During an online event on February 3rd, 2022, the Green Erasmus project and researchers showcased their first reports of the survey which was answered by nearly 8000 students either on mobility or that had been on mobility in the past 3 years. The event was attended by more than 300 people, in its majority university staff, education policymakers across Europe and students who recently took part in a mobility programme.
With students’ mobility rapidly growing in the last few decades and contributing to internationalisation’s carbon footprint it’s pertinent to wonder about the environmental impact of Erasmus mobility.
Since so far research on the environmental impact of student mobility has been limited, the Green Erasmus research aims at comparing students’ consumer behaviour, travel behaviour and daily life habits at home and during mobility. The research also investigates students’ behaviour in relation to socio-psychological factors, such as beliefs, attitudes, norms, awareness levels and other external barriers that impact certain behaviours.
You can read the full report here. If you would like to watch the entire webinar, the video is available at the end of the article.
The Green Erasmus Project is coordinated by a consortium consisting of Erasmus Student Network (ESN), European University Foundation (EUF), European Students' Union (ESU), Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Technische Hochschule Köln (TH Köln), and Students Organising for Sustainability UK (SOS UK).
The main objectives of the project are to reduce the negative impact of the Erasmus+ Programme on environmental sustainability; raise awareness across the European higher education sector about the importance of sustainable internationalisation and finally to empower student organisations to be the agents of change, pushing for improvements on the topic of environmental sustainability.
Green Erasmus also aims to create a holistic approach to aligning internationalisation with sustainability through a handbook, toolkits and activities for sustainable practices by and for students.
The event consisted of the presentation of two reports: the first conducted by Georgios Karaiskos, Researcher at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) which developed a study comparing students’ consumer and travel behaviour and also daily life habits whilst at home and during their mobility; the latter, presented by Helena Alves, Policy and Research Officer at European University Foundation (EUF) investigated which good practices can Higher Education Institutions do to support international and local students in adopting more environmentally sustainable behaviours. Lastly, the event ended with a discussion between the panellists and the audience on the different measures to make Erasmus greener on all levels.
Through the survey conducted, the objective was to understand the travel habits of students, if their ecological footprint had changed in any way and what their consumer habits were, comparing the students while at home and while on mobility.
The key findings presented by the researchers showed that most students are very concerned about climate change (93.8%) and eight out of ten said that they are willing to take responsibility and action towards climate change, since they consider themselves accountable for climate change as well, not only third parties.
However, an attitude-behaviour gap was perceptible: students on mobility pay much more attention to the price of a product (59.6%) than the origin (4.8%) or package reusability (1.8%) when buying, regardless of the fact that more than 9 out of 10 report to be at least fairly concerned about the environment.
Most of the students are informed and their sources are mostly the internet (86.5%) and social media (59.2%). Official sources such as Higher Education Institutions (35.5%) are not as popular. However, 7 out of 10 students want to learn more from their HEIs and are eager to see them more engaged in this topic.
In regards to HEIs, these have expressed a will to promote environmental sustainability.
The study was able to gather some of the good practises HEIs have implemented such as paying grants to students that use eco-friendly means of transport, making staff responsible for sustainability, and organising events that are eco-responsible and creating projects for local and mobile students, perpetuating knowledge and action in this topic.
However, some barriers were also made significant such as the difficulty in changing mindsets and habits; the need for better understanding and belief in sustainability; the lack of resources and time and even physical barriers such as outdated devices and buildings.
“Sustainable travel is a priority for the Erasmus Generation.” - ESN
The roundtable, moderated by Wim Gabriels, Director of ESN took place in the last part of the online event and had the participation of Marcos Ros, Member of the European Parliament; Ruben Sansom, Clean Mobility Coordinator of Generation Climate Europe (CGE); Mika Saarinen, Director of the Finnish National Agency for Erasmus+ and also Jose Manuel Fernandez Arroyo, Head of Sector of Unit B4, Directorate General of Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (DG EAC), European Commission.
The Panel Debate revolved around the challenge of sustainable mobility, touching the subjects of student behaviour, what HEIs and policymakers on the national and European level can do to support greener mobility and what is being done at the moment.
The audience was also encouraged to participate with their own inputs and questions regarding the research findings and directly to the panellists on what is the future of sustainable mobility.
In regards to student behaviour, around 70% of the audience present at the event said to believe that what is being done to change the travel mode of the students is insufficient and presented some alternatives such as better train connection; discounts for Green Travel; education and best practice sharing as well as night trains.
Ruben Sansom shares the idea that the environmental and sustainability topic should be broadened to more inclusive terms, since students don’t all come from the same backgrounds and more investment in education, such as the creation of these events and webinars, is needed:
“We (CGE) believe that questions related to the environment and sustainability should not be limited exclusively to committees who focus on the environment but should also be engaged in debates on different topics such as inclusivity and education.”
Jose Arroyo also had an insight into inclusivity in regards to the Erasmus program:
“The measures that we put in place have to be balanced with many other factors and one of these is the variety of realities that we have across all the Erasmus+ program countries.”
Concerning the big role of Higher Education Institutions in sharing the sustainability message, 55% of the audience that answered shared that their HEI is currently implementing any actions to reduce the environmental impact of mobility and, to further these actions even more the main suggestions were the creation of a Green Office extending education and guidance of students and staff; offer financial support; increasing mobility duration.
“The fact is that a lot of Erasmus periods will need air travel also in the future, for geographical reasons, for inclusion reasons, for duration reasons. The aim is to bring the whole emissions of the program down and everybody's work is needed” was an input given by Mika Saarinen on not demonising air travel since it’s still very much needed but creating greener practises on general daily life.
Jose Arroyo shared that “the real impact we can have in Erasmus is if we change minds about the way we decide when and how we do our mobilities, when we make decisions in our daily life”, changing the target on only the transportation method used to and from mobility and focusing more on the small steps towards a more responsible environmental footprint.
The Green Erasmus project is just beginning. There is more news coming, one of which is the launch of a Toolkit for environmentally sustainable activities.
Make sure to keep up to date and subscribe to the newsletter in the contact section of the project website.