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The students making campus more sustainable

The premise of the Warwick Sustainability Summit was clear: to engage with a room full of students willing to educate themselves on what little they can do to protect our planet, especially in the current climate – I use ‘climate,’ of course, to mean both the social and political context of today, as well as the declining global weather conditions. There is always value in making small scale progress with the – reasonable – hope in mind that it will lead to larger scale advancement. The message, coming out of the lecture hall at the end, however, felt slightly more profound than that.

‘Profound,’ here, is not supposed to mean ‘different’: students came in as speakers and made that exact point. For instance, Rawkus took the stage to bring attention to the amount of waste that gets left behind each term in campus accommodation. The volunteers have been working on the campaign since as early as 2013, and the size of the team has grown exponentially in the years they’ve been active. What they do is provide drop off points for students to leave food, collect these items and distribute them to charities in Coventry and Leamington Spa; and they don’t limit themselves to leftover food – unwanted goods and equipment also gets collected with the purpose of being delivered to local nonprofits.

The speakers … (were) groups of individuals whose peers sat in the seats of that lecture room

Unigreenscheme also made itself known to the room as the organisation which works to reduce waste in the academic environment by providing universities with second-hand equipment that would have otherwise been left in a storage room for months on end or thrown away without a second thought. What’s more, this is a service that doesn’t only work with Warwick – they’re committed to be a trusted resale services for universities all over the UK so that surplus lab equipment doesn’t go to waste; and what’s most impressive about both these things – and, more generally, about most projects in the summit – is their approachability. Allow me to elaborate.

The speakers did not present their respective projects as entities with goals that seemed like pipe dreams, but rather as groups of individuals whose peers sat in the seats of that lecture room, accessible to most anyone with a desire to make campus at least slightly more sustainable long term. When explaining what Rawkus does, Joshua Halliley talked about his personal experience with finding out about what the organization does and joining out of a desire to feel like he belongs to a community. It was not difficult to relate to a student who had all the typical worries of navigating the academic environment as a young adult and fell for the satisfaction of contributing to making his campus sustainable.

Global change begins once individuals start altering their daily behaviour for the better

Along similar lines, Selina Welter, a Warwick alumna, managed to build the same rapport with the crowd during her time behind the podium. The Yummy Movement was born out of her desire to inspire personal development as a means to make your immediate environment more sustainable. She describes herself as a ‘mindful dancer and vegan,’ and presented a business founded on her personality as a means for small scale progress – there is a market for what she aims to inspire, as there is for every other one of her fellow speakers, which is that global change begins once individuals start altering their daily behaviour for the better. This felt like somewhat of a common theme. The way behaviour affects sustainability, especially in environments as diverse as university campuses, came up with almost every project.

Before presenting their project and attempting to lead by example, each speaker led with a level of awareness that made the crowd pay close attention: students don’t have so much on their minds at any given time that there’s very little RAM left to devote to changing the behaviours to which they’ve been accustomed for years. The discussion about how best to go about making sure the planet is not heading towards a climate catastrophe or gradual, albeit speedy decay, can only be productive if the social factor isn’t written out of the equation. In the process of saving the environment – for lack of a less frequently used phrase – one does not need to ignore their own identity.

In less than two years, this building might have been erected, all due to students with initiative in their own field of expertise

Engineers Without Borders were one of the organisations that picked up the microphone that day. ‘The Nest’ is a building they designed as open, sustainable space on campus which would would introduce collaborative teaching and studying, as well as stand as the embodiment of their ‘commitment to a low carbon future.’ In less than two years, this building might have been erected, all due to students with initiative in their own field of expertise.

The profoundness of the message lies here: maybe the little changes we are always encouraged to make to our behaviour in the interest of sustainability don’t have to be more dramatic than simply starting to think about alternative ways to do whatever each one of us is passionate about; and once we’ve started thinking like this, we don’t need to dig too deep to find resources on campus to turn ideas into reality.

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