Category: Sustainability (Page 1 of 25)

The ‘why’ behind our Listening Campaign

You may have seen our recent Listening Campaign, which we launched with the help of Student Success. In this blog, we’d like to tell you a little more about why we’re running this campaign. 

First, a little about the campaign.  

The Sustainability Team are currently developing a few exciting projects including the sustainability KEATS module, the sustainability conversations initiative, King’s Climate Action Strategy, and supporting diversity further within environmental sustainability.  

While we could easily plan and develop these projects ourselves, they may not be as effective, relevant or engaging because ‘we’ (the Sustainability Team) are not representative of the entire King’s community, nor will we be as innovative as a larger and more diverse group of individuals. Rather, our aim is to ensure these projects are developed with staff and students in mind, to ensure they are co-created from start to finish. The campaign, therefore, takes the form of 30–40-minute one-to-one conversations between students/staff and a trained volunteer. 

Sustainability is a framework encompassing a wide range of interconnected issues that impact people’s everyday lives in different ways. Given the opportunity sustainability gives us to envision and build a better world for all, it is vital that any solutions, projects and initiatives be informed by an intersectional approach and that they be co-created. Community organising and one-to-ones are one way we can achieve this. 

What are one-to-ones? 

One-to-one (or relational) conversations are the cement of community organising. So, let’s take a step back and briefly discuss community organising. 

In case you did not know, King’s are institutional partners with Citizens UK (in fact, we are the first university to have a partnership of this kind). Our understanding of community organising is therefore very much aligned with Citizens UK’s definition (you can find out more about this here). The three key foundations of community organising are the following:  

  • Power – If we want to make a change, we need power. How do we divert power from traditional power structures? How do we shift from top-down power to relational power? By combining the different experiences and expertise of individuals, we build a much stronger force to create positive change.  
  • People – Centre the people impacted by the issue/topic at hand. Talk to the source of what’s going on.  
  • Leadership – Never do for others what they can do for themselves. The people closest to the problem are often the people best suited to solve the problem, so let’s empower them to become leaders.  

Thus, community organising is about realising that we have power and bringing diverse groups of people together to create the change they want to see. And the key to bringing people together is building relationships, which leads us to relational one-to-ones.  

Relational one-to-ones are intentional conversations that generally last 30-45 minutes. They are not an interview, survey or simple chit-chat. Rather, they seek to go beyond the surface and facilitate sharing from both individuals. The goal is to uncover each individual’s core values, motivations, self-interest and in doing so, find common ground. One-to-ones enable us to build rapport and trust, develop a public relationship, and ultimately, build a strong network of diverse individuals working together to create change that benefits them all.   

Join us in co-creating exciting sustainability projects by signing up for your one-to-one here. 

If you have any questions about the campaign, get in touch with us! 

 

King’s Energy: How to save energy at home – summer edition

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

As our eagle-eyed followers may recall, we provided some DIY energy-saving tips in the winter months ranging from the use of tin foil behind your radiators to clingfilm around your windows! Given that we’ve now had the hottest day of the year, it is definitely time for the summer edition, and this time there will be no tin foil or clingfilm, we promise. Read on for our 5 energy-saving ideas for the summer.

Don’t use the tumble-dryer

Let’s start off with a nice easy one. Those of you with a tumble-dryer and who pay energy bills will be aware of just how much energy they use and how expensive this can be for you. So why not give your clothes and your wallet some time off by letting them dry naturally? Invest in a washing line and let nature do its work!

Switch to LEDs

Yes, yes, we know – we are always plugging LEDs, but here it’s not only about how much energy they could save you, it’s also about heat. Traditional lighting produces large amounts of radiated heat as well as light. While LEDs do still produce heat, this is far less than regular halogen or incandescent bulbs. In short, with less heat in your house thanks to more energy-efficient bulbs, there will be less cooling (and therefore energy) required – no brainer!

Air conditioning setting

Summer days can be unbearably hot, so we fully understand using air conditioning units. However, the minimum you are recommended to set these to is 5oC lower than the outside temperature, so that is probably no more than 24oC. If you choose the lowest setting, the unit will use more energy to produce it and the difference in temperature will be very minimal.

