July 2, 2019, by sustainablenottingham

Recycling, Fairtrade Footballs and Climate Change: A Reflection

Our student intern Meg reflects on her year as Sustainability Communications and Engagement Assistant for the University of Nottingham. 

When I first saw the sustainability engagement assistant role advertised, I talked myself out of the role: I won’t have time, someone else will be better than me; a friend pointed out that 6 hours a week isn’t actually that much, when there are 7 days in the week, and that I wouldn’t lose anything by applying. So, I applied…

Me on our first Fairtrade information stand at Jubilee.

Initially I felt a bit lost, the breadth of the team’s work is vast, and I only caught snippets in the few hours I was in the office. Luckily, within a few weeks I relaxed, got into a rhythm and joined in on conversation tangents typical for a Friday afternoon- mice made from walnuts? What other animals can you make out of walnuts? What is your best bee related pun?

My first trip was to the Enva sorting site for recycling at Colwick. The tour shocked me because the majority of sorting is still done by hand, staff wear masks to protect them from the dust and thick gloves; if something sharp or harmful has been put in a recycling bin, it ends up on the conveyor belt and the whole sorting operation is halted. Prior to the trip, I was definitely guilty of disconnecting from my waste once I put it in a recycling bin, but now I realise that I need to make more of an effort to make sure what I put in the recycling bin is clean and recyclable. You can watch the highlights of the tour on our Instagram page.

Much of the recycling waste sent to Colwick is sorted by hand. Materials underneath a green sign can be sold as a useful product, materials with red signs cost money to dispose of.

By mid-November I had settled into a routine: social media analytics at the start of the month; check the calendar for events to publicise and promote events happening at the University. Fairtrade fortnight was at the end of February, so I didn’t feel much pressure to start planning it. As I started noting down ideas for the two week celebration, I realised: 1) I hadn’t thought about Fairtrade since I was around 13 in school, 2) two weeks is a long time to have full of events and 3) for a university wide celebration, I should have started planning earlier!

Planning Fairtrade fortnight took up the bulk of my time working for the Sustainability team and taught me the most. I learnt about fast fashion and how Fairtrade clothing can help to ensure that factory workers have basic working rights. I learnt about modern slavery and how likely it is that the clothes we wear, the food we eat and the technology we use has slavery in its supply chain – the global slavery index illustrates this perfectly. I also learnt about event planning and met many inspirational and proactive people from various parts of the university. The one skill I never thought I would need or struggle with is writing emails! It is harder than it sounds to write an email to someone you’ve never met before, asking them to do something for you.

One of my favourite photos from the Fairtrade football photo competition!

If you had asked me if I could see myself on an information stall – often by myself, I would have said, ‘absolutely not’. However, having found something that I was passionate about and that I wanted to share with the university community, I loved engaging with staff and students about Fairtrade and what their thoughts were about it. Perhaps the most surprising part of my Fairtrade Fortnight journey was our #UoNBalaBall campaign. Football is not something that I had previously paid attention to, so I did not expect to be running around the football pitches at David Ross Sports Village in the rain, with a Fairtrade football, asking people to have their photo taken!

After the excitement of Fairtrade fortnight, I focused on promoting the travel survey on social media and renewing the bike puncture repair list on our website. My next big event was the EAUC Influence conference, hosted at the University of Manchester. The conference brings together professionals working in sustainability at higher and further education institutions. The two-day event was packed with keynote sessions and workshops, where members present current projects. Some highlights for me were:

  • A keynote session from Mary Creagh MP and Lucy Siegle, particularly looking at plastic and fast fashion- I recommend listening to Mary’s podcast ‘Emergency on Planet Earth’. Mary is currently Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee which has recently published a report on the state of the British fashion industry- it does not look good. The UK alone throws away over a million tonnes of clothing a year; the global fashion industry emitted 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2 in 2016.

    An informative graphic by Carbon Credentials from the opening keynote of the EAUC conference.

  • A workshop on air pollution, which fell on Clean Air Day 2019. According to UN Environment, air pollution kills more than 6 million people every year, making it the World’s biggest environmental health risk. We shared ideas on how Universities can be trail blazers in promoting clean air and reducing their emissions.
  • A keynote where Maeve Cohen, co-director of campaigns for Rethinking Economics, highlighted the importance of university curriculums reflecting the net-zero carbon future, where everyone must live and work in a more sustainable way.

The conference left me feeling inspired, motivated and with a strong sense that we can reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but everyone- particularly students! – needs to play their part in making a noise and asking for real change at a national and international level.

Overall, this role has taught me about working in an office, events planning, professional communication skills and about many sustainable issues. My best moment in the job was the EAUC conference, closely followed by Fairtrade fortnight. My top tip for the role would be to set yourself some short- and long-term goals early on- the time flies! Having reflected on my role this year, I want to continue learning about and promoting sustainable issues; ideally, I would like to utilise my degree in Maths and Physics- if you have any ideas please share them!

Posted in conferencesEnvironmentrecyclingStudentssustainability