Introducing our new Student Sustainable Goals Ambassadors (Part One)

As part of the University’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and our under our FutureProof behaviour change project the Sustainability Team have recruited a group of amazing students who are Kent’s first Sustainable Development Goals Ambassadors.

The SDGs or the Global Goals are 17 goals that outline the vision for a sustainable world by 2030. The 17 goals and underlying targets were created and signed by 193 countries at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in 2015. The goals seek to finish the job that was started by the Millennium Goals which ran from 2000 to 2015 and brought 850,000,000 people out of extreme poverty and yet saw carbon emissions increase by 9,850,000 kilotons.

The Student Sustainable Development Goals ambassadors’ role is to promote the goals to fellow students and staff; encourage, motivate and support the Staff Sustainability Champions network; increase the ease of reporting on sustainability achievements within the University; increase student staff collaboration; and lead on their own sustainability projects.

From the role we aim to support students in understanding more about sustainability; equip them with useful skills for future employability; and recognise their efforts with employability points.

In their own words, over the next few blogs posts we will introduce this year’s cohort of Sustainable Goals Ambassadors.


Huda

My name is Huda and I’m an architecture postgraduate student from Sudan, Africa. I’ve always been interested about animals and conservation, as a child I’d watch natgeo documentaries just as much as i watched cartoon network. I always wondered what i could do as an individual to preserve the planet for both animals and people, the answer was sustainability as a lifestyle, not just a trend. Living in a poor country made me interested in low cost solutions specifically that help improve people’s quality of life on a tight budget and without impacting our environment. Therefore, as an architect, my focus in the Sustainable development goals is on sustainable cities and communities.

During a trip to zanzibar, the hotel owner showed me how he built wells for the village using plastic bottles. His idea provided clean water, cleaned the beach of plastics, provided a source of income for the village ladies in filling the plastic bottles and taught villagers how to build using this sustainable method all in one solution. My ambitions for my role as a sustainability ambassador is to advocate for solutions that have a multitude of benefits both environmentally and economically.

Adrian

Hello, my name is Adrian Joyeux. I’m a 2nd year student studying Politics and International Relations with French. At this moment I cannot think of anything else to describe myself that doesn’t sound rehearsed or boring. So, instead I have chosen to just state three random sustainable or earth related facts that are dear to my heart, because anyone that knows me will now that I absolutely LOVE random facts. The first random fact, is about me, I currently take up about 3 earths (meaning that if everyone lived like me, then it would take 3 earths to sustain my lifestyle). The odd thing about it is that I am happy about it. Before then I took up 6.5 planets, so I have definitely improved somewhere. The second random fact, is that the earth is constantly recycling. Nature uses everything to sustain and grow the environment. The third fact, is that it takes about 2,700 litres of water to produce 1 cotton t- shirt.

I am taking part in the Sustainability Goals program on campus for two main reasons. One reason being, today we are seeing drastic changes in the world both good and bad and nature is reacting.   More and more people are being forced to immigrate to other countries due to environmental reasons. Sadly, one day, places like the beautiful sandy beach and clear blue sea waters of the Maldives will disappear. Reports, are stating that many countries such as South Africa, Mexico, and even the United Kingdom has or will have a day zero were they cannot provide continuous running water. The other reason I am taking part of this program is because I would like to learn more about sustainability internationally and domestically and to see how we as individuals and organizations can make an impactful change in sustainable living and production.

By taking part in this program I believe I can make a positive impact by promoting the various sustainable actions the University is participating in and hopefully creating action that will be adopted by the University.  I aim to mix various goals together such as goal 6: Clean water and sanitation, goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy and goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities. I hope the chain reaction will affect other developmental goals.

Louise

My name is Louise Al-Hakkak. I’m a French exchange student here for a year. I study social sciences, politics, law and international relations at my home university. I was part of the Environment society there and took care of an organic vegetable garden on campus. I’m passionate about nature, Latin America, languages, politics and geopolitics, history, photography and environmental issues.

I’m interested in sustainability because I think it is crucial that we limit our impact on the earth as quick as possible so that we can have a habitable environment for ourselves but most importantly so that we stop destroying biodiversity.

