Students' unions are leading in sustainability

Wednesday 31-05-2017 - 13:51

This year's Green Impact Students' Unions has been a little different; it's aimed to bring in more people, foster sustainable skill sets, and encourage campaigning. So, as audits are drawing to a close - how's it looking?

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In 2006 we set up Green Impact Students' Unions (GISU), to help unions reduce their negative environmental impacts.

In part, this was to ensure we were practising what we preached as a movement in our constructive engagement with suppliers, but we were also responding to clear student demand for action on this agenda.The scheme has been remarkably successful, steadily growing to engage nearly all higher education students’ unions. As a result, sustainable students' unions are becoming the norm.

But we want to go further. As well creating environmentally sound surroundings, we want to foster student and graduate leaders that go on to build a just and sustainable future for everyone.

To this end, along we students' unions, we decided last year to drastically review Green Impact, to ensure it is an optimal programme to drive holistic sustainability in the sector.

As the academic year comes to a close, we are now wrapping up the almost 75 audits of participating unions – and seeing to what extent our objectives have come to fruition.

We hoped that new GISU would continue to help students’ unions maintain operational sustainability, whilst providing a new impetus to develop meaningful opportunities to engage students and staff in sustainability.

So...what are we finding?

Well, it has definitely been stretching.

Most students' unions were confidently completing actions to maintain high environmental standards of lighting, equipment and waste streams through previous years. And the shift to a more policy, strategy and campaigns-focussed approach has encouraged many to start having conversations with decision makers, student officers and institutional leaders in ways they hadn’t before.

With each students' union completing up to 50 actions to varying degrees - and with a whole section looking at delivering an effective campaign for change - the learnings we will glean from this year will be invaluable. How have some managed to substantively embed sustainability within strategic plans, and others gathered crucial survey feedback from vast numbers of students? How have somecreated replicable community engagement campaigns, or managed to ensure that almost 100% of their energy comes from renewables?

Audits finish in the next few weeks and awards will be given in July at our SU2017 event at the NEC in Birmingham. And then the real work begins! We'll all be compiling examples of best practice to share across the programme, to help students' unions lead the way in a new era of Green Impact.

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