Students tend to be the ones that create social change

The environmental crisis and excessive consumption can make your head spin. Awareness of sustainable consumption is increasing, but putting things into practice is another kettle of fish. To begin with, what does responsible consumption even mean? And in a sea of green washing and green hiding, how can you even identify a responsible product?

These were some of the questions that were asked and sought answers to during the sustainable development week of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki last week. The week’s events were held as part of the Sustainability holds us up, uphold sustainability project by the National Union of University Students in Finland, the Student Union of the University of Helsinki and seven other student unions. The project has received funding from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs for communication and global education support. The goal of the project is to make students more aware of the UN Agenda 2030 goal and especially goal 12: ensuring sustainable consumption and production. The project was carried out by HYY by means of various events on the theme.

So what happened during the sustainable development week? The week included a panel discussion, guest lecture, film evening, training and a workshop.

HYY’s sustainable development week began on the International Day of the Girl with a panel discussion on the theme of responsible consumption and equality. The event and the whole week was opened by former President of Finland, Tarja Halonen, who underlined in her speech that sustainable development is not possible without gender equality. The panel discussion was participated in by university Professor Eva Heiskanen, Executive director at Fairtrade Finland Janne Sivonen and MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen.

The panel discussed the effects of our consumption choices on equality on a global level and who in general is even in a position to make sustainable choices. Although the responsibility of a move towards a more sustainable future should not be thrust upon consumers alone, Janne Sivonen said that students tend to be the group that push society towards change.

On Tuesday, workshop participants learned, with the help of fashion and clothing expert Pipsa Niemi, about the ecological and ethical problems of the textile industry. Did you know that on average, consumers in Finland buy about 20 kilogrammes of textiles and throw away 12–14 kilogrammes? And did you know that only 20 per cent of discarded textiles are recycled? The most responsible choice is always what you find in your wardrobe, so next to you have some anniversary, maybe ask your friend to lend you a dress!

Wednesday was influencer training day, with people active in organisations discussing how students may promote sustainable consumption at the university and student organisations. Nowadays, for example, overalls some Finnish student organisations like to wear, also come in more sustainable alternatives. You can also suggest to your organisation that more vegan foods are offered at events. In universities and student unions, you can get in touch with students representatives, board members or the Representative Council of HYY. Eva Heiskanen also encouraged students to demand the university to act sustainably: “You can influence matters also at the university. If you feel that you voice is not heard, try again!”

Led by Markus Terho, Sustainable Everyday Life expert from the Finnish Innovation Fund, we discussed at a breakfast meeting how to make sustainable everyday choices in consumption. The participants had the opportunity to test their carbon footprint on the website. The site also gives tips on sustainable consumption choices.

Later the same day, we focused on the week’s theme from the viewpoint of the electronics industry at Pro Ethical Trade Finland’s documentary film evening. We watched Eettisen läppärin jäljillä (“The quest for the ethical laptop”), and after it discussed – with foreign correspondent  Sami Sillanpää, the director of the documentary Mari Pasulan and Executive Director of Pro Ethical Trade Finland Kirsi Salonen – global electronics production and how we can all promote the use of more ethical electronics. It became apparent during the evening how seriously and to what extent the electronics industry is related to human rights violations and environmental problems.

HYY’s sustainable development week was concluded by a guest lecture by Finnwatch. Climate policy specialist Lasse Leipola held a lecture on corporate responsibility and how we students can affect how responsibly businesses operate and thereby contribute to sustainable development. Leipola also said that sustainability issues will not be solved with deeds by individuals, what we need instead is structural change. However, we all have a chance to make a difference, and we can all demand companies and politicians to make more sustainable decisions.

Sonja Naalisvaara
Coordinator of HYY’s sustainable development week in 2021
Member of the HYY Board in 2022


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