Category: UN Sustainable Development Goals (Page 1 of 8)

The best Black Friday bargain? Not buying into it!

Today on Black Friday 2021, we would like to highlight a blog post written in 2016 by Sustainability Officer Maria Rabanser. It seems that Black Friday has not changed much in the past five years – let’s hope that in another five years our approach to overconsumption will have shifted.


In the US, Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving – has been regarded as one of the biggest shopping days of the year since 1932, with news reports and viral videos of fights breaking out at large stores being a regular fixture. Some retailers such as Amazon and Asda started bringing Black Friday to the UK in the 2000s, and more stores joined in 2014. This year in 2021, shoppers are expected to spend almost £9.2bn over the weekend.

This surge in sales, particularly in electronics, can have huge environmental impacts. Their production is often resource-intensive, while lifespans are short, and disposal is often problematic. According to the UN’s Global E-Waste Monitor, only 17.4% of the document global e-waste was collected and properly recycled in 2020.

Source: Hubbub Foundation

Source: Hubbub Foundation

Clothes can be a problem too, with large amounts being thrown away every day. And many of us seem to not enjoy Black Friday as much as retailers are trying to tell us: Polls by the charity Hubbub suggest that 2 in 3 people say they do not enjoy Black Friday, and 6 in 10 said they bought things they never used.

So what are the alternatives?

More businesses and charities are now promoting the idea of either using Black Friday as an opportunity to only buy something they were planning to buy anyway, or to stay away from shops (and online stores!) entirely, and spend the day in a different way.

This movement against impulsive purchasing behaviour has grown into Green Friday. IKEA, for example, has started a sell-back program where you can sell your preloved IKEA products back to them for a store credit or hand in your used home furnishing and electronics in return for a coupon. Ketonico will donate 30% of all purchases to the Spanish Food Bank Foundation, an organisation that responds to the food demand of socially vulnerable communities and individuals.

If you do want to make the most of Black Friday discounts, WRAP recommended SMART shopping in 2016:

Shortlist – Research products you want to buy in advance.
Make a decision – Choose the product you want to go for before you go out.
Act! – Don’t impulse buy, stick to your plan and the products you researched.
Register – For appliances, register your new purchase online as a safety precaution, and you might be entitled to an extended warranty by the manufacturer.
Trade-in – Trade your old products to save money on your new purchases. If something is broken, make sure you recycle it. RecycleNow have a handy guide to find your nearest recycling point!

With Christmas, and the high levels of waste and packaging that come with it, around the corner, opting out of excessive shopping on Black Friday is the first step towards a more sustainable festive season. Adopting a more sustainable approach to consumption will also contribute to achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production. How will you be spending the day?


Having a wardrobe clearout inspired by the Trade-in element of SMART?

Then check out Smart Works. This charity helps women to regain the confidence they need to return to employment and transform their lives by providing them with quality clothing and job interview coaching. Drop off points for Elevate’s clothes donation campaign for Smart Works are now open until Friday 17 December, with locations across our campuses.

King’s Spotlight on Sustainability Podcast

The brand-new King’s Spotlight on Sustainability podcast aims to draw attention to sustainability at King’s and beyond. The goal is to get you thinking about some of the issues and challenges we face regarding climate change and the natural world by highlighting some of the excellent work surrounding sustainability happening at King’s and on a local, national and global level. 

Series 1 focuses on tackling climate change with big and small actions.  

  • Episode 1: What is net-zero carbon and how do we reach it? With Prof Frans Berkhout
  • Episode 2: What is COP26 and why does it matter? With James Baggaly
  • Episode 3: Why and how should you eat more veg? With FetchUrVeg
  • Episode 4: What is the King’s Climate Action Network and why should you get involved? With Maria Rabanser
  • Episode 5: How can you make your wardrobe more sustainable? With Un/Archived Textiles
  • Episode 6: What is fossil fuel divestment and how is King’s leading the change? With KCL XR 

You can access the podcast on Spotify here.   

Black History Month & Sustainability

Black History Month & King’s 

Although Blackness is not limited to one year of the month, Black History Month represents an important moment to highlight the Black community, including the incredible things they are doing, as well as the struggles many are still facing.  

