Category: Guest blogs (page 1 of 2)

Our Fundraising and Supporter Development Sustainability Champions are raising the bar

This week’s guest blog comes courtesy of Zoe Long. Zoe is a MA student studying Climate Change: History, Culture and Society at King’s.

The Sustainability Champions from the Fundraising and Supporter Development Team have been working incredibly hard all year to reduce their office’s impact on the environment. This year they are working towards the Silver Sustainability Champion Award. Their Chair Caitlyn Lindsay took some time to explain what they’ve been up to.

The Fundraising and Supporter Development Department raise money for the university and affiliated hospitals including Guy’s Cancer Centre, Evelina Children’s, Maudsley Mental Health and St Thomas. The team is comprised of around 120 staff in the Virginia Woolf Building and raise money through a series of events, alumni funding and telephone campaigns.

The Sustainability Champions’ main focus has been raising awareness of environmental issues and the small ways people can make a change but have a big impact. Some of the events organised this year include:

  • Swap Shop: A clothing exchange to recycle wearable but unwanted clothes, finding them a new home and reducing waste going to landfill. This provides also great alternative to buying new items. Money raised from this event was donated to Crisis to buy a safe place for someone stay at Christmas. Any leftover clothes were donated to Smart Works and Oxfam.
  • Craft Fair: Fabric scraps and coffee pods were recycled, crafted and sold in aid of Evelina Children’s Hospital. Another great idea to divert materials from the waste stream.
  • January Walking Challenge: To beat the January blues staff in the office were challenged to walk the furthest, competing both individually and in teams. The initiative was a real success, spawning some healthy competition and encouraging people to swap their commute or get off a few stops earlier. Walking is good for the body, mind and planet!
  • Food Bank Collection: A drive for dry goods and sanitary products saw two boxes of goods being donated to the Waterloo food bank just in time for Christmas.
  • Air Quality Monitoring: The Team is taking part in a Citizen Science scheme run by Friends of the Earth in collaboration with King’s College London to measure air quality in London. Look out for the test tube on Kingsway measuring the air pollution score. The scheme is also designed to prompt thinking about the ways in which we can improve air quality in the city.

Sustainability Week saw the Champions make a special effort to reduce the office’s impact on the environment, events included:

  • Meatless Monday Lunch: Exploring meat-free diets to reduce stress on the planet’s environmental resources.
  • Plastic Free Tuesday Quiz: An interactive way to raise awareness of the many ways in which we can cut down on our plastic use.
  • Power Down Friday: A push to switch off monitors as well as computers at the end of the week to save power. This raises awareness of the many ways in which energy is being consumed in

So far the efforts have been enthusiastically received in the office. Next year the team is aiming to build on their success and achieve the Sustainability Champion Gold Award by focusing on procurement, consumption, and reducing printing.

Sustainability Week Careers Event

This week’s guest blog comes courtesy of Zoe Long. Zoe  is a MA student studying Climate Change: History, Culture and Society at King’s.

(The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability.)

The Discover Careers in Sustainability event on Monday night kicked off the series of evening events part of King’s Sustainability Week. Full of useful information about future careers, the panel was formed of a range of professionals already working in the sector in various capacities. Sitting on the panel:

• Kat Thorne – Head of Sustainability for King’s College London
• Veda Karandikar – Senior Associate in the Sustainability and Climate Change consulting department at PwC
• David Lourie – Director of Good Business
• Iyesogie Igiehon – Associate in the Global Environmental and Regulatory Law Group at Allen & Overy

For those who could not attend the event, here is a summary of some of the best advice.

Was your first job you dream job?
The overwhelming response was no. Instead, the advice was to focus on the role and the skills it can help you to develop. Considering why the job does not suit you can help shape where you want to be next.

Each panel member has a very different background and route to sustainability, however, they were united by the fact that none of them actually intend to work in the sector. Instead, each person followed a career route led by their interests and networking!

How can you find jobs in smaller, harder to find companies? 
Recruitment consultants a good place to start; there are lots of niche recruitment firms, but Acre was mentioned specifically. Whilst they may not have specific graduate roles, a role may come up once in a while and by talking to recruiters you are putting your name out there. Escape the City was also brought up as a place to look for less traditional roles. Twitter, LinkedIn and any social media accounts are often sources of niche roles that may not be advertised elsewhere. When reading reports, check out who wrote the report and if the company is somewhere you would be interested in working. Finally, it is a cliché but networking counts! Get out there and talk to people, be interested in other people’s work and attend lots of events, London is the perfect place to do so.

How can you make your application stand out?
The panellists were very clear you should do your research to really understand what the company is about. You must demonstrate you know who you are applying to. Kat suggested saving your time applying to 100 companies in favour of spending time perfecting five or even one application that you really want. In this time it is important to show the skills you will be using in the role such as research and analysis. Demonstrate you know what the role involves, and how your skills fit the tasks involved.

If you haven’t got a formal education in the role you are applying to, show your interest through practical action or evidence such as volunteering or blogging.

What is the future of the sustainability industry?
There are no signs the sustainability sector growth is slowing. In fact, all signs point to it growing, as larger firms dedicate more resources and time to grow their sustainability departments leading. This will lead to a skills demand in the market. But the sector is changing. Terms like ‘sustainability’ and ‘CSR’ are being used less and less as sustainability becomes a good business practice rather than a side branch of this business.

