RHUL and Environmental Sustainability

As we approach the anniversary of the RHUL governing Council’s declaration of a climate emergency, it seems an appropriate moment to ask what has been achieved since then. While the long term environmental implications of COVID may be hard to estimate, it is worth noting that many academics have significantly reduced their carbon footprint this year by flying and commuting far less than normal. The major news story is that the RHUL three year strategy contains several references to environmental sustainability.

The strategy is, however, strategically vague about how any commitment will be implemented. Certainly more attention to detail is needed; on page 8 of this publically available document it states that RHUL is committed to addressing how ‘environmental sustainability should be reduced in our operations’. I hope this is a typo.

If we were running an annual appraisal of RHUL’s performance here we might be looking for SMART goals and at the moment there are none to be seen. Maybe colleagues would like to suggest some. I’d like to request that at the very least

1. RHUL should immediately sign the SDG accord

This essentially is a corporate commitment  to integrating the goals into the College’s strategy and operations, BUT there is annual monitoring to keep track of how an institution is doing and to note which of the many goals are a priority for the institution.

2. RHUL should adopt really clear environmental Key Performance Indicators for college operations e.g. zero waste to landfill campus by when? EV charging point by when? Carbon neutral by when?

The fact that Environmental Sustainability appears in the College strategy means that some level of accountability is possible but KPIs and a timetable for implementation would really increase credibility.

Meanwhile in other news, some important, pragmatic environmental is work going on at RHUL but this is often in isolation. So here’s an update from my point of view:

The RHUL UCU Environmental Sustainability Committee has met several times.

The School of PDA now has Environmental Sustainability as a standing item on its agenda and an Environmental Sustainability Group, with a strong UCU presence in discipline specific subgroups in Drama, Media Arts and Music. One focus for discussion has been curating events in November during Glasgow COPC 26.

UCU continues to campaign for a green new deal and UCU is offering green rep training courses with a focus on negotiating skills. The next one is in June and I hope to attend. Please let me know if anyone else is interested.

Sigrun Wagner and I hope to be offering a pilot RHUL Carbon Literacy Training (CLT) in the summer. This training is free and seeks to widely disseminate carbon literacy; inspire commitment to action; and encourage attendees to become future trainers themselves.  

Please let me know about any other pragmatic environment initiatives that are happening.

Liz Schafer      
RHUL UCU Green Rep

January 2020 Update On Environment Matters

Colleagues will remember the motion, passed at the General Meeting last term, that RHUL should declare a climate emergency and place environmental sustainability at the heart of its next ten year strategy. I have been promised that this motion, along with the SU’s Climate Emergency motion from last academic year, will be an item of major business at Council’s next meeting on 20 February.

Since RHUL UCU passed this motion, the environment has been identified as a cross cutting theme in relation to college’s strategy, which should be signed off by Council on 2 July. The process for developing an environmental strategy will include the creation in early February of a ‘green’ or draft paper for discussion (so please pitch in and respond when a questionnaire is sent round). It is hoped that there will be panels of staff and students providing focussed feedback in mid February – so volunteer if you can. Feedback will be incorporated by the beginning of March. It’s an ambitious timetable. In the meantime consultants Brite Green are looking at ways RHUL can improve.

Several events have been planned to generate further discussion on the environment and I particularly want to direct your attention to Thinking Bigly: A Guide to Saving the World, which is on 22 January. This performance lecture, or anti TED talk, is free to attend and it may help some of us think differently, that is, outside the usual boxes – whatever our usual boxes are. You can book your tickets via Eventbrite.

Continue reading “January 2020 Update On Environment Matters”

Climate strike day and RHUL UCU strike day five

Tomorrow, Friday 29th November, is the next Climate Strike. Colleagues have several options for participating in both strikes!

Egham: the Egham pickets will take place as usual from 8am to 10.15am, followed by environmentally themed Teach Inn sessions.

London: the Bedford Square picketers will meet at Bedford Square at 11am. They will then join the larger group of UCU striking members congregating in Malet Street under a banner of ‘Pay, Pensions, Planet’ and marching to Parliament Square at around 12pm to join the main Climate Strike rally. There will then be a UCU rally at Westminster Hall from 2pm.

Whatever you choose to do tomorrow, we wish you solidarity on the last day of the first week of the strike action. The strike has already brought UCEA to the table to begin discussions on the pay and equalities issues we are striking over, but they won’t go far enough without continued sustained pressure. The strike is having an impact – let’s keep going!

