Masters student Daniel Proudfoot reflects on an 8-week work-based placement investigating how to increase student engagement with sustainability and the University’s climate strategy.
As a Masters student studying Social Research and looking to gain experience conducting research for an organisation, the placement with SRS seemed to tick all the boxes. Not only did it give me a chance to practice my academic skills and encourage my professional development, but it was on an exciting topic that is of real value to the department. I don’t come from a background in sustainability, however I found this to be an asset as I was encouraged to develop my own research approach.
SRS presented me an outline of what they required, which was to take a mixed-methods approach to identifying ways to encourage student engagement with sustainability at the University of Edinburgh. Within this framework, I identified the notion of introducing inductions in sustainability for new students and staff as a method to encourage engagement with SRS issues. In short, my project aimed to explore how inductions could encourage pro-environmental behaviour across the University. The research was informed by theories of science communication and the habit discontinuity hypothesis which helped me to ascertain how sustainability should be framed to inductees in a way which would encourage pro-environmental behaviour. I used focus groups in order to give staff and students a forum to discuss these ideas together. I also interviewed key stakeholders within different parts of the University.
I found that there was widespread support for inductions in sustainability amongst the people I spoke to. One key finding was that including sustainability in the induction process could potentially be a powerful symbol of a University’s values. However, both staff and students identified it was generally peers rather than the institution alone which guided them towards pro-environmental behaviours. This suggested that inductions could be most effective as a way to develop sustainability ‘champions’ who then encourage pro-environmental behaviours amongst their peer groups.