26.09.2016 - Education Sector

UNESCO's Prize for Sustainable Development Education: UK winners prove the power of 'peer-to-peer'

© NUS-UK - Project officer leading a student training

A student-led environmental accreditation scheme with a rewards system is one of three winners of this year’s UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development.

The Green Impact programme, which has been running for ten years, is the National Union of Students UK’s (NUS-UK) flagship sustainability engagement programme and one of the largest, most successful student-led sustainability schemes in the world.

The Prize, which is funded by the Government of Japan, consists of three annual awards of USD 50,000 for each recipient for projects which recognize the role of education in connecting the social, economic, cultural and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

This year, along with NUS-UK, awards have gone to the Centre for Community Regeneration and Development (CCREAD-Cameroon) from Cameroon and the Okayama ESD Promotion Commission from Japan. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova will award the laureates in a ceremony at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris on 11 October 2016.

Green Impact is centred on student mentors and auditors, over 1,000 each year, who support staff to green their workplaces through bespoke workbooks. It is currently being run in 270 organizations, with 1,889 Green Impact teams or departments, reaching 29,191 staff. Last year the scheme saved participating institutions an estimated £1.2m through resource efficiency and procurement discipline, compared to participation fees of £385,000. Last year it marked its 250,000th green action.

Jamie Agombar, Head of Sustainability for the National Union of Students UK, said: “This prize will put our work on the map and the funding will help us extend our reach still further. Green Impact started in a very humble way with small and practical sustainable actions like using recycled paper and Fairtrade tea and coffee.

Student-led with peer-to-peer motivation

“Since then it has grown and much of it now takes place off campus. We have fire brigades, hospitals, doctors’ surgeries signing up and we want to take it further. The NUS is a very much a UK-based organization and the UK can sometimes be an inward-looking nation so what we want to do now is collaborate and share this idea with students’ unions elsewhere in the world.”

And as they celebrate their 10th year of existence they have earmarked £10,000 of the prize money to fund a micro grants scheme to help others wishing to start their own greening projects but who don’t have the means.

The scheme’s success is partly due to being student-led with motivation fuelled by peer-to-peer engagement. In addition, students often become involved through their studies. For example, medical students designed the workbook for their local hospital.    

“Universities pay to take part so the idea is self-financing and truly sustainable,” said Jamie.

Asked to pinpoint one way in which large organizations could take their first step towards greening he said: “International travel has a huge environmental impact and there are so many other ways of bringing people together to work such as video conferences.”

Recommending Green Impact for the Prize the International Jury described it as: “…a model of scalability and applicability beyond the UK, and already has evidence of impact beyond Higher Education into the workplace, and evidence of outreach and emulation internationally. There is commendable demonstration of impact and wide uptake, and the project is an exemplar of youth leadership in educational change.”

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