Category: Education (page 1 of 5)

Why environmentalism needs to be intersectional

This guest blog comes from Sarah Gold, MSc student, studying Sustainable Cities

Why environmentalism needs to be intersectional

On 28th May, three days after the murder of George Floyd, climate activist Leah Thomas shared a post on Instagram which quickly went viral, popularising the term ‘intersectional environmentalism’, a type of environmentalism which takes into account the ways in which social and environmental justice overlap. In this blog, I explain why an inclusive, anti-racist approach is vital to the environmental and climate justice movement and where we can all learn more.

What is intersectional environmentalism?

‘Intersectionality’ was coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an American lawyer, civil rights advocate and leading scholar of critical race theory. The term describes how multiple forms of injustice, such as racism, sexism, ableism and countless others, overlap or ‘intersect’ with each other. These inextricably linked systems of oppression present in our society mean that some individuals will simultaneously face several sources of discrimination.

For instance, as a woman I will inevitably confront sexism throughout my lifetime, however due to my white and other privileges, there are many other forms of oppression that I do not have to face on a daily basis.

Intersectional environmentalism, then, is the concept that environmental issues do not exist in a vacuum, but cross paths with other forms of injustice. According to Leah Thomas, it is defined as “an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalised communities and the earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and to the earth, to the forefront and does not minimise or silence social inequality. Intersectional environmentalism advocates for justice for people + planet”.

Intersectionality is a powerful tool to connect environmental activists with other social movements such as feminism, Black Lives Matter (BLM) and LGBTQ+. Working together helps to amplify each movement’s voice and create meaningful long-lasting change.

Why is intersectional environmentalism important?

In the past, environmentalism has typically been associated with and dominated by white, middle-class males. At best, this means mainstream environmental movements and NGOs have too often shied away from acknowledging the racial dimension of issues such as air and water pollution; at worst, this can mutate into ‘ecofascism’, a disturbing white supremacist ideology that considers racial purity to be the solution to environmental problems.

The danger of ecofascism was clearly demonstrated in 2019 when two of its adherents committed public shootings in El Paso, Texas and Christchurch, New Zealand. Opening up the environmental movement to all races and minorities and educating ourselves on racism are necessary steps to address this problematic past and present, and the privilege associated with participating in environmental struggles.

Whilst white people are more likely to be able to afford a ‘sustainable lifestyle’, minorities are more likely to be on the frontline of the worst environmental problems. The environmental justice movement that emerged in the late 1970s in the USA first drew attention to the disproportionate environmental burdens borne by economically disadvantaged and minority communities.

In 1976, the ‘Love Canal’ case gained international media coverage for having caused significant detrimental health effects in residents of a working-class area in Niagara Falls, New York that had been built on top of a toxic landfill site. This was the first well-documented example amongst many of the increased exposure to polluted and noxious environments experienced by minorities.

A study in 2016 showed that London’s black, African and Caribbean communities are disproportionately exposed to air pollution, and are more likely than white people to breathe in illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide, a harmful pollutant responsible for increased rates of respiratory problems, particularly asthma in children.

Climate change is no exception to this trend. The climate crisis will – and already is – increasing both global and local inequality. The effects of climate change will hit hardest those least responsible for global warming in the Global South. Australia being the only exception, countries with lower GDPs will warm the most. The effects will be also felt disproportionately by marginalised communities in the Western world.

Non-white people are currently experiencing the worst environmental problems in our world. In the U.S., Black and brown communities are more likely to live near toxic waste sites, live in communities with fewer environmental amenities, be harmed by climate change, inhale fine particulate matter and more. Globally, indigenous people and people living in island nations and Central Africa are facing the brunt of climate change and waste dumping. Likely due to this first-hand experience, a recent study found that Black and Latinx people are much more concerned about climate change than white people. Witnessing the toll of environmental issues can help environmentalists more fully understand the problems we’re facing and share in these communities’ concerns. And amplifying stories from these minority communities can hopefully convince policymakers that these environmental issues are real and deserving of immediate attention.

The book ‘Why Women Will Save the Planet’ highlights how women are likely to be most adversely affected by climate change too, particularly in poor and marginalised communities in developing countries, since they often depend on climate-sensitive livelihoods such as agriculture, securing water, food and fuel, and are often the last to evacuate their homes when natural disasters strike, leading to higher mortality rates.

