4 Things I learned from working in sustainability at UOG

Where have the last two and half years gone?! In October 2019 I joined the UOG Sustainability Team as a part-time Communications Officer. And now as my time as a student comes to an end, so does my time in this team.

The last few years have been anything but smooth sailing, partly due to the pandemic, and partly because of the way the world has changed in such a short space of time. Despite this, I’ve had an amazing time and learnt a great many things, which I have no doubt will prove useful in my next adventure in the Environment Agency. Whether you’re still studying or graduating this year, I hope these insights will help you to better understand sustainability and how you can help drive positive change while at university, in your future careers, and in your home life.

So, here’s what I’ve learned…

1. You can’t compartmentalise sustainability!

Sustainability isn’t one thing… it’s lots of different things that are all interconnected, and this is best shown by the UN Sustainability Development Goals. From eliminating hunger and inequality, protecting nature, through to responsible consumption and clean energy, there are many things we must do to create a sustainable world. But they cannot be done in isolation. Let me give you some examples…

If we want to ensure the health and wellbeing (Goal 3) of the world’s population, then we need to eliminate poverty (Goal 1) and hunger (Goal 2).

To do this we need decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), which can’t be done without achieving gender equality (Goal 5) and ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns (Goal 12).

And if we want to protect life in the sea and on land (Goals 14 and 15), we need to deliver affordable and clean energy (Goal 7). But by protecting life in the sea and on land, we will also be helping to eliminate hunger as we rely on nature to survive. And thus, we come full circle.

There are many other ways in which the different elements of sustainability interlink and it’s important that we don’t just focus on one area. That’s simply not how the world works.

2. You’ve got to be in it for the long-term

The complexity of sustainability cannot be underestimated and sometimes this makes creating change particularly difficult. In businesses of any kind, there are multiple departments with different priorities. And sometimes the change you want to create doesn’t coincide with the priorities of others, resulting in pushbacks, and that can be difficult.

So, my best advice is:

  • you have to be adaptable
  • you have to be resilient
  • and you have to look at the bigger picture

It can be discouraging when you have a great idea and you’re struggling to find support, but that doesn’t mean it’s never going to happen. You can revisit ideas at a later date when others are more receptive, or you could try developing the idea to work better with other people’s priorities.

So yes, we should be ambitious and push for real change, but there has to be compromise and understanding if we’re going to take others on this journey with us.

3. It needs to be in every sector

When I started university, I wanted to work in sustainability and environmentalism. In my head, they were pretty much the same thing. A sector full of greenies like me, who love nature and wanted to do something about climate change. But through my time here, I’ve learnt that sustainability is not a sector. And it’s not just about the environment. Instead, it is more of an ethos: a way of living and working that meets the needs of the world today without compromising the future of others. This means that no matter what sector you go into, from politics and law, to sport and education (and everything in between) sustainability can and should feature in your career.

Take a moment to think about your future career…

‘How can it be more sustainable?’

‘What can you do to make a difference?’

Just because you’re not working with the environment, that doesn’t mean you or your future employer can’t do something to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And just because you’re not working in law, that doesn’t mean you can’t fight to eliminate discrimination and promote inclusion.

So, when you graduate and get a job, think about how your sector or employer can create positive change, and then share your ideas. From my experience, those who speak up and are proactive in sharing ideas, will progress faster and develop more quickly in their careers.

4. Individual actions compound to make real change

I’ve heard people say that anything they do won’t make a big difference, so why try? Well, have you ever been inspired by someone to try something new? Maybe a friend told you about a great new restaurant, or your sibling takes up running so you try it as well? As humans we naturally want to connect with people and try what others are doing. And this is how you can make a difference.

Since working in the Sustainability Team, I’ve inspired my own friends and family to make changes in their lives. My petrol-head partner is now a keen cyclist. My steak-loving dad has cut down eating meat to just three days a week. And many of my shopaholic friends choose charity shops over high street brands after seeing the great finds I’ve bought! So, every time you choose to cycle instead of taking the car, or buy from charity shops instead of fast-fashion brands, you are creating ripples amongst those who know you and see what you are doing. You’ll inspire them to do the same and they’ll go on to inspire others, and so on, until you have real societal change. So, don’t underestimate what influence you can have and how important your actions are.

So that’s it from me! I hope that both this blog and the content I’ve shared with you over the last few years has inspired you to learn and do more around sustainability. Thanks for reading!

Nikki 😊 x

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