On Monday the 4thof November, myself and my fellow eco-warrior officer Fraser went on the long journey to Sheffield to take part in various discussions and workshops surrounding sustainability and its role in SUs, university, and politics. The 9thannual Student Sustainability Summit was held by SOS-UK (students organising for sustainability) and the NUS and was attended by 225 student officers and activists who got involved in the twelve topical workshops available – led by other student officers from around the UK.
“SOS-UK is our way of contributing and helping the student movement organise and have its say.”– Zamzam Ibrahim (NUS National President)
We were lucky enough to be asked to do a talk with a presentation to other sabbatical officers, union and university staff from various institutions across the UK on “Turning the ‘climate emergency’ into concrete action” workshop. It was a fantastic opportunity to divulge what ARU students’ union has achieved in relation to this ecological crisis; we spoke about the sustainability policy that Fraser put together last year, and his engagement with supporting the university in re-writing their Sustainability Strategy and bringing it back into the SU strategy. The change from single use plastic to Vegware on campus, the sustainability workshops that were recently held and the events in support of saving the world. Not only this, but we also mentioned the panel held last year with local governing bodies including Vicky Ford (Chelmsford MP), Becky Spencer (Head of Public Affairs at WWF UK) and Dr Bob Evans (Global Sustainability Institute) to answer questions, debate strategies and open up conversations around sustainability. It was a privilege to deliver this talk and to hear from Lincoln University sabs who have been doing amazing things!
“SOS-UK will be able to engage in work direct with schools across the country, to help speed up the process of action against climate change, and to develop more challenging campaigns that resonate with what’s going on around the world.” – Erica Ramos (NUS Vice President Union Development)
Each workshop had a theme and involved discussions throughout such as NUS’ Green Impact initiative, supporting climate strikes and lobbying government figures, which allowed for the sharing of ideas, potential for collaborations and the opportunity to make more contacts in the fight against climate change. Conversations were aimed around pushing universities, and the unions representing the students that attend them, into planning and furthering the sustainability agenda at a faster, more intense pace. From lobbying our institutions to diverge away from fossil fuels and towards more renewable sources, to sparking environmental debates with MPs and the Government, to community projects focused on improving public spaces and the wildlife that inhabit these areas.
Finally, there was a Q&A panel debate held by Fope Olaleye (NUS Black Students’ Officer), Muna Suleiman (Friends of the Earth), and Angus Satow (Green New deal activist) on Climate Justice; what it means and what we can all be doing to act on the injustice we see and know is happening across the Globe. This debate was useful in being able to understand viewpoints and concerns from BME students and student activists in the UK, as well as gathering ideas on how to address issues faced during the climate crisis. However, I found that the most inspirational speech was delivered by 17 year old UKSCN (UK Student Climate Network) activist Joe Brindle on why universities, students and their unions should show solidarity with all those involved with the school strikes. To hear of young and inspiring activists sacrificing their education for the greater purpose of a shared future with less environmental damage, was exceptionally humbling and encouraging. UKSCN is collaborating with NUS on the #TeachTheFuture campaign on pushing the government to adjust the UK education system around the climate emergency and ecological crisis, while training teachers to be able to deliver this vital information. It is safe to say that the climate emergency is at the front of most discussions – a positive sign of things to come.
“Students and young people across the world are calling for immediate action, and with youth climate strikes happening in every corner of the planet. It’s time we galvanise that energy and build on it.” – Zamzam Ibrahim (NUS National President)
To say we were inspired, would be an understatement at the very least because every aspect had been so well thought out from the agenda, to the request for everyone to bring re-usable water bottles and if possible, their own keep cup for hot drinks (they also provided some on loan for the day!!) and asking people to bring lanyards or borrow one for the day. These may seem like small incentives but research shows that a staggering one million plastic bottles are bought per minute around the world and according to National Geographic and 91% of plastic is notrecycled. The average UK household uses 480 plastic bottles per year, but only recycles 270 of them, meaning 44% does not get recycled! So just by making small changes in our day-to-day we have managed to keep single use bottles and cups out of landfill for our summit. Now imagine everyone making these small changes alongside some really dramatic big ones across the globe…pretty impressive I think.