Turn down the water heater

By no means are we advocating cold showers during these glorious few months of sunshine, but we don’t need those steaming winter showers to wake us up in the morning anymore. Therefore, if you have a manual water heater you can turn the temperature down slightly to reflect this and save both energy and money in the process.

Don’t open your windows

We’ve all been there; sweating in the sweltering heat, throwing the windows open in the desperate hope of tempting a non-existent breeze. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. When you open your curtains (or any form of window covering) and your windows, the sunlight enters your house and heats it up. In adding a few more degrees for you to wage war on, you will likely use more unnecessary energy trying to remove it through using fans or air conditioning units. It may seem depressing to keep the windows and curtains closed throughout the summer, but you only need to do it when the full sun is out. That means you can throw them open once it passes…but beware of the mosquitos.

So there you have it – our 5 DIY tips on how to save energy at home during the summer months. Thanks to these tips, you will save money and energy (and you also won’t need to awkwardly explain why you have tin foil sticking out the back of your radiator…). Tune in to this week’s #TakeoverTuesday to put what you’ve learned to the test!

As always, if you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch!

Sustainability Stories: Emilie Vandame

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Émilie, my pronouns are she/her and I am originally from Lyon, France. I graduated from King’s in 2020 after completing a bachelor’s in human geography. Currently, I’m doing a master’s degree in Innovation, Human Development and Sustainability at the University of Geneva, on my way to professionalize my passion for gender+ equality. Parallel to my master’s degree, I’m interning at the Women’s Human Rights and Gender Section of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

What does sustainability mean to you?

Doing our best to fight against the exploitation of resources, people and living creatures and working towards guaranteeing human rights, equality and inclusivity for all.

Can you identify a specific moment or turning point in your life that sparked your interest in sustainability?

It’s been a long process through which I’ve learned to become more aware and critical of my surroundings, the systems we are in, and what’s going on around the world.

In high school, I started to learn to make parallels between wider global processes and the experiences of people every day and what that meant for the future. During my time at King’s I was able to learn about sustainability theoretically – specifically environmental sustainability. I was also able to conduct research on the ground and always in a very humanizing perspective which was really thought-provoking.

Though I’m still passionate about environmental sustainability today, my focus is more on social sustainability, specifically equality, inclusivity and visibility of women, non-binary persons & LGBTQIA+ individuals and communities.

In what ways did your experience at King’s and in London shape your understanding of sustainability?

Being in London was a big part of my sustainability journey. In my opinion, having the privilege of living in such a big city and studying at such a prestigious university comes with the duty of being aware and doing what you can to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. The opportunities to learn more and be more active are there, I felt like I just had to make the effort. That definitely pushed me in terms of my own behaviour and habits.

Studying geography at King’s, sustainability was always in the background of everything, if not the main topic. But I would say that the most useful skill I was able to hone was how to be critical; I’ve learned to question everything from the ways things work at different scales to the systems we are implicitly part of.

Tell us more about your master’s degree – why did you choose it? What has been your greatest learning so far?

I wanted my postgraduate studies to leave behind the theory and research that made up a lot of my undergraduate degree. I wanted to complete internships, learn skills to professionalize my knowledge and be able to get a job straight after. Though I definitely wanted a human/social focus, at that time I wasn’t set on one specific topic but wanted to work at the intersection of everything sustainability encompasses. This really reduced the number of masters I could apply to.

My master’s degree focuses on finding innovative solutions for the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It’s anchored in the International Geneva system of international organizations and partners working towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which means we have many guest speakers who share about what they do and how we can help, and we also have access to internships within this network.

The best way I’ve found to really explain what this degree is like is to say that it’s like an MBA but for sustainability and development solutions. The focus is on practical skills rather than theory. This means that there is a huge diversity of people, backgrounds and interests within it, not all from the social sciences. 98% of my assignments are group work and we learn so much from each other.

I think my greatest learning so far has been understanding that anything can be observed through the sustainability lens. Sustainability can take so many different forms and each person can contribute in their own way.

How do you take action on sustainability? How can others take action around these issues?

As a 20 and so-year old, I feel like I have a responsibility to embed sustainability in my life the best I can. I have studied it, I hope to link my career to it in some way, I let it influence the way I advance through life and my habits. Yes, sometimes it gets tiring and I feel hopeless; yes, governments and big corporations should take more radical action. But if not us, who? And if not now, when?