Although these are just a handful of examples of the manifold ways in which minorities are more likely to suffer the consequences of environmental crises, it illustrates the importance of adopting an intersectional approach – it is impossible to extricate them from socioeconomic issues. It is worth reminding ourselves that sustainable development, the holy grail of many environmentalists and human geographers, is based not just on environmental, but economic and social sustainability too.

Where can I learn more about intersectional environmentalism?

As a white environmentalist, it is more important than ever to ‘do the work’ and hold myself accountable! Here are some incredible intersectional and anti-racism environmentalists that have inspired and educated me so far.

  • Leah Thomas, @greengirlleah, shares informative content on climate justice and intersectional environmentalism, the term she popularised online.
  • Check out the Intersectional Environmentalist platform which Leah co-founded. It’s a website full of information on how to dismantle systems of oppression in the environmental movement, with resources aimed at a growing number of communities (at the moment it includes Black, Latinx, U.S. Indigenous, LGBTQ2S+, South Asian and allies).
  • Pattie Gonia, @pattiegonia, who describes himself as an “intersectional environmentalist, ally-in-progress and fetus drag queen” is also one of the co-founders of the Intersectional Environmentalist platform and has some great content on allyship.
  • Mikaela Loach aka @mikaelaloach uses her voice on Instagram to talk about inclusivity in sustainability as well as anti-racism, anti-ecofascism and feminism. She is also co-host of the brilliant @theyikespodcast which I highly recommend! Their episodes have covered topics including the links between coronavirus and ecofascism, fast fashion, BLM, and going beyond white environmentalism.
  • You can also find Marie Beecham at @wastefreemarie for actionable tips for zero-waste living and information on climate and racial justice.
  • Who doesn’t love a good TED talk? Check out Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TED talk on intersectionality, for a great 20 minute introduction to the concept. And if you’ve got just 7 minutes to spare, watch 17-year old youth striker Isra Hirsi’s TED talk on being the ‘Angry Black Girl’ in the climate justice space.

Please feel to add to this list, share with others and start conversations with your friends and families!

Sustainability Week 2020

Each year, we hold Sustainability Week to raise awareness and educate King’s staff and students about sustainability at King’s. Sustainability Week revolves around how to ‘#MakeADifference’. The Sustainability Team, alongside students, student societies, staff Sustainability Champions and charities, put on events with the aim to educate and inspire around various topics relating to sustainability (whether that be social, environmental or economic), give back to society and most of all – have fun!

We had a total of 522 people come to take part in the events throughout the week.

Here is a summary of some of the events we had throughout the week…

GEOGFEST

GeogFest’ was a charity event for King’s staff and students, organised by GeogSoc and the Geography Sustainability Champions to raise money for the International Tree Foundation.

The event took place in the KCLSU bar The Vault on Friday 7th February as an early kick of to Sustainability Week.

There was entertainment from the Worn out Shoes ceilidh band formed by academics from across the Geography department, PhD candidate George Warren and a dance materclass by UG student Pia Fletcher.

There was a live count of the money raised through the night, in total the Geography department raised £243.38 for the ITF, which will be used to help offset the flights from second year Portugal and Morocco fieldwork trips.

 

DIY lip balm & craft your own zero-waste products

Gathered in the KCLSU zero-waste store, Nought, 24 students got together to learn how to make their own zero-waste lip balms (recipe here – made without the honey) and how to crochet their own face scrubbie, instructed by King’s Energy Manager and star crafter, Julie Allen.

During sustainability week, Nought held a competition to win a zero-waste hamper for all those who spent over £10 – so this event was also a chance for the students to stock up on their essentials to be in with a chance to win!

A Green Threaded Corridor

Artist and Goldsmiths University student, Margaret Jennings came to Kings to deliver ‘A Green Threaded Corridor: Tree Art Workshop’. The workshop started with a conversation about our natural environment in the middle of Guy’s campus memorial garden and an insight into Margaret’s background and artwork. This was followed by a silent walk around the gardens, taking notice of the trees and life which surrounds them.

Natural materials from the gardens were gathered and used in the art section of the workshop. The art was inspired by our individual tree stories (e.g. a cherry tree in a grandfathers garden or the grief you feel when a tree is cut down) – the art could be painting, drawing, poems. These were passed around and altered by others – as a comment to nature and its ever evolving state.

The art and poems created in the workshop will form the body of Margaret’s research at Goldsmiths university – alongside other university and community group tree stories.

