I could tell the day was getting off to a suitably green start as I boarded the ‘Virtual’ electric bus from Bristol’s Parkway station to the University of West of England campus in Frenchay, just north of Bristol. It was a very apt way to arrive in style at the Environmental Association for University and College’s (EAUC) annual conference, a 20th anniversary celebration for the association.
A two-day event entitled, ‘Learning and Legacy – the Role of Education in Creating Healthier, Happier cities’, there was a determination to make a difference in the air amongst the delegates who came from all over the UK to learn, network and discuss the way forward for sustainability in the higher and further education sector.
Iain Patton, EAUC Chief Executive commented: “We were delighted to welcome more than 340 attendees to the University of the West of England for the 2016 EAUC Annual Conference ‘Learning and Legacy: The Role of Education in Creating Healthier, Happier Cities’.
“Hosting the conference in Bristol provided an opportunity to explore the legacy of the city’s 2015 European Green Capital Award and offered us a chance to consider the role universities and colleges can play as a catalyst for change to influence the future generations that will be inhabiting our cities.”
There were a notable number of keynotes, workshops and exchange sessions to learn more across all areas, from lab sustainability to environmental reporting and delegates also had the chance to consider what students really want from their green campuses of the future.
During keynote sessions at this year’s conference, delegates were able to vote in multiple choice questions from their seats via a polling system – which revealed in the opening session, that 50% of delegates were attending for the first time. Delegates then enjoyed a panel session led by Jim Longhurst, Assistant Vice-Chancellor for Environment and Sustainability at UWE and Chris Willmore, University Academic Director of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Bristol. The panel members were asked some direct questions about the impact of the university on the sustainable city and urged the audience to consider how student populations, graduates and city-wide business can have an “impact together which we can’t have alone.”
During the panel session, there was a focus on the lessons learned from Bristol’s time as European Green Capital 2015. Andrew Garrard, Co-Founder of the Garrard Hassan Group, talked about how Bristol had won the bid because of green goals already met, while Gary Topp, Director of Culture Central: Birmingham told us how, “Cities are now the great human expression – bringing people together to really think about the future. Universities have a huge responsibility within our cities to push sustainability forward.”
Perhaps the most poignant message from the panel session was to take care to teach students to be environmentally responsible and create ever-greener campuses – students have a lifetime of carbon footprint ahead of them and are our universities’ biggest responsibility. Those students who expect, and find, progressive and sustainable campuses will expect and pursue these standards in the wider world.
The first day also included a brilliant keynote from Mike Barry, Director of Sustainable Business at Marks & Spencer (below). He regaled the audience with some very serious messages on climatic extremes, deforestation, population explosion and responsible sourcing. “We are witnessing the growth of the middle-class consumer from one billion to four billion and there are literally not enough fish in the sea to feed everyone – we’d need three planets to do so,” he warned.
Mike urged university and college sustainability managers to: “Get under the bonnet of your organisation, drive integration, work within the grain of your business and ultimately keep kicking doors down until you get the answer you’re looking for.”
The second day of conference started with a further keynote from David Orr, the Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Politics EMERITUS at Oberlin College. He gave a spellbinding talk on climate change and the role of education.
“The gradual warming of our planet is bad news – what we have done is not reversible. Parts of the world are becoming uninhabitable,” he stated frankly. He believed in five steps to change, starting with changing ‘matters of the heart’, followed by using education, adapted governance, the economy and finally, technological advances, to bring about meaningful change.
David explained how the average carbon footprint in the US is currently around 20 metric tons per person, while the worldwide target to combat climate change is two metric tons. He believes there is still a huge job to do in terms of education on the environment: “We have to learn to think in systems – this is the core of sustainability thinking. Climate change is not an anomaly – it’s a symptom of all our collective behaviour.”
The final keynote, A Bedtime Story, came from Mac Macartney, founder of Embercombe, a Devon-based social enterprise. Mac encouraged delegates to engage with sustainability on a personal level and ponder how our individual passions and gifts are fundamental when we consider how we can create a fair and sustainable world for future generations.
The EAUC Conference also offered a whole host of workshops and exchanges to encourage networking, discussion groups, share best practice and have the odd debate about the direction the sustainability journey should be headed in. From sessions focusing on Estates and Operations, Leadership and Governance to Learning, Teaching and Research and Partnership and Engagement, the full green spectrum was covered. There was also an impressive exhibition featuring all the major players that support sustainability in universities and colleges, including headline sponsor Carbon Credentials.
Of course, it wasn’t all work with a series of excellent lunches and the Gala Dinner which included a highly sustainable and locally sourced menu and wine, plus a Star Wars themed after-dinner skit from entertainer, Adam Woodhall.
For more information on this year’s event, please visit the Sustainability Exchange here.
The next major event from the EAUC is the Green Gown Awards 2016 – visit www.greengownawards.org.uk for more information.