This blog is the third in a series of four posts on Sustainability Month 2021.
LONDON STUDENT SUSTAINABILITY CONFERENCE
King’s had the wonderful opportunity to co-host this year’s London Student Sustainability Conference (LSSC) with City University. Over 30 students presented their sustainable research through presentations, posters and performances.
The diverse range of presentations coveredthe17 United NationsSustainable Development Goals, and we left the conference feeling inspired by the many students choosing to engage with the complexity of sustainability through their studies.
Here are some highlights:
‘Dust Fertilization in Terrestrial Ecosystems: The Sahara to Amazon Basin’
Globally, wind-driven dust plays a major role in biogeochemical cycles. Robyn’s presentation discussed the crucial role of Saharan dust in the Amazon Rainforest – it acts as a fertilizer and provides important nutrients that contribute to the ecosystem’s overall productivity. But how will these processes be impacted by changing weather patterns and climate change? (Robyn Lees, BSc Geography).
‘How to Promote Sustainable and Healthy Food Consumption in UniversityStudents?’
Recognizing that our dietary choices sit at the nexus of human, planetary and economic health, this student-led vegetable bag scheme explored how we can promote sustainable and healthy food consumption in university students (Fetch Ur Veg, Liza Konash, BSc Nutrition and Mia Lewis, BA International Relations).
‘Climate and Cake: What can you do?’
Climate and Cake is an education program for sustainable living. Its goal is to create a space forand support open discussions on sustainability and offer realistic ways individuals notably, students can act on climate change (Ana Oancea, BA International Development).
If this is something you’d like to get involved in next year, keep an eye out for news on LSSC 2022!
Recordings of the events can now be found on our Kaltura.
Hackathons provide an opportunity for a group to work together to discuss and develop real solutions to a problem.
We presented 4 sustainability challenges we want to tackle at King’s and attendees contributed thoughtful andinsightful ways forward:
How can we further support diversity within the field of sustainability (from the education of school pupils, college and university life and into careers)?
Elevate and highlight sustainability role models from a diverse range of backgrounds.
Recognize anddiscuss the interconnected roots of the climate crisis and racial and social oppression.
Move beyond the over-individualistic approach to sustainability that is largely inaccessible for many, by meeting people where they are and widening the range of ways people can get involved.
Seek to better understand and remove the barriers facing different people from getting involved in sustainability.
What should an online open-access sustainability-focused Keats module at King’s look like?
Make this module part of King’s Experience Awards or offer credit so that the module adds value to students’ educational experience.
Create an interactive module with optional levels of engagement.
Ensure the module includes relevant topics for students across faculties – why should students be interested?
How can King’s Sustainability improve its communications to engage more students?
Better communicate what King’s is already doing and achieving.
Connect to students by relating sustainability to their area of study and creating easy-to-digest and engaging content.
Invite students and staff to share their sustainability stories.
Run campaigns, competitions and giveaways to incentivizemore students to engage with sustainability.
How can King’s encourage students to have more conversations about sustainability?
Create an environmental series of Campus Conversations, a podcast or a seminar series, open to all and covering a range of topics within sustainability.
Host community get-togethers for discussion and debate around specific topics – “Sustainability Socials.”
Collaborate with societies and other parts of King’s to embed sustainability incampaigns and initiatives.
Do you have any thoughts, ideas or solutions about how to tackle these challenges? Let us know!
CLIMATE ACTION PANEL
On the 26th of February, we hosted the King’s Climate Education Panel. Climate Education has been a popular topic at King’s for a while – the KCL Climate Action Society has been running an education campaign, the King’s 100 discussed it last year, and the Climate Action Network has dedicated the Students & Education sub-group to the issue.
This panel was a chance to hear from the experts. Our panel was made up of Professor Adam Fagan, Professor of European Politics and Vice-Dean (Education) in SSPP, Dr Kate Greer, Research Associate in the School of Education, Communication and Society, SigriðLeivsdottir, President of KCL Climate Action Society and Taimi Vilkko, Vice-President and Treasurer of the KCL Climate Action Society.
We covered a range of interesting issues during the session: the need to go beyond teaching just knowledge about climate change and instead also teach how to take action and live with climate change, supporting staff if they are asked to embed climate into their programmes, and that we may not need everyone to be on board just yet as long as we have a group of dedicated leaders and followers. There were also a few ideas on actions King’s can take right now, such as reaffirming our commitments to climate change, and even influencing higher education policy on climate teaching as we move towards hosting COP26 in the UK later this year.