The event ended with planting a Birch sapling on Guys Campus gifted by Goldsmiths University. This will form part of a tree corridor, as King’s will be mirroring this by gifting an Alder tree to Goldsmiths University.

 

King’s Think Tank: Post-Environmental Regulations Debate

See the blog post below, for an event summary from the Director and Researcher of the King’s Think Tank Energy and Environment policy centre.

Vegan Sushi Class

King’s Vegetarian and Vegan society ran a vegan sushi class at Great Dover Street Apartments (GDSA) café. Over 30 students came to learn how to make their vegan sushi from scratch – how to cook the perfect sushi rice, prepare the vegetables, tofu or tempeh and do the perfect sushi roll.

Circular Economy Workshop with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation

On the final day in Sustainability Week, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation came to deliver a workshop on circular economy.

They gave attendees an overview of what the circular economy is, and what businesses and services using circular economy principles may look like. As it was Valentine’s Day, they tasked students with coming up with circular economy alternatives to common Valentine’s presents, including re-used cards and potted flowers.

 

 

SDG 9: Progress for better or worse?

This guest blog comes seventh in a series of blogs on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) courtesy of Onna Malou van den Broek, second year doctorate student at King’s in the European & International Studies Department. Onna’s doctorate project titled: ‘The Political Payoff of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): CSR as a Determinant for Lobbying Success’,  which looks at the relationship between corporate sustainability and lobbying, holding a special focus on the SDGs. 

“We need to help these poor countries develop, to create industries that are able to compete globally, and better their lives” – as spoken by a British diplomat at a conference I recently attended. Without going into the problematic post-colonial mindset, it also raises a fundamental economic question (1). Underdeveloped countries need to develop. However, the so-called developed states are destroying our world. What will happen if all countries reach this level of industrialization?

SDG 9: Innovation, industrialization and infrastructure

The starting point of this goal, just as we’ve discussed with goal 8, is that industries are the core drivers of the global development agenda (2). Reliable infrastructures and technological innovations are necessary to deliver the other goals, such as health care, sanitation and access to education. Some goals, for example, can be delivered through internet services. However, around 3.8 billion people, mainly from the least developed countries, still lack internet access. The growth of industries is closely tied to the global political economy. As a result of increased trade barriers and tariffs in 2018, global manufacturing and associated employment slowed down.

The Targets: Manufactory, mobility and research

This goal includes three broad issue areas which is reflected in the wide variety of indicators (3). Three indicators directly target the development of industries, aiming to stimulate inclusive industrialization; to provide access to financial credit for small and medium enterprises; and to make existing industries more sustainable in terms of clean and efficient resource-use. In addition, industry developments are heavily dependent upon innovation and, as such, the indicators aim to encourage industrial research and development through policies. Lastly, to include everyone in the process of industrialization, the indicators underline the importance of broad access to reliable infrastructure, such as all-season roads, energy-transmission or internet. Developed countries can support developing countries by providing access to novel information, finances and technology.

World’s system theory (Wallerstein)

The central role of global political economy and trade has led to many critical scholars arguing the link between inequality and industrialization. One of the most influential is the world system theory, developed by the socialist Wallerstein in the late 20th century. This theory is influenced by the dependency theory and zooms in on the terms of trade (4). The main argument is that cheap labour and raw materials flow from low-income countries to high-income countries, who in turn, use these raw materials to manufacture goods which they sell for a much higher price back to low-income countries. This exploitative structure of trade and capitalism makes it difficult for low-income countries to escape.

The Entrepreneurial State

Given that this is a government-led development Agenda, it is interesting that innovation is part of this goal. Some people have argued that innovation should be left to the dynamic entrepreneurs of the private sector instead of bureaucratic governments. In her book ‘the entrepreneurial state, Mariana Mazzucato refutes this argument and aims to debunk the public versus private sector myths. In her study, she finds that the private sector only finds the courage to invest after an entrepreneurial state has made the high-risk investments. For example, every technology that makes the iPhone so ‘smart’ was government funded. She criticises economic growth by showing a dysfunctional economic dynamic where the public sector socializes risks, while private sectors gets the rewards.

