The EAUC ‘Influence!’ conference: A student’s perspective
1st July 2019
The annual EAUC ‘Influence!’ conference brings universities and colleges together for 2 days of activities, workshops and keynote sessions; each addressing important environmental, economic and socio-political challenges that we currently face as institutions and as a global community.
This year, the conference was held in Manchester, and I had the exciting opportunity to attend as a student and gain a new perspective. Here’s how it went…
Climate emergency: what are we committing to?
My train pulled into Manchester Piccadilly station at 10am on day 1of the conference. This allowed me to arrive at the venue just in time for the first workshop that I was keen to attend: ‘Declaring a climate emergency: What does it mean and what are you committing to?’. Here, I learnt about the decision of different universities to declare (or not to declare) a climate emergency, and their actions taken as a result of this.
There appeared to be an element of controversy surrounding this topic, with fears of simply creating a ‘bandwagon’ effect if no tangible action is taken following the declaration.
Examples of action taken by some universities include reviewing and updating environmental policies to reflect urgency and signing the BEIS emissions reduction pledge. Other university sustainability teams either decided against an emergency declaration or are struggling to authorise this action.
“In one case, the push came from the student body“
The SU president (a former student) got behind the movement by rallying current students to sign a pledge and lobby the university into making a declaration. This resulted in the vice chancellor personally announcing the declaration. The high-profile story and social media pressure for action has meant that there is now commitment to the cause from university leaders.
Are students the real leaders?
After an interesting start to the day, the next workshop I chose to attend discussed sustainable palm oil in sector policy. I was particularly inspired by this workshop as it was led by an undergraduate zoology student (much like myself).
Amy Staff has been working on palm oil research projects and highlighting the importance of boycotting only unsustainably sourced palm oil. Sustainable palm oil is grown and harvested under a set of strict RSPO-certified standards and requires less land use than alternative oils. Amy won a Green Gown Award last year for the work she has done to incorporate only sustainable palm oil within her university’s strategic plans, and she calls for other universities to do the same.
Grime scene investigations…
The next workshop discussed the attempt by one university to engage and educate students about reducing waste and recycling.
They’d tried the usual tactics such as distribution and movement of posters around the university, and methodical placement of the recycling bins on campus. More interesting though were their ‘grime scene investigations’ in which students and staff got involved in sorting through halls waste for comparative data over the course of a year.
The university found that students enjoyed the element of humour in this project and would post photos of their ‘grime scene’ outfits to social media.
A foraged feast!
The day ended with a celebratory ‘foraged feast’, which was both imaginative and delicious, as well as keeping in-line with the entirely vegan commitment of the conference!
Can you give them a nudge?
Day 2 fell on National Clean Air Day, so I felt that it was only appropriate that I attended the workshop on this topic.
“I learnt that according to the World Health Organisation, 91% of the population live in areas of air pollution that exceed levels deemed as ‘safe’.“
Universities have been taking action by implementing ‘clean air zones’ and committing to the BreatheLife campaign.
One of the main challenges in regard to making all of these changes in institutions is to influence people’s thoughts and behaviours. ‘Nudgeathon: influencing behaviour positively’ was a workshop that discussed using cues to encourage behaviour change. This involves small, gradual changes through well-timed prompts and regular feedback. It is a well-researched method and certainly something to consider using within universities to get students and staff on board with making changes for the better!
No excuse for single use…
The last workshop of that day was focused on the widely discussed topic of plastic pollution.
After a brief presentation from universities on their ambitions to reduce single-use plastic, we grouped together in tables to collaborate and discuss ideas between us. The ideas ranged from the simplistic straw-ban to more abstract marketing techniques in the hopes of influencing attitudes towards single-use plastics.
The day both began and ended with keynote sessions on influence; these really set the tone of the entire conference. Although the talks were hard-hitting about the seriousness of our current environmental situation, they also inspired change by providing hope and realistic courses of action to ensure a better future for everyone.
And my conclusion?
Over these two days, it was great to meet like-minded people and have conversations about important topics. Many times, I found myself sat among sustainability team delegates from universities all over the UK, who evidently care greatly for their students and the issues that will affect the future lives of their students.
“The thing that struck me most from this conference is that I realised that students have more power than I originally thought.“
I learnt that student voice matters to university leaders and that a lot of change within universities is initiated by students, with sustainability teams helping to facilitate those changes.
From a student’s perspective, this conference was eye-opening, and I left feeling empowered to be more vocal about sustainability issues that matter to me.
If you are a student who is passionate about an issue, you should engage with your sustainability team, your SU and your university leaders to see the changes that you wish to be seen within your university.
Guest blogger: Chase Butler, 2nd year Animal Biology student