How students are helping local organisations go green

Climate Action Bristol (CAB) is an innovative project placing University of Bristol student volunteers with local organisations to develop and implement Climate Action Plans.  

The volunteers help assess the sustainability of an organisation with the aid of the University’s bespoke on-line tool, supporting organisations to explore their impacts and therefore set out a wide range of actions, from energy use through to advocacy, to take climate action. The project, led by Bristol Hub and the University Sustainability Department, began in October 2021. The initial phase focused on developing action plans, before moving on to delivery.  

So far, students have partnered with a range of Bristol-based organisations including Boomsatsuma, Unique Voice, St Peters Hospice, Voscur, Acta Theatre, South Gloucestershire and Stroud College, Beyond the Bean, Watershed and Wecil.  

The first cohort of Climate Action Bristol volunteers are now coming to the end of their projects and recently reflected on their learnings and achievements through a showcase event, organised by BristolHub.  

Izzey Bowker is a student volunteer working closely with creative education center, Boomsatsuma. Izzey and teammates Madleen Grohganz and Daniel Walsh found conducting a travel survey to be the best starting point.  “We wanted to find out what improvements could be made to make it more sustainable to get between their numerous locations,” Izzey explained. “We uncovered students are unable to access student discounts on bus tickets and are put off cycling by a lack of facilities, which are things that Boomsatsuma can now address.” 

When trying to reduce an organisation’s emissions, the energy efficiency of the building is often paramount. Shivali Agrawal, along with teammates Poppy Pearce and Christabel Hamer, worked with local independent cinema and social enterprise, Watershed, to explore the potential costs of the changes required to make the building more energy efficient.  

“We looked at things like the windows and insultation, and assessed the impact and costs, to include the infnormation in an application for a Green Business Grant through West of England Combined Authority” Shivali shared. 

Some students discovered that developing a greener pathway is often not so straightforward due to financial or property constrictions.  “Unique Voice has the challenge of being situated in a rented office, with little control over things like lighting and heating,” Alice Brion, student volunteer, highlighted. “Our recommendations focused on creating learning opportunities for staff, publishing their climate action plans and building their local network to share best practice.” 

Working with independent living charity, Wecil, Hannah Munro discovered the importance of making sustainability inclusive.  “Our focus was on engagement. We brought employees on the journey, as well as looking at community engagement through workshops and publishing of the sustainability report. We also reviewed and expanded their ‘Green Team’ objectives, making its statement and goals inclusive for everyone.” 

Oliver Jones, Director at Acta Community Theatre, said the process of working with students enabled the Theatre to work more strategically.  “We weren’t sure at first what we wanted the students to focus on, other than improving what we do doing around the environment to support with funding applications. After the student’s audit, we developed a plan that includes short term and long-term actions around electricity, water, heating consumption and our website content. Dan, Syndy and Gillian each focused on distinct aspects of the plan, depending on their areas of interest, which worked really well.”  

Martin Wiles, Head of Sustainability at University of Bristol reflected on the showcase event, explaining that sustainability is not an easy path to follow.  “Learning to work around the obstacles you uncover is really valuable. Challenges will arise whether it’s a big, small or rich organisation. It’s not an easy path to follow, but it is essential to meet the City’s 2030 net zero carbon target.” 

 

If you are a student interested in working with a local organisation to help develop its Climate Action Plan register your interest for 2022/23 volunteering here.  

If you’re a local business looking for support with writing a Carbon/Climate Action Plan, please email Sorcha Young at manager@bristolhub.org. 

 

Thanks to the following volunteer teams: 

Watershed 

  • Shivali Agrawal 
  • Poppy Pearce 
  • Christabel Hamer 

BoomSatsuma 

  • Izzie Bowker 
  • Madleen Grohganz 
  • Daniel Walsh 

South Gloucestershire and Stroud College 

  • Mitchell Norey 
  • Zara Shilakis 
  • Eliza Joynson 

Acta Theatre 

  • Dan Green 
  • Gillian Capen
  • Syndy Liew 

WECIL 

  • Hannah Munro 
  • Holly MacDonald 
  • Tayyab Jawed 

Unique Voice 

  • Alice Brion 
  • George Mayenga 

Voscur 

  • Ahra Nam 
  • Oliwia Kuden 
  • Miles Fenner 

St Peters Hospice 

  • Holly Ward 
  • Micol Greta Giannelli 
  • Rowan Browning 

Beyond the Bean 

  • Amy Cotterell 
  • Stephen Pearson 

Sustainability achievements in 2021

As a University, we’re committed to becoming net-zero carbon by 2030. We’re on a challenging but exciting journey to transform our estate into a beacon of environmental sustainability. 

