Systemic transformation and individual action: Keys to addressing the climate crisis 

Posted in: Climate Action Survey 2023

Systemic change and individual action are two complementary components of a collective effort to create a more sustainable future.

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing our planet today and as a centre of knowledge and innovation, the University has a vital role to play in addressing it. Collectively, we can lead the way in developing new solutions and transforming society's practices and behaviours.

Rising climate worry

The 2023 Climate Action Survey results revealed that our community is deeply concerned about the climate crisis. 92% of respondents, made up of staff and students, said that they have experienced some level of worry about the current state of the planet and the future implications of climate change. This reflects a growing trend, especially among young people, who are increasingly aware of the severity of the climate crisis and are demanding action.

Transforming University practice

The survey results showed that although the University community supports the need for transformational change to tackle the climate crisis, there is a lack of understanding about what the University is doing. ​​22% of students and 21% of staff stated that they were 'unsure' what the University is doing in relation to achieving its climate change goals.

This indicates that more needs to be done in terms of both disseminating information and educating the community in relation to tackling the climate crisis – and further supports the need to take a whole-institution approach in order to achieve real and effective climate action.

What does a ‘whole-institution approach’ involve?

A ‘whole-institution approach’ means that the University should examine and address all aspects of its services, including teaching, research, campus operations and community engagement, to ensure that they are aligned with our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting sustainability. This requires collaboration and coordination across all departments within the University and a campus-wide commitment to integrating climate action principles and practices throughout the institution.

Increasing the understanding of a whole-institution approach to climate action and the transformation that is needed means recognising that addressing the climate crisis is not a single-issue or single-department problem, but rather requires a comprehensive and collaborative effort across the entire University.

Behaviour change is crucial

This year’s survey results also highlighted the ongoing need for individuals to take responsibility for their own choices. While systemic change is necessary, it is not sufficient on its own. Individuals must also make changes to their own behaviour to reduce their carbon footprint and promote sustainable living. 

Although 41% of students feel that their personal contributions to tackling climate change are sufficient, others recognise that more needs to be done on an individual basis, with 43% stating that they do less, or far less, than required. Similarly, 47% of staff acknowledged that they contribute less, or far less, than required in relation to their day-to-day job role.

There are many practical steps that individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprint and tackle climate change. These include reducing energy consumption and waste, choosing sustainable transportation, eating sustainably, promoting sustainable practices in the workplace and advocating for change. By adopting sustainable practices and promoting climate action, individuals can play an important role in creating a more sustainable future.

“Often individual change and systems change in response to the climate crisis are presented as two distinct topics. This can lead to a sense of hopelessness among individuals that their actions – however positive – are only a drop in the ocean compared to the enormity of the problem that climate change presents. Our message instead is a more positive one: individual actions do matter, and combined they determine broader social transformations which are required from policymakers and industry."


Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, Director of the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations

Systemic solutions and individual actions: A winning combination for tackling climate change

Systemic transformation is necessary to address the root causes of climate change and achieve the scale of change needed to transition to a low-carbon economy. And individual action is crucial because it can help to create demand for sustainable products and services, build momentum for change and support systemic transformation.

While systemic transformation and individual action are distinct components, they are interdependent and should both be considered as part of a collective effort to solve climate change. Achieving meaningful progress – both from our community point of view and the wider world perspective – will require both systemic transformation and individual action, and these two components can reinforce each other to achieve greater impact.

“As a University we have a special place in society. With that comes responsibility. We undertake research that is fundamental to decarbonisation and sustainability of industry and society, and we train and provide skills to future generations. When 43% of our students feel they do less or far less than required, we have a responsibility to help change that. We need a step change in our skills development in this area, and we need to enable and energise everyone to rise to this huge challenge. Change is hard, but we won’t solve the problems we face with the same old thinking. We need to act individually, but our responsibility is to drive for change and create solutions at an institutional level as well, through skills and training, research and infrastructure. We have to create a force for change - creating ambassadors and creators for a new world.”


Professor Marcelle McManus, Co-Director of the Institute for Sustainability

Climate change: A collective challenge

This year’s Climate Action Survey results support the urgent need for the University to take a whole-institution approach to climate action. While there is an appetite for transformational change within our community, it is important to remember that individuals also have a role to play. 

Everyone faces choices each day that carry a climate cost. We should, on an individual basis, make efforts to reduce our carbon footprint but in order to create a sustainable future, systemic transformation at both a policy and a structural level is needed. These two things don’t work separately – individuals can support systemic transformation by voting for politicians who prioritise climate action, for example, and supporting businesses that adopt sustainable practices. 

Individual choices and systemic change are both critical components in addressing climate change – and they can work together to create a more sustainable future. 

This blog is part of a series of articles highlighting the results from this year’s survey. You might also be interested in:

From climate anxiety to action: How to make a difference in the fight against climate change 

  • This survey was conducted in November 2022.
  • This survey was completed by 4764 respondents, representing 41% of University staff and 14% of students.
  • This survey was commissioned by the Climate Action team with methodology devised and results analysed by Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, Dr Paul Haggar and Kaloyan Mitev.
  • Members of the University of Bath community can access the collated survey data.
  • If you have any questions about this survey, please contact

Posted in: Climate Action Survey 2023


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