Universities and the Environment

SU President Kate Roberts discusses how we can make universities more sustainable, and discloses her sustainability campagin.

SU President Kate Roberts

University can often be a transformational experience for students, providing the space and freedom to allow us to question our thoughts and values, and reshape who we want to be in the future. As we work to understand our place in the world, this can often lead us to questions about the environment and sustainability, namely how can we ensure that this planet provides for ourselves and for future generations?

The global fight to stem rising temperatures and combat climate change is being led by the youth movement, and now we, as students, have a huge platform to make our voices heard and create change. Unsurprisingly, as a place of radical thought and progression, the conversation about sustainability has been hovering around universities for a number of years now. However, as places often steeped in tradition and historical processes, there has not been enough change in the Higher Education sector towards adopting sustainability as a core value.

Current sustainability work at universities is very much a work in progress. It is clear that there needs to be a collective effort to ensure that all members of the university community (staff and students) understand the principles of sustainability, alongside the more traditional focus on operational changes such as energy and waste management. We need to see sustainability work as fundamental to our education, to become informed citizens who are able to navigate the increasing demand for sustainability in all aspects of our society. We also need to ensure that the university community understands the various dimensions, and in particular the intersectionality of the sustainability movement, to make all changes as inclusive as possible.

The student movement has a number of initiatives that work across universities to drive change including; Students Organising for Sustainability UK (SOS-UK), People and Planet, and NUS’ Carbon Targets campaign. Much of the recent work on sustainability across universities has focused on divestment, lobbying universities to commit to remove their investment funds from companies in the fossil fuel industry that contribute to climate change.

Royal Holloway has made significant progress on their operational sustainability over the last 10 years, creating sustainable energy systems and waste management processes, but there is more work to do. 

I am leading a campaign on sustainability in Term 2 that will be lobbying for a clear sustainability strategy for Royal Holloway, with an underlying action plan and commitment of resource and funding to dedicate to this work. I will also be lobbying for the introduction of sustainability into the curriculum for all students at Royal Holloway, climate change impacts us all and we should all graduate as informed citizens ready to take lead on these issues.

It is also important to acknowledge that the Students’ Union is not exempt from these issues. This year we will be adding an additional element to our usual operational plans, in which we will be reviewing our sustainability within every team and tracking our progress throughout the year. This will ensure that sustainability improvements are directly outlined and measured in all of our work. It is the aim that we will also be increasing the transparency of our sustainability and work in this area to the student body.If you are interested in getting involved in sustainability at Royal Holloway, keep an eye out in Term 2 for the campaign week and do not hesitate to drop me an email at [email protected].