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It’s not just planting trees

Monday 03-11-2014 - 14:22

Building our movement on the three pillars of sustainability. Over the last decade, student-led sustainability has massively amplified its impact across campuses, curriculums and communities.

We’ve gone on a huge journey from fixing leaky urinals, to embedding sustainability into the core purpose of education across the UK. And we’ve done it to help students build the sort of society they want to see.

In 2006, only 50 students’ unions took part in our flagship sustainability programme Green Impact. Today, over 100 take part in the scheme, with nearly half achieving a Gold or Excellence standard.

Our commitment to this work has given HEFCE the confidence to award us £5 million to develop student-led sustainability projects across England over two years.

And as we enter a year which holds both a general election and the crucial Paris COP where we need to see a global agreement on emissions reductions, we’re determined to have our biggest year yet.

The rapid expansion of student engagement on sustainability is partly because the facts of climate science get more and more urgent every year. We know that 77 per cent of students are concerned about the effects of climate change, for instance, and that 60 per cent think we’re already feeling its effects.

But climate science alone doesn’t fully account for the acceleration of this agenda across our movement. It’s also because more and more students are grasping the concept of sustainability in its most holistic sense; understanding it as something which goes way beyond the stereotype of the tree-hugging do-gooder.

It’s a crucial social justice issue; key to building a more promising future for students, affecting everything from health and wellbeing, to employment and prosperity.

Sustainability is something which touches the lives and learning of everybody in education today, and we’re proud to be part of a movement which recognises sustainability as integral to a fairer and more prosperous society for everyone.

Too often, when people think of sustainability, they only think of the environment. This is an inaccurate definition of sustainability. It’s far too narrow in scope. Sustainability – since the late 1980s – is popularly described as meeting the needs of today, without compromising the needs of future generations.

You only need to consider the state of global finances since the crash of 2008 to see that this definition calls for far more than getting more recycling bins on our campuses, as important as that is. It touches so many of our core values as a student movement.

There are three pillars to sustainability, and the environment is only one of them. Equally important are social and economic considerations – and only when all three pillars are in place can we say that an idea, or a project or a society is truly sustainable.

Across our movement, we see more and more students grasping this properly, leading on work which goes beyond typical green engagement, and driving projects which address our social, economic and environmental challenges holistically. This is exactly what we want to see more of.

Over the last year, we’ve championed projects which have set up ethical credit unions and local currencies. We’ve supported students unions in building resilient local food networks and reducing social isolation across the community.

We’re even working to get sustainability credentials into the curriculums of all courses and vocations. Some of these things don’t directly cut carbon in the same way as energy-efficiency measures or campaigning against fossil fuel extraction. But they all make a valuable contribution to the sustainable future which we know students want to build.

Working with students’ unions across the country, we’re keen to help all graduates leave their time in education as part of the solution to our social, economic and environmental problems.

Business as usual just won’t work, and students know this. 80 per cent of students want their institutions to be doing more on sustainability, and groups like our society of the year award winners Post-Crash Economics are demanding that their teaching reflects the realities of the century ahead, not the mistakes of the century behind us.

We’ve come a long way from the misconception of sustainability being just about litter picking and tree planting. But we’ve still got a long way to go.

Students understand that securing a more prosperous future for themselves means building a more sustainable future for everybody. That’s why we’re helping them create it. We’re offering invaluable new skills, experiences and opportunities.

We’re creating more resilient and healthy communities around our campuses, not to mention stronger students’ unions. We’re exploring fairer economic solutions to a mess that young people didn’t create. Put simply, we’re empowering students to drive their vision of a truly sustainable future.

Together, we can turn every students’ union into a hub of sustainability at the heart of their wider community. Social, economic and environmental issues have always been closely tied to our values.

But in 2014, faced with worsening climate change and unprecedented global debt, it’s never been more important to win with students on sustainability.

Find out more about how we can help promote sustainability through your students’ union here or email us.

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Sustainability

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