The goals I’m most passionate about are No Poverty (1), Clean Water and Sanitation (6), Reduced Inequalities (10), Responsible Consumption and Production (12), Life Below Water (14) and Life on Land (15). Goals 1 and 10 tackle social problems which I would like to see eradicated. I like goal 6 because the sustainability workshop made me realise how important sanitation is and why it is so important that everyone has access to it. The water aspect is also very important when we see that water is being privatised in many parts of the world. Goal 12 is probably my favourite one as it is the one which tackles consumerism and waste. Finally, goals 14 and 15 concern biodiversity which is a big concern right now seeing the state of the ocean and how many species are going extinct almost every week.

My ambition for the role is to be able to have a real impact on campus, to feel that I’m useful and that I am actually helping to move towards the Sustainable Development Goals. I would like to work around recycling, food waste, reducing packaging …

 

 

Plastic straws are a scapegoat. It’s time for big companies to change

Guest post: Mark Roberts is CEO of Conscious Creatives, a group of like-minded individuals pursuing a greater purpose through our work. Saving the planet by producing branding and digital communications packages that place sustainability at their heart and deliver long term revenue.

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There will be more plastic than fish in our oceans by 2050.

That is the reality of the situation we find ourselves in after decades of plastic abuse.

Plastic straws, in particular, have hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Poignant footage of a straw being removed from a turtle’s nose highlights the problem in microcosm.

But of the nearly 9 million tonnes of plastic waste that hits our oceans every year, just 2,000 tonnes comes in the form of plastic straws. That’s 0.22%. So is banning straws the answer our environment is crying out for?

The demand for change

Recently there has been a wave of support for plastic-free alternatives and for the reduction of plastic use altogether. Organisations like Surfers Against Sewage are helping people turn their local communities into plastic-free zones and companies like Costa Sunglasses are turning plastic waste into sunglasses.

This awareness is fantastic and it helps consumers understand the importance of why they should pay attention to this scourge of the sea. One comment I heard recently though was “I didn’t ask for my products to come in this kind of packaging, it’s not my fault”. Infuriating as the lack of responsibility was at the time, I actually understand why the comment was made.

At a time when climate change has become more and more evident and we have documentaries like Blue Planet 2 highlighting the over-consumption of plastics it now goes beyond the consumer to governments and corporations to do their part.

The role of politics and industry

At the highest level, the United Nations and its member states are working towards the Sustainable Development Goals. These include 17 major areas of sustainability that go far beyond just plastic, seeking to eradicate hunger and social inequality as well.

The corporation part comes from the work done by the UN Global Compact, which partners with businesses all over the world to collaborate on the agendas set out by the UN. Some of the largest businesses in the world are part of this group and in theory this is a great step towards the highest authorities taking responsibility.

However, Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director for the UN Global Compact explained at a recent sustainable business summit that we need to be spending around 2 trillion dollars per year to meet these goals. At the moment, we are well short of that target.

To most of us, 2 trillion USD sounds like an awful lot. Here in the UK, the high street banks pull in 12 trillion GBP per year, with a shadow banking sector adding another 2 trillion GBP. It’s not that the money is not available to solve all of these problems — the reason we have not solved them is that they are simply less important than profits for the elite. If one sector from one country could save the planet, imagine what would happen if the whole world took part.

Single-use plastics: the consumer dilemma

As consumers we are stuck in two minds: either we wait for the giant companies to do something when they feel like it, or we engage our inner activist and make choices that force businesses to listen. The person who made the statement above may feel powerless, frustrated and ultimately a little guilty that their consumer habits are impacting the world in a way they don’t want. But there are reasons for optimism.

One example of a good fight against a giant corporation is Greenpeace’s work against Coca-Cola. With all of their various products they produce an estimated 100 billion throwaway plastic bottles per year. They are very much at the centre of this problem.

Coca-Cola, however, have done what many corporations have done — acknowledged the problem but offered no real solution. Coca-Cola Europe have committed to their packaging being 100% reusable or recyclable by 2025, but that’s the only hardened objective that the entire company have set forth.

