Protein-rich vegetarian food and travelling to helsinki by train – reflections on jytte’s climate and environment questionnaire

Jytte has chosen climate and sustainability as its themes for 2022. These will also be discussed on the blog in a series of posts, the first two of which were published in the spring. This post deals with answers to Jytte’s spring 2022 questionnaire on improving the sustainability of the university. One more post will be published in the series later in the year.

In May 2022, Jytte carried out a questionnaire about improving the sustainability of the university. 64 responses, 9 of which were in English, were collected. The number of respondents equalled about 8% of Jytte’s members.

JYU’s overall score above average, barely

The overall score given to the University’s climate and sustainability work was 6,3 (median 7) on a scale of 1 to 10. While above average, the score is hardly high. According to the respondents, JYU still has a lot to do.

When asked for what sort of sustainable activities JYU gave the best support, the most popular answers to closed questions were recycling, tasty vegetarian and vegan food, and cycling. Yet open questions highlighted some difficulties around cycling, especially the lack of shower facilities and lockable storage spaces for bikes. Some respondents thought that the university actively encouraged driving since nothing has been done to make cycling easier. Also, although the respondents appeared to be largely satisfied with the way recycling has been organised on campus, some of their answers to open questions revealed that recycling facilities were found lacking, especially for plastics and food waste. Some responses were critical of the use of nonrecyclable materials in, for example, single-use plates and cutlery.

The answers related to the respondents’ own activities around sustainability highlighted four things that a vast majority (over 70%) felt the university did not provide enough or any support for. The first one is the possibility to use sustainably and responsibility sourced equipment. The open questions also revealed that people would like to know more about the service life and disposal of equipment. Another one is the lack of training and information on sustainable practices at the workplace. Some of the respondents felt that they have not received enough guidance on work-related sustainability practices and noted that they were not familiar with the university’s climate goals and action plans. The third and the fourth area that could do with more support are the possibilities to have a say on how their own unit and the whole university could be made more sustainable.

Experiences of limited influence are likely to be related to the perceived communication issues: with no awareness of the university’s climate and sustainability goals or action plans, influencing them is bound to be difficult. Based on the responses, information about the aims, actions, plans, and guidance is not properly circulated within the university. Considering that our respondents are bound to be interested in sustainability, internal communications appear to have failed to reach even the most active members of the university community. For example, one of the answers to the question about a more climate-friendly campus was a direct request for more information to both students and staff.

Some of the respondents considered sustainability to be the university’s business and not the responsibility of Jytte, let alone individuals. Those of you who have been reading the climate blogs may remember that these comments are in line with the views of Ulla Helimo, JYU’s sustainability and responsibility specialist. Helimo supports systemic transformation with structural changes from above instead of each individual worker having to deal with the issue on their own. Yet the answers reflect the respondents’ desire to do something – for example cycle to work or up their recycling. It is also clear that people want JYU to enable or support this.

Better and wider range of vegetarian and vegan meals, please

Almost all respondents (50) chose to answer the open question about their needs and desires regarding the university’s vegetarian or vegan food. Most of the comments mentioned the taste or low quality of the food and the limited range of choices available. More specific comments had to do with flavour, the amount and sources of protein, and the appearance of the food. Not everyone wanted the same thing: some respondents wanted more flavour while others wanted the food to be less spicy. Some of the answers noted the prevalence of common allergens (wheat, soy, and carrot) in vegetarian and vegan meals and their preference for locally sourced foods.

Respondents on a vegan diet hoped that their meals were available on the buffet as currently vegan meals need to be ordered from the kitchen separately. The difficulty of accessing vegan food has also been discussed in Jytte’s climate and environment group, and it is a problem. Sometimes the vegan choice is not even mentioned on the menu. On those days, you will be “buying a (vegan) pig in a poke” – sometimes the food is nice, sometimes not. Obviously, this will not affect the decisions of vegans, but if the food was more readily available, other people might try it too.

Some comments stressed the importance of keeping meat and fish on the menu. This may reflect the common fear that increasing the visibility of vegetarian meals and encouraging people to try the vegetarian options would automatically mean a ban on meat-based options. It is important to notice that for example JYU.Wisdom (Wisdom Letters 2/2019) recommends a planetary diet, which also includes meat and fish.

