NUS Sustainability Summit

In November, three representatives from The Students’ Union attend the NUS Sustainability Summit at Sheffield University. This article explores some of their learnings from the day.

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In November, three representatives from The Students’ Union attend the NUS Sustainability Summit at Sheffield University. Here are their reflections and learnings from the day:


Climate emergency as a racist issue - Curzio Potenza- The Students' Union Sustainability Officer

In this workshop, we were given a short talk about whether climate change is a racist issue, rather than just a race issue. This addressed research that suggests the Southern Hemisphere will bear the worst consequences on climate change, even though this area is proven to have a lower impact on changes.

For example, a 1.5C change in temperature could lead to flooding in low-lying areas. Does this mean that by enforcing a 1.5C limit that we are discriminating by location?

An intriguing discussion followed, which allowed us to discuss the involvement that BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) students have within their universities around sustainability, and how contributions from non-white individuals on these subjects are not always included.

The key message I took away was that we need to increase the diversity of our student network and campaigns.


Heating up politics, not the planet, influencing local and national politics - Evan Botwood Vice President for Societies and Communication

How do you get a law passed or put an issue on an MP’s mind? Lynn Hobson, from the Parliament Engagement Team, took us through the various paths towards influencing those in Parliament and how you can get your issue on the table. The advice she gave was specialised and vast but clear in the means.

She started by advising on the nature of your message to an MP, then after this, the channels to communicate it. The message must be clear, succinct and purposeful. Contacting an MP with the message to simply ‘be more sustainable’ is all well and good, but isn’t easily actionable.

Reasons, why the issue is important and providing specifics, means increases the chances that the message to be taken on. Once this is set, (which may be the hardest part), we learned the various ways this can be communicated to an MP or a member of the House of Lords. Luckily, Lynn also explained exactly who you should contact and why that particular MP or Lord should be contacted.

I appreciated her tips on how to break through to an individual if they aren’t answering you, which included phoning their office manager if they cannot speak with you.

Ironically, most of what was said are relevant at all times, except for when a general election is occurring. This means that Parliament has been dissolved and that all parliamentary business has been stopped.


Dynamics of power - Jacob French -IT lead for the Sustainability Committee

At the NUS and SOS-UK Sustainability Summit, we attended a number of workshops led both by NUS staff and representatives from other universities.

The first talk we attended was “Turning a ‘Climate Emergency’ into Concrete Action.” This workshop looked into how 50% of local councils and many universities have declared climate emergencies, but as of yet have not implemented any actions.  

We discussed and saw examples of implementations at different universities, which included the 30-minute work engagement campaign. I took many ideas away from this workshop, which can be discussed and implemented at UWE Bristol. The key idea for me is that we need good sustainability branding policy, something that is instantly recognisable and can be used in advertising for all events, campaigns and signage.

The second workshop I attended was “The Dynamics of Power”, led by Piers Wilkinson and Malak Meyet from NUS. This focussed around who has the power to create change, and how this has changed over time. Examples used to explain this included historical British invasions, the Iraq war, the history of the British Petroleum/Anglo Persian Oil Company and Jeff Bezos.

We continued to look into how we can recognise power structures and make sure that we are not misled into accidentally disenfranchising those who should support us. I believe climate activism should target those causing the most environmental damage, but also needs to understand the historical context so that we know who to target.

The last workshop I attended was “Taking your Values with you into your Future Career” with Quinn Runkle and IEMA representatives. This activity was aimed to help us discover the values that resonate with us, and how we can use them to increase job satisfaction.

With 75% of employers thinking graduates do not have sustainability skills or values, understanding your own knowledge can benefit employability. It is also important that we do not become those who impact climate change and have a negative impact on the planet.

Overall the day was a fantastic experience. This was especially true during the breaks, where we had a chance to meet other representatives, discuss and compare sustainable initiatives, which we could bring back and implement to our University.


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