In the first of its kind for the University, staff and students were asked to participate in a detailed Climate Action Survey to help us achieve the goals of our Climate Action Framework.
This is the first in a series of posts which will explore the survey, what the results tell us about the views of our community, and take a closer look at what the University is doing in the areas we asked you about.
In the spirit of our whole institutional response and the living labs concept, the survey data is also being made available as a potential academic resource1 – so we can
- transition to net zero,
- study ourselves transitioning to net zero,
- educate our students in the process of transitioning to net zero,
- use this as a means to help the rest of society transition to net zero
…which shows the beauty and potential power of our approach.
In this post, guest authors Hannah Lester and Prof. Lorraine Whitmarsh of the University of Bath Psychology Department explain how the survey was developed and what we learned from the open-ended questions.
Why did we launch the survey?
Following the publication of its Climate Action Framework setting out how the University will tackle climate change, we launched the University’s first Annual Climate Action Survey in November 2021 to gather the views of and actions taken by the University community. The aims of the survey were two-fold:
(a) To create a baseline for measuring progress on knowledge, engagement and action amongst staff and students; and
(b) To inform the University’s decision-making about how best to cut emissions.
The results from this survey will both help measure progress towards the University’s goals and seek our community’s input towards how we approach the climate emergency.
How was the survey developed?
The 72-page survey was designed by a team from the Department of Psychology, using rigorously tested measures. In order to ensure the survey length was manageable (around 15-20 mins), some sections were randomised to respondents (i.e. some sections were completed by everyone and some by a sub-samples of respondents).
The survey focussed on the areas which are most impactful in terms of the university’s own carbon footprint and its wider impact, covering energy, purchasing, diet, travel, investment, research, and education, as well as staff knowledge, empowerment and perceptions of university climate response.
The survey was distributed via a range of different email lists and online platforms (e.g. Teams, Yammer) to ensure a good response rate. The university has a total population of 3,000 staff and 19,000 students, and we achieved a sample of:
- 1,159 staff (39% response rate), and
- 2,066 students (11% response rate).
For all questions, we achieved a representative sample2. And we had good representation across all demographics and reflected a diversity of views (i.e., the survey wasn’t only completed by the most environmentally committed).
The survey included a mixture of closed and open questions, and we focus in this blog on the key findings from the open questions – where people could write responses in their own words rather than selecting from a pre-defined set of options. These included questions like
‘Is there anything that is preventing you from contributing more towards tackling climate change?’,
‘Is there anything that would encourage you to contribute more towards tackling climate change?’ and
‘What actions, if any, do you think the University of Bath should be taking on climate change?’,
as well as asking for the reasons why people did or did not support specific policies.
What did the survey tell us about our community?
Overall, we found high levels of concern about climate change, and support for bold action by the university to tackle it. But results show people need support to change their behaviour.
The desire to make individual lifestyle changes which offer a positive contribution in addressing the climate emergency was evident. However, there were often a range of barriers to turning this into action. The most common were:
- Affordability of more sustainable goods or methods of transport
- Lack of convenience and ease in adopting new routines or changing habits
- Limited accessibility or availability of environmentally friendly alternatives
- Lack of knowledge or awareness of the climate emergency
Participants expressed a range of opinions on these factors and the specific ways which prevented the translation of attitudes into pro-active climate change behaviours in everyday life. Financial considerations and accessibility of goods and services were often combined in responses:
“lack of plastic-free items at affordable prices,”
“cost of refillables, unreliability of bus service makes me less inclined to use public transport”, and
“there is no viable public transport method that isn’t prohibitively expensive or time consuming for me to get to campus each day.”
The majority appeared knowledgeable on the ways which adaptations to travel and purchasing behaviours could have a positive impact, with examples including improved efficiency of transport services and use of biodegradable packaging for food items. However, particularly for students the limitation of living on a “student budget” was of particular concern.
A prominent gap in knowledge related to recycling behaviours and uncertainty of likely impact. “More information on what can and cannot be recycled,” was desirable, to provide individuals with confidence that any change in behaviour would be a worthwhile use of time. “Not knowing what works and how effective the changes are (e.g., if they are worth doing, such as recycling)” demonstrates a requirement for evidence of impact to motivate change – a narrative common to this sample. "Clear and trustworthy evidence that the primary driving factor of climate change is human activity” was also highlighted in the question on what would help you contribute more towards tackling climate change, this implies that knowledge on how significant individual action can be when addressing such a wide societal issue would be highly welcomed.
Concern that small, everyday changes would not be enough to make a difference was often accompanied by frustration that larger companies and corporations were not acknowledging and acting on the severity of their contribution; “large corporations and governments (must be) held accountable for their environmental impact.” Moreover, the behaviours of friends and family appeared to have an influence on reluctance to change behaviours, with many saying they “struggle seeing the point in making sacrifices if others aren’t trying” and deciding against ‘greener’ options “either out of preference or lack of confidence in my peers to follow to make the effect felt.” These social barriers to engaging the public with climate change have been noted in our previous research.
These open-ended responses provide clarity on the need for increased support (financial, physical, social, and informational) to enable and encourage individuals to adopt climate friendly behaviours. The open mindset which most respondents showed for changing everyday behaviours was clear and promising when considering adaptations to university policies.
Look out for our weekly blog posts over the rest of this academic year, which will explore the rest of the survey findings in detail, and consider the complexity in these issues, what we are already doing to address this as a University and our future plans.
Our next blog will look at the most significant changes you can make to reduce your impact on the climate.