As sustainability becomes integrated into businesses, jobs will be less advertised as pure sustainability roles and more about core business functions with an edge (or interest) in CSR and sustainability. This means it will be harder to find specific roles so you should focus on your interests and skills. David from Good Business mentioned that when hiring, his firm did not necessarily look for a background in sustainability but rather the skills (business or otherwise) that the candidate will bring to the firm. Secondary to this is a demonstrable interest in the company’s values. Think commercially; trends set to grow include Big Data, AI, and Block chain so start brushing up!

Nevertheless, this is definitely a growing sector, becoming important in every sector and job.

Thank you for a successful Sustainability Week and well done to our GoodGym participants

Thank you so much to everyone who helped us to put on events, chatted to us during our pop ups and helped us to spread the sustainability message throughout King’s. The success of Sustainability Week 2018 wouldn’t have been possible without you all and we in the Sustainability Team are grateful to everyone who participated. We will be bringing you blog posts about all of the different events from the week, and to start of we have a recap of the King’s GoodGym run to the Oasis Waterloo Farm.

The following guest blog comes courtesy of Alyx Murray-Jackman. Alyx is a Sport Participation Coordinator for King’s Sports.

(The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability.)

Tonight we visited Oasis Farm Waterloo, an urban farm and community resource in Waterloo, a hidden gem just moments from the Southbank, and the closest farm to Parliament. We also managed to run 4km and fit in a quick but tough circuits session.

Joining us for their first ever GoodGym group run, we had the amazing RajmundAnnaGeorgiaOctavia and Theo (wow so many!) – give them a cheer for coming out in the cold and using their run to do some good. As well as welcoming these fab runners we also heard about the Long Run taking place in South London this weekend for anyone that’s about, and a little reminder of the Thursday running fitness session happening in Vauxhall this week.

As well as braving the cold, here at GoodGym King’s we also had to brave the busy Waterloo Bridge Commute as we couldn’t head out over Blackfriars Bridge as usual due to the location of the task. We practiced our dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge techniques and headed out. With everyone safely over the bridge, we made quick work of the rest of the journey down to the farm and met Roddy outside.

The task: The super organised Roddy split us up into groups when we arrived and showed us each to a planter – we needed to remove all the soil, take out all the bricks, move the planter, and then re-fill it with the bricks and soil – we had a tough 40 minutes ahead of us with a good arm workout! Between us we managed to fully move a couple of planters and make a great start on 2 or 3 more which some volunteers are going to finish off in the morning. I think the sounds of the animals settling down for sleep helped us work hard (especially the pigs from the Pig Palace!).

Roddy kindly let us use the farm’s new barn for our fitness session as it started to rain. We went through questions like “are you scared of spiders?”, “have you eaten any pancakes already today?” and “do you cycle to work?” – if you answered yes to the question you had a 40 second strength exercise to do, if you answered no then it was a 40 second cardio exercise.

After lots of squats, high knees and mountain climbers (great suggestion Sophie!), we were ready to head back to King’s. We waved goodbye to Roddy with promises of coming back soon to help with more tasks (hopefully in slightly warmer weather)! We ran back a slightly longer route, with slightly better views, over Westminster Bridge and did some stretches back at the base.

Credit to Gosia for the pun!

SPA takes itself to task on sustainability

Laura Westwood SPAThis week’s guest blog comes courtesy of Laura Westwood. Laura is an Internal Auditor within the Directorate of Strategy, Planning & Assurance.

(The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability.)


The last couple of months have seen a proliferation of posters and a new recycling bin in the Directorate of Strategy, Planning & Assurance.  Handily located at the tea point, the new bin makes each coffee break an unavoidable opportunity to do our bit – and we’ve additionally committed to using only eco-friendly coffee pods.

Before the bin arrived, we had to walk to the kitchen across the corridor to recycle waste.  Hardly an onerous task, I admit, but when one lunches al desko on rainy days, absent-mindedly favouring the nearest receptacle can become a habit.  I have rescued several stray banana skins from the floor under my desk this week, as I habituate to our personal bin ‘cull’!

When our Directorate Sustainability Champion, Sian, came to the Internal Audit team meeting, the information she shared with us showed that some of the choices we make with good intentions may in fact be ill-informed.  I had been convinced that rinsing my cup under the tap was preferable to leaving it in the dishwasher, but Sian explained that if we avoid using sinks and run one dishwasher cycle per day, our energy efficiency will improve.

My personal good news story is that, confronted with the information on one of our new office posters that King’s produces ten tons of waste each day, I logged into Papercut for the first time and resolved to curtail my printing activities.  I find it much easier to absorb information when I read it on paper, but I’ve made a concerted effort.  My first zero-printing week occurred this month, and I hope for many more.

The next step for the Strategy, Planning & Assurance sustainability team is to advance our ideas for contributing to the local community.  Talks are underway with local organisations to build on the success of previous years’ clothing collections by welcoming homeless guests for a hearty meal served by King’s staff and students.   New and nearly new clothing and accessories are planned to be collected and displayed in ‘retail’ style, so that guests can browse at leisure and select pieces to take away.