Resource-efficient infrastructures

Infrastructure developments, such as roads, buildings, energy and water infrastructure, are really resource intensive. They account for almost half of the global footprint. As such, resource efficiency of infrastructure can be a major driver of the transition to sustainable development. The UN Environment recently published a policy brief (6) in which they argue that our current project-by-project approach to infrastructure planning results in inefficient service delivery. System-level approaches, on the other hand, can increase the efficiency as they are better able to respond to user needs and capture positive industry spill-overs. This type of approach considers the economic, social and environmental impact of infrastructure systems, sectors, their location and relevant governance framework throughout the entire lifecycle, enabling industrial symbiosis and product circularity.

What can you do?

  • Since this goal takes place on a systems-level, your first step is to inform yourself about issues such as global trade, international power imbalances and the grow-degrowth debate. There are plenty of resources. Books that I found useful are: ‘degrowth: a vocabulary for a new era’ and ‘a splendid exchange: how trade shaped the world’.
  • Use your dissertation to contribute to knowledge around these topics. Talk to lectures about what research question might fit your specific programme and use your outcomes to start dialogues with different groups of people, such as policymakers, NGOs or firms.
  • Due to the high level of abstractness, it is especially important to put pressure on your local, regional, national and international political representatives by tweeting, writing, voting, etc. to make sure they implement good policies.

References

(1) For a more elaborated discussion about economic growth, you can read the blog on SDG8 I wrote last month.

(2) Read more about why this goal matters: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/9.pdf

(3) Specific indicators, targets and progress can be found here: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg9

(4) An easy and fun way of learning more about the system theory is through this video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRLd7xJNn14

(5) Buy the book at your local bookshop or watch the four things you need to know in 60 seconds: https://marianamazzucato.com/entrepreneurial-state/

(6) The UN policy brief can be found here: https://www.greengrowthknowledge.org/sites/default/files/downloads/resource/Policy%20Brief%20-%20Making%20Infrastructure%20Resource%20Efficient.pdf

My Internship in the King’s Sustainability Department #3

This guest blog comes courtesy of Isabella Trujillo-Cortes, 3rd year Biomedical Engineering student at King’s who participated in the three-week micro-internship opportunity (organised by King’s Careers) with the King’s Sustainability Team in April 2019.  This blog comes last in a series of three blog posts from Isabella. 

Sustainability in Estates & Facilities

Student Accommodation / Residences

King’s Food

King’s Sport

King’s Venues

Fit for King’s

Asset Improvement & Space planning

Evaluation

  • The United Nations state that good health is essential to sustainable development, and thus, King’s highly encourages healthy living and well-being. SDG 3 is the most popular within the department and maps across almost every division. 
  • SDG 8 focuses on energy productivity. Given the number of computers, projectors and TVs across the university campuses it is vital that the Estates & Facilities department minimises the amount of energy consumed. 
  • Income equality affects staff and students as it may prevent them from pursuing opportunities. SDG 10 states empowering lower income earners is vital, and Kings are taking many approaches to work on this. In some areas, for example, the Estates & Facilities department gives discounted rates to those with lower income. 
  • An SDG also commonly shared across the department is SDG 11. To face the rapid growth of cities and increasing rural to urban migration, it is vital to focus on sustainable development. As Estates and Facilities manage the venues, residences and space planning in the university this SDG addresses this department most than the others at King’s. 
  • SDG 12 is also implemented in almost every division. Aside from meeting the social responsibility and service targets, King’s also focuses on environmental aspects. It is important that we reduce our ecological footprint by adjusting our consumption and production methods. This goal is being achieved in the way King’s manages the world’s shared natural resources and disposes of toxic waste and pollutants.
    SDG 13 is also quite similar to 12. In managing our consumption and production methods, the human impact on climate change is reduced. 
  • King’s is ranked as the world’s 14th most international university with over 40% of students being from outside the UK. The university focuses on establishing an inclusive community where students from abroad feel they are welcomed. This maps out SDG 16 which encourages peace and unity. 
  • SDG 17 explains that the SDGs can only be realized with strong partnership and cooperation. To achieve this on a global scale we must begin locally. The Estates & Facilities department does so by raising awareness of sustainability and service to staff and students.

My Internship in the King’s Sustainability Department #2

This guest blog comes courtesy of Isabella Trujillo-Cortes, 3rd year Biomedical Engineering student at King’s who participated in the three-week micro-internship opportunity (organised by King’s Careers) with the King’s Sustainability Team in April 2019.  This blog comes second in a series of three blog posts from Isabella. 