While we still have a long way to go, it’s important to celebrate the wins along the way and keep everyone up-to-date with the progress being made. Here are just some of our sustainability achievements from the past 12 months: 

1.Upgraded our Energy Management System 

To help us understand and improve energy usage around the campus, we upgraded our Building Energy Management System. These smart control systems help us understand the impact of environmental conditions on different buildings and see where we’re overconsuming, particularly in laboratories and our larger halls of residence.  

2. Helped over 100 staff to buy a new bike  

We launched a new Cycle to Work Scheme in April, offering a wider range of bikes including e-bikes. The increased scheme limit of £2,500 can be used at Halfords, Tredz, and participating independent bike shops, helping even more staff buy a bike to travel to work sustainably.  

3. Secured investment for an electric fleet 

In May, the University allocated a £235,000 investment for new electric vehicles and e-cargo bikes for campus transport operations and electric pool bikes for staff business travel. Once in place, this new electric fleet will improve efficiency and environmental performance in transport operations, helping us align with Bristol’s planned Clean Air Zone, as well as our net-zero target.  

4. Became a Fairtrade University 

The University became a Fairtrade University in June, recognising the work done to embed ethical and sustainable practices in our curriculum, procurement, research and campaigns.    

5. Donated 12.5 tonnes of food to local charities 

In June the University also won a three-star Zero Waste award representing several years of hard work from the University’s catering and sustainability teams. In the last 12 months we donated 12.5 tonnes of food from across the University and Students Union to local charities through the Trussell Trust and FareShare South West, supporting those living in food poverty and reducing methane caused by food waste. 

6. Became the first university in the world to gain 100% Green Lab Certification 

All of the University’s 990 laboratories gained at least a bronze certification in the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF). Hundreds of staff within the STEM community were involved in implementing actions to improve energy efficiency, waste management, sustainable procurement and research quality.   

7. Recycled 14 tonnes of student items through the Bristol Big Give 

Our end-of-term re-use scheme in student accommodation, The Bristol Big Give, reused over 14 tonnes of materials and generated up to £24,000 for local charities, diverting countless unwanted items from landfill and supporting the circular economy.  

8. Installed 80 new recycling facilities 

Over the Summer we partnered with Reworked UK to install over 80 internal recycling facilities for even more single use plastic items including crisp packets, confectionary wrappers, single use non-hazardous PPE such as face masks and Lateral Flow Test kits.  

9. Saved nearly £0.5m through Sustainable Science & Green Labs initiatives 

STEM Laboratories at the University of Bristol account for 40% of our energy and waste budget as well as 32% of our annual water bill, but only occupy 6% of our space. The Sustainable Science & Green Labs initiative in 2020/21 helped make savings of nearly half a million pounds, through energy, water, waste, behaviour change and procurement projects. 

10. Joined IEMA as corporate members  

We’ve taken out corporate membership and gone through a rigorous process to become an Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) approved training centre so we can deliver sustainability skills for managers courses for staff. In addition, 45 students benefitted from free membership for the month of November, giving them access to events, learning resources and networking opportunities.  

11. Reused nearly 8 tonnes of furniture  

We collected and reused furniture from around the campus, with 80% repurposed within the University and the rest going to local schools, and charities such as SOFA Project. This saved the University £43,800 on buying new furniture and 13 tonnes of carbon it would’ve taken to manufacture new items. 

12. Introduced Climate Action Plans 

Each school and Division have been asked to write a plan and to nominate a contact for the University Sustainability team to work with in writing the plans. To date, about 70% of departments have nominated a coordinator, with 50% starting a plan and 25% moving onto implementing actions. We’re currently recruiting a CAP Officer to support with the rollout in the new year.  

On the heels of COP26, engagement and conversation around the topic of sustainability is at an all-time high. Now more than ever we need to work together to build momentum and continue creating change across the University.  

On a smaller scale, you can start to make a positive impact today by joining the 1,800 staff and students taking part in Be the Change. Register here to complete carbon saving activities and start earning points to be in with a chance of winning one of many £10 vouchers up for grabs each month.