The Saint sat down with three students who are spearheading a new pilot project which aims to incorporate sustainability into every academic school within the University. The students plan to do this by creating sustainability representatives (reps). These reps will be the student voice of sustainability at an academic level in St Andrews.
Ben Hancox, a fourth-year Management Student, Lea Fourchault, a fourth-year Sustainable Development and Biology Student and Julia VanLeuven, a Postgraduate German and Comparative Literature student, described their pilot initiative as a way to gain the “inside view from the student” and a “bottom-up, grass routes process” which aims to create change within the University at an academic level as well as within the infrastructure.
Speaking with the students, the value of the different perspectives within this collaboration was evidently clear. Not only because of the diverse range of the subjects being studied by the network of 31 students involved in this startup, but as Mr Hancox noted, there is some-one who represents every school.
All three of the students The Saint spoke with were inspired to get involved with this initiative for a variety of different reasons. Ms VanLeuven spoke of how coming to St Andrews as a postgraduate resulted in her missing her undergraduate library canteen as it used plates and forks for sit-in meals, whereas at the current library and other University canteens, there is a heavy reliance on single-use packaging, she claims. Although there has already been improvement within this issue considering Vegware and a ban on selling plastic bottles, Ms VanLeuven is passionate about reducing this further.Ms Fourchault said that she has always felt passionate about the is-sues that the sustainability reps aim to tackle because of Sustainable Development’s emphasis on the environment. She wants to work within her academic schools to reduce the single-use plastic which is used within labs for hygiene and safety reasons by searching for other more sustainable alternatives.
As well as this, she would like to emphasise the impact that research trips have on students’ carbon footprint, “It is great that we have the opportunity to go to places like Indonesia and it is really fantastic that [schools] are organising these kinds of trips to do research, but there should really be a clear purpose structured for every trip, due to the impact that flying has on the environment.There should be some kind of mandatory carbon offset at the very least.”
Mr Hancox explained his frustration at the unnecessary and continual use of paper copies for assignments that have already been turned in on-line and can be marked electronically, for the large part. Mr Hancox also emphasised that as a Management student, he has encountered a “lack of environmental sustainability taught within classes he has taken. Even though it is business, companies and corporations are ruining the environment.” He noted that this is something that needs to be changed moving forward.
The students working within this initiative are looking to create a range of events for the student body to get involved with sustainability across faculties on an academic level. Mr Hancox said that he was working with the School of Economics to acquire guest speakers and create a panel discussion that focuses on the part that sustainability plays in careers that people with an economics or management degree would typically go into.
As well as this event, the sustain-ability reps will be performing three main schemes: the plastic audit, the general survey and a general event. The plastic audit will take place within the next couple of weeks. This plastic audit is a data collection across all schools and facilities which all reps will be involved with. This data collection will be used to understand and then tackle the areas where most single-use plastic is being used. “The University of St Andrews has a general objective to go plastic-free, so the plastic audit will figure out the use of its overall schools and facilities,” said Mr Hancox.
Ms Fourchault said, with regards to Biology and other schools that use single-use plastic in labs, that she “hopes this survey will start a discussion and obtain insight into how we can use other more sustainable mate-rials within the lab, while maintaining health and safety regulations.” The general survey will be open to everyone including students, and that is where they urge student involvement. It will be sent out in a University-wide email and data will be gathered. The general event is something that will be based on student opinion, which will also be gathered on a survey.
The reps are very motivated to create events which the student population is interested in, with a focus on educating people and getting their opinions. Initial ideas are panel discussions, film screenings and maybe a fashion swap. Ms Vanlauven said, “a fashion swap reminds people that in St Andrews you don’t actually have to go to H&M or order online, there are other ways to get new stuff without having to consume fast fashion.”
Two goals of the programme are for students to be more engaged academically and politically. Ms Fourchault emphasized the impact that student opinion can have on module content, and the importance of viewing their studies through an environmental lens. Politically, the reps emphasized how important it is to be engaged with voting at university, both within student elections and without as democracy gives opportunity for large legislative change to be created. Mr Hancox concluded with “Student involvement is really key in this. That is the whole reason we are here, student representation.”