Sustainability Architect update: Clare

It’s not exactly an easy task, ensuring that every student at a university has the opportunity to access learning for sustainability. Especially at an institution as large and diverse in focus as the University of Leeds. Even more so when you have just 6 hours a week to commit to it…

Yet, when you take a closer look, it’s perhaps a little less enormous than originally anticipated. The information-gathering I did in my first few weeks as an Architect revealed that sustainability already appears quite frequently in certain areas, and through particular mechanisms, of the university curriculum. There are entire programmes with sustainability at their core, including BSc Sustainability and Environmental Management at the School of Earth and Environment and MSc Sustainability in Transport at the Institute for Transport Studies. Some programmes include sustainability modules, and for those students who can chose electives, Discovery module themes include Creating Sustainable Futures. For programmes that don’t include electives, some have had specific modules crafted by the Sustainability Service, like Sustainability in Healthcare for the School of Medicine. Students wanting to focus their dissertation research on a sustainability issue can explore opportunities with the Living Lab.

So it wasn’t going to be a case of starting from scratch, but more accurately, one of highlighting existing initiatives, joining up some dots, developing things further, and perhaps introducing new initiatives where gaps are revealed. All of which necessitates a more detailed picture of what’s already happening. One aspect of creating this picture has involved an audit of modules that include aspects of sustainability. None of my searches for a standardised approach to this sort of audit came up trumps, so I developed my own rule of thumb: if a module covers challenges within at least one of the three pillars of sustainability – economic viability, environmental protection, social equity – or explores how to tackle some of these challenges, it was added to my list. Applying these criteria as I worked through the module catalogues resulted in a list of 192 undergraduate modules and 133 postgraduate modules. Which are not insignificant numbers, but tell us relatively little on their own. To be really useful, we need to know how many students are enrolled on each of these modules, which of them is a compulsory part of a course, and a whole lot of other things. The search for these details is one of the things I’m currently working on, but at an institution as large as this it’s tricky to work out where those numbers can be found, or even if they’re kept in any one central place.

Alongside the module audit, I assisted with the design and running of the second Student Sustainability Conference that took place in February. Hosting 190 attendees, it featured over 30 student presentations, covering everything from sustainable drainage to microplastics, from vegetarianism of the Romantic poets to creative social activism. It’s a particularly important event, as it offers an opportunity to bring these pockets of changemakers together, to share their research, provide support or provide some challenge. Exposure to, and collaboration with, different disciplines is a core aspect of sustainability thinking.

Over the next few months I’ll be thinking more about how to gather insight into the levels of sustainability understanding that students have both at the beginning and at the end of their time at the university. That will give us a better sense of the degree to which the initiatives in place are adding up to a more sustainability-savvy student body. My guess would be that some good progress is being made at the current level of activity, but there’s much more that can be done to ensure that every student graduating from the university is a sustainability champion.

If you have any questions about the above, please get in touch – pccm@leeds.ac.uk

Sustainability Architect update: Rob

So far my role as a sustainability architect has been really varied and exciting! Together with Josh West (Sustainability Projects Assistant) I have been attempting to build sustainability into laboratory inductions. We have produced a ‘best practice’ checklist that will be circulated to labs soon, allowing for a reference point for sustainability in labs.

I have been involved in an equipment replacement scheme, jointly working between sustainability and the energy department, to replace energy intensive equipment such as drying cabinets and ovens. I have been involved in the data collection process through distributing plug in energy monitors that monitor energy intensive equipment. So far we’ve had a massive response from labs across the University, with multiple schools requesting energy monitors for their equipment. In turn we have collated a good dataset and hopefully, after I have finished the analysis, there will be some beneficial replacements taking place which will result in lower energy consumptions.

A real highlight so far was getting the chance to present at the University of Leeds Student Sustainability Conference, a interesting event with some brilliant ideas. Look out for the conference in 2019! Moving forwards, in 2018 I am keen to focus on getting more student engagement within laboratories (if anyone reading this wants to get in touch please email me!). We will also be focusing on reducing water consumption in labs. 

If you want to get in touch about any of the above please drop me an email – wsdrgi@leeds.ac.uk

Sustainability Architect update: Charlotte

My main deliverables as Student Sustainability Architect have been to conduct a comprehensive review of all the Great Food at Leeds food packaging to ensure that the Catering Services are implementing best practice within the business. Packaging, although essential for food hygiene, has a lot of implications, from its manufacture and the usability, to how it is finally disposed of or reused. It is important to consider these challenges and implications when assessing new packaging types!

Since the publication of the 25 Year Environment Plan by the current UK government, there has been a nationwide surge to reduce plastic-use and to create radical changes in packaging. I have conducted research on the wide variety of packaging types currently in use to see what can be swapped out for more sustainable options, or eliminated completely. I have enjoyed this research, and learnt a lot about the material components and their potential negative impacts. At present, I am currently conducting life-cycle analyses of the types of products used to aid recommendations to the University.

