The Environment and Sustainability Working Group group is made up of Student Leadership Team members, student volunteers and Association staff who meet monthly to discuss all things sustainability.
The Group was formed in September 2022 and was set up to recognise environment and sustainability-related issues, discuss what the Association and University can improve on, create events and campaigns and much more.
Co-chair of the group, Lou Robinson (Vice President Engagement), said:
“The Environment and Sustainability Working Group is made up of a dedicated team of student volunteers and Association staff who are focused on improving policy, engagement and environmental impact both within the Association and through partnership with the wider University.
We have based our priorities and our ongoing work directly on the feedback from attendees of various student-led sessions and our working group has a fantastic group of students who get involved in our work on a grassroots level.
We have embedded areas highlighted for improvement by two student-focused networks: Responsible Futures and People & Planet and we are working towards receiving our accreditation from Responsible Futures.
This work is vital to our future, the future of our students and our planet and we intend to keep our students actively involved at every level.”
Students Association Chief Executive Officer, Beth Metcalf also outlines the importance of our work in this area:
"The Students Association is committed to environmental sustainability across the organisation. It is firmly embedded in our strategy, policies and ongoing engagement with students. We fully support the work of the Environment and Sustainability Working Group and take pride in the fact that the student voice is at the centre of this important work.
We recognise that the biggest opportunity in our environment and sustainability work is to enhance engagement opportunities for OU students and promote and advocate for their ideas within the University."
Professor Nick Braithwaite, Vice-Chancellor's Executive Sponsor for Sustainability and Executive Dean, STEM Faculty at The Open University, also commented:
“The OU is dedicated to creating and sharing learning to realise social and environmental justice. Our primary roles are:
as an educator – placing sustainability at the heart of our teaching research and knowledge exchange.
as a business – championing best practice across all four nations of the UK.
We are working with our Students Association in evaluating our work as an educator through the Responsible Futures (SOS) initiative. We are also working with our students to ensure that our shared journey to net zero is appropriately recorded and visible so that they can be justifiably proud of our progress.”
Our Action Plan
The Group has developed an Action Plan to guide our short-term, medium-term and long-term actions.
Our Action Plan is split into four strands:
- Impact – reduce and mitigate the impact the Students Association has on environmental sustainability through its working practices.
- Engagement – encourage students to engage in, think about and contribute to our goals for this group and environmental sustainability more broadly.
- Policy – create a Students Association Policy on environmental sustainability.
- The University – establish the Association's position on the OU's actions relating to environmental sustainability.
- We, The Students Association Environment and Sustainability Working Group, acknowledge the challenges of living sustainably.
- We recognise that balance is needed in all things – particularly when considering environmental sustainability at the Association and within the University. We know that many students need physical books in order to study, we know that face to face meetings give huge benefits in relation to building relationships, we know that a thank you email can be hugely important.
- We seek to encourage and empower through positive actions – never through shame or judgement.
- We want to highlight that small actions can make a big difference.
Progress is marked underneath each action using RAG statuses (red = not yet started/action required, amber = more work to do, green = project on track). The statuses were last updated on 14 December 2023.
Action 1: Impact
How can we reduce and mitigate the impact the Students Association has on environmental sustainability through its working practices?
- Assess current status using Net Positive Futures Framework.
- Involve students in impact research.
- Reducing waste – work with Go Green team.
- Can we reduce our emails? Calculate & share statistics on carbon saved through online meetings.
Environmental Impact Assessment
- Embed assessment of environmental impact into all activities of the Association.
- Keep up to date with new initiatives/innovation from Government/organisations.
- Hold events across the four nations and internationally to reduce travel.
- Also consider hybrid/online alternatives for environmental and accessibility reasons.
- Consider use of offsetting carbon where it is not possible to eliminate impact.
Action 2: Engagement
What can we do to get students to engage in, think about and contribute to our goals for this group, and environmental sustainability more broadly?
- Create an Environment and Sustainability webpage.
- Include an ideas bank with explanations for students and a Resource hub with links to carbon footprint calculators etc.
- Listen to students – what are their concerns? What do they want us to be doing?
- Green - Great Big Green Week quiz event on 16 June 2023 included a feedback opportunity for students. Sustainability questions included in our Annual Membership Survey.
- Linking staff and students – Responsible Futures, Earth, Environment vents
- Green - a successful panel event with OU academics was held during Freshers Fortnight Sept-Oct 2023 with another planned for early 2024. Responsible Futures work is ongoing.
- Sustainable prizes at our existing events
- Raise awareness.
- Amber - e.g. social media campaign for Great Big Green Week 2023
- Competitions – e.g. upcycle/recycle, reducing carbon impact over a month.
- Encourage students, volunteers and staff to consider individual carbon footprint.
- Amber - e.g. social media campaign for Great Big Green Week 2023
- Creation of a Sustainability Champion role.
- Build skills/experiences for students in the sector - for both personal and career development.
Action 3: Policy
What is the Students Association's Policy on Environmental Sustainability?
- Review existing policies at the Association.
- Green e.g. our Travel and Subsistence Policy has been updated with sustainability considerations.
- Review Enivronmental and Sustainability Policies at other SUs and membership organisations which might better reflect our unique online/hybrid way of working.
- Advocate for Sustainability to be a core aspect of Association Strategy for 2023-2027.
- Green - sustainability is now included in our strategic aims and values in our Strategy.
*Prioritise a four nations approach.
Embedding Policy into Practice
- Build sustainability actions and activities as part of business as usual
Review & Update
- Schedule an annual review and update of the policy as part of the Terms of Reference of the Working Group. To include relevance, successes and room for improvement.
Action 4: The University
What is the Association's position on the OU's actions relating to environmental sustainability?
- Encourage openness and transparency around impact and goals for sustainability – joint statement from the University and Association.
- Write a response to OU’s placing in league tables for sustainability - people and planet.
- To create a position statement on options for students to decide if printed module materials (books) are required and take that to the University.
- Encourage changes at The Hub (on-campus refectory) and on-campus shop.
- Encourage changes in face-to-face events.
- Enable volunteers to navigate difficult conversations on these issues - be aware of the balance between accessible formats.
Fossil Fuel divestment
- Track the University's progress towards fossil fuel divestment.