Student Blog: A How-to Guide for Student (and Staff) Sustainability


sustainable2021We all know that our individual actions can make a difference in the fight against climate change, but sometimes it’s difficult to visualise the changes we can make in our day-to-day lives. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has created a list of ‘nudges’ which help make these actions more visible and accessible to us.

What is a nudge?

A ‘nudge’ is a small change in our routine or habits which guides us toward a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. These nudges focus on modifying our behaviour, ‘shifting existing systems and processes rather than creating new ones’[1] – collectively, these little shifts can have a big impact. It’s about encouraging people to make choices which are better for the environment by making it as simple as possible to make the best decisions. Removing mental and physical barriers to these choices, making them easily accessible to the general student population, is a good step toward reducing our impact on the planet.

Can you give me some examples?

Sure! Offering discounts on vegetarian and vegan meals, charging for paper cups, making sure that recycling facilities are prominent and easy to access: all of these are small changes which add up when everyone takes part! When these sorts of initiatives become the norm, people are subconsciously encouraged to change their habits.

Some of the cafés in Oxford already give discounts when you use a KeepCup or other reusable cup – others will charge for a paper cup or give you extra reward stamps as an incentive to use it. All are good options, and it’s easier to take your coffee into the library then too, as almost every library accepts KeepCups. 😉

Reducing the amount of meat in our diets is another key step towards a more sustainable lifestyle. In College, that might mean making the vegetarian option the default on uPay for meals in Hall. This way, the option for a meal containing meat is still available, but the need to change it manually means people are encouraged to try the ‘easy’ option and thus make a more environmentally friendly choice without really needing to do anything!

Another nudge: promote a group drive to donate old belongings to charity rather than throwing them out. Making it a collaborative action that the whole student population can get involved with will increase participation – if you know a friend is taking part, you’re more likely to get involved too. Shopping on online sites like Depop and taking an afternoon to rummage through some charity shops is equally good! In Oxford, there’s a few:

  • Oxfam on Broad Street
  • Oxfam Superstore in Cowley – an afternoon’s trek or a short bus ride away!
  • Age UK just off the Plain, in the city centre
  • Mind in Jericho
  • There’s a few down the Cowley Road too!

How else can we reduce waste? We have an online Facebook group called ‘BNC What I Have’ where people can share unwanted goods with others who might have a use for them. This saves people buying duplicates or throwing ingredients etc. away needlessly.

Obviously, nudges won’t solve the climate crisis alone – we must keep up the pressure on governments and companies to change their actions on a much larger scale too – but every little helps!

By Kristina Fox (4th Year French and Spanish Student)

[1] United Nations Environment Programme, GRIDArendal and Behavioural Insights Team (2020). The Little Book of Green Nudges: 40 Nudges to Spark Sustainable Behaviour on Campus. Nairobi and Arendal: UNEP and GRID-Arendal.

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