The Students & Education group of the King’s Climate Action Network is excited to potentially take some of these suggestions forward and propose them for the King’s Climate Action Strategy.
Recordings of the events can now be found on our Kaltura.
Recognising the urgency of the climate emergency, King’s set the ambitious target to be net zero carbon by 2025 in March 2017. The university has made significant progress on reducing emissions so far, reducing total carbon emissions by 41% since 2005-06. This year, we are launching the King’s Climate Action Network (King’s CAN) to develop a strategy that will take us to net zero carbon.
King’s CAN will be an open, interdisciplinary forum to bring together the skills and energy from across King’s to take climate action. The network will tackle a wide range of impact areas, including our university operations, procurement, travel, research and education.
The aim of the network is to propose solutions to the climate crisis by minimising our negative impacts, and maximising the positive impact we can have in our role as a university.
We are now looking for staff and students to join the King’s Climate Action Network and help us lead King’s to be net zero carbon by 2025. There will be regular events throughout the year, and youcan get involved in one or more of the groups below, each looking at a different aspect of carbon and climate change:
Zero carbon estate (energy and water use, sustainable construction)
Procurement and waste (purchasing policies and data, waste management)
Travel (flights, business travel and commuting)
Responsible investment (divestment from fossil fuels, investment in socially responsible funds)
Students & Education (formal and informal education on climate change and sustainability)
Community & Engagement (creating a positive impact as part of our net zero carbon target)
Zero carbon research
Groups will be made up of staff, students, and members of the wider King’s community such as alumni, partner institutions and local community members. We hope that through this network, we can build meaningful positive change at King’s, and share our strategy and findings to benefit our wider community.
We have now also opened applications for the King’s Climate Action Team, a volunteering opportunity for students who would like to get involved in the running of the network. As a volunteer, you will be supporting the Sustainability Team in running network events and sub-groups, gaining leadership skill and experience of carbon management in institutions like King’s. Applications are open until Friday, 9th October. You can find out more here.
Walking around London, we see countless advertisements for fashion retailers every single day. Especially today, on Black Friday, retailers are doing everything they can to convince us to spend more. But our love for fashion may be harming the environment: reports show that fashion is the 2nd most polluting industry in the world.
To find out more, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), which is a parliamentary select committee made up of MPs from across the political spectrum, launched an inquiry into the Sustainability of the Fashion Industry. Last week, they held a public evidence hearing at the Victoria and Albert Museum, questioning fashion designers, upcyclers and innovators about how to fix the fashion industry’s environmental impact. We were in the audience for the hearing, and are bringing you our highlights of the morning’s discussions.
Source: Hubbub Foundation
The first thing that became evident was that there is no shortage of challenges to embedding sustainability into fashion. From ‘fast fashion’ being too fast to consider sustainable options to convincing manufacturers to return clothing scraps, fashion brands can face numerous obstacles. The good news is that there are plenty of ideas on how to change this. One interesting challenge is the scraps left over from pattern cutting. Designer Phoebe English told the audience to imagine a t-shirt, and then imagine the piece of fabric it was cut from. While the fabric offcuts used to be a resource and sold, they are now frequently discarded. But innovations are happening. In New York, non-profit organisation FabScrap collects this fabric waste and sells it to makers of all kinds (fashion students, sewists, quilters) at affordable prices. Some brands are also looking into zero-waste pattern cutting, where designs are laid out on the fabric in a way that eliminates cut-offs.
The hearing also showed that it’s not just brands who need to change, but also us consumers. The expert panel explained that even though clothes are becoming cheaper, we are spending more, as fast fashion leads us to buy larger quantities of increasingly disposable clothes. But while buying a new outfit may make us happy, the happiness from a new purchase typically wears off after three days. And if an item breaks, we often throw it away – adding to the tonnes of clothes sent to landfill in the UK every year. While some brands now offer free or paid repair services, this isn’t a widespread practice and the panel of experts felt that this was an area legislation could help push the industry in the right direction. One initiative could be making repairs VAT-free. Another idea was for the government to introduce better labelling for our clothes. In supermarkets, food is labelled with health warnings and information on its origin – but our clothes rarely contain warnings about the harmful chemicals they may have been treated with, or the environmental damage they caused.