Across King’s, many events around Black History have been taking place this month. This includes the Visible Skin exhibition focused on Black portraiture and events organised by different faculties including The Black Heroes of Mathematics. You can also read amazing blog posts from the King’s community, including Helena Mattingley’s blog (Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s) reflecting on what makes the cut into history curricula; Sarah Guerra’s poem (Director of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at King’s) about what she is proud to be; and Kirsten Johnson’s poem (Student Experience Manager in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities) about being proud to be intersectional. The IoPPN Race Equality Network also developed this amazing self-directed learning programme to encourage the community to dedicate 5-20 minutes every day to reading, watching or listening about often intentionally forgotten Black History. Check out what else the university is doing around Equality, Diversity & Inclusion and follow @KCLdiversity to stay up to date. 

Black History Month & Sustainability 

How are Black History and Sustainability connected? 

Non-white people are currently experiencing the worst environmental problems in our world. Black and brown communities are more likely to live near toxic waste sites, live in communities with fewer environmental amenities, be harmed by climate change, inhale fine particulate matter and more. Globally, indigenous people and people living in island nations and Central Africa are facing the brunt of climate change and waste dumping. A study in 2016 showed that London’s Black, African and Caribbean communities are disproportionately exposed to air pollution and are more likely than white people to breathe in illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide, a harmful pollutant responsible for increased rates of respiratory problems, particularly asthma in children. Indeed, it is no coincidence that the first person (9-year old Ella Kissi-Debrah) to have air pollution listed as a cause of death was black 

Why is this the case? Francisca Rockey offers a straightforward answer: environmental racism. 

“Systemic injustices translate into environmental and socio-economic inequalities. It is not coincidental that inner city areas, heavily populated by black people are also found to be subject to long term exposure to pollutants. Environmental racism is when neighbourhoods, densely populated by black and brown people, are burdened with a disproportionate number of environmental hazards such as toxic waste and other sources of environmental pollution that lower the quality of life.”

But this is not the only way the black community is being impacted by the climate crisis. King’s PhD student Elias Yassin wrote an eye-opening blog post last year about the struggle to centre racial justice in the climate movement. He shared his experience as a Black climate activist, formerly with Extinction Rebellion (XR), and the challenges to make climate movements truly inclusive of activists of colour. 

Being a climate activist of colour in an overwhelmingly white climate movement is exhausting. Consistently, I have found myself pushed to the margins of XR UK because of a persistent disregard for Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPoC).” 

Indeed, people from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) backgrounds are often invisible in climate protest. According to Kids of Colour – a platform for young people of colour to challenge the everyday, institutionalised racism that shapes their lives – climate protests are not always aligned with the realities they live. While thousands of school students around the world went on strikes as part of the Fridays For Future movement, not everybody had this privilege. “The school strikes have been fantastic to witness, but it is also a privilege to be able to skip school,” said one representative of Kids of Colour. For protests organised by Extinction Rebellion, economic inequality also plays a key role: “Can you imagine giving up 10 days [of work] to sit in central London? It is absolutely not feasible for those in low-paid jobs,” said Ms Kissi-Debrah 

Despite this sad side of the story and the urgent need for climate justice, there is also a lot to celebrate around black history and climate this month. The World Economic Forum shined a spotlight on the following five Black heroes of the environmental movement: 

  1. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her dedication to sustainable development, democracy and peace.
  2. Robert Bullard, who has campaigned against harmful waste being dumped in predominantly Black neighbourhoods in the southern states of the US since the 1970s.
  3. John Francis the ‘Planetwalker’, who stopped taking motorised transport and walked everywhere for 22 years.
  4. Dr Warren Washington, one of the first people to develop atmospheric computer models in the 1960s, which have helped scientists understand climate change.
  5. Angelou Ezeilo, who set up the Greening Youth Foundation to educate future generations about the importance of preservation. 

This is only a snippet of the incredible black people in the climate movement. Some are more in the spotlight, while others carry out a lot of hard work and great initiatives in the background. But they are all equally important.  

Although Black History Month might be coming to an end, on 1st November Black History will be equally as important to think about and celebrate, including in the climate movement. Real sustainability and Equality, Diversity & Inclusion are inseparable. 

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The UN Sustainable Development Goals: what are they and what do they mean at King’s?

