Climate change: Can one person really make a difference?

Posted in: Climate Action Survey 2022

Climate Action Survey results: Most students and staff uncertain about the biggest environmental impacts in the fight against climate change 

The University’s 2021 Climate Action Survey found a good level of community understanding on ​​climate change and individual carbon footprint – with results showing that there is more learning to be done when it comes to understanding the biggest impacts on individual carbon footprint. 

The survey found that most respondents believe they have a good level of understanding of ​​climate change and their individual carbon footprint. However, the survey highlighted a lesser knowledge in the areas of net zero carbon and carbon offsetting. 

The survey results also showed some misconceptions about the impact of individual lifestyle choices and an opportunity for our community to go further in their efforts to lower their individual carbon footprint. 

What are the largest carbon footprint impacts for individuals? 

Carbon footprint – a measure of the impact your activities have on the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced through the burning of fossil fuels – and the subject of climate change can be overwhelming. The survey showed that our community’s understanding of the biggest individual impact areas for climate change was, in parts, quite limited. The benefits of avoiding dairy products was significantly underestimated by both staff and students.


People power: Little changes can make a big difference to climate change

Everyone has a responsibility to slow down climate change and there are choices you can make in your day-to-day life to lessen your personal impact on the environment. So if you think you're powerless against climate change and that one person can't make a difference, think again.

While governments and private sector businesses do have the largest role to play in halting the change, individuals and communities can still make a hugely positive impact. Small actions that you take today, tomorrow and every day thereafter will not only benefit your environment but also your health and your wallet. The most difficult part is knowing which changes you can make will actually make a difference in the future. 

In recent years, the University has started to address its own carbon footprint and as a result, has already reduced its carbon emissions by 35% and cut energy and water use by £1m. But we know we can – and will – do more, so we will be covering more of the University's climate change actions in future blog posts.

How to build collective climate impact through individual actions  

  • Make the switch to plants 

Eat a largely plant-based diet and try to minimise waste as much as possible. Estimates suggest that the production of meat and animal products represents about 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, reducing meat consumption is a crucial factor in the fight against climate change.

  • Holiday closer to home 

Travelling by air is one of the most polluting modes of transport. To make a difference to your carbon footprint, limit the number of flights you take. 

  • Ditch the wheels

If you own a car, it’s time to give it up. Or at the very least, don’t buy another one in the future. If you live in an area with public transport, give it a try – alternatively, consider carsharing with friends or colleagues.

  • Get more from your gadgets

If you love your gadgets, chances are your carbon footprint creeps up without you noticing. Research shows that by optimising the lifetime of both electronics and appliances, keeping them for at least seven years, you can make a real difference to your carbon footprint. 

  • Forgo fast fashion 

More and more people are turning their back on fast fashion and are instead opting for second-hand and rented clothes. By reducing the number of new items of clothing in your wardrobe, you can make a difference.

Are you willing to get involved by making one or more of these lifestyle shifts? Keep up-to-date with the latest climate change actions taken by the University and be the first to hear about upcoming events.

Pete Phelps, Climate Action Lead:

Navigating the complex decision-making process to make the ‘greenest’ decisions in life can often seem really difficult, just ask my family - I’m a nightmare to take shopping😀, but we can just remember some simple rules.


Buying less and buying better always works whether at work or home, and often saves both carbon and money.


Travel less and travel better is another simple maxim.


A key area is home energy use where the simple principle of ‘fabric first’ (insulate and draught-proof before worrying about more complicated things like heat pumps), and ‘if it’s on and it doesn’t need to be, turn it off’.


To help navigate the complexity, it is important for everyone to become ‘carbon literate’ and understand what is significant and what isn’t. I still remember the fabulous fact in David MacKay’s book ‘Without Hot Air’ which pointed out the obsession there used to be with switching off unused mobile phone chargers would actually save the equivalent of one hot bath if you did this obsessively for a year. Worth doing but only if you remember that yes, every little helps…but only a little.


To help with improving our Climate Literacy we can all start by modelling our personal footprint with calculators such as WWF or Giki, and then working to reduce our our own areas of biggest impact that they highlight.


We also plan to roll out Climate Literacy training across the Uni, for both staff and students.

Taking personal action

Individual lifestyle changes can bring about change. There are many positive steps you can take to reduce the impact of climate change. The University's Climate Action Framework aims to bring together our community and our priorities, resulting in positive action to help us respond to the issues that cause climate change.

Action on climate change needs everyone’s involvement. As you start to make positive changes to reduce your environmental impact, share your experience with other students and University staff. 

The University is a hub of research and teaching and as such, has significant emissions which contribute to the climate crisis. Therefore, we should take action to reduce our impact. University staff have a responsibility to make positive decisions on sustainability and collectively, we can make these decisions easier. 

As part of our climate change blog series, we will be looking at the actions staff can take to reduce the University's impact on the climate through the day-to-day choices they make. 

Notes about the survey 
  • This survey was conducted in November 2021.
  • This survey was completed by 3985 respondents, representing 39% of University staff and 11% of students.
  • This survey was commissioned by the Climate Action team with methodology devised and results analysed by Dr Paul Haggar, Prof Lorraine Whitmarsh, Kaloyan Mitev and Hannah Lester.
  • The collated survey data can be accessed by members of the University of Bath community here.
  • If you have any questions about the nature of this survey, please contact

Posted in: Climate Action Survey 2022


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  • Great article, and also super to see that Bath has switched to as a sustainable search engine.

    Another nice nifty browser extension I can recommend is