Finally, sustainability in the fashion industry is not only about environmental sustainability. Increasingly, consumers want to know more about the social sustainability of their clothes. While the fashion industry provides employment for millions of women around the globe, the jobs are not up to scratch: pay is often poor, while working conditions are bad. Journalist Lucy Siege and founder of Eco-Age Livia Firth both pointed out that cheap clothes are only possible due to exploitation. In addition, Dr Offord MP explained that in a survey of 51 leading UK brands, 71% could not be sure that modern slavery had not occurred at some point in the supply chain. While the Modern Slavery Act was praised by the panel, many felt it does not go far enough in assigning legal responsibility. Organisations like IndustriALL Union are working to ensure garment workers everywhere in the world have the opportunity to join a union and fight for better working conditions.
With all these challenges, what can we as consumers do to make our fashion choices more sustainable?
Based on the information the panelists gave, we have put together our top tips for a more sustainable wardrobe:
Buy less, but better
Say no to fast fashion! Try to only buy what you really love and know will wear, and try to buy better quality clothes that you can love for longer. While difficult to do on a student budget, vintage shops, charity shops and resale platforms like Ebay or Depop may help you find some bargains!
Get yourself a new outfit for free
If you have some clothes you no longer want, why not try going to a clothes swap? You can usually bring clothes you no longer like, and swap them for other pre-loved items a t a clothes swap near you. If you live in King’s Residences, keep an eye out for any swaps your fellow students or the Residences Team are organising.
It’s not just Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – you can also Rent
There are lots of places where you can now rent an outfit for a special occasion rather than buying it new.
Repair and repurpose your clothes
If you can, try to repair your clothes instead of throwing them away, or alter them to give them a new look. There are more and more repair cafés popping up around the country, and some brands even offer repairs on their products.
Look behind claims on labels
During the hearing, the panel pointed out that while terms like ‘organic cotton’ are protected, claims of ‘sustainable cotton’ may not be. As consumers, we can try to find out what is behind these claims to make sure brands are sticking to what they promise.
Well, what a week. We in the Sustainability Team had a raucous time shouting about waste as part of our Reduce Waste Week. Our aim was to reach out to the idle public and hit them with games, workshops and community events to engage, shock, and enlighten them to the growing waste problem and the need to REDUCE the amount we create in our everyday lives. Waste is a choice and not a given so we armed ourselves with facts, ideas and a giant raspberry costume and delved headfirst into the King’s community.
Our first event was a workshop on making your own toiletries. This DIY Lush event was fabulous with Sophia concocting a dreamy coconut and coffee grounds face scrub and a pure peppermint and bicarb toothpaste. All made with natural ingredients and in re-usable pots so we can say goodbye to Colgate and toothpaste tubes!
Our second event was the incredible Disco Soup. What is a Disco Soup you might ask? Well, we make soup – to Disco music! We hooked up with Plan Zheroes to scour Borough Market for food that was going to be thrown away by street vendors and collect it for donation. We then scurried back to set up shop in The Shed and had student volunteers prepare the veg while the marvellous SU chef cooked up a carrot soup, mushroom soup and coleslaw. We also manage to get our hands on two bins bags of artisan bread which usually sells at £4 a pop! It’s incredible the amount of food is thrown away – 25% of all farmed food is thrown away!!
Interspersed with these events we had pop-ups where we highlighted the issue of single-use items and how, if they’re not recycled or re-used, can stay in the environment for hundreds if not millions of years!!
In between all of this we were dressing up as fruit and pratting around, having a good time raising awareness about waste and how the only real way to solve the waste problem is to not create it in the first place.
The Sustainability Team is currently looking for volunteers to help with the environmental audits of our Office Staff Sustainability Champions on the 21st and 22nd of May. All volunteers will receive IEMA approved training and audit two staff champions. This is an opportunity to get training and auditing experience, valuable for future careers in sustainability and employability in general.
Both days will be split into two parts. The morning will consist of an IEMA approved training session. This will be followed by the auditing sessions, where volunteers will be paired up and visit Champions Teams to evaluate how they meet our sustainability criteria. Lunch and refreshments will be provided.
To find out more and sign up, please email email@example.com, confirming which of the days – or both – you are able to attend.
It’s gotten off to a great success so far. Our vegan lunch on Monday gave staff and students the chance to learn more about a plant based diet, as well as try some free samples of sheese and vegan chocolate.
We’ve had careers advice from expert in their fields, including our Head of Sustainability, Kat Thorne, about the best way to develop your career path in sustainability.
Today is the first day of the Totally Thames Festival, which means Maria Arceo’s artwork “Future Dust” is now open to the public!
