This autumn, the National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL) and several student unions are again implementing the ‘Sustainability holds us up, uphold sustainability’ project on different campuses across Finland. The participating student unions are the Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY), the Student Union of the University of Turku (TYY), the Student Union of the University of Jyväskylä (JYY), the Student Union of the University of Eastern Finland (ISYY), the Student Union of LUT University (LTKY), the Student Union of the University of Lapland (LYY), the University of the Arts Student Union (ArtSU), and the Student Union of Åbo Akademi University (ÅAS). Through the autumn events, we particularly want to raise students’ awareness of goal 12 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which concerns responsible consumption and sustainable production. After the various events that will be held in the student unions in the autumn, it will be easier for students to make more responsible consumption decisions in terms of human rights, the environment and the Global South, and to demand responsible action from decision-makers and organisations.
The student organisations for the different fields of study, student unions and universities make many purchases every day, and they must strive to do so responsibly. The same applies to students’ purchases, such as food, clothing and consumables. In everyday life, choices are often made out of habit, without necessarily paying attention to certifications, country of manufacture or even how to maintain a product to make it last as long as possible. If, for example, students can persuade the student organisation in their field of study or their student union to use only Fair Trade coffee and tea, even this will have a meaningful impact in the longer term. In addition, students can also contribute to responsible choices later in their working lives.
By raising awareness of sustainability, we can show the next generation how to promote sustainable consumption and global responsibility. Most importantly, as a united student front we can demand that society responds to the current failure to do enough in terms of sustainability, human rights, ethics and the environment. Students are a major force to be reckoned with in steering universities and society at large towards making more sustainable choices and decisions.
But simply raising students’ awareness is not enough – we must also demand action from society. Responsible consumption cannot be the sole responsibility of the conscious consumer or individual student. Corporate operating practices also need to be tackled. Responsibility should be made straightforward and easy, also financially. Because students often have to get by on student financial aid and student loans, many may not have the money to make expensive or sustainable solutions. That is why we need societal and political decisions. Making sustainable choices should be easy. Responsible choices should be a real option for everyone, including students and others who are not well off.
We also have a global responsibility for our action; we can’t close our eyes to what’s going on in the wider world. Whether it is the manufacturing of computers, clothing or food, production chains must be able to stand up to scrutiny. As students, we must demand that human rights are respected when production takes place outside Finland as well.
And that is why this project is so important. We are doing this vital work to help bring about a better future.