A key part of my job here is to propose solutions which are applicable to the business and can be a real game-changer. Solutions I’ve looked at include; deposit-return-schemes (DRS) and KeepCup libraries. DRS are where consumers pay a small sum (let’s say 10p) on a purchase which is then refunded when they return the item. In the UK, recycling has fallen to 44%, however the Campaign to Protect Rural England estimates that recycling rates would increase up to 98% if we have DRS in place.

Unfortunately there are no DRS machines currently on the market in the UK. To overcome this, I’ve been scoping out international companies with the expertise in this field to building relationships and scope possible future procurement opportunities.

Selling KeepCup’s at the University has been a great success, with over 600 units sold in the first few months of the initiatives launch. Despite this surge around campus, there are some things that could aid in increasing reusable use, such as a KeepCup borrowing scheme for when people may forget to bring theirs into uni. I’m still working on the logistics of how this could work across the cafes and eateries on campus, but hopes are this might end the need to buy a hot drink in a disposable cup!

The next few months will see the launch of the Sustainability Market, which will take place on the 30th of April (watch this space!). This will be an opportunity to chat with students, staff and visitors on what the Sustainability Service are working on around food waste and other initiatives. We want to hear YOUR thoughts of on food packaging and what you think should be a priority. Also, keep an eye out for more questionnaires and surveys dotted around cafes on campus, a great opportunity for you to voice your opinion on what needs to be done to reduce food waste and improve packaging!

If you want to get in touch about any of the above please drop me an email – ee14cd@leeds.ac.uk

Student Sustainability Architect update: Becky

Having completed an industrial placement last year with the Sustainability Service, I’ve really enjoyed working as one of the Sustainability Student Architects during my final year of study.

My role has been to support the development and implementation of a new sustainability engagement programme, and it has been an exciting project to be involved with!  The aim of this programme is to support Schools and Services across campus to develop a unique sustainability action plan for their area which enables them to make positive changes.

We’re currently piloting the programme with numerous teams across campus, which firstly involves meeting with staff to learn more about their area.  The next stage is to run workshops with these teams to conduct a materiality assessment, which considers how their processes link with sustainability and what opportunities there are for improvements, before supporting them to build a sustainability action plan.

Building a programme from the ground up has involved a lot of research and communication (there is a lot to consider!) but it has been great fun and I’m really looking forward to it all coming together. The pilot workshops begin in a couple of weeks, and it’ll be interesting to see what the final sustainability action plans look like.

It’s going to be very busy moving forward – as well as piloting the scheme, we’re planning the overall package for when it rolls out across the University, such as the design, how we incentivise it with rewards and recognition, and how what support we’ll be creating with online resources.  It’s certainly going to be exciting and I can’t wait to seeing the positive changes take shape across campus!

If you have any questions, please get in touch with me at R.M.Ewan@leeds.ac.uk

Sustainability Architect update: Arianna

Sustainability Architect: what is it all about? Five months in this role and no two days are the same!

So much has happened since I took part in the Welcome to Leeds campaign back in October and it has been an exciting learning journey. One of the highlights of the past few months was the launch of SUS IT OUT!, the Sustainability Volunteering Week, in November; we wanted to offer a new, fun way to get involved with sustainability at Leeds, so we created a week-long programme of volunteering “tasters”. Organising a new campaign from scratch was definitely challenging, but it was a great chance for me to take the initiative, share ideas and work closely with the whole team to make the project a real success.

Sustainability never stops and I am ready for new challenges!

We are now busy planning new activities and volunteering opportunities for the spring and summer time – I’m sure there we will provide plenty of good excuses to take a break from books, spend time outside and make a positive impact.

Keep an eye on our Sustainability Volunteers Facebook group or sing up to our Volunteer Bulletin to make sure you don’t miss any news!

Have questions about volunteering with us? Send me an email: A.Griffa@leeds.ac.uk

Sustainability Architect update: Vaishnavi

The architect role I found is quite independent, where I’ve had a supervisor guiding me along the way by voicing my strategy proposals to the senior board, or working closely with me to discuss the feasibility of my ideas, but the majority of the work I was doing was projects I had designed for myself. I was given a lot of freedom, flexibility, resources and was linked in with valuable contacts who helped me accelerate my projects at different stages.

I really enjoyed taking up this one particular project, which included tying the cafes on campus to a company Too Good To Go with an aim to reduce food waste. I was initially conducting intense research in handling food waste by liaising with Living Lab project students and studying case studies of other universities to look at composting. which met with a lot of challenges along the way that were primarily logistical (for e.g moving waste across campus in trucks, hosting a composting facility on campus in a suitable location, etc.).