All in all, the drive for sustainability in SPA has pushed me to fully accept my duty to demonstrate sustainable behaviours at work.  However insignificant our individual ‘oops’ moments may seem amongst an 8000-strong staff population, they add up to serious environmental impact.  I can no longer gloss over my environmental footprint, because with Sian’s help, it has been laid out in front of me – and I’m thankful for that.

Laura Westwood is an Internal Auditor within the Directorate of Strategy, Planning & Assurance. 

Sustainability Champions- Culture at King’s

This weeks guest blog comes courtesy of Culture at Kings, who tell us about some of the great initiatives they have been carrying out over the last few months as well as their upcoming sustainability plans.

“If you know where to look, you can find many great green initiatives at King’s. There’s an Urban Garden Project, a Cycling Club and there’s even talk of having a bee hive on the roof of the Strand building. It’s fantastic to see how many people across the University are concerned with the environment and we at Culture at King’s wanted to be a part of that of course, so we signed up to the Sustainability Champions scheme with a team of six.

We worked through our workbook and ticked the boxes for a greener office: printing double-sided, wearing jumpers instead of turning up the heating, drinking Fairtrade tea, and shutting down equipment that’s not in use. But soon we started to change things in our personal routines as well. We realised we were eating less meat, we wouldn’t buy products with excessive wrapping, at least two of us have a 4-minute-shower-challenge timer, and we started bringing spare fruit and veg into the office to share with colleagues to reduce our food waste.

Plant-cultureStella Toonen signed up to receiving a bagful of organic vegetables every week, an initiative run by PhD student Roger Hallam in the CMCI department to offer an alternative to buying groceries from supermarkets. Yvonne Castle attended a Bee Hotel Workshop led by Urban Bees, a free event which was part of the Northbank Festival. She made a little bamboo hotel for solitary bees and learnt lots about the different types of bees pollinating London flora. And Kate Dunton helped out at her local organic community allotment and planted bee-friendly flowering herbs in her own garden.

So with all the support we received from colleagues we decided we could take it a bit further and started organising bigger awareness initiatives. We set up an ‘Air Con Free Fridays’ pilot in the office for July and August, which is going very well. And we’re planning to organise a ‘Buy British Week’, in which we encourage staff to buy products grown close to home and celebrate their achievements with a picnic on the last day of the week.

Staff enjoying the breeze at our first Air Con Free Friday

Staff enjoying the breeze at our first Air Con Free Friday

It looks like we’ve got exciting ‘green’ things coming up, and (perhaps subconsciously) our work across King’s also seems to include some great initiatives too. Our Science Gallery London team at Guy’s campus has been promoting the benefits of eating insects through our Fed Up season about food, and as part of our Cultural Institute’s Utopia 2016 season we’re already having great conversations with artists about visualising a perfectly sustainable world. As Sustainability Champions we’d like to think we had something to do with it.”

A Clash of Titans: The Principal’s Debate on fossil fuel divestment

[This guest post comes courtesy of Justin Fisher, a former Masters student and alumni member of KCL Fossil Free. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability]

Last Wednesday marked an important day for King’s as President and Principal Ed Byrne hosted his first Principal’s Debate. This was in response to King’s Fossil Free campaign, which has for more than a year been increasing support for its motion asking the College to divest Debate_Pic_1itself from the fossil fuel industries. For those who have not followed the progress of the campaign, it really kicked off in October with the submission of a 1200 signature petition to the university administration. While that number has since increased to over 1400, the university finally declined the divestment option formally in mid-February. However, much to King’s credit, the Principal’s Debate went ahead as scheduled, and it made for a most lively and engaging evening, and further demonstrated the scope of the passionate support for divestment at King’s.

The question at hand was, ‘Is divestment from fossil fuel companies a useful policy tool to bring about action on climate change?’ Representing the College on the ‘no’ side were King’s VP of Research & Innovation Chris Mottershead and King’s Professor of Climate & Culture Mike Hulme. Speakers on the ‘yes’ side included Mark Campanale, co-founder of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, and Mark Horowitz, a PhD candidate in neuroscience at King’s and one of the initiators of King’s divestment campaign. Each speaker was allowed to make their case before fielding questions from the audience and making some final rebuttals.

Chris Mottershead has been in close contact with the campaign for months, and it was to him that the petition was given back in October. Interestingly, Mottershead has spent the majority of his career working for BP, and he has perhaps unsurprisingly been weary of endorsing divestment at King’s. In his remarks he focused attention on the role of governments in owning and controlling the majority of carbon reserves, seemingly trying to make the case that fossil fuel companies are not the ones driving fossil fuel extraction, and the role of consumer demand. He was also careful to focus on the global need for fossil fuels, and reiterated time and again the need for consistency in the ways King’s invests. However, he admitted that he does not believe that King’s has any current investments in renewables. One of the most powerful concessions of the debate came when an audience member bluntly confronted Mottershead with the question of whether his three decades of experience working with BP created a conflict of interest with the divestment question. Mottershead responded that it ‘probably’ did. He also compromised his position when he claimed, late in the debate, that fossil fuel companies don’t actually have much political power, which drew loud jeers from the audience. Clearly the crowd was not buying what Mottershead was selling, though few would deny the importance of government action. Indeed, that is one of the primary aims of the divestment campaign.