The following 2 sections contain the desktop research I have gathered on the sustainability practices within two departments at King’sThe School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences, and Estates & Facilities.

Mapping the SDGs: Biomedical Engineering at King’s  

I attempted to match the information I found in the Biomedical Engineering Department website to the most appropriate SDG.

Evaluation

  • The Biomedical Engineering department primarily targets SDG 3. The United Nations state that universal health coverage is integral in ending poverty and reducing inequalities. The department focuses on achieving this through their research and innovation in healthcare and medical technology.
  • SDG 4 focuses on achieving inclusive and quality education, especially in developing regions. The university tackles this issue by giving students from low-income and disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunities to progress onto higher education.
    The application for target 4.5 states King’s Widening Participation due to the fact that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) related subject streams are available to prospective students on the K+ and Realising Opportunities programmes. However, Biomedical Engineering is not specifically listed, thus, this could perhaps be an area of improvement.
  • SDG 8 promotes productive employment, technological innovation, entrepreneurship and job creation.
    In the Professional Issues module I recently completed, I gained an appreciation on project management, entrepreneurship, sustainability and ethics. I believe it has grown my professional development and some awareness of global issues. The module, however, is 0 credits and thus many students did not attend lectures. An incentive to encourage more students to attend could perhaps be an area to focus on.
  • Investing in scientific research and innovation is a primary focus in SDG 9.
    The department is well-known for their extensive on-going research in state-of-the-art labs and hence maps this SDG out well. Also, researchers themselves lecture many modules in the undergraduate and postgraduate courses. In doing so, students are more likely to then progress onto research and innovation themselves.
  • Due to the vast amount of energy used by computers and machinery it is important that the department focuses on responsible consumption and production as stated in SDG 12.
    King’s sustainability department encourages sustainable labs across all departments who may use them. This focuses on areas such as control of fume cupboards, energy efficient management of cold storage, and recycling plastics.
    To further encourage sustainable labs within the department, staff could become Sustainability Champions.

 

Interview with Paul Marsden (Development, Diversity & Inclusion Lead)

Most charities and sponsors are more likely to fund research projects and give grants to institutions who hold an Athena SWAN Award – many charities have this as a requirement. This acts as an incentive for the department to focus more on gender equality and inclusion. Many sponsors also require research projects to apply to developing countries. For example, technology must be widely used and accessible in all countries. This maps out SDG 9.

Furthermore, the department is involved in outreach activities organised by external companies: Nuffield summer programme, King’s Health Partner’s Summer School, Clinic Trials Day. These are aimed towards prospective students from under-represented backgrounds to encourage quality education for all – SDG 4. Other strategies, such as mentorships, are also being developed to support and encourage BAME students.

Along with the 2nd year Professional Issues module, the department also offers PhD training which focuses on social responsibility, ethics and engaging with industry.

 

Interview with Saad Qureshi (2nd Year Professional Issues Module Lead):

The professional issues module required students designing a business plan on a unique, biomimicry project (the application of nature to engineering). In this module, lectures focused on project management, ethics, and global sustainability issues.

The department’s aim in delivering the module, and teaching sustainability, was to develop student’s appreciation of nature and knowledge on social, economic and environmental issues. As biomedical engineering students, we are in a unique position to help tackle such issues. The project allowed students to develop their skills in sustainable design processes and eco-development. Saad explained that he hopes students will adopt a sustainable approach in our personal and professional lives.

 

The final part of Isabella's internship story will be published tomorrow, 17.1.20

Introduction to Nicola Hogan, King’s new Sustainability Operations Manager

King’s’ new Sustainability Manager, Dr. Nicola Hogan joined the sustainability team last month having previously worked at Goldsmiths, University of London, The EAUC and The University of Limerick in Ireland. Since starting her career in sustainability in Higher Education (HE), Nicola has worked as both a researcher and a practitioner and in some positions, as both. She has conducted research into the calculation of the Ecological Footprint of A4 paper use and from that created a road-map for HE institutions on how to reduced paper use at source, save money and reduce CO2 emissions. She has also  conducted research into the use of sustainable ICT in UK universities identifying where and how ICT energy was being wasted.

In her role as Space, Environmental and Sustainability Officer at Goldsmiths Nicola was responsible for embedding sustainability into campus operation as well as ensuring the College was accredited with Fairtrade – something Nicola is particularly passionate about.

