What role does HE play in securing sustainability?

Universities have always been innovation hubs and we're seeing it increasingly in their approach to sustainability.

Using the campus itself as a living lab brings the opportunity for applied learning and employability skills for students. Across the UK, universities have been adopting "Promoting Sustainable Behaviours" as a core college strategic priority, including incentives to cycle to campus, recycle chewing gum and support mental health through promoting outdoor spaces.

Installing features to facilitate greener living is now necessary to support the environmentally-conscious lifestyle chosen by many students, and this is a reflection on the role that educators have in igniting change across people, planet and prosperity.

The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges (EAUC), which represents more than two million UK and Irish students and 400,000 faculty and staff, recognised the important role universities and colleges across the planet have to play in finding and implementing a solution to climate change. They explored the key role the education sector has to play in achieving sustainable development goals (SDGs) on a local level within their communities and considered the more active role the sector could play to ensure it meets its responsibility to deliver graduates able to operate as global citizens.

If SDGs are considered as the world's new to-do list, then education institutions will be instrumental in delivering these global goals on a local level – ultimately shaping all our futures.

Earlier this month, University Business attended the Green Gown Awards at Manchester's The Monastery, organised by the EAUC. This is the first year that applicants were required to align their entry with the United Nation's 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The finalists noted a combined total of 520 SDGs they were delivering against, with two thirds of this year's finalists delivering 'sustainable cities and communities'.

The ceremony was co-hosted by EAUC CEO Iain Patton alongside poet and Chancellor of the University of Manchester, Lemn Sissay, MBE. Opening the awards, Iain said: "These initiatives are a shining example of the power education possesses and the importance those that work and study within it place on creating a better world and a new generation of change agents."

These thoughts were echoed when Manchester Metropolitan University was named the greenest university in the UK, ranked in first in the People and Planet University League.

Professor Malcolm Press, Vice-Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, said, “Environmental change and sustainable living are amongst the greatest challenges that we face, and we remain committed to work to address key issues including: reducing our carbon footprint through appropriate management of our estate; developing carbon literacy learning for our students; and supporting innovative solutions”.

For a sector that has responded so strongly to the sustainability challenge, where energy reduction and recycling schemes have become standard, a key area of innovation has been a more systematic and effective engagement with the student journey by training students as ambassadors of carbon literacy to teach fellow students. This is unique to the sector and is embedding sustainability in graduate attitudes, placing them in a stronger position within a competitive job market.

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