12th November 2020

Spotlight on Sustainability

Celebrating our victories that make us a changemaking institution that leads the way in sustainability work.

Over the years we have truly seen the monumental passion, determination and resilience of students to really make a difference. Students have defined this journey and have shown how truly vital this work is. This week sees the launch of the universities sustainability strategy and we are celebrating our part in this and the work we have done and continue to do for sustainability.

  1. Jordan Weir, SU development officer
  2. Our story so far
  3. The university sustainability strategy
  4. The future

Jordan Weir, SU development officer

Jordan Weir, SU development officer

It has been a long time coming but we have finally made it! The University has committed to a strategy that ignites a beacon of hope for sustainability within the city of Sheffield and further afield. I am immensely proud of the hard work that our students and staff have put towards both writing and pushing for this strategy. It shows that student activism is essential to instigating real changes that make a difference. Our determination to make positive sustainable changes has resulted in this strategy and it is something that we should rightly be proud of. The previous SU Development Officers have helped impact this strategy over the last four years and below they share part of their story on our involvement and grassroots activity to work on protecting the future of our planet.

We must stay focused on the task at hand and ensure that the strategy promises are fulfilled, and that this isn't the end game for further ambitious proposals. The strategy sets out a clear vision of sustainability and is a bold step taken by the University of which we support. Fundamentally, we must continue to strive for better and continue the activism that got us to where we are now.

Meg McGrath, SU Development Officer 2017 - 2018

“After years of work by various SU officers, the initial meetings steering the creation of the University's Sustainability Strategy began in my year in office. Through representatives from the Sustainability Committee and I, the voices of students were embedded into the initial stages of strategy. During my term, students voted the environment the global issue most important to them, so conveying both the necessity of the University taking climate action and the strength of student feeling was incredibly important. It was also through these initial meetings that the University successfully committed to affiliating to the Electronics Watch Consortium after years of work from student activists in People and Planet. This helps protect human rights in the University's electronics supply chain, and was a welcome commitment to not only tackling the environmental but social inequalities in our society too.”

Mel Kee, SU Development Officer, 2018 - 2019

“When I started in the role of SU Development Officer we finalised and published the Year One draft strategy. This then formed the basis of developing the full strategy. We created groups, led by the relevant member of university management, to develop the sections of the strategy. We had student leads on each group and hosted various student consultations to make sure we included a range of student views. With my fellow officers we also successfully campaigned for curriculum reform, including embedding sustainability - a key part of the Year One draft strategy. We also supported the brilliant sustainability committee to push the Sustainability Delivery Group to switch to a clean energy supplier. Finally, we made sure we secured buy-in and regular engagement from senior leadership of the university to ensure sustainability and the strategy was prioritised. It's really exciting to now see the strategy launch after such hard work from all involved!”

Harry Carling, SU Development Officer 2019 - 2020

“My most important objective from my year in office was to do justice to the role of “Student Lead for Sustainability”. The University respected and trusted my views and voice on important campus issues, and I tried my best to speak on behalf of our student body - many of which care greatly for the future of our planet.

Throughout the year, I regularly attended the University’s Sustainability governance meetings, and always tried to be the most ambitious voice in the room when it came to reducing the institution’s carbon emissions, and the publication of the institutional-wide Sustainability Strategy and action plan which I am thrilled to hear is now published!

The highlights of my year in office included:

  1. Giving a presentation in front of all Heads of Faculties, Departments and the University Executive Board on the topic of the student concern for the climate crisis;
  2. Delivering the Plenary presentation at the University’s Learning & Teaching Conference on the importance of embedding Education for Sustainable Development across all degree course curriculums;
  3. Negotiating with the University to switch to 100% renewable electricity across all buildings on campus!”

“It’s great to finally see the strategy published after the hard work of students, officers, academics and staff over the past few years. The rest of Sustcom and I are making the strategy accessible and understandable to the wider student community. We are mobilizing students so they understand what the university is pledging to do, and can hold them accountable to this. This year, Sustcom is campaigning for structural change within the university for a more sustainable and ethical education and campus. The strategy is definitely a step in the right direction for all of us.”

“Right towards the start of our year, myself and several other members of the Sustainability Committee helped draft the Year One Strategy, which set out the process and timeline of developing the full strategy. Student voices were embedded in every part of that process, and SustCom helped to organise several consultations to make sure students' views were well represented. Along with the Development Officer, I regularly attended the Sustainability Delivery Group meetings, holding the university accountable on its commitments and pushing for greater transparency and communication of the group’s decisions.”

During this time, SustCom also created and coordinated the Clean Energy Switch campaign. With a dedicated group of student campaigners, and working with the officers team and key university staff, we were able to lobby the University to commit to 100% renewable electricity the following year. This is just one example of how some of the most ambitious commitments in the new strategy came directly as a result of student voices, a testament to the passion and capabilities of our students which I’m truly proud of. I’m excited to see the strategy now being published, and look forward to seeing the changes in the upcoming years to make our university truly sustainable.

“As the first chair of the Sustainability Committee, my role was to help kickstart the strategy campaign with the student union. My team and I started with a sustainability petition. One of our campaign officers, Holly, worked towards covering sustainability issues in the curriculum. Ruby, our other campaign officer, met with the university management to propose the changes. Our event officers arranged multiple events that enabled students to express their views on sustainability issues on campus. I oversaw the progress and presented the student views. By the summer, I was invited to participate in the steering group to bridge the student views with the university management. When I handed the committee over before my graduation, the sustainability strategy was the only thing I was concerned about. Over the years, I have been thrilled to see the amazing work the new committee members have accomplished. Now, since I heard about the launch, I have been excited and relieved. I want to thank Tim, all the former and current members of the sustainability committee who helped make it happen!”

