Covid-19 couldn’t curb enthusiasm for sustainability

Covid-19 disruptions during 2021 did not stop University of Canterbury student sustainability champions from contributing their enthusiasm and energy to sustainability issues and activities.

The Pūrongo Toitū te Taiao | 2021 UC Sustainability Report, released this week, shows that 574 students were members of UC’s Eco Volunteer programme in 2021, many of them enlisting to help deliver the Aotearoa Sustainable Developments Goals (SDG) Summit Series, which was held online with Lincoln University, Ara Institute of Canterbury and other partners in September.

60 students were recognised as Eco Volunteers through UC’s Co-Curricular Record, which recognises skills developed in activities outside of students’ formal study.

Despite some Covid-19 disruption, UC’s sustainability-minded students participated in:

  • Community garden kai workshops – preserving, fermenting and brewing
  • Modern Slavery Act signing activations
  • Fashion Revolution clothes swap and alterations workshops (with UC’s Te Rua Makerspace)
  • Fair trade field trip
  • Matariki / Winter Solstice Bike Ride
  • SDG Summit / SDG Hui
  • Mask making workshops with the SVA
  • Plastic Free July beeswax wrap workshops
  • Opsoc x UC Greens Sustainability Market

Students are already generally living more sustainably than many people, UC’s first Pro-Vice-Chancellor Sustainability Professor Evans-Freeman says, due to better awareness of the younger generation and practical budget constraints. They may not own a car or buy new clothes for example. “We could all learn a lot from our students,” she says.

Professor Jan Evans-Freeman’s appointment as the most senior sustainability appointment in a New Zealand university was another highlight of 2021. She is enthusiastic about UC preparing students for the challenges of the future by embedding Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into the curriculum and creating capable problem-solvers.

“A university’s function is to send graduates out to improve and develop the world around us,” she says. “We are working towards an understanding of how to be an effective advocate and spokesperson or practitioner, by further embedding sustainability awareness across our curriculum. It is evident in some degrees, but it needs to be clearly present in many more.

“Engineers, scientists, artists, educators, and health professionals will all need to be trained to operate in a more sustainable way. The latest IPCC report says we will need to manage the consequences of climate change as well as reduce further harm, and our graduates will be able to join that conversation.

“I would like to raise awareness of the relevance of the SDGs to everyone – what problems they highlight and where individual student’s interests may move in a certain direction to become those problem solvers.”

In 2021, UC developed the multi-disciplinary Bachelor of Social and Environmental Sustainability, which is a game-changer in sustainability education.

UC’s 11th sustainability annual report highlights improvements in waste management, carbon emissions, biodiversity and climate change mitigation planning, along with new PhD scholarships for advanced research relevant to the SDGs and new partnerships including the United Nations Race to Zero launched in tandem with COP26, and membership of Australasian Campuses towards Sustainability (ACTS).

In line with UC’s Strategic Vision 2020-2030, the 2021 report reflects gains in sustainability at UC across research, teaching and learning, sustainable operations on campus and strengthening networks.

UC Sustainability Strategy summary

  • Weave opportunities for students to learn and contribute to resolving the Sustainable Development Goals through UC teaching.
  • Ensure that UC research contributes to resolving global sustainability challenges.
  • Establish a Carbon Neutrality Initiative that will ensure that UC will be carbon net neutral by 2030.
  • Measurably and substantially improve the environmental sustainability of UC.
  • Engage with local, national and global networks.

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