The most important step I’ve taken in my everyday life is trying my best to be vegan. In my opinion, it’s the step that makes the most sense in terms of environmental sustainability. Once you develop new habits and master some favourite recipes, it becomes easier. And it’s not about being perfect! Another step is to buy as little fast fashion (and from Amazon) as possible, secondhand stores and apps are the way to go! And finally, voting and attending climate protests, if you are able to.

How do you think we can bring more people together around these issues?

I actually just had a conversation about this with a friend. We were talking about the fact that in the field of sustainability, the focus is often on environmental sustainability. People often miss the human rights focus or forget people and social issues when talking about sustainability. This really makes it more difficult to promote the concept and get people on board with it, because they don’t realize how it includes so many diverse areas of life and how heavily they are linked, for example not recognizing how environmental degradation will hurt the most vulnerable or how women’s rights deeply impact every aspect of society up to environmental degradation.

Can you recommend a book, resource or activist for anyone who’d like to learn more about sustainability?

I recommend watching the mockumentary called Carnage, directed by Simon Amstell and available on the BBC website. It’s set in 2067 and looks back on today’s society from the perspective of veganism as the norm – it’s fun and thought-provoking!

Thank you, Emilie! The ‘Sustainability Stories’ series seeks to highlight the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you have a story to tell or would like to get involved, get in touch with us.

King’s Energy: Grant funded – ‘Mapping the Food Waste-Energy-Water-Emissions Nexus at Commercial Kitchens’

This guest blog comes from Julie Allen, Energy Manager at King’s.

In June 2020, KCL (along with Arizona State University, Dublin City University and City University of Hong Kong) submitted a grant application to GCSO (Global Consortium of Sustainability Outcomes) for a proposal to create a Certification for Sustainable Kitchens – and we got the grant!

In March this year, our interim findings were published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, in a paper entitled ‘Mapping the Food Waste-Energy-Water-Emissions Nexus at Commercial Kitchens: a systems approach for a More Sustainable Food Service Sector.’

I’m a published Author!

To break it down, here is a little background.

I have many years of experience in the commercial catering sector. There are always efforts to address food waste, OR energy consumption, OR water consumption, but never anything to look at the whole life cycle of the food going through a commercial kitchen. So that’s what we did. Our role at King’s was to provide energy consumption data from King’s Kitchen (which is excellently managed!). We also had to manage the expectations of our colleagues in other universities, as there can be a huge difference between theory and practice.

The paper looks at the impact of food on the climate – from the water used to grow the food, the transportation carbon miles, the energy to grow and prepare it, the amount of waste generated (not only from food preparation but also packaging) – and an analysis of a particular meal from field to fork. It’s been a fascinating journey looking at how different countries, organisations and sectors produce and sell food, even down to expectations around metering (we were asked to meter each tap until I explained it would take the whole grant!).

It’s been a fantastic journey, which isn’t over yet – we’ve had an extension until December 2021, so watch this space for further developments!

If you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch.

Climate change, sustainability and narratives

“The truth about stories is that’s all we are.” (Thomas King, 2003)

“Data and factual information are crucial, but not enough to bring down the walls of numbness and indifference, to help us empathise with people outside our tribes. We need emotional connections. But more than that, just as we need sisterhood against patriarchy, we need storyhood against bigotry.” (Elif Shafak, 2020)

Climate change is often constructed as a purely physical phenomenon defined through metrics and targets, and requiring that we all reduce our emissions and limit global temperature rise. While understanding the physical processes of climate change is undeniably crucial, in the 60+ years we’ve been measuring atmospheric CO2 levels inaction has remained the norm, and many people continue to resist caring about an abstract and intangible phenomenon (particularly those who remain largely un-impacted by climate change). Indeed, these framings simplify complex realities by telling only half the story: climate change has both physical realities and cultural meanings and, to better engage people around this issue, we need to reframe it as such.