Embedding Sustainability into campus operations across a multi-site university has many barriers – something she is all too familiar with. From 2010-2016 Nicola conducted research that examined what the barriers to sustainable performance in universities might be and how to overcome them. Nicola identified 7 barriers in total, with poor stakeholder engagement identified as being the greatest barrier. However, Nicola was quick to note that stakeholder engagement is pretty good at Kings with more than 500 staff and student sustainability champions actively doing that extra bit for the planet and for King’s, in the 2019-2020 academic year.

When asked what singular and simple action (if any) could be taken to reduce our environmental/carbon footprint and improve our overall campus operations, she indicated that a reduction of waste’  – in all its forms (solid waste, waste water and energy waste) could potentially see an improvement of sustainable performance  by 20% to 30% – with almost no capital costs incurred. In fact it’s widely regarded that waste energy for example could be reduced by 20% in universities simply by switching off and powering down when not in use.

As Nicola starts in her new role at King’s College and with a new year’s resolution  to reduce waste at source in 2020, she is reminding everyone to ‘take a quick look in your bin’ at what you discarded and ask yourself – ‘could I have done without it’ ?

Become a Sustainability Champion Assistant!

The King’s Sustainability Team are offering an opportunity for students to gain skills in project and people management, sustainable development, communications, events management and leadership by supporting the team to deliver the Staff Sustainability Champions programme here at King’s.

Join the 300+ staff within Sustainability Champion programme, a programme which is aimed at celebrating and recognising sustainability achievements whilst also providing a framework to improve the sustainable performance of King’s. The scheme is part of Green Impact, a sustainability awards programme run by the National Union of Students (NUS).

Last year King’s had 62 teams and 371 staff and student champions participate and this year would like the programme to be even bigger!

Examples of what student sustainability assistants did over the 2018/19 year include: planting over 200 trees in the Maughan library garden, organising and assisting with events (e.g. swap shops- collecting the clothes, running the event, donating leftover clothes to local charities) (see below images), as well as aiding in the completion of workbook actions each champions team are given, in order to achieve their Bronze, Silver or Gold award.

Planting of 202 trees in the Maughan Library garden, with the library champions team and their student assistants.

 

Fundraising team at their annual swap-shop (2019)

Objectives of a Sustainability Champion Assistant:

Support and motivate a Sustainability Champion team by helping to implement and improve sustainability initiatives in their department or faculty.

Key skills gained for students:

  • Experience of working on a national project in a professional environment
  • Knowledge of environmental management techniques of offices and academic institutions
  • Insight into effective behaviour change methods
  • Experience of communicating using a variety of different means
  • Ability to support and encourage others to perform
  • Events management skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Time management
  • Project management

Apply

Please fill out the application form. You are also welcome to send your CV to alexandra.m.hepple@kcl.ac.uk.

The deadline applications is midnight on the 18 October 2019.

If successful you will be invited to the Sustainability Champions Launch event on the 31 October 13.00-16.00

Why we went green for our Service Day

This guest blog comes courtesy of Erk Gunce, PA to King’s Chief of Staff and Team Administrator in the Strategy, Planning and Analytics (SPA) department.

As the Strategy, Planning and Analytics (SPA) team, we are proud to report that, we did it! We broke free from our daily routines and went into nature. No, we are not stuck to our desks and no, we are not addicted to our screens. We did leave the office and we did have fun – and I personally ensured that nobody was checking their emails on their phone!

A few weeks ago, 30 colleagues from the SPA team took a day out of work to volunteer for a local charity. We were able to take a day off, thanks to the Service Time policy. As part of this scheme, all King’s staff can spend one day per year volunteering for another organisation. We chose to support the environmental preservation work of Groundwork London, and took the opportunity to get to know our team members better. Groundwork set us a variety of tasks over the day. These included designing and building a hibernaculum – a protective refuge for reptiles and insects. Hibernacula (pause for applause), allow insects to seek refuge from temperature changes, especially over the winter for protection against the cold. We also made use of loose wood from coppiced willow trees to create hedging, used as a fence to mark the outer barriers of a natural space, instead of relying on non-natural fencing material.

Building a hibernaculum for small mammals, insects and reptiles in the winter (above, left), finished hiberanculum (above, right)! 

Coppicing wild willow trees (above, left) and turning branches into a natural hedge (above, right)! 

Why did we do this?

Because, sustainability!