At King’s, we are not only concerned about improving environmental sustainability, but also about the wider social and economic impacts the university has. That is where the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) come in: they guide our work and help us measure our progress holistically.

Adopted in 2015 as part of the wider UN Agenda for Sustainable Development, the SDGs outline the global targets for development by 2030. There are a total of 17 goals that have been agreed upon by all UN member states, cutting across social, economic and ecological concerns.

An ambitious and wide-reaching agenda

While the large number of goals (and sub-targets) has been criticised, the strength of the SDGs lies in their recognition of the interconnectedness of the many challenges we face today and the need for system-wide change. Indeed, “they recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests” (UN, 2021).

To learn more about the SDGs, head over to the UN SDGs webpages and check out the following blog posts written by PhD student Onna Malou van den Broek:

Goals, targets and indicators 

Each of the 17 SDGs is broken down into targets (there are 169 in total) alongside indicators (232 overall) to facilitate the measurement and evaluation of progress on the goals.

For example, SDG 5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” is broken down into 9 targets, including “Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life”. The indicators to measure our achievement of this target are the proportion of seats held by women in national and local governments, as well as in managerial positions.

The SDGs at King’s

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, we use the SDGs as a way to both guide our work and measure our progress. And this commitment extends beyond the Sustainability Team – King’s recognises that as an educator, we have a responsibility to play a central role in advancing the SDGs. This is captured in the King’s Strategic Vision 2029 “to make the world a better place”, and in our commitment to act “in service to society” .

  • Our yearly Environmental Sustainability Reports link our targets and progress to the SDGs.
  • Each year, we take part in the Times Higher Education Impact Ranking, which ranks universities for their contribution to the SDGs. King’s ranked 11th in the world in 2021 in recognition of the university’s positive social and environmental impact. This year, in addition to our commitment to climate action, promoting global health and supporting strong institutions and promoting peace and justice, we were highly ranked for our work with local, national and international partners – leading on to the next point.
  • Given the opportunity sustainability gives us to envision and build a better world for all, we want to ensure our work truly engages the King’s community:
    • We held several Hackathon events, giving an opportunity for students and staff to feedback directly on several challenges we face within sustainability. Building on these sessions, we are currently running our Listening Campaign which seeks to ensure our future sustainability projects are co-created with students and staff.
    • The King’s Climate Action Network (CAN) was set up last year with the aim to bring together individuals from across the King’s community to co-create and implement King’s climate action plan (set to be released in October 2021). Within the King’s CAN, one working group focuses specifically on Students and Education, discussing how to embed climate into education at King’s.
    • Our Sustainability Champions programme has continued to grow, with 58 teams receiving awards this year. This programme brings together staff from across our campuses, who all play a crucial role in making King’s a more sustainable place.

 

What do you think – is the wide reach of the SDGs mostly a strength or a weakness?

Sustainability Stories: Liza and Mia from Fetch Ur Veg

Fetch Ur Veg is a student-run vegetable bag cooperative at King’s. If you would like to sign up, volunteer or join the committee, follow @FetchUrVeg on Instagram.

Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and your background?

[Liza] I’m a third-year BSc Nutrition student, and I’m originally from Belarus.

[Mia] I’ve just graduated with a BA in International Relations. I’m from Osaka, Japan and the UK.

What does sustainability mean to you?

[Liza] Sustainability is about maintaining a balance. It’s about how long and beautifully we can live and coexist with nature and maintain the diversity of the natural world.

[Mia] Sustainability is about caring about where things come from, how you’re using them, how long you’re using them and not taking them for granted. Also, remembering that the Earth doesn’t belong to us, but we belong to the Earth.

Is there a specific turning point you can identify that sparked your interest in sustainability?

[Liza] It started quite early on for me because I was in a school in Moscow that was incredibly sustainability-driven – which is quite funny to think about now because Moscow was and is not a very sustainable city. We were taught about recycling even though there weren’t any recycling systems in Russia, and everyone was encouraged to drop the personal drivers and use buses instead. So, I was conscious of it but never really cared that much. I really started caring because of my mother’s friend. She started promoting a healthy lifestyle from a food perspective, and I had terrible acne when I was younger, so eating healthily became a way for me to deal with my skin. And eventually, I caught onto the impact of food and the importance of eating sustainably.  So yeah, I didn’t like see a picture of a seal with plastic and think, wow, poor seal. It was probably more of an egotistical way of getting into sustainability, hahaha.