Climate change is an issue through which a plethora of “values, discourses and imaginaries are being refracted” (Mahony and Hulme, 2016: 395). Not only is it a manifestation of patterns of development and particular socio-environmental relations, but how we respond to the crisis is intimately linked to perceptions, understandings and ideologies. It is a social justice issue, linked to questions of gender, race, inequality, power and health (and the list goes on). It is therefore critical that we ask who creates mainstream knowledge (and by extension, who does not) and “what sorts of realities they aim to engender” (Castree, 2005: xxi). As with many crises, the climate crisis is destabilising the status quo and creating space for transformation and we must harness it as an entry point to understand and address this host of implications.

These ideas have long been echoed by activists, communities and social scientists around the world. Climate researcher Mike Hulme (2020: 311) argues that climate change “governance […] emerges best when rooted in larger and thicker stories about human [experiences].” Indeed, stories have the power to convey culture, history, values and emotions, and forge connections between people. Through storytelling, we have an opportunity to engage in wider and deeper conversations, to make sense of and reconcile differences, and to “[search] out meaning in a conflicted and contradictory world” (Cronon, 1992: 1375). Stories can also “counterpoint […] totalising, ‘grand’ narratives” (Cameron, 2012a: 580) and “re-situate hegemonic habits of mind” (Magrane, 2018: 167). In this sense, stories offer agency. Finally, as put by climate activist Alice Aedy, “storytelling can […] paint a picture of a better world [and] we have to visualise the world that we’re moving towards.”

Let us use this ‘wicked problem’ as an opportunity to question how we relate to each other and how we relate to the natural world, to consider which stories we choose to tell, as well as to recognise the stories of others and what we can learn from them.

Building upon these ideas, we will be sharing  ‘Sustainability Stories’, highlighting the work and passion of individuals from across the King’s community. If you are passionate about any aspect of sustainability and would like to share your story, get in touch with us.

King’s Energy: A guide to eco-friendly energy suppliers in the UK

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can both switch to cheaper, fairer and more environmentally-friendly energy and support your community in doing so, check out the Citizens UK Fair Energy Campaign, as well as how student group King’s 4 Change is supporting the campaign at King’s

If you’ve kept up with our blog you will know we have devoted a lot of time to making switching energy providers as easy as possible for you. Of course, we would also prefer energy efficiency to be at the forefront of your mind when switching. As such, we’ve selected a few companies to review so you don’t have to!

How do I know if a company is eco-friendly?

Unfortunately, greenwashing is rife, so it can be difficult to make sure you’re not just falling for a marketing ploy when you think you’ve found the perfect company. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Carbon Offsetting – Many companies which call themselves “green” simply offset the carbon they produce, for example by planting trees. We have criticised this in the past but if done alongside other measures it can also be a positive.
  • Energy Source – Companies are obliged to tell you where their energy comes from. As much as possible, look for tariffs that offer renewable energy.
  • Tariff – As mentioned, the energy source often depends on the tariffs offered. Make sure to check these to see which best fit your needs in terms of usage, cost and of course, efficiency.
Octopus Energy

Octopus has a wide range of tariffs which can be confusing for those who haven’t read our blog! However, if you choose the “Super-Green” tariff then they will provide you with 100% renewable energy in addition to carbon offsetting. To help with costs they will also reward you and a friend with £50 when you switch.

Green Energy UK

Green Energy UK are the only UK energy company to offer 100% “Green” gas as well as 100% renewable energy so in that sense they are the best pick. However, they are on average 38% more expensive than other suppliers so get a quote before you make the decision to switch.

Outfox the Market

Outfox the Market is the cheapest supplier of renewable energy. They offer 100% renewable energy, from wind power, but because they are less established than their competitors they are also lower-rated by customers. Make sure to read reviews online before deciding in this case.

Bulb

One of the more-established eco-friendly energy companies in the UK, Bulb offer 100% renewable energy, from hydro, solar and wind power, as well as 100%  carbon neutral gas. They are also, on average, 17% cheaper than the “Big Six.”

Ecotricity

Ecotricity is the UK’s vegan energy supplier, offering 100% renewable energy. They are approved by the Vegan Society and support anti-fracking campaigns as well as Extinction Rebellion, so if you are passionate about helping environmental causes then they could be the right provider for you. However, they are relatively expensive so again make sure to get a quote before deciding.

So there you have it, these are the 5 we selected to look at this week. If you know of another environmentally-friendly supplier, let us know in the comments below!

