Given the magnitude of the challenge ahead, we realise that individual behaviour change, although necessary, will not be enough. Why ride a bike to work if your company actively contributes to climate change and the depletion of resources?
Introducing the collective
The Student Manifesto for an Ecological Awakening launched in September 2018 has found a huge echo within the student community in France and in Europe, in the context of a growing mobilization for the environmental and climate emergency: more than 30,000 students from 400 universities have signed it. These students expressed their frustration at the gap between the scale of the environmental challenge and the lack of measures taken to meet it, and called on students and graduates to increase pressure on decision-makers to take action against climate change.
The success of the Manifesto has opened up a space for dialogue among political and economic decision-makers, associations and students. Representing the voices of those 30,000 students, we founded a collective in order to ensure action is taken upon the demands outlined in the Manifesto.
We are committed to two main issues: higher education and employment. On the one hand, we provide students and young graduates with tools not only to decipher the environmental commitments of companies and detect greenwashing practices but also to get involved in promoting environmental action in their university, with their employers or when choosing their job. On the other hand, we bring the voices of students to decision-makers, through the publication of numerous reports and active advocacy for stronger environmental and social company policies and for the prominence of environmental subjects in higher education curricula.
Our tools and actions
Alongside our advocacy work with public and private actors, we developed and gathered tools on our website to help those that recognize themselves in the Manifesto reconcile their academic and professional lives/choices with their personal convictions.
Wake your school up
Although environmental issues represent an increasing share of taught subjects, they remain marginal, being confined to elective or specialization courses. Yet the environmental and climate emergency will impact and reshape all sectors of the economy. How can we hope to build a society compatible with planetary boundaries if we are not properly trained to do so? How can we work in tomorrow’s world if we are not being taught about the challenges we will face?
We try to deliver this message to the government bodies and higher education institutions, but we also value a bottom-up approach in which the students themselves urge their school to incorporate environmental and climate issues to their curriculum. Indeed, a growing number of students are mobilizing for causes, consequences and potential solutions to the environmental crises to be taught in higher education courses. We have thus launched an online platform developed in partnership with Together for Earth, to create a network and share practices among students working to transform their educational environment, by raising awareness around environmental issues in the teaching community, organizing events or negotiating with the administration of their school…
Wake your employer up
« We want to make use of our leverage as students, by addressing the employers we deem to be in agreement with the values of this Manifesto. »
Dozens of meetings with CEOs and sustainable development directors have enabled us to understand that our future employers put a lot of effort into remaining attractive to the younger generation. It seems as though this is a powerful lever of influence in a context of the climate emergency : we refuse to work for companies that don’t fit with our environmental values.
In practice, however, it is not easy to evaluate the environmental strategies of employers, nor to verify their sincerity: there is a lot of information, the most important part of which is often absent or well hidden. Beyond the carbon footprint (easy to measure) or the biodiversity impact (difficult to measure), how can we compare the societal purpose of two companies' products in dealing with the environmental and climate crises? The analysis will necessarily be subjective. To help future employees see clearer through all this, different resources are available on our website :
- A framework to help evaluate the level of commitment of a company on environmental issues and the relevance of its strategy.
- Answers from some big companies to our questions about their environmental policies, to read carefully – and with our anti-green washing guide in mind.
- Other tools such as the interview manual or our guide "How to get involved in your company?"
Additionally, we created a network of active employees that work to push all companies, however virtuous they may be, to live up to the challenge through action. This network, - LES COLLECTIFS - established a guide for environmental action at work.
We want to enable students and graduates to be able to send a strong message in order to compel employers, today and in the future, to realise how crucial it is for them to question their practices and work to align them to a sustainable pathway. By creating our own Wake-up call on the environment, and sharing it in our networks, whether social, professional or personal, we can make our beliefs, our commitment and our expectations heard.
Mobilizing other leverages
"As citizens, as consumers, as workers, we claim in this manifesto our wish to change an economic system in which we don’t believe anymore. We are aware that change implies a necessary transformation of our lifestyles."
Schools, universities and employers will only commit to a level of action that meets the need of the crisis if rooted in the aspirations of the entire society, starting with financial and political powers, but also us, citizens. The scale of the challenges we are facing requires every bit of energy we have, which is why we gathered resources to access information and take action, using alternative channels, as students, citizens or consumers.
What world do we want ?
The crisis we are facing has lead us to ponder upon the kind of society we want to build and live in. As the manifesto states, the endless quest for perpetual GDP growth reflects a system that is completely disconnected from natural boundaries imposed by a finite planet. It will lead to the complete destruction of the ecosystems we rely on, and pushes our society to increase consumption and production at a time where we are about to hit a wall. Our societies have mistaken overconsumption with happiness, multiplicity of options with liberty, abundance with comfort – the very same comfort that is threatening our environment and our future. Prosperity cannot be measured by our ability to produce and buy. Rather, slowing down is a necessary step to bring back other forms of happiness, detached from the never-ending temptations of today’s world. As more and more professionals and students struggle to find meaning in their lives, we strongly feel the limits of our system, that promotes a purely quantitative growth at the expense of balance and relationships.
In the quest for solutions to the environmental and climate emergency, we are faced with the question of technological innovation. Despite its major role in solving the crisis, we can’t bet our future on the invention of disruptive technology of which the development is still uncertain. Technological efficiency is bounded by physical and material limitations, and won’t meet the needs of endless growth. Our model of innovation is captured by patent rights and profit-seeking behaviours. Sobriety and sustainability require a new model, with innovation working towards improving social welfare within planetary boundaries.
Finally, we must develop fair and coherent solutions to the environmental crisis, through accounting for inequalities and social issues. Addressing the causes and consequences of environmental crises requires a social unity that cannot be maintained without incorporating a structural consideration of inequality and justice. The crisis unevenly affects geographical areas and populations. Poor people are the first ones to bear the brunt of the consequences and suffer from climate change. The transition to a sustainable future will only be feasible if it is inclusive and fair : efforts must be distributed according to capacities and capabilities. To put it in a nutshell : wealthier and more powerful individuals must commit earlier, faster and more strongly than others -which also holds for countries on a global scale.
In 2022, we thus reaffirm our choice to get out of our comfort zone in order to build a new society, compatible with our expectations and hopes for the future. By contributing our time and energy, we hope to push citizens and organisations, as well as public institutions and companies to get involved; enabling the transformation towards a truly sustainable society.
Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.
The Student Manifesto for an Ecological Awakening is a collective supporting the evolution of higher education, challenging companies and calling for a policy response to the challenge we face. It was launched in September 2018 in France.