Over the last year, King’s artist in residence Maria Arceo has collected plastic from the banks of the Thames. The project was supported by the King’s departments of Geography, Chemistry as well as the Cultural Institute. Maria is passionate about archaeology and oceanography, and interested in the footprints humanity leaves on aquatic environments. Plastic is one of these modern footprints, with countless reports on the amount of plastic debris that ends up in the planet’s oceans.
Maria Arceo at Sustainability Week
As campaigns such as ZSL’s #OneLess, and Hubbub’s For Fish’s Sake London highlight, London is a city closely linked to the sea. Waste in the tidal Thames will eventually end up in the oceans, and after breaking down into microplastics plastic might end up back on our plates.
With her Thames Plastic project, Maria wants to show Londoners the real magnitude of plastic debris entering the Thames. Since September 2016, she has done over 40 beach clean-ups all over London. Some King’s students and staff joined her for a clean-up during Sustainability Week, and picked up a complete computer keyboard in the mud between Millennium Bridge and Southwark Bridge. After the beach clean-ups, the workshops to clean and sort the plastic in May and June provided a perfect opportunity to look at the curiosities Maria and her team of volunteers found in the Thames (some photos of her Somerset House workshop can be found here).
Now complete, the “Future Dust” installation is a giant human footprint, entirely made from plastic from the Thames. Starting today, the piece will travel along the Thames for the rest of the month. It is currently near Guy’s Campus, in Potters Field Park outside City Hall, SE1 2AA. Next, it will move closer to Strand and Waterloo campuses – it will be the Oxo Tower Courtyard (SE1 9PH) from Sunday the 3rd to Wednesday the 6th September. Details of all locations can be found on the poster below, or on the Thames Plastic website.
Professor Ed Byrne, President & Principal of King’s College London, opened the awards by highlighting how important sustainability at all levels is to King’s.
His full speech is now available on our Youtube Channel:
“Thank you Kat Thorne, Tytus, the team, and thank you to all of you who have been involved in this amazingly important work over the last year. You will all have seen Vision 2029, hopefully more than once by now, and […] empathise with the tagline of 2029, ‘To make the world a better place’. And of course, there is no more important way to do that than around the incredibly important agenda of sustainability […], arguably the most important single area the human race needs to do better in.
So, thank you to you all. To our students, to our Champions, and many of you are in the audience. To those supporting them, and to those for whom it is part of their job role: our cleaners, our security, our engineering staff. We are here to celebrate a year of achievement by everyone, and this is an area where individual actions tell the whole story. Individual actions by a large community such as ours add up to make a real difference.
So, what does sustainability mean to King’s, what does it mean to me? It’s so important that everyone in the university buys into this agenda. It’s at all levels – if one believes in levels at a university. It’s bottom-up, it’s top-down, it’s in departments, it’s in professional staff, it’s in academic staff, it’s in our student body; we all have to show commitment in this area. Sustainability is one of the core foundations of Vision 2029, and is integrated throughout this vision, it comes up time and time again. We have a duty, a responsibility, to support and deliver, in a number of domains, against the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. This applies to our research, our education, and to how we run our business, our university operations, I know many of you in this audience who are involved in this area.
As we know, this is important for people of all ages, but it is particularly important to our students. And I think it’s not just because they are young people and are likely to be around for longer and see what happens to the planet over the next 50 years. But it’s because young people have a passion to preserve the environment. We all do, but there’s no doubt it’s developed deeply and strongly in our youth, in this country and around the world. 89% of King’s students, in a recent survey, stated that sustainable development is something universities should actively incorporate in their missions and promote. Our students, in their activities and running societies, in acting as volunteers in so many different areas, in working with the local communities, make a difference around the sustainability agenda. This is incredibly important to our students’ careers and employability, the opportunity to have careers in sustainability, the opportunity to take part in events which are supported by our alumni who are sharing their experiences with our students. So I want to thank our students and our graduates who have worked with the team over the past year, and good fortune to them in the future. Let’s acknowledge them now [applause].
We have to get better at this all the time, there is no room for complacency. But I think we are working to constantly improve the way in which we make sure our students leave this university with the skills and knowledge necessary to be agents of change, and to be able to make a difference in promoting a sustainable world.
