EAUC Conference 2019: Influence

This year’s EAUC Conference at the University of Manchester looked at how universities and colleges can steer sustainability policies

This year, the EAUC 23rd Annual Conference was held at the University of Manchester on 18–20 June. Its theme – Influence – comes at a time when sustainability issues are increasingly at the forefront of mainstream media, following scientific research publications outlining imminent climate catastrophe and a growing movement of young people determined to wake the world up to this.

EAUC Conference review – Influence 2019

‘Influence!’ recognised the role universities and colleges can, and should, play in this landscape, and provided inspiration and insight to change minds and policy.

The event hosted over 200 attendees from the further and higher education sector, including academics, researchers, students, campus managers and, of course, sustainability leaders. They explored the role they can play in creating sustainable campuses, curricula, leadership, and a sustainable future.

Making sustainability just good business

EAUC board member and assistant vice-chancellor for environment and sustainability at UWE, Bristol James Longhurst chaired the conference. He said: “We were delighted to welcome attendees to the University of Manchester for the 2019 EAUC Annual Conference. Over the course of the past six months, the EAUC has launched various guides and tools designed to support members, influence hearts, minds and institutional policy, and it felt fitting that the conference embraced this theme. 

“Young people are becoming more and more vocal – they want institutions to make a socially responsible and sustainable contribution to the world. They want them to commit to carbon neutrality, to divest from fossil fuels and to equip them with the skills needed to be resilient global citizens. The sessions and speakers challenged delegates to be more innovative and go further in their position as influencers in further and
higher education.”

Comments from attendees:

“Fascinating sessions, great fun interaction and some really meaningful and useful tools to use with students and staff.”

“Influence 2019 was one of the best EAUC conferences I have attended in the past few years. It featured a range of old timers dealing with strategic issues, academics leading on ESD and research, young environment professionals full of ideas and inspiring student activists full of passion and vision. What a great mix! Needless to say, I left with a very full notebook!”

Sharing best practice

The three-day event kicked off with a brilliant Members’ Day, featuring workshops on the psychology of influence, building your influence, and the University of Manchester’s much-applauded Sustainability Challenge. The remainder of the conference carried the theme forward.

The second day started with a plenary session on carbon targets chaired by Phil Korbel from Carbon Literacy Project, featuring the mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham, University of Manchester’s activities and development officer, Lizzy Haughton, and academics from Manchester Metropolitan University and University of Manchester. They explored the 2038 carbon target for Greater Manchester including the steps to make it the “greenest city region in the UK”, but most importantly, the role of universities and colleges in accelerating social change. They all echoed their critical role in leading the debate and demonstrating leadership in the sector through an agenda of integrity that is not politically driven.

Another plenary session featured Dr Alison Green, national director at Scientists Warning and academic lead of Extinction Rebellion, who was joined by Maeve Cohen, director of Rethinking Economics. Their enthusiastic and thought-provoking discussion about the collective actions that must be taken across sectors to tackle climate breakdown and cological collapse sparked debate and was very well received by the audience. Some imminent actions they suggested are to encourage a critical shift of the curriculum and having the education sector leading and being the intellectual home to key disciplines and therefore, avoid having “young people in a position to inherit a spent planet”.

Our final inspirational keynote was delivered by MP Mary Creagh, chair of the Environmental Audit Committee and Lucy Siegle, environmental journalist and broadcaster who reinforced the need for individual actions in order to galvanise change. Reflecting on the relationship between the western overconsumption culture and the climate crisis, they talked about the need to demand higher governmental action and to make sustainability a priority across sectors, especially through sustainable procurement.

Learning from Industry

Delegates enjoyed a lively exhibition from the finest sustainable companies, including our sponsors Interface, Breathe, Rype Office, TEC, Crowd Comms, and our headline sponsors for the sixth year running, Carbon Credentials. Will Jenkins, associate director at Carbon Credentials, said, “It was a great pleasure to return as the headline sponsor of the EAUC Conference for the sixth consecutive year. The event gave us an opportunity to share our proven energy performance improvement experience with the tertiary education community.”

Peer-to-peer learning

The conference also offered a range of workshops, all streamed around the theme of influence.

King’s College London held an inspiring session – ‘#Don’t Be Trashy!: influencing behaviour change to increase recycling and reduce waste’ – that highlighted how the institution increased its recycling rate by 25% in just one year and how it is partnering with networks across London to promote and scale solutions. During the widely acclaimed workshop ‘Gender-Based Violence: influencing men to change society’ by Glasgow Kelvin College, delegates learned about the White Ribbon Campaign and its core aim to change male attitudes towards gender-based violence through positive working relationships. We also heard from the University of Leicester, University of Leeds, Aston University and University of St Andrews on ‘What is your position on plastic?’ – a session that gave delegates the opportunity to take away some tangible strategies and ideas on how to tackle the plastic issue within their institutions and start working towards setting out a sector policy in this direction.

Of course, it wasn’t all work and the conference dinner, which had a ‘foraged feast’ theme gave attendees the chance to network and enjoy a gold Sustainable Restaurant Association-accredited meal.

All in all, the conference provided a great opportunity for delegates to take some time out of their daily schedule to think about their work in a wider context and go back to their institutions with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and motivation. We look forward to welcoming everyone back to next year’s event at the University of Bath.

These are just a few of a broad range of topics discussed during workshops. Attendees left inspired with many new tools and ideas to take back to their own institutions and you can find more information and resources from the conference on EAUC’s sustainability hub: www.sustainabilityexchange.ac.uk

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