» Green Impact: The numbers speak for themselves
03.01.2017 - Education Sector

Green Impact: The numbers speak for themselves

© Evan Landy/NUS-UK - Tony Marinov and Douglas Madden installing nesting boxes for the UCL School of Pharmacy Green Impact team

Free breakfast for students who walk or cycle to class was just one of the many small but effective ideas from the National Union of Students UK’s Green Impact programme, one of this year’s winners of the UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development.

The NUS, one of the world’s largest student organizations, won the award for its wide-ranging programme to promote sustainability in the 600 colleges and universities where members study, their living spaces, cafeterias, and more. The ten-year-old programme has completed over 250,000 greening actions. 

These actions can be either immediate or long-term, big or small. The chemistry laboratories at University College London streamlined the way their inventory and ordering was managed making estimated savings of £90,000 a year.

A Green Impact team at the University of Sheffield encouraged students to walk or cycle to class by rewarding them with a free breakfast. After hours at King’s College London, security guards patrol the buildings looking for lights burning in empty offices. During a Green Impact “Easter Switch Off” people who remembered to power down their computers were rewarded with chocolate eggs. 

In London Metropolitan University the creation of a roof garden has had a positive social impact. Zanda Pipira noticed that people came to the roof, “not only to tick the box in the Green Impact syllabus, but as a good way to get out of the office and meet new people.”        

And students exposed to ideas about sustainability go on to champion them when they leave college. NUS membership stands at seven million, and as their Communities Programme Manager Charlotte Bonner is keen to point out, “These are seven million people who will go on to shape society.”

Green Impact was born out of student concerns about the ethical practices of companies supplying goods and services on campus which were taken up by the union. Ten years later, research carried out by the union reveals that over 60 per cent of all students say their universities should take sustainability more seriously. 

The union provides the Green Impact framework and guidelines, and supports the creation of small teams. Around 1,000 people each year receive Green Impact training but it’s the universities and colleges providing the funding. The NUS has data to show that for every pound an institution invests in the programme, they get three pounds back in savings and efficiencies.

A closer look shows most of the effort needed for Green Impact depends on college management and staff to be motivated and enthusiastic about sustainability. Richard Jackson is Director of Sustainability at University College London, a campus spread over 230 buildings.

“We make energy savings from Green Impact,” Richard explains, “but it also gives us better data as to where we can direct our interventions. For example, a few years ago we identified that in the Chemistry Department they were using a lot of water, so we put water saving measures in place.”

Students get most involved at year-end helping audit the outcomes and measure progress towards sustainability. Auditing is crucial, not only to measure the effectiveness of the green projects undertaken, but because the entire programme is competitive. In the universities the teams compete against each other to achieve yearly rankings. It also brings students into close contact with faculty and staff.

Robbiie Young, NUS Vice President for Society and Citizenship, says the prize is a source of pride. “In a world that’s looking so insular, where sustainability is being dropped off the political agenda, NUS has won an award internationally for sustainability and for looking out internationally and globally to make sure the world’s a better place.”

The $50,000 prize money will be reinvested, mainly in the form of micro-grants – incentives to get even more universities and colleges involved in Green Impact.

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