A Year As President

It has been an honour to serve as President of the Students’ Union this year. Being a student is a challenging, but often rewarding experience, and the SU aims to support students during that time.

We don’t always get everything right, but at the heart of such organisations’ existence is a genuine desire to improve things.

And so, as my time as President comes to an end, I am prompted to reflect upon our Union’s efforts to represent students.

What has it all been like?

As the first VP Education at RHSU, I am proud of our review of Academic Representation at Royal Holloway and the ensuing catalytic changes to our university’s system of academic reps. I am also proud of how students got behind the ecological cause. I was very clear when I ran to be President that if elected, I would encourage both, the Students’ Union’s and the College’s leadership to consider the imperative of environmental, social and corporate governance – with that mandate in hand, I am delighted that strides have been made in this area this year.

Cups on nights out

As I wrote in my blog a couple of months ago, both in my VP Education year and during this year as President, numerous students have spoken to me about the plastic cups used for drinks at the Union Venue on a night out.

The issues that plastic causes for the environment are well known, so I’m glad that many of you rightly asked whether we were ensuring our plastic waste was being recycled. I worked with our Trading Services department to look into this, and I’m pleased to say our plastic ‘skiffs’ and bottles (all of which are made from polypropylene) are fully recyclable in their pint, half pint and VK bottle formats – read the full story here.

Sustainability Fund

At the start of the year, following a full refurbishment, we slashed the price of coffee at Tommy’s Kitchen to make it less expensive for you if you bring a reusable cup. After asking students how much we should charge for disposable cups, you voted for 50p.

Other than covering the cost of the cups, the money raised through this has been placed into a ‘green fund’, where student groups will be able to bid to access for sustainability initiatives through the ongoing group development fund. Keep an eye out for how to apply for the Group Development Fund in the new academic year!

Ethical Investment Policy

I ran to be President on a manifesto of five main aims, all under a ‘Clean Up’ theme. One of these was Clean Up Our Campus, a campaign pledge to challenge the rationale behind the College’s old Ethical Investment Policy.

I’m pleased to be able to say that the College were mindful of the mandate given to me by students by meeting myself and Climate Action society President Marcelina Rejwerska, to further discussions about how the College might better commit to sustainable investment of its endowment funds.

Following these discussions and working collaboratively through the College’s governance structures, on 2 May 2019 their governing body approved a new Statement of Investment Policy, which commits the College to setting carbon-reduction targets by the end of 2019. These targets are regarding the College’s endowment investments with reference to the following three areas:

  • Reduction of future emissions
  • Reduction of exposure to carbon intensive companies
  • Investment in sustainability-themed investments: for example, climate change mitigation, low carbon technology, social housing, sustainable infrastructure and energy efficiency

Following this, the College will perform a bi-annual analysis of the endowment’s carbon footprint, and monitor progress towards the targets. I don’t think it can be understated how much of a move for Royal Holloway this is. Having a Statement of Investment Principles that states that the College ‘recognises that long-term sustainability issues, particularly climate change, present risks and opportunities that increasingly require explicit consideration’, is something that the College has not had before. I believe that this may be the catalyst for seeing sustainable operation and sustainability education commitments appear in the College’s next Strategic Plan.

Climate Emergency

At our 28 May 2019 All Student Meeting, a motion was submitted to declare a climate emergency, in order to set a precedent for the Students’ Union to lobby the College to improve its sustainability initiatives. The opinion of wider students was sought through an online vote, and students voted to adopt the motion by a 94% majority.

As such, the Students’ Union believes that we are in a state of climate emergency, and is keen to raise awareness of the urgency of this threat and the “strong political will to urgently combat climate change in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” – as originally stated by the Heads of States, Ministers, and other heads of delegation present at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2009.

Raising awareness begins at home, so I have written to the Principal to ask that the College takes action to publically acknowledge the fundamental and existential challenge posed by global warming for all life on earth through its own declaration of a climate emergency.

Where am I going?

I wish I could stay longer to continue to bring about continual improvements in these areas, but alas – my time must come to an end! As I leave office on 12 July, I will not be going far, as I am only moving down the hill to become Easter Centre Development Manager at St John’s Church, Egham!

Any last words?

Let what Tim Morton calls ‘the ecological thought’ – the idea that ‘everything is interconnected’ (see Morton’s book The Ecological Thought) - be at the forefront of your mind. In this way, we can act better.

Clem Jones // President