Spotlight on: School Sustainability Representatives

Sunday 2 August 2020

Introducing the Environment Team’s School Sustainability Representatives!

One of the key roles of the Environment Team is supporting staff and students to become sustainability ambassadors, both in the University community and their personal lives. In 2019/20, the Environment Team have been working with members of the Sustainability in the Curriculum Committee and Students Association to recruit the inaugural student School Sustainability Representatives (or ‘Sustainability Reps’). The idea for Sustainability Reps followed from the successful Hall Environment Representatives and Staff Environmental Facilitators schemes, which have been established over the past decade. As student volunteers, Sustainability Reps are entrusted with campaigning to increase sustainability in their subject curriculum, raising awareness of the links between sustainability and their subject, and assisting the Environment Team to audit and identify operational sustainability improvements in their school buildings.

The initiative has been supervised this year by the Environment Team’s Sustainability Coordinator, Connie Dawson. As a previous University of St Andrews student, Connie identified the need for a clear framework enabling students and staff to work together to promote sustainability in academic schools. As Connie explained:

“Local, student-led climate action protests and the increasing popularity of the University’s Sustainable Development degree programme show how deeply our students care about sustainability. However, students often aren’t aware of the internal governing structures in which to demand and implement change. The School Sustainability Representatives initiative offers a way to work with students to empower them with the experience and tools to shape their University. Mostly, I wanted to create an opportunity I’d loved to have had as a student. I’m so excited to see the changes our Sustainability Reps make in the future!”

The inaugural group of School Sustainability Representatives were recruited in November 2019. In total, 31 Sustainability Reps were recruited from across 17 academic schools – showing even more interest than anticipated. In just one semester, the Sustainability Reps conducted an unprecedented, University-wide student sustainability survey with a response rate of more than 860 students; assisted the Environment Team with a departmental plastics audit; met with their Directors of Teaching and Heads of School to discuss sustainability in their curriculum; represented the student perspective in various sustainability meetings; laid plans for future sustainability events; and promoted their work on social media and in publications such as The Saint.

Here’s what the 2019-20 School Sustainability Representatives had to say about their experience:

Isaac Li, Sustainability Representative for the School of Computer Science

“Being a School Sustainability Representative is a rewarding experience as I have the opportunity to meet students who share common interests in sustainability and organise awareness campaigns within my school.”

Catriona Smaile, Sustainability Representative for the School of Physics and Astronomy

“I really enjoyed the opportunity to get more involved within my school and to meet others in the University with similar interests. I’ve learnt much more about how to integrate sustainability into the University structure.”

Finlay Mixon, Deputy Sustainability Representative for the School of Management

“Acting as a Sustainability Representative enabled me with skills and the voice needed to address issues I am passionate about. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Sustainability Representative as I felt that I was contributing to real change within the University.”

Julia Van Leuven, Sustainability Representative for the School of Modern Languages

“I have learned a lot about sustainability in St Andrews. The group of Sustainability Reps was a great and inclusive environment to work in!”

Cara Birse, Sustainability Representative for the School of Medicine

“The Sustainability Rep initiative has opened up new discussions within the Medical school about the possibility of including sustainability teaching in the curriculum as well as ways we can improve on waste. Through this initiative, we are able to improve on these issues now and better the education and knowledge base of Medical students in the future. I have really appreciated being a part of a collective group of students who all share the same goal as me. Completing the survey report was my favourite part of the role, as providing this for my school has provided a really good starting point to make significant change in the future.”

Sarah McKinney, Sustainability Representative for the School of Chemistry

“As a Sustainability Rep, I was able to discuss ideas with students and staff which led to some really constructive and interesting meetings. I felt that staff in particular really appreciated the introduction of Sustainability Reps as we could help pass their ideas on and put them into action as we connected them with the Environment Team. Being Reps allowed us to communicate the ideas of students and other staff members within the school, which is not easy to do without a student liaison of some kind. I enjoyed communicating with all of these people to discuss ideas and felt valued in the whole process.”

Emer Sweeney, Sustainability Representative for the School of Mathematics and Statistics

“It was encouraging to meet other young people who are engaged in this issue, and to feel like we could take steps to begin addressing our concerns as a University. It is an interesting role to play as you begin to understand what influence students have and the respect lecturers and staff have for student opinion. I learned that most of our students are interested in and care about environmental issues, and that having this role means they have someone to report to when they feel concerned or have ideas.”

Fiona Banham, Postgraduate Sustainability Representative for the School of History

“Being a Sustainability Rep this year has been an incredibly rewarding experience! Raising awareness of sustainability issues is so important, especially in schools where they are not generally discussed as part of the curriculum. I have also enjoyed hearing what other members of the School of History think about sustainability issues, as this is not a topic of conversation which comes up often enough. The scheme has gained momentum throughout the year and I am very excited to see where it will go next.”

A huge thank you to our 2019-2020 School Sustainability Representatives: Lucy Abell, Annie Adair, Chloe Agar, Fiona Banham, Catherine Bentley, Cara Birse, Begonia El Koury, Jessica Engwer, Lea Fourchault, Michaela Gilarova, Emma Hilary Gould, Elena Guild, Ben Hancox, Chloe Hequet, Isaac Li, Barbara Malone, Alicia Marley, Sarah McKinney, Ellie Meyer-Cording, Finlay Mixon, Martha Morrison, Beatrice Omotosho, Eliza Quinn, Ayra Rehman, Mikayla Schmidt, Catriona Smaile, Emer Sweeney, Julia Van Leuven, Ella Whitaker and Yuxi Zhou.

Keep an eye on the Environment Team Facebook page if you would like to be a School Sustainability Rep for 2020/21; details on how to apply will be posted in September!

Some of the 2019-20 School Sustainability Reps

Quotes in this article have been edited for clarity.

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