Event report: UCU climate strike event, 20th September

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.


Notes from the UCU General Meeting, 2 October 2019

We will be circulating the full minutes of our most recent meeting to all members shortly, but in the meantime, here’s a selection of highlights.

Motion on Climate Action

As you may know from previous blogposts, RHUL performed very poorly in the People and Planet League table released earlier this year. In addition, the Students’ Union set a good example for us in May, when they passed a resolution to recognise the climate emergency. There is an urgency for the branch to act on this issue, since there is a council meeting on 9 October, with environmental matters on the agenda. An extensive RHUL-UCU motion was proposed, listing out a set of beliefs, and resolutions (sent out to all members via e-mail). Key points include reducing high-carbon foods and banning single-use plastics on campus wherever possible. The motion was carried by a large majority, and will now be sent on to be included in the papers for next week’s Council meeting. The ultimate aim is to get this included in the College’s updated environment strategy, which will set the plan of action for the next ten years.

Ballots and Get the Vote Out

Debbie Driscoll, our Regional Support Officer, visited us to give a talk about the simultaneous ballots that are currently running: one on USS, and the other on pay and equalities. Both of these ballots are disaggregated, meaning that we as a branch need to secure 50% turnout on both in order to be included in any strike action.

USS Ballot

The USS ballot is in response to the recent negotiations between UUK, USS and the proposals by the agreed JEP. UCU accepted the JEP report and in their entirety; we are unhappy that USS rejected the report and that USS won’t hold them to account. Currently, employers are forcing USS members to pay towards contribution increases – 9.6% from Oct 2019, and 11% in Oct 2021. This has come about from USS’s refusal to implement the JEP’s proposals, despite what was agreed at the end of last year’s strike action. It is estimated that under current plans, the average USS member stands to lose £240,000 in retirement (as a result of changes made since 2011). The USS ballot aims to:

  • Insist that USS should cover contribution increases
  • Insist USS should implement JEP’s proposals
  • To hold USS to account

Pay and Equality Ballot

Staff pay has been seriously eroded over the last few years. Spending on staff in UK universities has fallen by an average of 58% down to 54%. Our salaries are now worth 20% less than they were 10 years ago. Employers have only offered a below inflation pay increase of 1.8%. In addition to all this, we all know the stress of academic workload: the average working week is above 50 hours (with 29% of academics working more than 55 hours per week). Job insecurity is endemic, with over 100,000 teaching staff in HE on casual contracts and zero-hour contracts. In many cases, cuts on staffing costs are achieved by increasing the numbers of casual staff. We also have a severe gender pay gap at RHUL, as well as a pronounced pay gap for protected characteristics, as we have written previously on the blog. The pay and equality ballot is a joint trade union claim with Unison and Unite. The claim proposes the following:

  • A pay rise of RPI + 3% or £3,349, whichever is the greater
  • £10ph minimum pay
  • 35 hour working week
  • A commitment to close the gender pay gap and take action on ethnic pay gap
  • To agree framework to eliminate precarious contracts – move to fractional and end outsourcing
  • Nationally agreed payment to recognise excessive workloads

The biggest concern is to achieve a good turnout well above 50% so that we have a strong negotiating position. Remember: the bigger the mandate for strike action, the better the outcome.

Local Arrangements to Get the Vote Out

A lot of the GTVO focus falls on departmental reps. Priority is direct human contact– to press the members in your department to ask if they have voted in the ballot. In some departments (especially large departments), this can be very difficult, and some reps may find this hard owing to their individual circumstances (fractional contracts, etc). In such cases, branch committee members are happy to visit departments and assist. Reps can contact members by telephone if they are unable to knock on doors.

Visibility is key – for members to put posters up, to wear their ‘I voted’ stickers, or place them around their buildings. Especially, please remind members of the address they need to go to if they need to get new papers (especially following the shuffling of school-ification, where many members have changed their work location). If you have any new staff in your department, please encourage them to join and then vote – there is still time!

Deadline to get your ballot papers in is 30 October, but the post deadline is 28 October.


Other issues raised included ‘fact-checking’ college emails from senior management, as well as queries about Royal Holloway’s track record of decreasing staff costs in favour of increasing spend on new buildings. Check your inboxes for the meeting minutes for further details!