Let me turn to research a little more. There are umpteen examples of colleagues working around King’s to address global grand challenges under sustainability theme. I could mention dozens of examples, but I’m just going to mention two or three. The Global Consortium for Sustainable Outcomes (GCSO), where in one project we are carrying out a living lab project in our own buildings to reduce the carbon footprint and the use of hot water – something simple, but complex. And I must mention the PLuS Alliance, because it has been a sort of baby of mine to get this under way. Combining the strengths of three leading research universities on three continents, all with significant activities around the sustainability agenda – Arizona State University (ASU) in Phoenix, King’s in London, and University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia – and focusing many of our colleagues in those universities to work together around the global grand challenges in health, social justice, sustainability, technology and innovation. This is hugely important. We’ve seen great momentum since the launch of PluS last year, we’ve appointed over 100 PLuS fellows working across the three institutions, and the sustainability agenda is the dominant agenda to date – we have 11 research projects with seed funding.
Now, let me move on to another of the key domains which I alluded to briefly: our operations as an institution, because we have to live the dream, we have to do our bit and be an example to others. Sustainability Champions have a crucial role to play in reducing the negative impact of our operations. The Champions know their area best, they can identify positive actions and work with their colleagues to make a real difference in their area. And we have this in spades.
Much of the work we’re going to hear a little bit about is focused on reducing the environmental impact of our research in labs, while also improving the research environment. A laboratory consumes up to 5 times more energy than a typical academic space, therefore actions of Lab Sustainability Champions can have a big impact. We were highly commended at last year’s Green Gown Awards, a major award, for our Sustainability Lab programme. And it’s really great to have worked closely with a university I was a little connected with, UCL, and to have Champions working across King’s and UCL, auditing each other and sharing good practice across these institutions.
I am also delighted to announce that this year our colleagues across Estates & Facilities and the sports grounds have been externally audited, and last month they were accredited in a major programme: the ISO14001 programme, an internationally recognised standard for environmental management. Can you join me in saying well done to everybody who played a role in that achievement [applause].
This year, we’ve had some incredibly engaged colleagues right across the university, truly making a difference in their workplaces. We look forward to celebrating with them shortly, as we celebrate their awards.
Finally, for the next year, this has been an increasingly powerful story at King’s over the last three years. I have no doubt that the coming year will be no different. I am sure that we will perform against our agreed objectives in our Sustainability Charter. One thing I intend to do is report regularly to Council about that now, because we have some momentum around that and I think it has reached that stage. I was reading a university I worked at for many years in Australia, the University of Melbourne, is recycling their office equipment, and they have made and saved a bit of money in this highly sustainable agenda. I was delighted to see on our notice boards that we have saved £40,000 just by recycling office furniture at King’s, which is a phenomenal achievement and exactly the sort of initiative we need to continue.
In my own contribution over the next year, I am going to ensure that as we launch the new King’s Business School as the next Faculty at King’s, sustainable development and educating business people for the future in triple line reporting and in sustainable development will be a key theme of our school, that I want it to become renowned for throughout the world. That again will be a big step forward for King’s.
In summary, it has been a terrific year. Thank you to you all for the contributions you have made, it’s all about you, about what you do and what you achieve. And I think next year, we will continue on this upward curve. Thank you all.”
Every year, King’s runs the NUS Student Switch Off competition in its halls of residence. The aim of the competition is to encourage students to save energy. We started the campaign in autumn with visits to every hall, and NUS continued it throughout the year with photo competitions, quizzes and lots of prizes.
At the end of each year, the hall that saved the most energy compared to the previous year wins a delivery of Ben & Jerry’s for their hall. This year, we upped the difficulty and added recycling scores to the mix. So on top of making sure they were energy-efficient, students had to take care with what they put in which bin.
This year, Champion Hill Residence were the lucky winners. They came second in the energy-saving ranking, but due to their great recycling performance they managed to take the overall trophy.
So on a sunny day last week, we headed down to reward Champion Hill residents for their effort. In total, we handed out 400 tubs of Ben & Jerry’s (as well as some vegan soy ice cream) to students! With exam period in full swing, this was a well-deserved break for many residents. See for yourself:
400 tubs of ice cream, ready to be handed out
Signs at reception to direct students to our giveaway
Ice cream time!
A sunny day during exam period was the perfect time for an ice cream giveaway/break
In addition to winning the Student Switch Off, Champion Hill also has a great range of sustainability initiatives. We have previously featured the Champion Hill Wormery on our blog, which exists in addition to composting bins. The courtyard also has a pond and a plot for a planned herb garden. Finally, Champion Hill also has a Combined Heat and Power Plant (CHP) and solar PV panels on the roof, making sure the energy used in the halls comes from more sustainable sources!
Welcome to the blog of the King's Sustainability team! Our aim is to keep you informed about sustainability at King's including events and opportunities, as well as to inspire discussion and action on and around Campus. Please join the conversation!