Sustainability: They care and you should, too.

Photo: Lucy James

Four St Andrews students competed in the nPower Future Leaders Challenge. Lucy James reports.

A smurf and a transvestite are bumping and grinding on the dance floor; in a darkened corner sonic the hedgehog is getting cosy with a pirate in a sombrero; a French Where’s Wally is embroiled in a bitter debate with his Russian counterpart over what appears to be a homemade periscope. When I agreed to cover the entry of St Andrews team ‘We Care’ into the nPower Future Leaders Challenge in conjunction with TARGETevents, I didn’t exactly envisage ending up in Keswick’s only nightclub, the infamous ‘Loft’.

But fast forward 36 hours and we’re running along the bottom of Cat Bells just over half way through a gruelling 23km hike (of which I joined them for half, being no fool). An hour from the next check point and it’s closing in 40 minutes. But these kids aren’t going down without a fight. They’ll carry each other across the finish line before they quit — literally. Not that we knew it then, but we’d be walking another 2 ½ hours. And then there was the night orienteering exercise, the canoe challenge, the sports competition and the presentations of their projects before rest. You might be wondering, Why would anyone do this to themselves – in their free time?

The answer is simple. This summer Graham Dickson, Anna McCready, Rachel Alves and Shoma Kimura came up with an idea, and now they’re trying to take that idea global. Of course, I should probably explain the basic concept first.

The nPower Future Leaders Challenge pits teams of students from all over Britain against each other in a series of mental, physical and intellectual challenges in a bid to win a trip to the Arctic. But to get there they also have to come up with a project that educates and empowers their target audience to live more sustainably. Graduate recruitment and corporate responsibility aside this is a genuinely interesting competition — with results that have reached hundreds of thousands of people in a variety of ways.

So what are our companions from St Andrews planning? Well, on the 15th of November, they’ll be running a conference in our very own Parliament Hall; speakers will descend on the town to explain the most current developments in sustainability, including Sustainability Commissioner of Scotland Professor Jan Bebbington. Local organisations will also be attending to explain what we can be doing right now in our day-to-day lives. I know what you’re thinking — I can practically hear the tired cynicism of a generation sick of being told not to leave their TVs on standby or overfill the kettle, in case somewhere a polar bear sneezes.  But bear with me.  These guys are a little more serious than that.

The entire conference will be filmed and uploaded onto their website, which provides a platform for university students to learn about these issues, whether they’re from St Andrews, St Lucia or St Kitts and Nevis. They’ve also started a petition allowing these students to say, ‘actually, we do care about the environment, and we do want a say in the future of this planet.’ When I asked Graham how many people he planned to reach with the project he responded, “ALL THE STUDENTS IN THE WORLD”. I laughed and turned to the rest of the team for a real answer. Turns out that was it.

To their credit, they’ve already reached out to universities in 30 countries across the globe, winning responses from as far afield as Harvard and Melbourne – and they have no intention of stopping there.  By November they want to take this to the G20.

Of course this team is no Brady Bunch. Yes, they want to go to the arctic and play with huskies. Who doesn’t? But I saw the email advertising the competition over the summer, considered momentarily the amount of effort it would entail and trashed it. They put their heads together and came up with something that may well bring them no personal gain, but could potentially produce something that makes a real impact.

Take 5 minutes off and see what they’re doing at Sign the petition, follow them on twitter and check out the conference — it’s free! These four students are among the last 8 teams nationally. Whether or not they win, I think the people of St Andrews should be proud of their effort – if for no other reason than to see our students entering into a physical competition against Loughborough and winning!


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