As always, if you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch!

How to reduce, reuse, and recycle your way to a more sustainable lab

This guest blog comes from Dr Nicola Harris, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Chemistry

Lab-based research is not sustainable. If you work in a lab, think about how many tips, gloves and plastic tubes you throw away every day and then think about how many labs in the world do the same. In fact, labs are estimated to be responsible for 5.5 million tonnes of plastic waste per year. Unfortunately, alternatives to single-use plastics in the lab can be hard to come by or are labour intensive, and safety concerns mean that clinical and contaminated waste needs treating – usually by energy-intensive incineration or autoclaving (or both).

As well as the need to reduce plastic waste, CO2 emissions, electronic waste and over-consumption are also all problems with lab research. Labs use 10 times more energy than offices and 4 times more water.

We are all familiar with reduce, reuse, recycle at home – but how can we apply these in the lab? Here are some tips to help your lab move towards being more sustainable while our suppliers catch up. These tips are primarily based on my own experiences in life sciences research – I do protein-based research, with a lot of molecular biology and RNase-free work. Check out My Green Lab and LEAF for more tips!

Reduce

Probably the most important step to take right now, with the biggest impact.

New equipment – do you really need it? Can you borrow someone else’s? Does another group need something – can you share and buy it together instead of getting one each?

Reagents. If you need something, double check you don’t have it already tucked away at the back of a shelf before ordering more (a lab inventory is very useful for this). Do other groups have some you can borrow?

Consolidate autoclave runs. Does it only run when full?

Reduce lab energy consumption. Turn Ultra-Low Temperature (ULT) freezers up to -70 °C, using around 30 – 40 % less energy than -80 °C. Regular defrosts will also help freezers consume less energy. Shut fume hood sashes when not in use – a single fume hood uses the same amount of energy as a household. Turn other equipment off when not in use – most things don’t need to be on overnight and at the weekend (turning off also increases the lifetime of the equipment).

Use pipette tip refills instead of new boxes. You can autoclave refilled boxes yourself, and tip refills come in RNase-free filter tip varieties too!

Improve sterile technique. Reduce plastic waste by using a glass or metal cell spreader – these can be sterilised with ethanol and a flame and are as sterile as a plastic disposable spreader (in my opinion more sterile, as people’s hands go in and out of the packet for the disposable ones!).

Think about what you are doing and why. Protein research does not really need tips to be sterile, for example. Buffers generally don’t need to be filtered and autoclaved, and the purest water isn’t necessarily required.

Reuse

Glass alternatives. Many single-use plastics have glass alternatives that can be washed and reused. Buffers can be made in glass bottles instead of plastic tubes, and cell cultures can be grown in autoclaved glass bottles. Reusing glass many times over will result in fewer emissions, even if it needs autoclaving. Remember that disposal of contaminated plastics requires autoclaving or incineration anyway – so you might as well autoclave glassware instead.

Plastics can be washed out and reused. This may not be an attractive option, however, as it is fairly labour intensive.

Re-home old equipment. If you need new equipment, there are options to buy equipment that other labs no longer need (for example from Warp It and Richmond Scientific). Similarly, if you no longer need some equipment then it can be used in someone else’s lab.

Recycle

Unlike at home, recycling in a lab can be difficult. Waste contractors can be unhappy about taking waste that could be contaminated – but it is worth talking to them about it if you are able to.

Plastic reagent bottles. Check the resin type (1, 2 and 5 are most commonly accepted), remove the hazard label and wash out thoroughly for recycling.

Uncontaminated card and paper. The easiest thing to recycle from labs – packaging in particular.

Take-back schemes. Lots of companies do take-back schemes – for example, New England Biolabs take back their cold shipping polystyrene boxes, and Starlab take back their pipette tip boxes and tip wafers. Check with your suppliers to see if they offer any take-back schemes (or encourage them to start one!).

Ice packs. Most life sciences labs will be familiar with the huge pile of ice packs that can build up in a dusty corner of the lab. Good news – 2B Scientific recycle ice packs.

One step further

The above examples are some easy-to-follow tips – there are many more things that can be done to make your lab greener. For example, you can talk to companies about their sustainability policies, challenge them on their plastics, and feedback about their packaging. You can also liaise with your waste contractor to find out how they feel about recycling. Check My Green Lab and LEAF for bigger-scope ideas to improve your lab sustainability.