Professor Hulme proved a welcome and intriguing addition to the panel. A Nobel-laureate for his work with the IPCC, his experience working with climate change is beyond question, and his academic approach to the topic provided a lot of interesting debate and easily provoked the majority of the questions from the audience. Hulme carefully explained the importance of economic development in the poor world and technological innovation in mitigating the worst impacts of climate change, and continually reiterated that reducing the question of climate change to carbon emissions is an oversimplification. He offered a reminder of the range of challenges brought about by climate change, and explained why he preferred a broad approach with multiple targets. He was also fixated on the semantics of the question, as he reiterated time and again that he did not believe that divestment was a useful policy tool, nor did he believe that it would bring about what he believed to be the necessary range of actions to address the myriad problems posed by a rapidly changing climate. However, when he eventually conceded that divestment may well be a useful tool for social mobilisation, there was a noticeable buzz of excited exasperation from the crowd. Indeed, it seems as though few of Hulme’s points were incompatible with the aims of the fossil free campaign, and he did offer an important reminder of the complexity and diversity of the issue.

Mark Campanale offered a level and analytical approach to the question, which is not surprising given his role in helping to found the Carbon Tracker Initiative. It was Carbon Tracker that first coined the term ‘carbon bubble’ and explained its implications; if the world takes action to limit global warming to below 2°C, in any form, then as much as 80% of Debate_pic_2known carbon reserves will be left in the ground. Given that fossil fuel companies are valued largely on the reserves they hold, these so-called ‘stranded assets’ would rapidly sink such companies and lead to a crisis similar to that when the US housing bubble burst in 2008, only far worse. That bubble was worth a staggering $2.8 trillion. The value of the carbon bubble? An unfathomable $28 trillion. Campanale explained carefully the financial folly in continuing to invest in companies whose future projects are all but guaranteed to lose money, providing a sound financial case for divestment.

Mark Horowitz was the final speaker and he made the most of his time, deftly covering a range of issues from scientific projections of the effects of increased carbon emissions to the advent of grid parity in much of the poor world (where renewable power has become a more affordable option than fossil fuels) to the political obstruction of fossil fuel companies undermining climate regulations. He patiently explained that the position of the campaign is not a radical one; rather, that of companies’ intent on burning far more carbon than is known to be compatible with life on this planet is as radical as it gets. He offered an impassioned and logical approach and against Mottershead and Hulme’s assertions that fossil fuel companies provide a social good, asked at what point does the negative begin to outweigh the positive, bringing about the need for a change in the balance of power? Horowitz asserted that perhaps the decades of experience on the other side of the table had fostered a complacency towards the status quo when what is needed more than ever are fresh perspectives.

The most engaging part of the evening were the audience questions that came after each speaker made their case, some of which have been alluded to above, which lasted for more than an hour. The general mood of the room was encapsulated in an assertion from an audience member that they had no doubt that King’s would eventually divest, and the real question was whether it was going to be a leader or a laggard. Indeed, with other London universities such as SOAS and LSE setting formal processes to work on the question, King’s is already looking more like a follower than a global leader.

The debate ended with Ed Byrne asking the audience to show its support for one side or the other by way of applause. The thunderous racket in support of divestment, accompanied by a visual show of support with audience members holding the Fossil Free logo, boisterously summed up the excited pro-divestment sentiment of the crowd. The debate offered a tremendous platform for both sides to explain their stance, and a lot of genuinely useful dialogue was generated as a result. At the end, though, one could not help leaving feeling as though support for divestment is growing. It was good of King’s to participate in such an event, and we shall now wait and see how well the administration was listening.

Sustaining our climate: taking the initiative

[This week’s guest blog comes courtesy of Joanna Peasland, a first-year Geography undergraduate. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability]

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2nd October 2014. Copenhagen, Denmark. The IPCC Synthesis Report is released.

The Guardian’s article: “IPCC: rapid carbon emission cuts vital to stop severe impact of climate change” contextualises this latest release of the Panel’s current state of affairs with regards to global environmental change with an unambiguous sense of urgency.

The overriding message is not a new one, but demands to be received with more gravity than it has previously: the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly pervasive, and pose irreversibly dangerous risks unless we reduce carbon emissions to zero and rapidly integrate sustainable energy sources into society. Moreover, the technological and the economic feasibility of switching to alternative sources of energy is now being justified by this united global voice in preparation for much anticipated climate talks in Paris next year.

It goes without saying that release of the most comprehensive report on climate change since 2007 has pushed this environmental issue to the forefront of media coverage. Governments, institutions and populations are divesting in fossil fuels and investing in renewables. This ultimately has one of the two consequences for the future: our planet will descend further toward catastrophic changes or it will benefit from the mitigation of such changes. What follows is a selection of some of the items that have caught my eye during the first semester of the academic year – paved with problems but equal promise. They highlight some of the more ambitious movements towards a revolution in energy policy and a more sustainable future, at a time – seemingly to me –  when the debate about global climate change has never been so exhilarating!