[Mia] I think I started noticing sustainability after I went vegan. I decided to become vegan because it seemed fun and interesting, and then a friend told me about the sustainable benefits of a plant-based diet, and I was like, wow, that’s a great addition to this new diet.  And from there, it was like a domino effect.

Could you tell us a little about Fetch Ur Veg?

[Mia] FUV was founded by two alumni of King’s, inspired by a similar initiative at a French university. I think students can find it difficult to find good quality vegetables or cook sustainably, or they’re just put off from cooking because it seems expensive to buy all the ingredients at once. But what the veg bag does is you don’t have to choose the vegetables – you get seasonal vegetables from local farmers which is more sustainable and at a discounted price. A weekly veg bag costs around £7.00 a week. If you have a small appetite, it’s just enough for two people, but if not, it’s perfect for one person. And if you volunteer, you can also get some extra veg on the side for free, which is always quite nice!

Our main goal is to offer a more sustainable way of getting your vegetable groceries and maybe stepping out of your comfort zone and encouraging yourself to cook with different ingredients. Each bag comes with a leaflet with recipes and cooking tips. Contrary to the supermarket, the vegetables you get are still covered in dirt. So you get an overall healthier diet, with a diverse set of vegetables that are not stripped of their nutrients or chemically processed and cleaned, and it just really makes you appreciate the food a lot more!

[Liza] Coming from my nutritional science background, I’ve been reading a lot about gut health and the importance of diversity in your diet. Experts recommend eating 30 different plant-based foods a week… and because FUV’s offering really follows the seasons, you’re guaranteed to get a larger diversity of veg.

Why did you decide to get involved and volunteer?

[Liza] I keep trying to remember how I found FUV… I remember really wanting to find a way to buy local veg that didn’t involve travelling to a farmer’s market (which aren’t always close by or accessibly priced).  So when I saw this wonderful scheme (which I thought was a genius idea), I bought a veg bag and then signed up as a volunteer, and it sort of kicked off from there. I also thought it would be a great way to meet some cool fellow vegetable lovers! So I guess it’s like my love for vegetables that piqued my interest. I don’t know how many people can relate to that, hahaha?

[Helena] You touched upon an aspect of the community, and I think that was the strong pull for me. London is such a big city, and I feel like we’re very disconnected from where our food comes from – you know, it just lands in our supermarkets all cleaned and packaged. But other options aren’t necessarily as accessible. So FUV was just an obvious yes for me. But the other thing I was drawn to was the opportunity to volunteer and spend a couple hours each week, outside, just packing vegetables with a lovely group of people. It was always such a great way to get away from coursework, to feel the fresh air, feel connected to others, to the food I’ll be eating, to get my hands dirty. It’s very –

[Liza] – meditative and calming.

[Mia] I agree. It’s very therapeutic.

In what ways are you taking action on sustainability?

[Mia] A lot of me being sustainable comes from actually being quite frugal. So there are certain things I haven’t bought in years, such as kitchen towel or clingfilm – I’ll just use a cloth or cover it with another bowl or plate. When I’m in London, I use apps like Karma, Olio or Too Good to Go. Karma and Too Good To Go allow you to buy leftover produce or goods from stores at a reduced price, so they’re great if you live in a busy city with lots of surplus food. Olio lets you give produce you won’t use to people in your community. For example, if you buy a bottle of cordial and try a little but don’t like it, you can put it on Olio, and someone from your community will come and pick it up. So those are great ways to shop more sustainably, tackle food waste and save money!

If you’re an international student, your friends will probably move around a lot. Everyone always has awkward bits of salt or some cling film or soap, etc., things that they don’t want to take with them. So you can always help them out by taking those, and it’s a perfect way to just keep things going around. I really think the best thing is to just try and make do with what you have and see how far you can go with one product.