Take away messages

  • It’s ok to start small
  • If you are new – don’t be afraid to ask questions and make suggestions
  • Go for ‘easy wins’
  • Switch suppliers to support greener companies (e.g. we switched to New England Biolabs for our DNA purification kits and 2B Scientific for protein expression kits)

Don’t worry if you can’t do much – lab culture can be hard to change, and you may not have much control over how things are done in your lab. But every step helps – try something, and your example may encourage other people to take greener steps too!

A big thanks to LEAF and the King’s Chemistry sustainability team for the inspiration and ideas to make our lab greener.

Find out more about King’s Lab Sustainability Champions here.

Resources

My Green Lab https://www.mygreenlab.org/

LEAF https://www.ucl.ac.uk/sustainable/staff/labs/take-part-leaf

Richmond Scientific https://www.richmondscientific.com/

Warp It https://www.warp-it.co.uk/

Starlab https://www.starlabgroup.com/GB-en/about-starlab/sustainability.html

2B Scientific https://www.2bscientific.com/

New England Biolabs https://www.neb.uk.com/news/the-neb-shipping-box-recycling-programme

 

King’s Energy: Changing your energy supplier – What do you need to consider?

This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.

If you’ve stayed tuned to our blog over the past few weeks, you will have seen that changing supplier is much easier than people think! It’s approaching that time when you will be signing leases and moving into your homes for the next academic year, so let’s take some energy-related weight off of your shoulders.

How do I change supplier?

Changing supplier is easy. All you will need is your postcode, your last energy bill and about 10 minutes of your time. We recommend using a price comparison website such as U Switch or MoneySuperMarket to make sure you have the full range of options and filters available to you. Once you have chosen a new tariff, the new company will communicate with your old one to ensure that you don’t miss out on any energy and to make the changeover as smooth as possible. This usually takes up to 21 days.

What should I consider?

Cost – This goes without saying. Most people switch because they can save money, and sometimes it can be hundreds of pounds per year, so always keep your options open.

Customer reviews – What better way to know what people actually think of a company than to read their reviews? People like you or I have been in this position before and are well placed to advise us of their switching experience.

Exit penalty – If you are on a fixed contract there may be a penalty for breaking this early. However, the fee is usually waived if you switch a month or so before the end. In any case, it’s better to check with your existing company to see how this might apply.

Energy source – Of course! Here at King’s Energy, we believe we all have a responsibility to safeguard our planet by using renewable energy as much as possible. With most price comparison sites you can have this as a filter for simplicity, but you can also ask any energy company for the source of their energy. It should be noted that renewable energy suppliers are not always as expensive as you would think, so it is always worth checking.

Greenwashing – Renewable energy is becoming more fashionable but unfortunately, some companies want the benefits without the necessary investment. Be careful of “greenwashing,” where companies may claim to be environmentally motivated, but their energy doesn’t match these claims. Most genuine renewable energy companies have REGO (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin) certificates.

Summary

At King’s Energy of course we want you to save money, but we also want to encourage everyone to do their part for the planet by considering renewable sources of energy. The most sustainable energy companies in the UK are GEUK, Ecotricity and Octopus UK. Need more information? No problem, stay tuned to our blogs for more details on which energy companies you should consider when you switch.

As always, if you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch!

Mental health and sustainability – what’s the link?

Trigger warning – this blog discusses mental health and suicide.  

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16th May 2021) and we’d like to use this opportunity to discuss some of the ways mental health and sustainability intersect.

#1 SDG 3 – Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all 

 One of Sustainable Development Goal Three’s (SDG 3) targets is to “reduce by one-third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being”. Awareness of the importance of addressing mental health has increased in recent years, and rightly so: depression represents one of the leading causes of disability, suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst 15-29-year-olds, and people with severe mental health conditions are at risk of premature death due to preventable physical conditions (WHO, 2021). Additionally, individuals with mental health conditions may face stigma, discrimination and human rights violations. 

