The environmental crisis will hit our generation hard. Sustainability is key for all of us, including universities

“Our generation should see that we are now at an escalated stage and that environmental issues bear no delay,” AMU students Štěpán Hon, Anežka Matoušková and Markéta Labusová agree. Why should universities be sustainable? What does that actually mean? Why do prejudices regarding environmental topics still prevail at tertiary schools? How do the students rate the performance of AMU’s Environmental Panel for the three years of its existence as its members?

The three believe one of the reasons why the younger generation is more active in environmentalism may be that they believe the environmental crisis will hit them harder during their lifetime. “The older generation, in turn, may think: ‘I don’t really care – I can’t change anything, I won’t be around for long, so let the young ones go ahead and do it.’ To an extent, this stance is understandable,” says Štěpán Hon (Percussion Instruments Department, HAMU), Anežka Matoušková Matoušková (Jazz Music Department, HAMU) and Markéta Labusová Labusová (graduate of DAMU’s Department of Alternative and Puppet Theatre, currently a student of HAMU’s Composition Department).

What does a ‘sustainable university’ mean? And how about sustainable AMU in particular?
Štěpán Hon: Sustainability begins with awareness. It’s crucial for students, teachers and other employees to know exactly what it is about because involvement in environmental issues is still quite a touchy subject. For example, when the topic of environmentalism is placed in context with only profit and economic viewpoints, this causes a lot of prejudices in people, and it’s difficult to dispel them. What we seek is ensuring that whatever happens at AMU stands up to global standards. That requires an approach of awareness, openness, activism, and perspective – keeping the activities we pursue in perspective. It’s about being aware of the context – for example, instead of focusing only on music and concerts, thinking about the concerts’ broader impact, how to make them better, etc.

Anežka Matoušková: I agree with Štěpán on that it’s still a touchy subject, which is why there are many people who don’t believe that something like an environmental crisis is actually happening.

When you say that there are people who don’t believe it, do you see a generation gap in this? Do the doubters tend to be the older generation – your parents or grandparents?
Anežka Matoušková: I hope the younger generation are not the doubters, but then my only frame of reference is my social bubble, and I don’t know how things are on a broader scale. I don’t know if all the people in their twenties or thirties have the same viewpoint as me. My parents see things the same way, so it’s tough to say whether or not this is a generational problem.

Markéta Labusová: I think it is a generational issue to an extent. The way that children are educated and raised at a young age when they are the most ‘malleable’ has a huge effect on how they see the world. If things are explained the right way to children, they tend to doubt the problems much less. Getting back to the topic of sustainable AMU, I think the principal problem is in the very etymology of the word ‘university’ – as in ‘universal truth’: I think this is a dynamic process where we keep working to reach the universal truth. Some people who have been working at a university for a longer time – and I don’t just mean AMU, but in general – may tend to have a more conservative worldview and perceive things as less fluid than they are.

Štěpán Hon: The younger generation may also be more environmentally active because they see that the environmental crisis will hit them harder in their lifetime. The older generation, in turn, may think: ‘I don’t really care – I can’t change anything, I won’t be around for long, so let the young ones go ahead and do it.’ To an extent, this stance is understandable. But our generation should see that we are now at an escalated stage and that environmental issues bear no delay.

What in particular made each of you focus on environmental issues at AMU?
Štěpán Hon: My interest in environmental issues started earlier, but as far as AMU is concerned, it is linked to teacher and Environmental Panel member Jan Trojan and his lectures at the Composition Department of HAMU where we approached the topic through music – while recording in the field, listening to the sound smog in cities, and realising the impact of society on the landscape. That made me be more active in the university setting. 

Markéta Labusová: My interest also definitely predates my studies at AMU. The topic of sustainability has always been important for our family. Before I came to HAMU, I was one of the founders of the DAMU for Climate initiative.

Anežka Matoušková: It was similar with me. My family has brought me up to be respectful of nature, also in connection with vegetarianism. Reducing waste generation has always been a big topic at my home. I have many friends at DAMU for Climate and FAMU for Climate, as well as in other initiatives and social groups related, for example, to Klinika and so on. When I joined HAMU, I found that there was the Environmental Panel, although it wasn’t very active. So, we rolled up our sleeves so to speak.

What is the content of the Environmental Panel? What activities does it pursue?
Anežka Matoušková: For example, it undertook a waste audit in all AMU buildings and the results are available on AMU’s website. An energy audit is being planned. One of the findings of the waste audit was that HAMU had the greatest share in the waste generated at AMU. For instance, there used to be almost no separated waste bins at HAMU until last year, so everything went in the mixed waste. The audit showed that a half of this waste could be separated, but you can’t do that without the bins. The bins have been installed since, but there aren’t many. Changes are happening, albeit slowly.

AMU has also organised its Environmental Day. What was there to be seen?
Markéta Labusová: It was a festival that combined art with all manner of environmental activities. Throughout the day, there were themed workshops as well as a flower and clothes swap. People were able to find things that can commonly be found at environmental festivals, but since we are HAMU, there was music and other programme in addition to that. This included Mariana Bouřilová’s Laying in the Grass performance and an exhibit titled Where Are Last Year’s Roses by Iva Ščerbáková and Markéta Labusová accompanied by Jan Kotyk’s sound installation, Thaw. 

