common Room  

Alongside this, over two-thirds also follow a vegetarian diet at least some of the time for environmental reasons, while almost half (49%) did the same with a vegan diet. Over three-quarters said their future careers would be influenced by their feelings on climate change, with 42% citing that they were ‘likely’ to pursue a career that actively contributes to combatting it.

‘This research brings to life just how committed today’s students really are when it comes to tackling the climate change crisis. It goes far beyond one-off awareness-raising events – although these are, of course, important. Many students are now shaping their day-to-day life and long-term plans around making a difference, involving significant sacrifices along the way, which is hugely commendable. As the UK’s largest accommodation provider, we have a clear responsibility to do all we can to facilitate students’ efforts to live sustainably and in an environmentally-friendly way. This is precisely what we’re working towards with our sustainability commitments.’  - Richard Smith, Chief Executive at Unite Students

Find out how we are working towards a more sustainable future by reading our Up to Us commitments.

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Staff writer at The Common Room