While SDG 3 focuses explicitly on mental health, achieving this target requires progress across all 17 SDGs. Mental health and wellbeing are intricately linked to challenges such as poverty, inequality, work, education, gender, infrastructure, air pollution, access to quality green spaces, peace etc.  Not only do these factors increase the risk of poor mental health, but they also impact the accessibility and quality of mental health services. 

One example is emergency contexts, including natural disasters, conflict and forced migrationduring which many individuals will face temporary distress. In the longer term, the prevalence of common mental disorders generally doubles in a humanitarian crisis due to increased poverty, lack of security, separation from family, community and home, and trauma. Overall, it has been estimated that 1 in 5 people living in an area affected by conflict will have a common mental health condition. Finally, it is important to note that climate change is expected to exacerbate many of these issues, thus causing greater and wider distress, which leads us to our next topic… 

#2 Climate change and mental health 

When you think about climate change, mental health might not be the first thing that comes to mind. We often discuss climate change on a global scale, in terms of physical processes and tangible, measurable impacts. However, it both, directly and indirectly, impacts individuals’ and communities’ mental health and psychological well-being. 

Indeed, climate change and its associated impacts (rising sea levels, changing temperatures, extreme weather patterns, wildfires, droughts, food and water insecurity, etc.) put at risk a  range of phenomena that people and communities value and rely on in their daily lives, both material and non-material, from homes, landscapes and ecosystems to cultural traditions, livelihoods, identities and social cohesion… From forced displacement to gradual changes in an environment, feelings of loss – loss of place, loss of identity, decreased sense of self – can arise. And, as mentioned above, these impacts are more acutely felt in communities and populations where climate change intersects with pre-existing health conditions, socioeconomic inequities and unequal power dynamics. 

#3 The rise of eco-anxiety  

 As with many crises, the climate crisis is causing (justifiably) strong emotional responses, in people and communities around the world. Amongst inspiration and hope for change, feelings of anger, hopelessness, guilt and fear are common and natural. 

Eco-anxiety refers to the stress caused by “watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold” or the “feelings of helplessness, anger, […] panic and guilt toward the climate and ecological crisis”. Force of Nature has been studying the occurrence of eco-anxiety amongst youth globally. They found that amongst 500 respondents, over 70% had experienced feelings of hopelessness in the face of climate change. 

Circling back to this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week’s theme of Nature, it is important to recognize the interconnectedness between the health of our minds, bodies and planet. Indeed, sustainability refers not only to environmental sustainability but also to social sustainability.

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by the immensity of the climate crisis, be kind to yourself, and connect with your loved ones and your community. However, if symptoms of anxiety are interfering with your ability to function well and feel good,  we encourage you to seek professional help. Here are some ways you can find support at King’s: KCLSU’s wellbeing eventsPositive PeersCounselling and Mental Health supportBlack Students TalkOut-of-hours counselling. You can also find resources here and here

Some further reading on the topic

Tackling social inequalities to reduce mental health problems: How everyone can flourish equally

Mental Health and our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance 

The case for systems thinking about climate change and mental health 

Caring for the environment helps to care for your mental health 

Mental health and the environment 

Mental health and wellbeing in the Sustainable Development Goals 

The Lancet Commission on global mental health and sustainable development 

This Must Be the Place: Underrepresentation of Identity and Meaning in Climate Change DecisionMaking

Place identity and climate change adaptation: a synthesis and framework for understanding

“From this place and of this place:” Climate change, sense of place, and health in Nunatsiavut, Canada

Examining relationships between climate change and mental health in the Circumpolar North 

 

Appreciating our local green spaces

This guest blog comes from Abbie Russell, Engagement Officer and Sustainability Champion at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN). With contribution from Louise Bolderstone, James Hollands, and Annicka Ancliff.

With this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme of ‘Nature’, we couldn’t not talk about our local green spaces – the value they bring. For some of us, visiting the local park has been a highlight of the day or the week during lockdown. There’s a lot of research, including IoPPN research, that suggests that exposure to trees, the sky and birdsong in cities is beneficial for mental wellbeing. 

One thing I do miss about working on campus is going for lunchtime walks through the park (shout out to Ruskin Park near Denmark Hill Campus!) with colleagues. It was so nice, that the Bee Team (aka IoPPN Main Building Sustainability Champions) organised regular lunchtime walks, the Ruskin Park Appreciation Walks, and we would be joined by colleagues from all over the faculty. It was a great chance to network, share ideas, research, and meet new people.