If we as consumers stopped buying Coca-Cola products then it wouldn’t take long before they noticed. This is where the power of the consumer comes in. Whether we feel like it or not — and it may be very difficult to accept — we do have a choice.

Other organisations like Iceland have vowed to remove single-use plastics from their shelves, so why can’t companies like Coca-Cola follow suit?

Positive action you and I can take today

I offer then a conclusion that lies in action. No longer can we sit on the fence. We have to take a stand and ask ourselves what kind of state we wish to leave the planet in for future generations. The choices we make right now will affect billions of people, present and future.

It is not fair that the giant manufacturers are using our busy lives and desire for a good life as a way of profiteering at the cost of the planet. It’s now time to move past being angry at that fact and face the reality of what needs to be done.

I urge you to find your local zero waste store, explore what they have and ask lots of questions. By local, buy high quality and buy less. Look for the places that offer paper straws instead of plastic straws but understand that while this problem is way bigger than any individual, this is our stand for what we believe in.

If you feel inspired do not stop there. Speak to your local council, your local MPs and your local businesses to see what they are doing to tackle the problems that the environment faces. The more people that show they care, the more likely the big companies will make the changes required so that we as the consumer can have the choices we really want and the planet really needs.

 

Why water?

Recently I asked the sustainability champions of the University of Kent to pick out one of the Global Goals that resonated with them. A goal that they felt was really important to them, and that they themselves could do something to help make a reality. You can read more about my call to action in our blog post about the Global Goals.

I am not one to issue a challenge without taking it on myself so I looked at the goals and tried to pick one out. Now as a sustainability professional they all resonate with me, so that was not a great starting place for narrowing them down to one. I trained and worked as a wildlife conservationist so found myself drawn to 14 and 15; as an avid gardener and ‘Good Life’ wannabe number 2 seemed a good pick also; I work in Higher Education so number 4 was super important to me; so it was not long before I found myself making a good justification for each of the 17 goals as to what I do and can do for them.

I mulled this over for a few days and then one day it was clear to me. There is one thing I always have on my desk. No matter the time of day, be it my desk at work or home, there is always a glass of water next to me. I tracked how much water I drank in a day, it was close to 3 liters. Then, without getting too graphic when you drink that much water that mean quite a few trips to the loo!

It is something I think a lot of us take for granted, I know I do. I am fortunate to live somewhere where I can access clean water from a tap only a few steps away, and I can go to the loo somewhere safe and clean. This is not the case for everyone.

There is another aspect to this which on this day, March 8th, International Women’s Day makes me think harder about how important access to water is. Figures collated from Water.org from a number of sources including the UN and the World Health organisation show that:

  • Women and children spend 125 million hours each day collecting water
  • Women and girls living without a toilet spend 266 million hours each day finding a place to go
  • Women and children bear the primary responsibility for water collection
  • Women and girls often spend up to 6 hours each day collecting water
  • Reductions in time spent collecting water have been found to increase school attendance
  • Globally, 1/3 of all schools lack access to safe water and sanitation
  • Involving women can make water projects 6 to 7 times more effective

I don’t know about you but not being able to access a toilet that is clean, private and safe, especially when on my period sounds frightening and would strip an individual of their dignity. The taboos around menstruation still exist and even in the UK many women will know the dance of hiding sanitary products up their sleeves so they can walk through the office to the loo. Now couple this taboo with schools that do not have anywhere for the disposal of sanitary products, and toilets that only designed for men (urinals). By keeping girls from going to the loo they are not going to remain in school especially as they reach their teenage years, and with the pressure to walk further and further to collect clean drinking water as climate change reduces access to water many girls will miss huge chunks of education.

This is why I have picked Global Goal 6 as my goal to champion.

So, now we know the problem, what can we do?

  • Raise awareness – tell people about this issue
  • Support the Global Goals
  • Support charities that are working on the ground with women where the problem is felt the worst e.g. water.org, Water Aid etc
  • Find out what is happening here in the UK – Homeless women rarely have access to clean toilets and sanitary products during menstruation – http://thehomelessperiod.com/ 
  • Don’t take the access we have to clean water and sanitation for granted!