Wind power

Browsing through various newspapers’ online ‘environment’ sub-sections led me to an inspiring read on Denmark’s progression in transforming their energy economy in the New York Times by Justin Gillis; A Tricky Transition From Fossil Fuel: Denmark Aims for 100 Percent Renewable Energy. Gillis discusses the feasibility of the country’s target of eliminating fossil fuels from the energy mix by 2050: a goal which really does set the benchmark for carbon emissions reductions worldwide. This is a country where already, more than 40% of their grid is fed by renewables. These targets however, do not come without their costs. I picked up on one point in particular: Gillis writes of a somewhat imposing ceiling on the Danes’ smooth sailing to sustainable success – the economics of it all. Intermittent wind power makes the country potentially extremely vulnerable, therefore some traditional power plants are favoured as a support system in the event of a blackout that are propped up with various subsidies. These power companies cannot sustain this because their profits will eventually stagnate. International imports of energy bring additional predicaments in the form of the simple ‘ripple effect’ of relying too heavily on outside sources and a potential monopoly game that could play out with increasingly asymmetric power relations. As Gillis suggests, a re-design of the workings of the energy market is required. Perhaps this is as important as the switch to renewables itself. Much like new models of manufactured goods, its accessories, its ‘supporting infrastructure’, must adapt and progress also in order to harmonise with changes of the product itself.

It would be foolish not to mention the agreement pledged by Mr Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, aiming to reduce carbon emissions below 1990 levels back in November. A deal well received by a wider community; US climate negotiators (apparently) received great applause for it during the climate talks at Lima in early December. Tim McDonnell’s piece for Climate Desk –  Obama’s Deal With China Is a Big Win for Solar, Nuclear and Clean Coal – offers a useful appraisal. China is now compelled to firmly hold its place as the world’s frontrunner of the renewable energy sector, through a requirement to source an amount of energy equivalent to the entire electricity grid of the States, entirely from renewables by 2030, as it now has commercial backing from the US. Coupled with caps on emissions and further cuts in the US, this progression will clearly be mutually beneficial for both countries and for the greater good of the environment.

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An implication of the new deal is undeniably the eventual rise of cost for the US as a net energy importer as the stock prices of solar power will escalate as it is integrated into China (exactly when and how much by is largely undefined as of yet). But, to grossly oversimplify the situation, the US has now publicised its seemingly increased support for China’s technological advancements, thus the optimist in me is hopeful for the future energy relations between the two powerhouses. With massive carbon capture and sequestration and nuclear plans also on the agenda, McDonnell writes of the hoped geopolitical ease of this deal relative to global scale, legalistic treaties.

Of course, there is internal contention brewing within Congress. Appropriately dubbed ‘climate deniers’, Republicans have reacted badly as their bone of contention claiming that China is unwilling to take steps to cutting emissions has all but been demolished in the wake of news of the talks. The Guardian writes of the backlash such as threats to implement continual legislative walls to Obama’s green promises by the likes of Republican speaker of the House John Boehner. There is certainly no easy route to changing the national behaviour and organisation of the US energy system, to put it lightly.

As I write, the year (2014) is drawing to a close yet anticipation for change is hanging high. News of daily developments flood my social media timelines as leaders in governance from all corners of the globe have spent two weeks negotiating climate at the UN 20th Conference of the Parties in Lima, Peru. The Green Climate Fund has reached its first milestone with vast contributions from both some of the most advanced and emerging economies alike. Even Australian leader, Tony Abbot, pledged 200 million dollars (AUS). The fund is a “start” to addressing the problematic relationship between developing nations and exploitation of fossil fuels, writes The Climate Reality Project activism blog. My question is how exactly it will be distributed and who will be the most favoured recipients of this fortune?

Does the hype surrounding such global efforts cloud worrying developments that directly combat sustainable initiatives? In the UK, George Osborne’s autumn statement favoured advancing the dreaded Shale Gas industry, granting 31 million pounds of taxpayers’ money for research drilling and an additional few million on “public engagement” writes Damien Carrington for The Guardian. Burying our heads in the sand, for better use of a cliché, and pursuing ‘less conventional’ fossil fuel route is neither clever nor safe – on many levels.

North Sea oil rig

An issue this pervasive is bound to leave me ignorant to the great complexities of the political and economic implications of these crucially needed sustainable initiatives. Rush the transition to renewables and entire industries come crashing down, not to mention the jobs within them, yet must we accept that sacrifice to some degree may be inevitable however we approach it? Problems are likely to greet us at every corner. However, these simple but beautifully witty and fiercely blunt words of Dr. Guy McPherson stay with me and reaffirm my attitude: “if you really think the economy is more important than the environment, trying counting your money while holding your breath”. The pragmatism being, of course, that climate change could not be more inconvenient to the economy. But it is this very inconvenience that makes it most certainly in our long-term interests to transform our energy habits. And transform we must.

– Joanna Peasland (joanna.peasland@hotmail.co.uk)

Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA, United States Government, Hakan Dalhstrom, UNISDR Gallery

A journey around the Dark Mountain

[This week’s guest post comes courtesy of the Sustainability team’s own Justin Fisher, who recently completed an MA in Science, Technology & Medicine in History. It is a guest post because he didn’t write it at work. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability. See?]