Halfway through, I realized that perhaps rather than looking at a solution to deal with waste, we could benefit from reducing the amount of waste produced itself, that is where Too Good To Go came into the picture. The app enabled cafes to sell leftover (fresh) meals produced on the same day for half the price before closing hours, which I imagined was exactly what students would buy into (healthy takeaway + cheap food). I drafted a proposal to expand the apps reach from the two cafes on campus already trialing the initiative, detailing the implementation from start to end, which my supervisor submitted to the board and got an approval of! Thereafter, I went along to train café managers to use the app and integrate it into their workflow; garnering an additional business profit of £1,000 for the company, as well as reducing a huge amount of food waste. 

In the next couple of months, alongside Charlotte (another Student Sustainability Architect) I am looking into setting up a Sustainability themed food stall on campus, to spread awareness and engage students with Sustainability related events throughout the year and what they can do to reduce their own impacts. In addition, I hope to solve the problem of food waste in the Refectory and other cafes by designing innovation solutions.

If you want to get in touch about any of the activities I’ve been involved with please email me – bn15v2m@leeds.ac.uk 

Jake’s Work Experience

Hi I’m Jake, and I have been working with the sustainability team over the past week. The team has given me lots to do over the time I have been with them and I have enjoyed every moment.

On my first day handshakes where given out as I was introduced to the every member of the sustainability team. I was then introduced to my first piece of work, biodiversity measuring. In preparation, I was given a map with areas of habitat marked out on it and a trundle wheel. I then used the map to locate specific sections of habitat, and the wheel to measure the sides of these sections, calculating the total area. The measuring was all done outside and on foot, luckily it was a sunny day!

After I had done some biodiversity measuring I was off to St George’s fields to meet another colleague, Mike, who was waiting with a beekeeper suit, of which I was given to wear. We were going to check on two types of bee hives that are found in there; a top bar and a national bee hive. I was able to help with the check by lifting one of the frames out and seeing whether the bees were healthy.

At the end of the day I was in the office, where I was given the responsibility to look and comment on the, soon to be live, Sustainable Training Module, which will be used to help people understand what sustainability is and what it means at the University.

The next day I was introduced to the ins and outs of the Living Lab programme, and asked to research how other universities are applying this concept. I then finished of the day with some more biodiversity measuring, of which all the data was successfully finished on that day!

On Monday, I was given a tour of the university and some of its labs which gave me an understanding of the large number that are available at the University. The rest of the day was spent researching and gaining more information on sustainability actions within labs.

On Tuesday morning, I helped conduct an i-Trees survey which is a Living Lab project looking to map all the tress on campus and their ecological and econimcal benefits. The survey I was part of involved determining the name (genus and species) of each tree being recorded as well as calculating the height, circumference of the trunk, how much light reaches the leaves of the tree, and the size of each canopy cover.

Aminah’s Work Experience

Hi, I’m Aminah and after about 6 weeks, I will be in year 11 for my final year of my GCSE’s at Roundhay High School. I have been here with the sustainability team for 2 weeks of work experience, and I’m so glad I have! The team looked after me really well, on top of giving me lots to do and learn. This whole experience has given me a much better understanding of what subjects I may pursue as I move onto A-level, because I can now link the subjects with degrees I learned about, that I may want to do.

On my first day (Monday), I got a huge tour of the University campus, which I’m really grateful for because if not I would have got lost countless times during these two weeks. It was also really interesting to see all of the different schools, and how much variety there is with degrees, that I before was oblivious about.

Tuesday was especially good, because a free breakfast was served due to 4th July, along with its supposed theme, which made me feel extremely welcomed. During the rest of the day, I was in a laboratory for the first time. Working with Jane-Marie, who is a laboratory manager in the School of Earth and Environment, where I was setting up for the Environmental Science Academy field trip about water ecology for the next day, and getting a head start with all I was to do the following day. This was incredible, and probably the day I learned the most.

The Wednesday and Thursday of my first week, was probably the highlight of my work experience. I absolutely loved being out on the field and discovering things for myself, and meeting new people. On the Thursday I was actually volunteering on the trip as supposed to the day before where I was taking part. Volunteering gave me a responsibility I wouldn’t usually carry, but did inspire me to volunteer more when I can, because I never knew how much I enjoyed it until then. I also think I will defiantly keep my eye out for more field trips in the future to get involved in, because it’s an amazing opportunity that I’ll kick myself if I miss.

To finish up my first week, I mainly stayed with the sustainability team, doing an online research task, where I learned about how other universities are tackling issues of laboratory sustainability, compared to the University of Leeds, and then using this information to suggest improvements to the sustainability team.