If you make one change, it inspires you to make another one, and another one and it keeps going. Take it slowly, and don’t bash yourself for using one piece of plastic sometimes because it will not be perfect. It’s the same with being vegan. I don’t think anyone should be forced to be vegan 100% of the time, and in many places, you just really can’t be vegan 100% of the time. So I just suggest that people be maybe 5% more sustainable than they were last week and then just keep increasing that number, in ways that are convenient for you.

I would add that with FUV, our goal is not to make people become vegan. We just hope that the bags will inspire you to have one plant-based dish a week and try new recipes. And when you try plant-based foods, don’t focus on how/if it’s similar to meat; approach it with curiosity and awe that we’re able to make some really creative foods. Like how on earth did someone think to mix tapioca starch and three flavourings together and make it taste like fish? It’s insane. Being curious and enjoying the process is the most important thing.

Can you recommend a resource (book, activist, documentary, social media account) for people who’d like to learn more?

[Liza] Ooh, ok, I have to say Ottolenghi. I mean, he’s like the God of vegetable cooking. So his recipes have been hugely inspiring for me and have allowed me to discover how to cook so many different vegetables.

[Mia] I really love the Zero Waste Japan account – it’s run by a mum of two young kids, and it’s quite wholesome. Everyone probably knows Max Lammana, Alice Aedy and Jack Harries – they’re all really great activists. But I tend to prefer Japanese resources in English because while it’s crucial to be bold and make really clear statements about how we can be more sustainable, I personally think that taking a more gentle approach encourages many more people to make small changes. Whereas activists can sometimes be quite daunting because they’re so passionate about the subject, and even if it’s for a really great cause, I think it can create a barrier for people who are sceptical about this subject. If you’re looking for Asian vegan recipes, @okonomikitchen and @chez.jorge are great!

What is something that currently gives you hope for the future?

[Mia] From the time I moved to London, which was only three years ago, I think the amount of vegan options has quadrupled.  People I know are huge meat eaters, people who you didn’t expect will be like, oh, that’s interesting. My grandma recently bought regular lasagna for everyone else, but she saw all the M & S plant kitchen options and bought me 6 different things to try over the weekend. Living sustainably has become integrated into many aspects of our lives. It’s so easy to focus on the negatives, but many little changes really add up to a lot.  I think we just need another big push, and I believe sustainable lifestyles will become the norm. I think that everything is moving in the right direction, considering that people who probably had no idea about sustainability a few years ago have at least a small idea now.

[Liza] I’m a bit more pessimistic… Maybe renewable energy will have a breakthrough, or a miracle kind of battery for electric cars that isn’t bad for the environment will be invented that isn’t also bad for the environment. Yeah, still waiting for a miracle, I suppose.

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

 

Sustainability Stories: Bethan Spacey

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Bethan and I’m a 20-year-old English student from Wales. I’m vegan and I like fitness and dance.

What does sustainability mean to you? 

To me, sustainability means ensuring the world of my children and fighting for the future of the human race. It is not something that I take lightly, and I feel a responsibility to do what I can on a personal level to ensure this future. On a spiritual level, I also feel like people are really disconnected, so I welcome the idea of living symbiotically with nature.

How are you getting involved and taking action on sustainability and the climate crisis? How can others take action on these issues?

I eat plant-based and try to shop without plastic where possible: this looks like getting a veg box each week and buying things like nuts and grains in bulk at a zero-waste store. Activism has also played a key role in my sustainability, as it is key to notice the massive impact that only a small number of corporations have on the planet. On a university level, joining eco-conscious societies is the perfect way to introduce anyone to climate activism; I went to my first XR march with KCL XR. My advice would be to acknowledge your personal impact (your carbon footprint and way of life), whilst remembering that no one can be perfect – especially living under capitalism – and to lobby the government and big corporations.

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

I think we need to get rid of perfectionism – the idea that some people cannot partake in sustainability because they insert behaviour’. Sustainability looks like different things for different people.

Where are you hoping to go next?

I would like to work in a social justice orientated NGO, like Choose Love, perhaps in a role like project management. Ideally, however, I would like to be on the front lines and conversing with the people that are affected by these issues. A particular interest of mine is the intersection between social injustice and the climate crisis, in climate refugees. So, a job working with people affected by this issue would be perfect!

Can you recommend a resource, book, inspiring individual/activist for anyone who’d like to learn more?