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Vol 6

The beautiful Vol. 6. Photo credit: dark-mountain.net

Recently I had the good fortune to attend the launch of Dark Mountain Vol. 6 at Farringdon’s Free Word Centre. If you’ve not heard of the Dark Mountain project before, you’d be forgiven. Project co-founder Dougald Hine quipped at the event that when he asks people how they found Dark Mountain the answer is typically: ‘Well, it was late at night, and I was on the internet…’ Dougald admitted that this is exactly how he came to know the project’s other founder, Paul Kingsnorth, and I can confirm that this was the case for myself one night last December. It all might sound rather sinister. Launched a little over five years ago with a manifesto entitled ‘Uncivilisation’, Kingsnorth and Hine explicitly reject the dominant narratives of our society and are trying to facilitate the creation of new ones. Dark Mountain has become a powerful collective of artists and writers aggressively exposing the absurdities and contradictions of how modern society frames its relationship to nature. Above all else, it is showing the power of words and images in framing how we interpret and understand the world, and our place within it. They’re trying to tell new stories. They’re trying to destroy the ‘myths’ that sustain our society and drive our present crises: growth, progress, nature and civilisation. ‘We tried ruling the world; we tried acting as God’s steward, then we tried ushering in the human revolution, the age of reason and isolation. We failed in all of it, and our failure destroyed more than we were even aware of. The time for civilisation is past.’ Harsh words, indeed. But, are these not harsh times?

Before moving to London a little over a year ago I was broadly concerned about a number of environmental issues, and I made a conscious effort to do my part and encourage others to do theirs in reducing the environmental impacts of our lifestyles. I did the usual things like ditching my car for my bike, championing recycling and composting and ensuring that all lights and computers were turned off at work after every shift. But true change was surely beyond my grasp and not even on my radar. I was a History graduate working at a bookshop, not a climate scientist. As far as I was concerned, and as silly as it sounds to me now, environmentalism was a thoroughly scientific endeavour – one that I was deeply interested in, but not one that I could do very much about. And that was okay because I had some great scientifically-minded people in my life to take care of it. All I had to do was worry about it.

Then I began my MA at King’s last autumn, and, given my sympathies, the first module I enrolled in was environmental history. I had never encountered this before and was intrigued by what it might entail, and I quickly discovered what an important role the arts and humanities have to play in confronting the problems that we face. It was revelatory. I began to realise that as important as the science is, stories are equally so as they completely inform the way we interact with the world around us. One of the jobs of environmental history is to scrutinise these stories; to frame, un-frame and re-frame them; to examine how we have affected and been affected by our surroundings and what has driven that interaction. Finally, I felt like I had a place in this struggle, a way in, an angle that I understood. Graphs are great – I have some scientist friends who are giddy at the sight of them. But they don’t quite do it for me; I like words.

Dark Mountain

Photo credit: dark-mountain.net

Dark Mountain, as I understand it, is all about words. And images. And sounds. It’s about casting off our assumptions, our pretenses and our underlying denial. It’s about re-framing our world. And it asks really tough questions. In an intriguingly titled article published by Orion magazine in 2012, ‘Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist’, Kingsnorth took aim specifically at modern environmentalism, and especially its focus on ‘sustainability’. He asserted that sustainability, as it is commonly thrown about, ‘means sustaining human civilization at the comfort level that the world’s rich people—us—feel is their right, without destroying the “natural capital” or the “resource base” that is needed to do so.’ He went further:

This is business-as-usual: the expansive, colonizing, progressive human narrative, shorn only of the carbon. It is the latest phase of our careless, self-absorbed, ambition-addled destruction of the wild, the unpolluted, and the nonhuman. It is the mass destruction of the world’s remaining wild places in order to feed the human economy. And without any sense of irony, people are calling this “environmentalism.”

I have struggled with that article ever since reading it. It’s hard to not take what Kingsnorth says straight to the heart. But, here I am, working for the Sustainability team. And so I sympathise too with George Monbiot, a friend of Kingsnorth’s who has been openly critical of Dark Mountain and what he interprets to be climate-defeatism. In fact, I have an abundant amount of hope for what this crisis means for humanity and our world, despite the powerful interests in opposition, seeing it as an opportunity to completely shape our future – an opportunity that doesn’t come around often. It’s beyond clear that the way we operate cannot continue, and we undoubtedly need to figure out how to live sustainably. But it is indeed important to question what narrative is driving that push for sustainability. Is it a desire for business as usual, minus the carbon? If so, then Kingsnorth has nailed it – it’s a futile exercise. If, however, it’s taken as an opportunity to re-orient our understanding of the world, and of our place in it, then there is plenty to be hopeful for.

So yes, the science is clear. And it’s very scary. Yet we still hesitate to change. What’s the missing link? The stories we tell – of growth and development, of humans and nature – must have something to do with it. What does this mean on an individual level? I’m not entirely sure yet, but I suppose to start with it means questioning the stories that are driving my own life. It means asking what is truly most important to me, and what I can do about that. It means not accepting that there is only one way forward, but many choices ahead.

I think it means we can change.

– Justin Fisher (justin.fisher@kcl.ac.uk)

Educating Green Change

[This week’s guest post comes courtesy of Emily Shovlar, a third-year English Language & Literature student and enthusiastic EcoSoc member. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability]

Let’s call this post, in honour of one of the organisations it features, ‘a story of things going right’.

