A recent study, published in Sustainability, looks at Swedish school students’ view on connections between environment and economy. Photo: A. Maslennikov/Azote

Negative externalities

Is the price right?

Swedish school students' views on connections between environment and economy

There’s a lot happening when it comes to valuing nature right now. The Swedish government has appointed a commission to suggest ways of valuing ecosystem services and BalticSTERN publishes a report on the value of a healthy Baltic Sea.

Though the value of nature cannot, and maybe should not always be translated into monetary values there are some connections that can be made.

In a market analysis the value of resources used in production is expected to be reflected in the price. But not all costs are taken into account. Negative environmental impacts from the production of a product are often left out of the equation.

Awareness and opinions around this matter is likely to influence future policy. So what do students think?

We do need some education
A recent study, published in Sustainability, shows that only a small minority of Swedish students in upper secondary school (16-18 years old) reflect on connections between environmental impact and prices.

The study was conducted through a questionnaire that was handed out to 110 students, asking them to explain differences in prices and to argue for their opinions on what the differences should be. Why is, for example, a litre of carbonated water from the store 800 times as expensive as tap water?

Only 13% of the students gave any reference to negative environmental impact in their reasoning about prices.

The findings correspond to those in a report from the Swedish Consumer Agency, which found that only 10% of young consumers claim to often or always consider ethical and ecological impact when they make purchasing decisions.

They also imply that students fail to see the connection between the physical world of the environment and economic factors.

A challenge for schools
To lead students on to a path of informed consumer choices, the authors argue that there is a case to be made for including the relationship between price and the environment in the school curricula. They also call for more carefully designed curricula in general for issues that lie at the intersection of disciplines.

“Curriculum design often discourages integration between physical science and human, especially economic, perspectives on environmental issues. Previous studies have shown that conceptions of climate change are often restricted to the domain of physical science. Students may be encouraged to consider environmental issues in lessons labelled “science”, “geography” or “economics”, but really the curriculum should also support students in making sense of how these perspectives may be connected,” says centre researcher Cecilia Lundholm, co-author of the article.

Setting a new trend?
When asked to explain the way prices are set today, most of the students left out the environmental impact and negative externalities. However, when asked what they think should be the case, a much larger proportion stated that negative environmental impact should come at a price. Some motivated this with a general environmental concern, while others believed it could be a way of changing demand towards products that are more environmentally friendly.

”Our results indicate that there is work to do in teaching and curriculum policy, but we also see that there is great potential for the business and economic subject to include an understanding of environmental impact.” Lundholm concludes.

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Ignell, C., Davies, P., Lundholm, C. 2013. Swedish Upper Secondary School Students' Conceptions of Negative Environmental Impact and Pricing. Sustainability. 5: 982-996; doi:10.3390/su5030982

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