Modelling sustainability through energy-saving on campus: Student perspectives from 8 universities in 3 countries

Authors: Cotton, D., Dalla Valle, L., Miller, W., Paço, A., Shiel, C. and Winter, J.

Start date: 9 September 2017

There is increasing debate about what the ‘sustainable university’ should look like, but for many it implies a university which models sustainability through its own operations as well as through teaching and research (Sterling et al., 2013). Energy saving on campus is an increasingly important part of universities' responses to the sustainability challenge, and many students and faculty would like to see their institutions exhibiting leadership on this issue (Wright and Horst, 2013; Drayson, 2015). There have been a range of targeted programmes focused on energy saving in higher education, and it is a major indicator in sustainability rankings such as the Green League in the UK and STARS (Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System) in North America. There is some evidence that students are considering sustainability as one of a range of variables when deciding where to study and that they are putting pressure on university leaders to consider sustainability in campus and education strategies (e.g. Drayson, 2015). This paper draws together data from a project exploring students’ perceptions of energy-saving activities at 8 universities across 3 countries (UK, Portugal and China). There are substantial variations across the different contexts studied, but between a quarter and half of the student respondents at all the universities feel that their university does not do enough to save energy (with most of the rest answering, ‘don’t know’). The majority of students in all contexts felt that there was insufficient information about energy-saving on campus, and that they would be more likely to choose energy-conservation behaviours if there was a visible representation of energy use. Given that many of the universities involved in the study did in fact have innovative energy saving projects underway, this suggests that a lack of communication with students is a missed opportunity to share good practice with students and to influence their behaviour.

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