Study reveals “stark disparity” in students’ opinions and understanding of sustainability

University students

74% of students who took part in the study recognise the importance of carbon literacy, and many are changing the way they live their lives to help address the climate crisis, Yugo says.

The research was commissioned by Yugo, the global student housing operator, and conducted by Mortar Research as part of a global research project studying over 6,000 students across the UK, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Australia and the USA. Over 1,000 students were polled across the UK.

The recent research has revealed stark disparities between students’ opinions and understanding of key issues regarding sustainability, Yugo says. 83% of students understand that fossil fuels are non-renewable energy sources and 70% know that they’re formed from decomposing plants and animals. However, the study also reveals 34% stated that natural gas was a clean energy source.

Just over half of students in the UK deem tidal (55%) and hydro (56%) – the use of falling or fast-running water to produce electricity – as clean energy sources. 51% know what a carbon footprint is, but 45% could say how it’s calculated.

There is often a misunderstood assumption that students have a homogeneous view on the environment and sustainability.

The research also threw up some surprising responses, with 12% saying pencils are one of the biggest contributors to carbon footprints globally. Yugo says that, despite some of these knowledge gaps, students are playing their part in helping to combat the world’s environmental challenges.

The top five behaviour changes cited in the survey due to concerns about the environment were:

  1. Buying fewer disposable products (41%)
  2. Travelling using more environmentally friendly means (34%)
  3. Actively trying to reduce energy use (34%)
  4. Eating more sustainably (30%)
  5. Deliberately purchasing from sustainable companies (24%)

Just over a third (37%) of those students surveyed in the UK said that climate change is having little to no impact on their life, but three-quarters (74%) believe that companies around the world have a duty to address the climate crisis. 34% claim that none of the 10 biggest companies in the world is doing enough to fight the crisis.

With COP27 just weeks away, students also said that dishonest politicians and company profits were the two leading reasons that promises made at COP26 would not be kept, Yugo says.

Sustainability Specialist at Yugo, Helen Strachan, said: “There is often a misunderstood assumption that students have a homogeneous view on the environment and sustainability but this research presents a far more complex picture.

“There are huge differences of opinion and knowledge when it comes to some of the biggest challenges the planet is facing, which is understandable given the vast amount of information out there on what is one of the most multifaceted issues of our time. This study shows the need for further understanding of these critical issues.

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