The 1-in-5 Project: How Final Year Student Projects Can Drive Sustainability Efforts

by | Oct 10, 2023 | Environmental Sustainability (ES), Guest Authors | 0 comments

Blog by Doron Cohen and Paul Warren, Senior Lecturers, Division of Psychology & Mental Health.  

As we slip into autumn, we’re left reflecting on a summer that many of us would rather forget but none can afford to ignore. The June to August period of 2023 wasn’t just warm; it was the hottest since records began. Devastating wildfires stretched across large parts of Portugal and Greece, floods swept away homes in Central Europe, and unprecedented heatwaves strained human and natural eco-systems globally.

In the US, for example, residents of Phoenix, endured temperatures of 43.3°C (110F) continually for 31 days, causing significant strain on medical services while forest fires in Hawaii devastated the island of Maui, resulting in the death of more than 110 people. In Beijing, torrential rain claimed the lives of 33 individuals, including five rescue workers and caused over 59,000 homes collapsed.

The immense scale of these problems can make individuals feel powerless and unsure of how to contribute to a solution. But what if we could harness the collective power of final year university projects to generate innovative solutions to these challenges? Enter the 1-in-5 project.

Understanding the 1-in-5 Project

The 1-in-5 project proposes a simple yet powerful idea: that 1 in every 5 final year university projects across every discipline should focus on sustainability or climate change. To understand the power of this concept, let’s delve into the numbers: Annually, about 500,000 students in the UK complete their undergraduate degree.

As part of their final year, the majority undertake extensive projects which range from artistic performances and musical compositions to in-depth research papers. If even 1 in 5 of these projects (that’s 100,000 initiatives!) were directed towards environmental sustainability, the ripple effect could be transformative.

It is also important that we recognise that the problems of sustainability and climate change are too large and all-encompassing to be confined solely to environmental disciplines. Consider computer science students working on energy-efficient algorithms, English literature students exploring environmental themes, or engineering students studying sustainable construction. Arts students can create environmentally-aware pieces, economics students might investigate sustainable business models, and healthcare students could explore the environmental impacts on health and wellbeing. Critically, every academic field holds potential to contribute to a sustainable future and this idea is at the heart of the 1-in-5 initiative.

The Potential for Real Change

While not every project will lead to transformative outcomes – in fact, most won’t – the sheer volume of projects ensures that some will. And even if just a fraction of these projects introduce a novel idea, propose an innovative solution, or shift public perception, the cumulative effect could be monumental. Moreover, by encouraging students and academic staff to engage questions of climate and sustainability, this initiative will make us more environmentally conscious and allow us to be more proactive in tackling such issues.

Our work in Psychology at the University

We’ve been working with student interns to scope out workable, undergraduate psychology projects that could be applied to sustainability, as well as surveying students about whether they would like to work on such initiatives. Here are some of our proposed projects:

  • Cultural Views on Sustainability: Investigating how varied cultural backgrounds influence perceptions of environmental challenges and collective versus individual responses.
  • Environmental Messaging: Assessing the efficacy of local vs. global environmental communication strategies.
  • Climate Change Denial Psychology: Unravelling cognitive biases and psychological reasons behind denial to encourage acceptance.
  • Eco-Anxiety: With increased exposure to distressing climate change imagery, understanding its psychological toll and developing coping mechanisms is critical.
  • Environmental Education: Evaluating and enhancing the impact of sustainability education across various platforms.
  • Environmental Attitudes: Analysing the nuances between conscious and unconscious environmental attitudes and their impact on consumer behaviour.
  • Environmentally aware behavioural change: Assessing the impact of carbon footprint labelling on food choices

Join the Movement

Across campuses there is burgeoning enthusiasm among students and academic staff to engage with projects that have tangible, positive impacts on our world. Indeed the 1-in-5 project has been gaining momentum, with several Psychology departments across the UK (and more recently in North America) signing up to this initiative. This is testament to what can be achieved when academia and purpose align and UK higher education might just be leading the charge.

To find out more please visit the 1-in-5 website and follow them on X (formally Twitter)

To find out more about Environmental Sustainability: visit the Faculty’s intranet pagewebsite or contact For more information on Environmental Sustainability at the University watch this short film or visit their website