I’d have to recommend ‘Earthrise’. They have a lot of great resources on their Instagram account, and I have followed each of their journey’s individually – all are very inspiring people.

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

King’s Energy: “Big Battery” Technology

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

In last week’s blog post, we discussed the UK’s challenges when it comes to adopting renewable energy. One of these is combatting intermittency and increasing the efficiency of wind and solar power. The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted a potential solution: batteries. No, not the Duracell Bunny. Big batteries. Batteries for storing energy. Intrigued? Read on to discover more.

What is “big battery” technology?

Think of your phone battery. You plug it into the mains, it charges, and the charge is retained for a period of time. The theory here is very similar. Instead of having periods of over-and undersupply, renewable energy can instead be stored in large-scale battery facilities. It can then be fed back into the grid.

What are the advantages?

The main advantage of “big battery” technology is that they minimise energy wastage, making investments in renewables far more attractive. Batteries can even out the energy harvested by renewables over the year, so your household isn’t dependent on 365 days of sun. In addition, if you have one in your own home, the energy will be stored rather than returned to the grid, decreasing your reliance on the grid and reducing the stress on the grid itself. Another advantage is that even with limited capacity, battery storage can be used to power homes via the grid in emergencies or in times of power outages instead of using natural gas.

Is it available already?

Yes and no. This technology is available for home use (for those who generate their own electricity) but is not yet widely available on an industrial scale. However, that is changing. California, for example, has a 300-megawatt lithium-ion battery already up and running and another 100-megawatt battery due to become operational this year. Because of these initiatives, more funding is being allocated to developing this technology.

What about the UK?

The UK and Europe as a whole have been a little slower to become convinced by the merits of this technology, and so there are no fully operational battery storage facilities in the UK yet. However, the development of several facilities is underway. The largest of these is in Essex, on the Thames Estuary, where InterGen has gained planning permission for a 320MW site at the cost of £200m. It will also have the potential for further expansion, up to 1.3GW. This would make it ten times the size of other projects also underway in the UK and able to power over half a million homes in the event of a power outage.

So, “big battery” technology really is just big batteries. It remains to be seen just how effective they are in the long term. Still, it seems a crucial element of transitioning to renewable energy sources will be to store this energy when there is no demand for it, and batteries are currently one of the best ways to do so.

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

A Plastic Free July Q&A 

This blog comes from Bethan Spacey, Sustainability Engagement Assistant and BA English student. 

What is Plastic Free July? 

Plastic Free July is an initiative that was set up in 2011 by the Plastic Free Foundation. They aim to help people globally take action on plastic pollution by encouraging them to refuse single-use plastic and reduce general plastic consumption. The movement has inspired the participation of approximately 326 million people in 177 countries. As a campaign, Plastic Free July takes a multifaceted approach, giving tips on plastic reduction and elimination in multiple sectors, such as personal life, work, schools, events, businesses, communities and local governments. Their ethos highlights the necessity of small acts amounting to a big difference and inclusivity of people, ideas, vision and approaches.  

Plastic Free July is solution-focused. The website hosts practical tips in various areas of life to eradicate single-use plastic. You can also ‘take the challenge’ via their website, which means pledging to give Plastic Free July a go. Their website gives the option to participate for one day, one week, for all of July, or from now on.  

Why is it important? 

Reducing or eliminating your plastic consumption is more important now than ever with a burgeoning climate and ecological crisis. Current estimates approximate 8 million pieces of plastic to be entering our oceans every day. This plastic threatens diversity in endangering all marine life, causes contamination within food chains, and jeopardizes the future of our existence, with the oceans giving us 50-80% of our oxygen.  

At current rates, the world produces 381 million tonnes of plastic waste every year – a figure that is expected to double by 2034. That is more than the weight of the entire human population, which stands at roughly 316 million tonnes. This is a terrifying statistic and visual – we will soon, quite literally, be swimming in our own waste. What’s more, 50% of this plastic is single-use, and only 9% of it is recycled. We are in a cycle that we cannot sustain – that the earth cannot sustain – so our work is cut out for us.  

What can I do to reduce my plastic usage? 

