Green Students, Green Future

On Thursday last I attended the final meeting of the Liverpool Green Guild project steering group where we cheered the recent Guild award for waste prevention and reflected on all the fantastic work done by students over the last two years.

The funding for the project, which was part of five million pounds of HEFCE funding for student-led environmental sustainability projects, runs through students’ unions in partnership with their parent institutions. The four key themes of the Students’ Green Fund are student participation, partnership, impact, and legacy.

Legacy and continuation was the focus of a Green Fund Final Support day that I attended on the 16th of April in Bristol with Green Guild Project Officer Dave Wheatley and Guild Vice President Alex Ferguson. Now is the time to look to continuing the work of the Green Fund and the 24 other NUS-led projects across the country, especially with the recently published HEFCE sustainable development framework which was mentioned in the annual funding letter to Universities.

Steve Egan, a champion of the project from HEFCE, talked about sustainability and said that Universities have come to realise that:

“There is a generation gap between university managers and students who are much more aware and enthusiastic than their elders”

He went on to comment on enthusiasm for social justice and equality, and said the pride with which students have tackled their task has been amazing. The collaborations between students, academic and professional services staff and through outreach beyond the university are a model for future collaborations.

Student calls for more sustainable development, as reported by the NUS. Click image to enlarge.

It is certainly clear from the NUS survey results shown above that students want more action on sustainable development. And why would they not? As Chris Willmore, Academic Director for Undergraduates at Bristol said:

“Students go out into the world with a lifetime of footprints ahead of them. Part of our commitment to students is that they learn to tread lighter when they go”

She argued that the Green Fund has been transformational in its impact on students. Chris presented a four stage model of engagement with the environment, although Andrew Darnington, the project evaluator, did comment that “sustainability is very broad, not just ‘green’”. So perhaps the model should reflect the breadth of work that education for sustainable development implies.

Chris Willmore’s four stage model of engagement with the environment. Click image to enlarge.

So, what lessons have been learned? Certainly all speakers and the ‘Sum Up’ posters prepared by each project demonstrated the ways in which all projects promoted enterprise. Liverpool’s SEED fund projects, for instance, are an excellent example of encouraging social enterprise. Another example is the team from the ‘Edible Campus’ project at Lancaster, who had some fascinating findings:

  • The students who engaged with the projects are often those who do not engage in other student social activities.
  • More international students were attracted to the projects.
  • Students enjoyed growing food and cooking it, but the main learning was about food security, sustainability, and values in the broadest sense.
Liverpool’s ‘Sum Up’ poster. Click image to enlarge.

This emphasis on values is perhaps something that Education for Sustainable Development can really help us to focus on.

To quote Sterling (2014)*, the fundamental challenge is this:

How can education more strongly impact sustainable development—and sustainable development be embedded at the heart of education and learning—so that there is both mutual benefit and accelerated positive effect, sufficient to win breakthrough towards an economically secure, ecologically stable and socially just world, way into the future?

*Sterling, S . (2014). Separate Tracks or Real Synergy? Achieving a Closer Relationship between Education and SD, Post-2015. Journal of Education for Sustainable Development 8:2 (2014): 89–112. London: Sage

Anne Qualter