Our story so far

What have we done and implemented across the years? Celebrating our victories that have made us a changemaking institution that leads the way in sustainability work.

Students’ Union removes bottled water from being sold in the SU, we got rid of Interval patio heaters and replaced them with more sustainable alternatives, we gained Green Impact Gold award.

Students Green Fund projects “Sheffield on a Plate” and “Green Impact Student Homes”, with actions from insulation to tackling food waste through “the Big Stew”, reach thousands of students across Sheffield.

A student-led pressure campaign, backed by SU Officers lead to University divesting from fossil fuels in.

Our SU “Ours For Life” Strategy contains Zero Carbon, Zero Waste and Sustainable Diets targets for 2034. (Around 4 years before University publishes its targets!)

We launched campus cups (reusable coffee cup initiatives) and were the first in the university to introduce a levy for disposable cups.

We launched our own Zero-waste store.

The clean energy switch campaign.

We stood in solidarity with youth strikers and held our a climate strike shutting down the building for an hour to encourage all to take part.

The university sustainability strategy

The key commitments of the newly launched University sustainability strategy are:

  • A net-zero campus by 2030 and net-zero across all activities by 2038.
  • Using our research expertise to tackle twenty-first century sustainability challenges.
  • Embedding Education for Sustainable Development into all taught courses in five years.
  • 100% renewable procured electricity on campus.
  • Tough action on high-carbon travel.

We are excited to see so many elements in the university's strategy have been guided by the work we have done over the years. Here is how we have helped influence the strategy with our sustainability work.

This is a big day! As far back as 2012, students and staff united through the Carbon Neutral University Network (which has an SU Society) were calling for this target, which seemed like a distant dream. In Feb 2018 their call was amplified by the Students’ Union’s “Student Manifesto for A Sustainable University of Sheffield”, where this was the “Highest Priority Action” voted by our students. These targets are therefore a major advance, which all students will be both pleased with and also keen to see quick and decisive action on.

Partnership between the SU Officer Team 2018/19 and the University has brought this about. In early 2018, Sustainability in the Curriculum was on University colleagues’ radar but not really considered a high priority. A concerted effort from SU Development Officer Mel Kee and her Officer colleagues calling for an “Education for Our Future” helped change all that, got sustainability recognised as a strategic curriculum priority, and sparked a productive SU/University partnership on this vital issue.

Last year’s officers took up the baton, and it was during the Global Climate Strike in September 2019 (which Development Officer Harry Carling and his colleagues ensured we had a strong response to, closing the whole SU building) that VC Koen Lamberts announced this 5-year target to the world. Now, SU Officers, Sustainability Committee and staff continue to work together this year to ensure this is now taken up by departments.

A major win for student campaigning! The Energy Switch campaign first brought this issue to University staff’s attention in a very professionally researched and referenced briefing paper in early 2019… and their campaigning efforts helped take this issue right to the top of the list during the next year. Credit to University colleagues for listening to students and signing off on a 100% renewable electricity contract in the midst of the first wave of the pandemic. By then the student voice had made it clear that our response to coronavirus shouldn’t harm climate work - “We don’t simply want to swap one crisis for another”. It really is testament to the power of students and staff working together to strive for a liveable future.

In Autumn 2019 the Students’ Union launched a pioneering partnership with the University’s Institute of Sustainable Food, to plan the first “Living Labs” activity on campus. Sadly paused by the pandemic, we very much hope to resurrect this partnership next academic year. It was also the Students’ Union (originally though 18/19 Development Officer Mel Kee) that first introduced the “living labs” language to the strategy.

While many student leaders would of course like to see this activity go even further and for the University to take an explicitly ethical stance and have a threshold for which companies they will and won’t have dealings with (as the SU has done for years through their Advertising policy), it is fair to say that this is an encouraging start on a difficult issue. We know that students want the best jobs, but also want jobs that reflect their values. A student-led peaceful “sit in” protest at the “Launchpad” Careers fair in the Octagon in October 2019 rocketed the question of ethical careers to the top of the agenda, and it’s got lots of people talking about our University’s relationship with fossil fuel extractors and arms manufacturers & traders. To be continued…!

The end-of-term “Donate Don’t Waste” campaign started back in the “noughties” as a partnership between the Students’ Union and the Residences. Known at the time as the “Bring It Don’t Bin It” scheme, it has since expanded to be led by University colleagues in partnership with both of the city’s Students’ Unions, Hallam University, charities such as the British Heart Foundation, and Sheffield City Council. Tonnes of reusable items have been saved from incineration, and thousands of pounds have been raised for charity.

The Students’ Union has led the way on this front for a number of years, although there are still many more underused bits of land and great opportunities! We launched the “Student Eats allotment” - now tended by the SU Allotment Society - at Crewe Flats back in 2011, with crucial input from the Residences and the Grounds team. The launch of the Beekeeping Society followed on the same site a couple of years later, and the first batch of honey was sold in the SU shop!

The future

The journey is not over. Find out more about sustainability here at the SU and how you can get involved.