To answer this, we can borrow from the Plastic Free July campaign and its sections: personal life, work, schools, events, businesses, communities and local governments. There are many ways you can reduce your plastic and many areas in your life in which you can have this objective. Sometimes, starting small with your personal life is the easiest. Here are ten tips to reduce your plastic: 

  1. Buy foods in bulk or visit zero-waste stores with refillable containers 
  2. Opt for plastic-free fruits and vegetables where possible 
  3. Take reusable crockery with keep cups, bottles, metal straws, etc. 
  4. Switch out your single-use toiletries for sustainable alternatives e.g.cotton pads, cotton buds, wet wipes, etc. 
  5. Take reusable shopping bags
  6. Check the ingredients in your gum! Many chewing gums include a type of plastic (synthetic rubber)
  7. Reuse containers, e.g. refilling shampoo bottles, keeping takeaway containers, keeping old jars to put things in, etc. 
  8. Switch out plastic kitchen items like cupcake cases, cellophane and sponges for a sustainable alternative 
  9. Check what your cosmetics packaging is made from (some brands also have schemes where you can send bottles/packaging back to be reused) 
  10. Reduce some plastic usage second-hand; get your friends and family involved. Share the knowledge!

It is also worth mentioning that we need lots of people doing this imperfectly instead of a few doing it perfectly. There is power in numbers and acknowledging the agency we have in making the world a better place is both empowering and key to creating change. 

What is King’s doing to reduce their plastic usage? 

Whilst personal behaviour and action are important, institutional change is pivotal in achieving our goal. King’s as an institution acknowledges this and is taking crucial steps to support this goal. King’s has several recycling and waste-reducing initiatives. As you may be aware, if you are reading this blog, King’s has an entire Sustainability Team dedicated to goals such as these. At King’s, we aim to recycle 70% of our waste. We achieve this in an abundance of ways. One of these ways is through our WarpIt scheme. Warp-It is an online sharing platform for used materials/goods, which can then be posted and claimed by King’s staff. Items included are IT equipment, furniture, lab materials, and plenty more.  

Another way is through addressing plastic usage in our laboratories. King’s is legally and financially obligated to implement the waste hierarchy: to reduce the university’s environmental impact, ensure legal compliance and minimise waste disposal costs. This includes all waste from labs. King’s labs are assessed through the accredited Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF), and we have many Sustainability Champions working within our labs. 

In addition to this, King’s Sustainability Team organizes the Climate Action Network (King’s CAN): a notable plastic-related sub-group in this is the group focused on procurement and waste. We also have a number of Sustainability Champion Assistants working in respective departments to tackle these sustainability-related issues on a faculty level. And finally, there are many inspiring individuals across King’s involved in sustainability through students societies and groups. You can find out more about this by checking out some of our ‘Sustainability Stories’ on the blog or some of our Weekly Spotlights on Instagram. 

Click here to find out more about what King’s is doing. 

King’s Energy: The Climate Change Committee 2021 Progress Report – Findings and Recommendations

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

Welcome back to the King’s Energy blog post! Last week the Climate Change Committee (CCC) published their 2021 Progress Report to Parliament – read on to see what they found and their recommendations for the future.

Energy Use in 2020

Global energy use fell by 4% in 2020 compared to 2019 levels, mostly accounted for by significant declines in more “advanced” economies. In addition to this welcome decline, the energy we are using has become cleaner as we are also becoming gradually less reliant on fossil fuels as an energy source. According to the report, oil use has fallen by 9% – predominantly due to less demand for oil for transport. Electricity demand also decreased, meaning coal consumption fell by 4%, while gas usage also fell by 2%. However, these figures do not tell the full story. Not only has electricity demand fell, but 29% of the electricity used derived from renewable sources – that’s a 27% increase on 2019 levels. To put that into context, that is the largest growth rate on record, and it means that the total low-carbon generation share is now 39%.

Forecast for 2021

All of that sounds great, so what’s the catch? Well, these figures have been impacted in no uncertain terms by the pandemic and, with the effects of that expected to die down (fingers crossed) over the next year, the CCC are not so optimistic for 2021. They expect energy usage to bounce back, rising 4.5% in 2021, which would bring it 0.5% above 2019 levels. Equally, CO2 emissions are expected to rise by around 5%, falling just short of 2019 levels. However, there remains significant uncertainty about these predictions as it depends on the course of the pandemic and how countries recover from it.