To Stockholm by plane – not quite as planned

In addition to general comments and food, the questionnaire also gathered information on processes that are not exactly sustainable. 33 respondents told us of their experiences. These touched upon a range of things, but several respondents mentioned having been “forced” to travel by plane. Many of them hoped that the university would discourage flying, even if land travel took longer. A ban on domestic flights was a particularly popular proposition.

On an individual level, flying is one of the biggest accelerants of climate change. According to a 2019 study, Finns are the second biggest producers of aviation emissions right after Singaporeans. Although main cause of carbon dioxide emissions are international flights, the emissions from domestic flights are also substantial. Flying is often considered to be the fastest way to reach Helsinki from elsewhere in Finland but when airport transfers, checking in, and all the other steps of the journey are considered, other modes of travel might well be at least as fast or even faster and more environmentally friendly. (Wisdom Letters 1/2020.)

The questionnaire also included a specific question about the willingness of the respondent to opt for land travel instead of flying. The responses (64 in total) made it clear that people do not want to take domestic flights. Everyone whose work includes travel mentioned being very or somewhat interested in domestic land travel. Most respondents (54,7%) were also interested in travelling to the Nordic and Baltic countries without flying. More than half of the respondents (51,6%) were very or somewhat interested in longer distance land and sea travel. Most respondents considered a reasonable duration for non-flying journey to be between 8 and 24 hours, while some of the respondents would be happy with even extremely long journeys (up to 72 hours).

Jytte’s role in creating a more sustainable university

The 31 answers to the question, “What kind of climate-friendly or sustainable campus you would like to see?”, envision parking spaces transformed into charging points for electric cars, tarmac replaced by green areas and benches, vegetarian meals, effective recycling, and minimal energy consumption. At least some of the electricity would be produced with solar panels. The answers highlighted social sustainability, especially the cosiness of the campus, good management, and the equality and respectful treatment of different groups. In an open question on action plans for sustainable development (18 responses), the respondents also wished for a university that invests in businesses with sustainable practices and sustainability-related research and encourages discussion on these themes. Additionally, the respondents would like to see the university stop the sort of innovation activities that encourage increase in consumption.

Jytte can do its part to encourage these things and to speed up systemic change – this is what many respondents wished for. One question asked what the respondents thought Jytte should do in terms of climate and the environment. Of the 29 respondents, roughly one third saw influencing the university’s operating models as an important part of Jytte’s program. Most importantly, Jytte should try to influence the travel policy, but lockable bicycle storages and communal bikes were also mentioned. The respondents also wished that Jytte would actively report on climate and environmental issues to its members. Events and trainings related to concrete actions were also asked for.

Discussion on influencing the university’s action plans has been going on for a while both in Jytte’s climate and environment group as well as among Jytte’s board. One theme we intend to focus on in the near future is the question on food at the campus. In 2022, Jytte will make a statement on vegetarian and vegan food that will be sent to Semma, Ilokivi, and Food & Co (the library cafeteria). Additionally, an event for members on land travel will be held in 2023. The plan is to share information and experiences on land travel and discuss the ways the university’s travel policy could be developed into a more sustainable direction. Later this year, we aim to launch a campaign that seeks to inspire our members into concrete action. More information will be released soon!

A few respondents thought that the university and Jytte are already wasting too many resources on themes related to climate and the environment. These were not considered to be topics unions or employers should be interested in. Some respondents believed that climate-related actions are primarily personal choices. However, as a member of Akava, FUURT has committed to working for the climate and the university’s stated aim is to become carbon neutral by 2025. It is therefore important to ensure that the topics are visible in everyday life at the university.

It should be clear that these themes are important for Jytte – both as a union operating within the university and as a member of FUURT. While 2022 is a climate and sustainability theme year, we have no intention of forgetting the topic in 2023. The board will continue to discuss on how to include the themes in future discussions and activities.

Elisa Vallius, University Teacher in Natural Resources and Environment (terms 2021-2023 working for JYU.Wisdom).

Heli Niskanen, Vice-member in Jytte’s board and Coordinator in Educational services.

Stefan Baumeister, Senior Lecturer and Adjunct Professor in Corporate Environmental Management, School of Resource Wisdom.

Heidi Kosonen, Jytte’s communications officer and a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Music, Art and Culture Studies.

All authors are members in Jytte’s Climate and Environment working group.