That’s how the 10:10 project’s website describes the hashtag it created. #Itshappening is a Twitter treasure trove of sustainable action, mostly in the uplifting form of smiling primary school children and their new solar panels. It’s also a story of community efforts to combat climate change and progress towards a green future. What better way, then, for the Environment Society at King’s (EcoSoc) to show its rapidly increasing numbers and momentum than by hosting a panel event entitled ‘#Itshappening: how educators and organisations are bringing about green change’?

On 25th November, EcoSoc gathered in the Franklin-Wilkins Building to have our hearts and minds made brighter by five brilliant speakers. We assembled a hot water machine, organic fair-trade tea and biscuits, rows of chairs, the speakers and ourselves. It was our second panel event of the semester, and there was a general feeling that we were getting rather good at this. The stage was set for inspiration.

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Mal’s enthusiastic arm span

The first speaker, tying perfectly in with #itshappening, was from the 10:10 project itself: Malachi Chadwick, its Communications Manager. Mal, his arm span enthusiastically growing with every statistic, described his work with the Solar Schools project, as documented on Twitter, in which 10:10 organises crowdfunding for primary schools to buy solar panels. There are now 66 ‘solar schools’ in Britain, funded by over £430,000 of community donations, with places for 20 new schools each year. The project is a success not only for the schools, some of which are entirely self-sufficient for power on sunny days, but for the whole community. Mal told us that 70% of online donors said the project made them feel part of a community, and that 45% of volunteers were keen to take part in more community projects afterwards. Even better, he pointed out that of the people who volunteer with the solar schools, 71% have changed their behaviours to save energy, and 29% have installed renewable energy in their own homes. By the time he got to these galvanising statistics, Mal’s arms were as uplifted as his audience.

This development of community is vital to sustainability: it’s all about localising, not globalising. It seems obvious to start with the education system if we want to instil green thinking, since, as Mal rightly said, schools are at the heart of their communities and connect to hundreds of adults and children alike.

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The inspiring David Dixon, sustainable headteacher

Our second speaker expressed this connection from his own position within education. David Dixon is Head of Mulgrave Primary in Woolwich, a deprived and highly multicultural school. He is a truly inspirational headteacher: under his care the school has improved its Ofsted ratings, encouraged more community cohesion (especially after the nearby Lee Rigby incident in 2013) and embarked on a curriculum of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). More impressive still, he completed a doctorate while Headteacher, focusing on a ‘green leadership model’. He asked: what do leaders of sustainable primary schools have in common? He found: they had childhoods immersed in nature, they had strong communities and support networks, they were confident and go-getting and were happy to be disruptive to the education system. David feels strongly that “Improving the understanding of the connections between nature, a man made world and social justice is the way to develop less destructive citizens”. His work on ESD lets children choose how they live, and think about what it means to be a green individual.

Third up was Yolanda Barnas. She was a special invite from EcoSoc’s own Annie, whom she taught in her role as Languages teacher at the Ellen Wilkinson School for Girls in west London. Passionate like all the best teachers, she showed us the outdoor classroom she’d created at the school, from a semi-landfill wasted space, and described her efforts over the years to make the school greener. These included a wildlife garden in a little-used space against a school building, and a silver sustainability award for the school’s travel arrangements. What she really showed us, at King’s, was how one diligent person can transform an organisation or even a system. Her efforts might be small-scale, in that they only affect one school, but the sustainability movement is founded upon such green-minded individuals who change their own communities. Her dedication is exactly what we all need.

After Ms Barnas came Simon Goldsmith, Head of Sustainability at the University of Greenwich. Greenwich is brilliant at sustainability: this is recognised by its awards including Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development, and by its top-ten position in the university Green League for the last five years. His stance is that since universities are brimming with future citizens, it’s vital to embed sustainability within them (EcoSoc couldn’t agree more). Simon, like Mal, offered an armful of brilliant statistics: Greenwich has reduced its carbon footprint by 22% since 2005 and plans to cut it by a further 40% by 2020. It’s installed 200 solar panels in student accommodation, and put power-down software on every single one of its computers. For those of us who took part in the King’s Blackout, switching off hundreds of unused computers, the last statistic in particular is a worthy goal.

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Simon Goldsmith sharing Greenwich’s sustainability secrets and plans for the future

Speaking of King’s, our final speaker was Tom Yearley, our very own Energy Manager, who featured recently on this blog. He only joined King’s in September but admits happily that his ultimate joy would be leaving the job, because King’s had woven sustainability into its ethos to such an extent that Tom became surplus. He gave us his vision for the coming years: student workgroups on sustainability, to make sure our voices cohere with his own plans; and large grants to improve efficiency in what is, we’re painfully aware, an un-green place of study.

Tom is guaranteed to encounter EcoSoc again, even more than the other four speakers – but it was a true privilege for us to encounter them all at once, in an evening of inspiration which confirmed all we hope to do to make ourselves, King’s, London and the UK greener. It was sustainably grown and articulately honed food for thought, and it was most certainly ‘a story of things going right’.

– Emily Shovlar (emily.shovlar@kcl.ac.uk)

Tales of an Aspiring Sustainable Citizen

[This week’s guest blog comes courtesy of Robert Zlokower, a MSc student in Sustainable Cities. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability]
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Humble beginnings

The rainy monsoon season.

This was when the ancient ‘sangha’ – as the Buddhist community was and still is called – would settle down, coming together in huts or shelters to meditate and study together.

