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Green universities score some points for students (Sodexo)

18 March 2010

Research by Sodexo reveals that students believe their universities are stepping up to the environmental challenge, but they are themselves less interested in organic and free range foods, and their student life is becoming much less centred on campus.

In previous years, environmental action has been slow to catch on in many universities, but according to the 2010 Sodexo University Lifestyle Survey, published in association with Times Higher Education, many students have seen an improvement and feel that their universities are taking more action over climate change. In 2008, 64 percent  of students said they would like to see their university take more action, but this figure has now fallen to 51 percent. When it comes to recycling, the number of students who think their university is doing enough is growing. In 2008, more than half (52 percent) of students thought their institution should be doing more, but this figure has now fallen to 35 percent, suggesting that students feel universities are starting to do their bit.
Far from being all talk and no action, today's undergraduates are a very green bunch, with two thirds of students (66 percent) now recycling paper and card. After that, the other most commonly-recycled items are plastic bottles (64 percent), cans (59 percent), and glass (53 percent). The proportion who do no recycling at all is only 18 percent, which has dropped since 2008 when it was 21 percent.
"Students are extremely environmentally aware and socially conscious, and our 2006 and 2008 University Lifestyle surveys highlighted the need to continue to provide universities with sustainable catering facilities and a wide range of ethically-sourced products," says Peter Taylor, head of universities for Sodexo. "To meet this need, we eliminated plastic cups, plates and cutlery in our catering outlets, replacing them with items made from recyclable materials, such as starch. We also set up waste and recycling facilities at each site and actively monitor our energy output. Our efforts to deliver on environmental issues is continuing, with a range of energy and waste management initiatives being implemented this year."
Safety and security
As in previous surveys, safety and security is a concern for students. Almost a third (30 percent) feel unsafe travelling to or from their accommodation and university at night and 15 percent do not feel safe walking around the university after dark, a trend that has increased since 2008 when 24 percent felt threatened in their universities at night.
Visibility is seen as key to safety, and a total of 92 percent undergraduates would like to see better lighting provided on campus. Next on the list of desirable security features is CCTV, with 71 percent wanting to see more cameras installed at their universities. Coming in at third place is to have security staff on patrol (56 percent), with women significantly more likely to support many of these initiatives.
Many students (42 percent) are changing their diet in order to cut down their spending and a large amount of them are skipping meals. Almost half of them (46 percent) miss lunch at least once a week and a one in ten (10 percent) never eats breakfast. Out of all three meals, dinner is the most regular, however, even 17 percent of students still skip supper at least once a week.
Worryingly, it seems that students think eating healthily necessitates spending more money - more than 63 percent percent who have changed their diet say this means they are eating less nutritious food as a result.
The last survey showed that there was a growing interest in where and how our food is produced, and on the welfare of farm animals, and although for many students this is still a key issue although their concern has waned somewhat. Although more than half (51 percent) of those asked in 2010 said they care about food being free range, in 2008 the figure was 63 percent. Some 37 percent of students want to eat British produce, which is a slight increase from 34 percent in 2008.
Fairtrade seems to be the produce which students seem to be losing interest in with 52 percent citing this as important in 2008, compared to 36 percent this year. Farm assured and fish from sustainable fisheries has seen the smallest drop with 44 percent and 46 percent in 2008 stating it as important compared to 35 percent and 37 percent (respectively) in 2010. Lastly, just over one in five (21 percent) want to eat organically-grown produce, down from 35 percent of students who considered it important in 2008.
Social lives are now firmly on the back burner, with less than a third (27 percent) of students listing this as a key reason to go to university. The number of hours students spend socialising while at university has also dropped dramatically in the last two years. Back in 2006, seeing friends and socialising was the biggest event of the day with 33 percent of students devoting five hours or more to it a day. This has fallen to 16 percent in 2010 with the majority of students (55 percent) socialising for two hours or fewer a day.
Nearly six in ten (59 percent) undergraduates say they are not going out as often because they need to save money. When they do venture out, students aren't partying in university bars. Two-thirds (65 percent) now do most of their socialising off campus.
And it seems the nation's binge drinking culture does not extend to university life. Contrary to popular belief, many students today are not regular drinkers. A quarter of students (23 percent) do not drink at all, and a further half (49 percent) drink 10 or less units a week.
"The whole university experience is becoming much less centred around campus and universities are under pressure to make better use of the social space available on-site," concludes Peter Taylor. "Sodexo is working with a team of designers to see how cafes, bars and restaurants can maximise revenues and become more enticing to students. Undergraduates want to see flexible, exciting venues where they can work, eat and relax with friends. By looking at new ways to use design, materials and lighting, universities will be in a great position to entice students back to campus."

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