Overall my first week was super enriching for me with new experiences and information, and I would do it all again if I could. I never knew the extent of how interesting and engaging sustainability and the Earth & Environment subjects could be until now.

On the Wednesday of my second week I did some tree surveying as part of a research project on campus, where as a group we went out and recorded data about the trees in St. George’s field. We also tried identifying what they were, however it was quite tricky because there are so many variations of the same tree. It was a new experience for me and I’m glad I did it because it was a nice break, and the weather was lovely too.

For the other four days I stayed in the office and continued to develop on the research tasks and gather as much information as I could. I also attended a sustainability meeting. I think it was important for me to experience what a work environment was like, and I’m glad I have because I’ve come to find it’s not as daunting as I thought it was, and for the record…way better than school!

To conclude, my whole work experience has been phenomenal, thanks to the whole sustainability team, and I wish you all the best. A special thanks to Claire Bastin for offering me to come in the first place, I enjoyed it immensely, and I hope other work experience students share the same extraordinary experiences as I did.

Goodbye from this year’s Student Architects – Emma

I have been lucky enough to be one of the University’s Sustainability Architects this year. This opportunity has allowed me to gain a greater insight into the sustainability initiatives at the University, supporting projects with like-minded people, all from different backgrounds but with the same passion and desire to find sustainable solutions to the many challenges we face.

This experience has allowed me to further my knowledge within sustainability and develop valuable professional skills and experience. I found working as a close team and developing ideas together very successful. Team meetings were one of my favorite elements of the role which were always engaging and motivating (a refreshing break from studying!). One of the key things I learnt was that sustainability is a massive challenge within Universities, but I was overwhelmed to see and be involved in the efforts and the progress here at the University of Leeds.

One of my core projects throughout the year, was promoting and encouraging sustainable dissertations to students. This is an area in which I feel there is great scope within the University, and I am excited to see this develop further with some of the ideas we have been working on. One of the suggestions is to create a sustainable dissertation archive on our website. The archive would have a bank of past student’s sustainable dissertations which others could use to gain inspiration and ideas, and contacts for any further support.

The Student Conference on Sustainable Futures is also something I would promote to anyone looking for dissertation inspiration. Sustainable dissertations are something I have become very interested in over the past two years. I believe it is a great opportunity to invest a long period of time into exploring something that can significantly benefit society in some form. I chose to produce a sustainability themed dissertation based on a personal interest and a desire to contribute to sustainability regarding the future of textiles. My research has benefited me as an individual and significantly changed my process as a designer which has opened up a realm of new opportunities for me. By seeking sustainable alternatives, I have found more advanced solutions and more environmentally friendly ways of working. My passion is finding sustainable alternatives to pigments or dyes in coloring textiles, through bio-mimicry (the imitation of nature). I plan to keep researching within this area with the desire of making this a more commercial coloration process. One of the best things I have learnt and been inspired by during my role and my research is that you don’t have to study a directly sustainable degree, everyone can be sustainable and find more sustainable (and more exciting) ways of working within their discipline.

My role as an architect and working with the sustainability team really helped me develop my ideas and gain confidence in presenting my research. I had the opportunity to present my research at the Sustainable Futures Conference which was extremely successful and really built my confidence with public speaking. The conference is a great networking opportunity which I encourage everyone to get involved with.

I am privileged to have been a part of the team for the past year and have thoroughly enjoyed my experience. The sustainability service has an exciting future ahead and I believe it is one of the most valuable services within the University. Many thanks to everyone in the team who has encouraged, supported and inspired my sustainable journey. The experience has been a pivotal step in preparation for my career as a designer, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity.

To end on the most valuable thing I have learnt throughout the year; sustainability brings benefit not sacrifice.

– Emma

Goodbye from this year’s Student Architects – Matt

My time as a Student Sustainability Architect is coming to an end and it seems odd to be reflecting on this year as it’s flown by so quickly!

My primary responsibility for the year was to increase the integration of sustainability in dissertations – in line with the University’s concept of a ‘living lab’ and the Sustainability Strategy theme of Building Knowledge and Capacity. This materialised in the form of the ‘Building Knowledge and Capacity Student Award‘, which rewards students for their brilliant and innovative dissertations in the field of sustainability. I’m thrilled to have been a part of setting this up and hope that, as it grows and develops, students from disciplines that are on the peripheries of the sustainability agenda are encouraged to contribute.

The inaugural Student Conference on Sustainable Futures in February has to be my highlight from this year. It was such a vibrant and engaging day that I am confident will continue to be hugely successful in the coming years – especially if the amazing catering carries on!

The last things to do are to thank the team at the University’s Sustainability Service – particularly Josh and Claire, whose enthusiasm and tireless work has made it a joy to work with – and to say good luck to next year’s Architects who I’m sure will continue to do great work and be agents for change.

– Matt