We are like them. The rainy season marked a change in the climate. And the settlement is like our campus. But rather than paralyse from fear or deny the climate, the sangha used it as a time to grow together. The same applies to today.

Climate change is the best thing to happen to humanity.

At no other time have we had such a clear knowledge of our potential apocalypse than now. When past speculations may have been based on visions and scriptures, today’s predictions are based on scientific evidence. So we really know what we’re up against.

So too do we know the solution: a society based on sustainable principles and technology. A society based not on war, but on working together for the common good. Technology that we actually already have, but just hasn’t been diffused enough yet. The sun’s increasing UV rays are actually a golden chance for humanity to band together. In order to save ourselves, we must commit to the biggest act of selflessness – that is saving nature.

This obstacle is an opportunity.

The 1968 photo of Earth from space ignited consciousness of humanity as ‘global’ and fuelled environmental movements. For sustainability, action is taken not only on a global scale, but also at national, city, community and citizen-levels. To be completely upfront, I’m only in the humble beginnings of sustainable citizenship. My desire started out of frustration when I went to B&Q home supply a few years ago to get a solar-PV panel for my shed, and the staff replied, “a what panel?” I was working in media at the time, managing a forum for the world’s opinion-leaders to debate sustainability, climate change and dwindling resources. I wanted to put these global problems into practical on-the-ground solutions.

Much of my activity is actually daydreaming. Any D-I-Y I undertake generally results in excessive man hours made up of swearing and broken timber (both accidental and purposeful). And as an impoverished student, I can barely afford a discounted pint at the student union, let alone investment in low-carbon technologies. Still, I’ve been inspired to have a go, so at least that’s a start. Here’s what I’m personally looking into as an aspiring sustainable citizen….

The boat life

I recently moved off-grid onto a narrowboat in the canal. I cruise along the Regents Canal and Lea River.

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The rooftop solar-PV array

I had the boat fitted with solar photovoltaic panels to charge my on-board batteries. This in turn powers my lights (mainly LED), water-pump and most appliances. To conserve energy, I try to keep to 12-volt appliances, and I leave my fridge off in the winter (I cool perishables either next to my water tank or on my deck). I periodically take on board drinking water from water points along the canal. I’d like to look into collecting and filtering rainwater from my roof. So with limited electric and water on board, I need to be consciously frugal with my resources. Or use my resources wisely – for example, when I cruise the boat, the engine heats the water tank, so it’s the perfect opportunity to later take a shower and wash the dishes.

My engine, apparently the same as in a London taxi, runs off of diesel. At some point, I’d like to explore an alternative fuel, for example used Cooking Oil. In the meantime, every time I run the generator for a high wattage appliance, I’m reminded by the noise and fumes that I’m sucking up fossil fuels. When you turn on your electric iron, are you aware that a power plant somewhere in the distance is guzzling up in 2 and a half minutes a finite resource that took a 2 and half million years to produce?

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And the beautiful rooftop garden

For heat, I have a solid-fuel stove. I collect wood chips for kindling from the rubbish heap of a woodcutter at a local hardware store. And I saw spare wood from a local city farm in exchange for volunteering as a gardener. The volunteer work also garnered me a discount with the locally-sourced vegetable service.

I got a composting toilet fitted, so I don’t need water to flush and I can convert the waste to fertilizer. I also have bokashi bins to compost food waste. Eventually I would like to use these wastes to fertilize the canal towpath or my garden on the rooftop, where I also store my bicycle (Btw, King’s College buildings have showers, which helps after long-distance cycling!). I’d like to explore building a small chicken-coup into the front deck of the boat.

Living the canal life means I’m usually surrounded by nature – marshes, woodland, fields, swans, geese, ducks, fish. It helps me as a city-dweller appreciate planet earth. And without a TV on board, I’m no longer brainwashed from TV commercials to buy useless junk that wouldn’t even fit in my little abode anyway!

I’m interested in applying for a mooring at a sustainable narrowboat community in a basin in East London. In the meantime, due to canal regulations I must change moorings every 2 weeks, which actually pushes me to explore a different neighbourhood every time (perfect for a KCL geography student such as myself!).

My goal with this boat is to get as close as possible to being an off-grid self-sufficient microcosm. I also own a house in East London that I’m renting out, but I eventually would like to convert it into a carbon-neutral bed & breakfast – replete with solar-PV panels and batteries, rainwater collection, composting toilet and composting boxes in an urban garden and whatever else I can do to make it off-grid like the narrowboat. A friend warned me I should watch out that someone might steal my ideas. I say bless the thief! If he can kick-start some sustainability quicker than me, then my hat’s off to him!

I’m inspired by Dick & James Strawbridge’s “Practical Self Sufficiency: The Complete Guide to Sustainable Living.” But to be honest, I really could do with a bit of help! At least it’s an opportunity to make some friends and have fun getting creative.

Sitting here in the boat typing this blog post, the rain pattering my steel rooftop, I’m reminded of the sangha, settling from sweeps of rain splashing their huts. I look out my window; a swan floats along night-time waters. Does the swan think about climate change the same way I do? Does she realise it’s a chance for unselfishness, compassion, camaraderie and fun?

The swan dunks her head into the water.

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– Robert Zlokower (robert.zlokower@gmail.com)

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