Professor Liz Schafer, our branch committee member with an environmental focus, writes with a report on our Not Business As Usual event.
A big thank you to everyone who turned up to the climate strike event on 20 September and special thanks to our speakers, plus everyone who joined in the discussions. It was great to see people from a wide range of RHUL departments including Professional Services, Estates etc.
What follows is my personal response to the event.
The session consisted of a provocation; research; creative practice. Barry Langford began by sketching in the recent history of meat bans on campus (e.g. Newcastle, Goldsmiths and Cambridge) and his own (unsuccessful) attempts to raise the procurement of meat as a subject for discussion at RHUL. Alice Carter-Champion spoke about her research (you can download her excellent Powerpoint slides here) into climate change in the distant past and what we can learn from this – she also took a long hard look at RHUL’s website in terms of information about what college is doing. Dell Olsen then reflected on how RHUL appears to be out of step with its own staff’s research and creative practice; she then spoke about her own creative practice, (personally, I thought the collaging and hand-made books looked irresistible); she also usefully highlighted the power of a word like ‘landscape’ and all the assumptions about land use and respecting, or disrespecting, the earth which can lie behind a taken-for-granted word.
Some themes emerging from the discussions
Because the website says so little, RHUL does not look competitive in terms of environmental sustainability alongside e.g. Exeter. For example, all energy at RHUL is provided by TEC (The Energy Consortium) who buy and manage the procurement of energy for a consortium of HEIs, are progressive and promote sustainability and alternative sources. This should be highlighted on the RHUL website, as should other green initiatives.
There was a suggestion that there ought to be pockets of money for green projects – at Cambridge for example there is a green impact award scheme.
There’s a lack of knowledge about what is possible at RHUL – tiny example: some buildings have compost bins, some don’t (I didn’t even know this was an option).
Banning all meat and fish on campus would be good for the planet but culturally unnuanced and also controversial – but symbolic actions are important. Cattle emit a lot more methane than sheep, and sheep emit a lot more than pigs and chickens; cutting out beef would have a big impact without denying people the chance to eat meat. If all HEIs eliminated the procurement of beef, this would send out a very strong message.
The suggestion was made that RHUL considers embedding environmental issues in all teaching; possibly use the model used recently in relation to diversity. Could this go to Academic Board?
Install lots of electric vehicle charging points in the car parks. There’s money to be made from them.
For the climate strike day, Exeter had a gathering of different academics who cared to discuss initiatives and ways forward … why not RHUL?
For the climate strike day, Newcastle announced a climate crisis writer-in-residence scheme – why not RHUL?
Solar panels should be put on any building with more than 15 years of life left. This will save money.
Going paperless may be good but it might imply that there are no environmental – or fair trade – implications in use of e.g. phones, computers etc. Fair trade computers are a gap in the market and many phones have a terrible cost in terms of the labour that produced them. All the computers that are left on all the time consume a lot of energy.
RHUL should consider signing the SDG accord which essentially is a corporate commitment to integrating the goals into the college’s strategy and operations. There is annual monitoring, keeping track of how well institutions are doing and noting which goals are a priority for the institution.
Telling the stories of what’s being done encourages people, and is good for recruiting students and staff.
Cyclists need more information about the best routes to campus, location of showers etc. Possibility of setting up a cyclability group?
Clear environmental Key Performance Indicators for college operations should be in the next strategic plan e.g. zero waste to landfill campus by when? Single-use plastic free by when?
A lot of staff commute and then catch taxis as the buses aren’t frequent enough.
Carbon offsetting may not be helping very much – how long does a tree have to live to offset a short plane journey?
Good news – Alice Carter-Champion has now started an Instagram account, RHUL_green. This will provide tips and ventures from around campus to try and create a bit more of a resource for students to tap into.
Apologies if I missed anything out or mispresented anyone.