Štěpán Hon: The event included a panel discussion focused on the topic of Savings and Sustainability of the Current Art Operation with debaters Tomáš Vaněk from AVU, Jan Press from the Moravian Gallery, Jiří Ptáček from Artreuse, Vladimír 518, and Michaela Rýgrová from Students from the Institute of Chemical Technology also contributed with a lecture on water, which included a presentation on water circulation models in towns and in nature and showed what works and what doesn’t, what options are available for capturing water, and where water can be lost. 

How long has AMU’s Environmental Panel been working?
Markéta Labusová: For three years. We seek inspiration for what to do in small things. For example, if a schoolmate goes on an Erasmus stay, we have them tell us what it was like there and what ideas could be ‘transplanted’ over here when they come back. This type of communication works within Departments and we try to implement such new things.

Štěpán Hon: We would also like to contribute towards creating a better environment at AMU. We want it to be more intimate within this large university. One thing that could help in this respect is shared space such as kitchens where we could cook together. That could result in saving energy and material while making the environment cosier.

Markéta Labusová: There currently is this new initiative going on at the Composition Department to make the environment cosier where we discuss the options for opening a kitchen while observing all the rules and directives such as fire regulations and so on. The best cooperation happens where people tend to belong naturally.

Štěpán Hon: I think that cooperation is the key word in environmental efforts, and if we cooperate more within the school, the principle will obviously transcend the school.

Markéta Labusová: I would like to point out that we also keep mental health in mind as part of our sustainability efforts. The next Environmental Day will take place on 4 June and we plan to include lectures on this topic. Environmental awareness requires quite an extensive transformation of the mind and thinking, and it is necessary to focus on the issue in a holistic way.

Štěpán Hon: This is also connected with students’ mental well-being, which is a highly relevant topic primarily in art where there is a lot of tension, stress, and nervousness, and so opening up to other activities can be difficult. This could be a good way to relax and accept different things.

Aside from the Environmental Day 2023, are you preparing any smaller events for this year?
Štěpán Hon: We planned to launch a series of film screenings showing films on environmental topics. It didn’t work out this time due to time constraints, but we would be happy to do a screening session at least once every month in cooperation with the FAMU Studio over the course of next year. We are in touch with Head of FAMU Studio Ondřej Šejnoha whose attitude to the idea is favourable. We will select either films made at FAMU or ones with any connection to environmental topics.

Do you ever encounter negative reactions to your work on the part of students or teachers?
Markéta Labusová: Not really. Rather than that, I feel that people draw a distinct line between their own personal lives, in which they are active in one way or another, and the conformism at school where they see it as an extra work because it is not so common yet.

Štěpán Hon: Some students could perceive this as an extracurricular activity that can be restrictive on their lifestyle. But life is a holistic affair. You cannot separate work from school and life. Realising this can take time sometimes.

How in particular does sustainability manifest in your everyday life?
Markéta Labusová: For me, it is about learning to say no and make good estimations as to what I can manage in a day and still have a nice one. It is about working with the environment I am part of and with the thoughts in my head. This is step one. In terms of real-life matters, I live in a home with a garden, and we compost stuff and gather stuff in the garden. These are two major elements. It is about connecting the things that happen outdoors with the things that happen indoors and vice versa, so that the two areas are communicating vessels and there is no excessive pressure in either of them. Also, being able to forgive myself for making a mistake when I make one.

Anežka Matoušková: I like what Markéta says, and I would add the art of slowing down to the list. A period has just ended that was just packed with so many concerts, projects, and all sorts of other events, and while it was all really nice, I came to the realisation that I didn’t really manage to enjoy it all because it took too much energy from me. So, I also try to say no and value my time. Of course, I also recycle waste and compost things, and when I buy food to take with me, I check if the package is made of recyclable material. I really keep in mind this sort of small things.

Štěpán Hon: I agree with all of the above. I try to avoid living the consumerist way of life that I lived earlier. It is normal in society that we find joy in various things and gadgets, but I try to free myself from that. I try to seek more sustainable ways of living and happiness. This also stems from human relationships. Thinking about the impact of all our activities. I picture our planet as a spaceship, and everything that happens here, everything we release, comes back to us. The way that we act comes back at us. I imagine this as circulation of things as well as emotions and thoughts. This has radically changed the way I think and what I do. Since we are in an art school, we have the option of putting our ideas into music. Through music, we can speak to people in a way that is better than explaining. This is a much better way than pushing things by force. Let our actions speak for themselves. My goal is to present environmental topics as ‘sexy’. When you tell someone today, ‘be more aware, act green!’, it can irritate them and that’s wrong. This is why I wish to present environmental topics in a more attractive way. To make people realise that if they shave a little off their lives, they can actually make them more interesting. This doesn’t just have to mean restrictions and obligations – actually, it can give a life a better meaning.

Markéta Labusová: It’s about avoiding the perception that acting sustainably is an extra burden on top of having to carry an already heavy backpack. It’s about taking something out, exploring it, and saying: ‘Okay, I don’t have to carry this around anymore.’”