The SU and the Environment

In the latest blog for her Seeking Sustainability campaign, President Kate Roberts considers what role the SU has to play in sustainability, discussing what steps have been taken so far and how you can get involved to enact change.

This week I am running my Seeking Sustainability campaign, aiming to find out what students want when it comes to sustainability at Royal Holloway in order to shape upcoming discussions and decisions with the University. If you haven’t already, please fill out the survey to give us your view (it should only take five minutes).

Take the survey now

In this blog, I want to talk about students' unions and the environment, considering what role they have to play, and in what areas they should be enacting change. Sustainability is everyone’s issue, from individuals to institutions, at the Students’ Union we aim to improve our own sustainability alongside holding the University to account when it comes to these issues.

What role should students’ unions have to play in sustainability?

I personally believe there are numerous roles that students’ unions have to play when it comes to sustainability. We have a moral obligation to make our own services and operations as sustainable as possible, in order to limit the impact of our organisation on the environment. We also have a unique role in representing student interests around sustainability to the University and holding them to account on work in this area. We are also able to engage students on this issue through our campaign work, such as the campaign we are running this week, to make the student body more aware of the issue and more engaged in sustainability. You can read more about Universities and the Environment in my previous blog.

However, sustainability can, unfortunately, be quite a short-lived aim within officer manifestos, which does not necessarily provide continuity on this issue year to year depending on the priorities of the elected officers. This year I have led on a significant piece of work to embed sustainability into the organisational structures, in order to allow sustainability to be a continued focus year on year.

What have the SU done so far?

The first thing we have introduced is a policy statement on environmental sustainability, this will outline our guiding beliefs and the outcomes we would like to see based on work in this area. This policy statement, alongside policy statements on other areas of our work, will be coming to a student referendum soon to be voted into Students’ Union policy. Keep an eye out for how you can get involved in this!

Secondly, I have introduced a sustainability aspect to our internal Annual Operating Plans. This means that all of our objectives and aims as an organisation year on year will consider their environmental impact, and what can be done to improve this. Our teams will also be able to set specific sustainability goals to achieve in their work through the year, which will significantly increase the impacts we make in this area every year.

Sustainability is also now embedded into our committee structures, through a sub-committee to our Management Committee. Our Management Committee includes the officer group as well as our senior management team, it makes important decisions on the operation of the Students’ Union and is the highest governance structure below our Trustee Board. Introducing a sub-committee focusing on sustainability will mean that the actions identified in Annual Operating Plans are reported on, and all updates towards achieving these aims and targets are considered. This sub-committee will help us be more accountable for action in this area.

However, we are not stopping there! We are always interested in new ideas about improving sustainability at the Students’ Union and on campus. I will come back to how you can get involved and feed into our sustainability work later in this article.

NUS and SOS-UK

The National Union for Students (NUS) has developed a specific charity branch to work on sustainability issues called Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS-UK) - they have three key workstreams:

  • Getting more students leading on, and learning for, sustainability.
  • Repurposing the education system around the climate emergency and ecological crisis.
  • Making sustainability more inclusive, so it is for everyone.

They also run campaigns, including Carbon Targets which looks at lobbying for ambitious carbon reduction targets across the Higher Education sector, and Invest for Change, which is a development on previous divestment campaigns, looking at encouraging universities to proactively invest in environmental and social organisations.

How can I get involved?

As a student, there are numerous ways in which you can get involved with sustainability on campus:

Survey

Fill out our survey on student views in relation to sustainability at Royal Holloway! The responses will be used to inform the development of the University’s new sustainability strategy.

Join Climate Action

You can join Climate Action, which is one of our student groups. They aim to raise awareness about the climate crisis on campus, are an action-oriented group who want to make a positive impact on the University and give students the opportunity to use their collective power to create change.

Campaign

At the Students’ Union, we can also support groups of students to run ad-hoc campaigns. If you would like advice on running a campaign and want to see how the Union can support you, please email voice@su.rhul.ac.uk.

Volunteer

There are a number of social action projects run by students and supported by the University’s Volunteering team. These include; Community Garden, Food Recycling Team, Food Bank, and Love Your Campus.

Final Thoughts

I hope this has been able to give you an idea of the work we are undertaking at the Students’ Union around sustainability, the national picture, and the ways you as a student can get involved.

Please get in touch with me at president@su.rhul.ac.uk if you would like to discuss sustainability further.