Sustainability is a bit of an overwhelming topic. Nowadays, it feels like everything has a carbon footprint (spoiler alert, it does). Or it feels like we have to deny ourselves of things to be more eco-friendly. This is particularly difficult to navigate as a student. University is stressful enough without adding concerns about the environment to every food shop, night out or electronic device. So here, I want to talk about what the University is doing, especially in Environment and Geography, and what small changes you can make to try to be more sustainable.
What is Sustainability, and why is it important?
Sustainability is a relatively straightforward concept. The UN Brundtland Report has described it as ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Most people think that sustainability is only about the environment, but actually sustainability is about everything. Most explanations of it take the environment, the economy and society into account. In this blog, I’m mostly talking about environmental sustainability. But why is any of this important? Well, in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the world needs to be more sustainable. This means in every aspect of life – fuel, food, and even flights. So, it’s really important to know what institutions like universities are doing, and how we as students make an impact.
What is the University’s involvement/impact?
The University of York has published several big commitments and achievements in terms of sustainability. The University no longer has investments in fossil fuels! Instead, it has 80 solar panels across campus, and uses renewable energy for all electricity from the National Grid.
To reduce the amount of disposable cups on campus, the YORCUP scheme was created. Students can buy a YORCUP for £5, then return that cup to any participating outlet to be cleaned. The next time you want a hot drink on campus, you show your YORCUP sleeve, and get your drink in a clean cup. This initiative has saved us over 72,300 single-used cups, so be sure to check that out when you’re here!
York campus has been awarded a gold award from Cycling-UK for being cycle-friendly. It also holds the UK benchmark standard for publicly accessible parks and green spaces, so there’s plenty of room for you to bring your bike. The University is aiming to be carbon-neutral by 2030, making sure their approach is linked to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Of course, there is still more to do, though.
What is Environment and Geography’s involvement/impact?
Environment and Geography is not only interested in the causes, consequences and solutions to climate change, but also how to engage people with these factors. One of the most distinctive features of Environment and Geography is that it has a living wall on the outside. If you’re wandering around campus, you’ll definitely be able to find it!
Environment and Geography also introduced some new courses linked to sustainability last year in conjunction with Archaeology. These include MA Sustainability Studies, MSc Sustainability Science and MSc Sustainable Business: Leadership, Innovation and Management. They have strong links to the Stockholm Environment Institute, among other institutions, which allows students to get involved.
How can students get involved at York?
Of course, there are lots of societies and extracurricular activities that you can get involved in. One extracurricular activity that I really enjoyed getting involved in was the Interdisciplinary Workshops. Here, we looked at the University’s and city’s recycling. We then workshopped with students from across Environment and Geography.
Of course, there’s the Green Party Society, but there are also societies like the Beekeeping Society or Biosciences Society. You can also visit the student-run zero-waste shop called ‘Scoop‘ in Wentworth College. If you’re thinking about trying to make your food shop more sustainable, this is a great place to start.
So overall, sustainability is still a bit overwhelming. But it’s great to see that there are steps being taken by the University of York to be more sustainable. My advice would be to get involved in the conversation, shape change, and examine how you can be more sustainable yourself.