Study reveals stark disparity in students’ opinions and understanding of sustainability

Wednesday, November 9, 2022
  • Students are changing the way they live due to concerns about the climate crisis – research reveals top five behaviour changes students are making 
  • 74% say companies around the world also have a duty to address the climate crisis 
  • But 37% of students in the UK believe that climate change is having little to no impact on their life 

With COP27 on the horizon, recent research has revealed stark disparities between students’ opinions and understanding of key issues regarding sustainability. 

Three quarters (74%) of students researched recognise the importance of Carbon Literacy, and many are changing the way they live their lives to help address the climate crisis. 

The majority (83%) of savvy students understand that fossil fuels are non-renewable energy sources and 70% know that that they’re formed from decomposing plants and animals. However, if you dig a little deeper there are some knowledge gaps too - a third (34%) stated that natural gas was a clean energy source.  

Just over half of students in the UK deem tidal (55%) and hydro (56%) - the use of falling or fast running water to produce electricity - as clean energy sources.  

Most (51%) know what a Carbon Footprint is, but fewer than one in two (45%) could say how it’s calculated.  

The research*, was commissioned by Yugo - the first global student housing operator created to enhance students’ experiences throughout and beyond university life - as part of a global research project studying over 6,000 students across the UK, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Australia and the USA. Over 1,000 students were polled across the UK. 

The research also threw up some surprising responses, with 12% saying pencils are one of the biggest contributors to Carbon Footprints globally.  

When asked about their understanding of a carbon sink – a natural environment that absorbs more carbon than it releases – 13% said they thought it was a type of shipwreck. 

The study has shown just how important long term education programmes are for creating further awareness of the sustainability challenges we face and how behaviour change can tackle them – something that Yugo’s pillar - YugoEco has been developed to support. 

Despite some of these knowledge gaps, students are playing their part in helping to combat the world’s environmental challenges. The top five behaviour changes cited due to concerns about the environment were: 

  1. Buying fewer disposable products (41%) 
  2. Travelling using more environmentally friendly means (34%) 
  3. Actively trying to reduce energy use (34%) 
  4. Eating more sustainably (30%) 
  5. Deliberately purchasing from sustainable companies (24%) 

Just over a third (37%) of those students surveyed in the UK said that climate change is having little to no impact on their life, but three quarters (74%) believe that companies around the world have a duty to address the climate crisis. 

Over a third (34%) claim that none of the 10 biggest companies in the world is doing enough to fight the crisis. 

With COP27 just weeks away, students also said that dishonest politicians and company profits were the two leading reasons that promises made at COP26 would not be kept.  

Helen Strachan, Sustainability Specialist at Yugo, said: “There is often a misunderstood assumption that students have a homogeneous view on the environment and sustainability, but this research presents a far more complex picture. There are huge differences of opinion and knowledge when it comes to some of the biggest challenges the planet is facing, which is understandable given the vast amount of information out there on what is one of the most multifaceted issues of our time.  This study shows the need for further understanding of these critical issues. 


“It’s uplifting to know that students are changing their behaviour. As a company operating in the field of higher education, we have a duty to support students to live the most sustainable lives they can – this is why sustainability plays a key role in our holistic living program and why YugoEco brings students together to create better living spaces and a better planet.” 

As part of its commitment to sustainability, Yugo has partnered with The Carbon Literacy Project and is officially a Bronze Level Carbon Literate Organization.   The next objective is to reach Silver Level Carbon Literate Organization status to ensure more employees have the knowledge needed to reduce their own and Yugo’s carbon emissions  

Emma Richards, Head of Project Development, The Carbon Literacy Project said:  “Carbon Literacy is an essential skill, vital to every workplace, community, and place of study. This research only demonstrates this further. Carbon Literacy is the foundational knowledge – it gives everyone the base level of understanding on climate change needed to drive positive action. However, Carbon Literacy is only the first step. The actions taken and pledged by learners as part of their Carbon Literacy have an immediate impact within their organisation, however it is the maintenance of these and further actions, supported by Carbon Literate organisational culture, that reaps the greatest rewards for both participants and their organisations.  By becoming a Bronze accredited Carbon Literate Organisation, Yugo has demonstrated its commitment to driving genuine low carbon action in their own organisation and among the students they serve.”  


Yugo’s unique approach 

Yugo also empowers its students to grow personally through collaborative events and projects under the Live Your Best Life program - a holistic living experience developed from the Yugo research of thousands of students worldwide. This program supports students through three pillars based on sustainability - YugoEco, education – YuPro, personal and professional development - YuGrow, to deliver on their needs and expectations. 

  • YugoEco sees Yugo coming together with students to create better living spaces and a better planet through several initiatives. These include low energy usage programs on the importance of living more sustainable lives for students, and global partnerships with like-minded businesses for events, education and student experiences.  
  • YuPro is all about empowering young people beyond higher education and to help prepare them for their careers and their professional development. Yugo is also offering training sessions in areas such as career advice, real life experience, coaching and empowerment.  
  • YuGrow encourages Yugo students to shine by supporting their personal journey through events and activities in Yugo spaces, including student podcasts, diversity events and global student networking opportunities. Yugo has pledged to provide students with the most sustainably sourced chair and mattress – these were key findings from Yugo research as critical to their life to support both their physical environment and their emotional needs.