This opportunity allowed us to do our bit by giving back to nature. It was very heart-warming to see our team addressing their previously non-green habits: colleagues traveled in using their bikes, no disposable cups were used and we made sure we recycled the leftovers from our lunch.

Because, Service!

In line with King’s Vision 2029 ‘to make the world a better place’, this was a fantastic opportunity to give back to nature by building shelters for vulnerable creatures and making use of natural items to build natural fencing. Through taking a day out to support a charity, we also made clear our dedication to support non-profit organisations with their environmental efforts.

Because, team building and wellbeing!

Another crucial aspect of our day off was our commitment to improve the morale of our team and make everyone feel valued. The digital era can easily distract us from the beauties of nature. Encouraging our colleagues to spend a day immersed in a green space was an opportunity to boost their wellbeing. One of the challenges of being a large team is that staff might not know all their colleagues, or they may be mere acquaintances. After the event, staff commented that they had met new faces, got to know their colleagues better and enjoyed learning about each other’s personal hobbies and interests. Hence, it really wasn’t just about environmental support but equally a community building opportunity.

‘The whole experience was one of the best things I’ve done in ages. A brilliant combination of team building, physical exercise, a deeply gratifying sense of achievement and the feel-good high of helping to preserve and enhance urban habitation for native birds and animals’.  – Scott Davison, SPA staff member

Here’s to hoping for more Service days – for our communities, for our staff and for a better world.

Want to use your Service Time to volunteer for a charitable cause? Get in touch with service@kcl.ac.uk for advice.

Student Volunteer Auditors – Sustainability Champions

On the 14th and 15th May 28 students audited the 35 office and residence sustainability champion teams across King’s.

The student auditors received IEMA approved sustainability training, delivered by a representative from the National Union of Students (NUS) in the morning, before taking a break for a working lunch. In this, students assessed the work the staff champions had done within their workbooks. These workbooks contain various actions covering several sustainable areas, including: waste, energy, health & wellbeing, biodiversity and service to the community.

 

Snapshot of the Procurement actions within the Silver Workbook

 

The teams need to complete 18/23 to achieve their Bronze, 23/28 for their Silver and have an up to date Gold project plan covering 1-3 years to obtain their Gold.

After lunch, students paired up and went out to audit two champions teams each. Students went through each completed action with their teams, identifying positive progress the team had made over the year and identifying any areas for improvement to take forward onto the next 19/20 champions year. After the audits, all students returned to the training room to feedback their findings and established which award level their teams should archive for this 2018-19 champions year.

Wonderfully, all 40 office and residence achieved their projected award level achieving a total of:

  • 17 Bronze
  • 4 Silver
  • 14 Gold
Student Feedback

One student pair commented on the auditing process and champions work, saying: “We were really impressed by the changes they have implemented across the team, and how everyone has shown a true change in behaviour. The team have been able to encourage all employees to adopt a sustainable working environment. They have taken initiative on many occasions and their drive to achieve accreditation for their work is fantastic.” Another student commented that she “was impressed to see how passionate people were! Sustainability Champions helps King’s to go in the right direction and have a significant impact.”

This volunteer opportunity presented an opportunity for students to develop skills which is looks great on a graduate CV, including leadership and analytic skills. In addition, this opportunity allowed students to learn more about Sustainability at King’s and the efforts that go into this behind closed doors.

Student Auditors on 14 May 2019 Training Session

What next?

All staff champions will receive their Bronze, Silver or Gold sustainability awards at the annual Sustainability Award celebration in July. Staff will be joined in the company of the student auditors and their student champion assistants, as well as supporting sustainable groups and societies who have all helped to make King’s more sustainable over the past year.

2017-18 Sustainability Champions at the Award Ceremony last summer (2018)

 

A winning idea – How to make fashion more sustainable

This week’s guest blog comes from Cristina Zheng Ji. 

Every year, the Policy Institute encourages students and staff to pitch their policy ideas to a panel of experts. This year, the overall winner was second year Political Economy student Cristina, with her pitch to make the fashion industry more sustainable. We met up with Cristina to talk about what inspired her to take part, why sustainability in fashion is important, and how consumers can influence industry.

What inspired you to take part in Policy Idol?

Cristina: One of my lecturers suggested it as a great opportunity, so I decided to look at it. I had two ideas for a pitch, but narrowed it down to this one.

What is the Environmental Cost Labelling System?