Future Recommendations

Among their 32 pages of recommendations, the CCC advise Parliament of the following when it comes to energy:

  • Consult on reforms to electricity pricing to remove disincentives to electrification by 2022.
  • Consider the introduction of a carbon tax aimed at curbing rising emissions from energy from waste by 2022.
  • Create a clear incentive for manufacturing facilities to switch to low-carbon energy sources by 2023.
  • Improve the collection and reporting of industrial decarbonisation data to allow for progress to be monitored more effectively, particularly on energy and resource efficiency by 2022.
  • Provide a stable long-term policy framework to support sustained energy efficiency and heat pump growth as a priority.
  • Implement improvements to the Energy Performance Certificate by 2022.
  • Improve the consumer charging experience and making smart charging accessible, appealing and cost-effective for as many electric vehicle users as possible as a priority.

So there you have it. In short, progress has been made over the past couple of years. Still, we have a duty as individuals to build back from the pandemic in a more energy-conscious way. At the same time, we are also reliant on the authorities to commit to the changes listed moving forward. Read the Climate Change Committee’s 2021 Report to Parliament here.

 

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

Sustainability Stories: Thomas Eve

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Thomas, and I’m a 2nd-year neuroscience student and Sustainability Champions Assistant. I come from rural Dorset in southwest England. I enjoy most things that involve food, particularly cooking and gardening.

What does sustainability mean to you? 

Sustainability is simply about making the world a better and fairer place for everyone. This includes future generations, all countries, and every aspect of life to a certain extent.

How are you getting involved and taking action on sustainability and the climate crisis? 

I’ve made big changes in my life, particularly focusing on what I eat – I’ve almost gone vegan but not quite there yet. I try and research more sustainable options for anything I need to buy, but at the moment, it’s mainly looking at what I can recycle. I began to make these changes a couple of years ago, so I’ve tried to engage my family and change some of the ways they do things (to differing degrees of success).

Being a Sustainability Champion Assistant was an opportunity to have a wider impact and work with people who share my enthusiasm. It also allowed me to learn about sustainability in labs specifically, so I’m aware of what I can do in my career. I hope to continue taking opportunities like these to help others and contribute more widely to improving sustainability, alongside gaining new knowledge that I can use and share with others.

In what ways does sustainability link to your degree?

Sustainability is engrained in most things we do, perhaps not explicitly, but it’s always something that can be considered. In terms of my degree, most biological research is done so that things that benefit living things can be developed, be it drugs or GM crops. In this way, it directly contributes to our health, food and other topics which intersect with sustainability. Labs are also very wasteful places, so more sustainable practices need to be implemented.

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

Climate change is a massive issue and something that needs to be addressed by everyone in the near future; it’s not enough to simply wait for the effects to be visible because they’ll be irreversible by then. If you took all the effects climate change will have and told someone they would all suddenly happen next year, they would take immediate action. But because the effects slowly develop over time, people don’t see it as something that requires anything major. Systematic changes are needed in how we currently live. Of course, such massive changes scare many people, but I believe they’ll be worth the effort, and we’ll be much better off afterwards.

It’s difficult to make people aware whilst not appearing to go overboard and make people tired of hearing about climate change. Making the knowledge accessible and specific to people’s interests could help, e.g. giving science students ways to be more sustainable in the lab. Some things need to be made compulsory, but they can’t be too much effort for people or else it turns them off. Being more positive always helps, focusing on how the environmental issues can be solved by being proactive rather than simply trying to avoid disaster.

Can you recommend a resource, book, inspiring individual/activist for anyone who’d like to learn more?

To be honest, I haven’t watched or read a lot of sustainability-related things. But anything by David Attenborough gives you an appreciation of nature and why you should actively work to preserve it. My advice would be to look into anything you’re particularly interested in or enjoy and how you can make it more sustainable. For example, I love cooking, so I’m always on the lookout for new vegan recipes. There’s information on anything on the internet and a growing amount of documentaries on sustainability issues, so a little bit of research can help you find interesting resources to teach you more. I’d also recommend looking at the UN Sustainable Development Goals because I wasn’t aware of these and everything they encompass until a few months ago. Sustainability is about more than just plastic and carbon dioxide.

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

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