Student communities have a great history as being pioneers when it comes to the important questions of our society. The IPCC reports which talk about catastrophic developments, issues of global justice, fulfilment of human rights – these current trends demand us to be pioneers right now.
As a beacon of progress, universities and student communities have the opportunity to provide an example of promoting responsibility and sustainable consumption in society. The policy makers should always have the primary responsibility, but we can all do our bit to achieve a better society and fairer world, and use our actions to put pressure on policy-makers to act.
What concrete actions can student communities take to promote responsibility? I have listed a few suggestions below.
1. Planning of and guidelines for the organisation’s sustainability and responsibility work
These days, many student organisations have their own sustainability and responsibility plans. These plans help organisations plan their sustainability and responsibility work on a long-term basis. We would encourage every organisation to think about their work and how it could be easier to take these things into consideration on a daily basis. You can find inspiration for your own sustainability goals from HYY’s sustainable development plan.
2. Influencing universities’ policy and activities
Many universities have ambitious sustainability and responsibility goals, but as representatives of the future we, the students, can encourage the universities to be even more ambitious. We can encourage our university to shoulder more of its global responsibility through development cooperation, to reduce its carbon footprint, to demand its investments to be fossil-free and fulfil responsibility standards, and so on. You can influence universities in many ways: as a student representative, through an organisation, by giving feedback, or by responding to circulations for comment.
3. Increasing sustainability awareness through communication and teaching
Through their communication, student organisations and universities can increase awareness of responsibility and sustainability. Taking part in different projects, campaigns, or stakeholder collaboration is a great way to popularise information about sustainable choices. By sharing scientific information we can help to develop people’s world view and give them sustainability tools. Sustainable development should be visible in the teaching at all levels of education, and at universities it should be thematically connected to all fields better than now – all subjects have some connection to this topic!
4. Strengthening the voices of students, the future, and the scientific community in society
The future needs its defenders. If we don’t do it, no one else will do it on our behalf. I encourage student organisations to be bold and amplify the voice of science, young people and the future in society. When it comes to the important issues of our times, such as the climate crisis or the fulfilment of human rights in the Global South, it is better that we say what we think, rather than remaining silent. It is not our responsibility if policy makers aren’t prepared or able to act, but we have the ability to express our discontent and create political pressure. An example of this is the global impact of the youth climate movement.
So these are a few ways in which student organisations, and each and every one of us, can promote responsibility. There are many more ways to do this, so I hope these suggestions will act as inspiration to help you come up with your own ideas.
In my mind, being a student means being the voice of progress and the future, a breath of criticism of society and switched-on thinking. When the world calls out, we will respond.
And that is what’s needed right now.
Board Member, communications, social policy (student finances, housing), the environment and climate
National Union of University Students in Finland
This blog post has been published as part of the project Sustainability holds us up, uphold sustainability, run by SYL and eight student unions. The project will continue until the end of 2022.