When lockdown hit – we decided to keep the conversation going online, with Teams meetings and a refresh of the Yammer group. We changed the name to Local Park Appreciation. This allowed us to open up this space to the entire King’s community and it now has 111 active members.

In this blog we explore some of the groups favourite local green spaces.

Hilly Fields, South East London (Abbie Russell, IoPPN)

My favourite thing about South East London is the number of great parks and amount of green space. I’ve recently discovered Hilly Fields since moving to a new house and it’s my new favourite sunrise spot. From the top of the hill, you can see for miles – trees in one direction, and city in the other.

Hilly Fields is in Brockley and is surrounded by lots of other green spaces: One Tree Hill, Ladywell Fields, and Peckham Rye Park.

Beckenham Place Park (Louise Bolderstone, Research Management and Innovation)

In the last year I have got to know Beckenham Place Park even better as it has been the focus of my weekends and I have walked in it with a friend most weeks, although prior to that I was a regular visitor. My appreciation and knowledge of this wonderful place has expanded in an equal proportion to the contractions of my horizon.

The park has benefited from additional funding in the last few years contributing to a place that provides a variety of activities for everyone, from open water swimming to exploring the ancient woodland to relaxing with some food or drink from the onsite café. However, its true value lies in the space afforded to everyone to enjoy by virtue of it being the largest park in the borough and at times, it feels like the entire borough is trying to squeeze in.  That does not detract from enjoying its beauty though because there is always a way to find a solitary path. I get a sense of calm from walking around and seeing all of the different plants, trees and greens offering a counterbalance to the craziness of the world during these last months. I love the twisted trees that have stood there for so many years and I have comfort knowing they have been there through many trials and continue to stand.

I have witnessed a transformation in the park’s popularity in the last year but its natural lifecycle has continued regardless.  The bluebells are nearly out again, after the carnival of daffodils.  Snow has surprised everyone and covered the open greens and settled gently in the woods. The parakeets continue to reign supreme and the wild meadow areas have sprung up and down again hosting kaleidoscopes of butterflies and hardworking bees.  There is peace and life co-existing simultaneously in this place and it brings me joy to see the old and the new living in harmony.  No matter what the next year brings, I know that Beckenham Place Park will be there.

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Greenwich Park (James Hollands, Registry Services)

During lockdown, the importance of getting outside and seeing green spaces has never been more important – both for our physical and mental health.  As I live in Woolwich, one of my favourite walks has been walking along the Thames Path to Greenwich, and then walking along around Greenwich Park.

Located near to the River Thames in South-East London, the park is open all year round and is listed as Grade I on the Register of Historical Parks and Gardens.  During London 2012 it was used for Olympic equestrian events as well as the Modern Pentathlon.  The park has a large sweeping green space which means even when the park is busy, you can walk around it easily.  The park is home to several tree and plant species, which means that even in wintertime, there is something out in bloom, and it also has lovely clean fresh air.

The park is on 2 levels, and at the top of the hill in the park is the Royal Observatory, which the prime meridian passes through.  There is also a beautiful view at the top of the hill from which you can see Canary Wharf and the National Maritime Museum.  I love to be able to sit and look at these views, whilst enjoying the tranquillity of the park.

I would recommend giving the park a visit.  It is a short walk from Greenwich railway station, Greenwich Pier, and multiple bus routes.

                                 

Southwark Park (Annicka Ancliff, Research & Development, IoPPN)

In the last few months, Southwark Park has been my favourite walking/running spot. I used to follow the Thames Path on walks but since there are more people out and about I have preferred the park to avoid the crowds.

There was one run in particular which will always stay in my memory and that was the other day. It was so sunny and the park was buzzing, I saw a few runners and other people either using the outdoor gym or doing other fitness activities. In the course of my run, I was greeted by a tiny puppy which was an absolute delight and then a little girl offered (or possibly showed) me a flower I kept running past her but shouted my thanks at her.

It has been so nice to see people enjoying the parks more as the weather has improved and the lockdown has been eased.

What about your own local parks? Let us know and get involved online.

All King’s staff and students are welcome to join the Local Park Appreciation group on Yammer.

 

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