C: It’s a labelling system to raise awareness of the environmental impact of clothing production. This would involve using the traffic lights system: red for the highest environmental cost through to green for the lowest and apply it to four categories of impact – water use, energy use, scope to recycle, and whether it is biodegradable.

What inspired you to do a pitch on sustainable fashion? Did you come across sustainability in your degree?

C: I was inspired by a YouTube video I saw on how there is an increased accumulation of plastic fibres in the environment. Synthetic materials like polyester, nylon and acrylic break up in a washing machine cycle and get into water streams. The numbers were astonishing: a washing load can realise up to 700 000 fibres in a single wash. This made me think about how people can reduce or change their consumption of polluting clothing – for example to pieces that don’t release plastic fibres. After looking deeper into the issue, I also found out that disposable fashion caused other severe environmental damages, too. Sadly, information about the impact of clothes on nature is not easily available, so I thought it would be useful to do something to aid consumers when they go shopping. I narrowed the environmental factors down to four categories, which can be changed after feedback from experts. I was also inspired by the traffic lights system in the food industry which colour coded food to provide nutritional information at a glance.

Sustainability is a general interest of mine, but not a formal part of my degree. Sometimes people around you also have a good influence – at home my parent’s generation wasn’t as aware of recycling, but coming to university my friends are very aware. And climate change is a huge issue with a wide range of threats, so it’s good to focus on sustainability. My other idea was also on climate change.

Why is fashion so important?

C: Many people are not aware of how polluting the industry is – it is the second biggest polluter in the world after the oil industry and bigger than shipping and aviation industries combined. We know that cars, shipping and flying have a big impact on greenhouse gas emissions, but we don’t know about clothing. With the fast fashion model of ‘Take, Make, Dispose’ – where we buy clothes, wear them two or three times, and then throw them away –, people buy and dispose a lot of clothes. In Britain, more than 300 000 tonnes of clothes end up in landfill every year. And people will still buy fast fashion as it’s a habit and generally affordable to most, but I believe that once people are aware of it, they might change their behaviour.

I think it is important to give consumers the choice. The idea for the pitch came from the idea of ‘nudging’. Some people see nudging to be paternalistic; however, it preserves people’s freedom to choose according to their own preferences. With the Environmental Cost Labelling System, options of good/neutral/bad are given, so if people want to make the ‘bad’ environmental choice they can do this, but one day they might choose the ‘good’ option instead. For those who have not thought the green issues much yet, the labelling could nudge them towards the better option. And for those who already choose a ‘green’ lifestyle, a lack of relevant information in the fashion industry makes this difficult. Ethical and sustainable fashion is often expensive. If we target the high street with this labelling system, we can bring sustainability to consumers without them having to research brands they don’t know, or spend more money.

Do you think this will lead companies to change their practices?

C: I think it will do. A change in the consumer purchasing behaviour can lead to a change in the manufacturer’s behaviour as they see an increase in demand in sustainable clothes and a decrease in unsustainable ones. Companies also have something to gain from this. If consumers switch to more sustainable brands, it will reward brands working on sustainability.

And companies know that sustainability is important, and that they can’t go on like this. For example, Levi Strauss & Co. make denim from cotton, but know that an uncontrolled and irresponsible resource use of this is wasteful and unsustainable. They are now working towards a circular economy where they encourage the consumer to take their old clothes and shoes back to the stores to be recycled.

What would the system look like, how would it work?

C: The four categories are a starting point – these could be changed after expert reviews. The information would be on clothing tags. Most clothes have a price tag, and also an additional one with information on the brand, or for example one I saw only says ‘We are denim’ 10 times. To replace this, I have designed a tag that has the Environmental Cost Labelling System with the traffic lights on it. In the food industry, the traffic lights labelling is not mandatory, so different brands may set their own standards. If this were to be made mandatory for clothing, and there was a universal agreement of standards for each colour, this could be powerful. There are already websites and non-profits out there that collate information on sustainability of clothing – we could work with them.

Just having a label to simply say ‘sustainable’ isn’t enough. There are so many aspects related to sustainability, and the Environmental Cost Labelling System would allow consumers to consider which aspects are the most important to them when they go shopping – e.g. energy use, water etc. The traffic light system also tells us about intensity, and not just pass/fail – it gives more power to the consumer.

 

After winning the overall prize at this year’s Policy Idol, Cristina is now looking at working with the Policy Institute to take her idea further. We hope that in the future, we might see this labeling system on the clothes we buy!

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