International Women’s Day 2019: Whose job is it to save the world?

Blog post by Emily Mason. Sustainability Coordinator at the University of Kent. 


On this International Women’s Day I wanted to just write a short note on something that has been intriguing me for a while now and perhaps start a conversation with others in the sector to see if they experience the same.

I have been working in sustainability within Higher Education (HE) for just over 8 years now and I have noticed something that is perplexing me. Whenever I recruit student volunteers onto a sustainability project or internships, or when teaching sustainability modules, the people that show up are predominantly women. Thinking back across all the projects I have run it is a very rare occasion that men make up more than 25% of the room.

This doesn’t go unnoticed. The students themselves often ask me if this is normal to which I answer yes. But when they ask why, I cannot answer them, as I do not actually know. I often ask the students why they think this is the case and I have heard a wide variety of responses but the one that is most common is:

“Caring roles are often associated with women, so why should caring for the planet be any different.”

There have been lots of variations on this of course but this particular student’s words have stuck in my head. I ask students how they feel about this and many including the men express frustration that 1: caring roles across society are undervalued 2: that any role/job is gendered 3: and that the sustainability movement in HE should not be left up to women to sort out.

A few of the male students have expressed that many of the projects within sustainability are collaborative and that they have to check their ego at the door and try not to assume a leadership role, and sometimes this can be a little difficult, but also rewarding.

Now these anecdotal experiences do not a reason make and despite trying to find some research on this I have come up empty. However, when chatting with those who do a similar role to me at other Universities I have found that I am not the only one experiencing this. If anyone does know of any good research or insights on this then please send it my way!

Last year Green Business reported on gender in the sustainability industry and despite the clear wealth of talented women who are becoming professionals in sustainability there was an alarming discovery:

“In sustainability roles, women are earning less than men. According to the latest CR Sustainability survey from recruitment consultants Acre, published in 2016, the global average salary for corporate responsibility professionals stood at £67,408 for men, compared to £55,148 for women. This is despite there being a 51:49 gender split in the industry in favour of women. In the UK, average corporate responsibility salaries are £63,180 for men and £52,170 for women. While there are signs that the sector’s gender salary gap is narrowing, it is still most definitely there.

And it’s not just in the business world that this pattern of gender inequality plays out. At the UN negotiations in Bonn last year, almost half of attendees were women but under 30 per cent of government delegations were led by women. Here too, women are not equally represented at the top of the ladder.”

So whilst the gender ratio seems to even out in industry the gender pay gap rears its ugly head. It seems the future focused industry of sustainability is not immune to backward thinking.

I recommend reading the whole article which gives some valuable insights into why this is the case in our industry as well as many others.

So whose job is it to save the world? Obviously it is all of ours (in particular the 100 companies that are responsible for 71% of global carbon emissions) but I am yet to get to the bottom of why within HE it is female students that are leading charge of sustainability. Whatever the reason, I hope that by the time some of them are sustainability professionals and leaders, they are being paid the same as their male counterparts.

Introducing our new Student Sustainable Goals Ambassadors (Part Two)

Celina

Hey!!

My name is Celina, and I’m basically a product of 3 different countries; Born in Portugal, but my family is from this little island called Sao Tome (which you’ve probably never heard about, but it’s okay!), however, I consider London to be my home now.

I am studying Biomedical Sciences, and I am on my first year. I’ve chosen this course because, although I’ve had many career aspirations when I was younger, caring for people and somehow contribute to a happier and better world has always been a consistent theme for me.

I am quite a simple person to be honest, and enjoy the most generic things you can think about, like watching movies, dancing, learning about new cultures, going out with friends and partying, you know…nothing too out of the ordinary really!

Now, why am I interested in sustainability?

The concept of sustainability was something that I’ve been hearing about for a long time. However, it was first taught to me in a very traditional sense; “climate change is bad” “the ice caps are melting” “the sea levels are rising” “biodiversity is decreasing substantially”, which sadly, are all true and terrifying. But it has never crossed my mind how much more interlinked sustainability is with many of the important issues that are currently going on.

When we take, for instance, the example of gender equality, and we look at the fact that only in 42 countries do woman hold more than 30% of the national legislature seats, or that girls still do not have the same educational opportunities as boys in countries in western Asia for example, we might think “oh, how unfortunate”. But by taking this further, we can reach the conclusion that this will make them more prone to suffering the effects of climate change; in a place where girls and woman are uneducated, they are much more likely to be responsible for providing their families with food or water, and if these sources are disrupted as a result of climate change, then they would have to travel further and spend more time looking for that water, which in turn decreases their chances of getting education, creating a vicious cycle with seemingly no end.

This is just one example of how sustainability applies to social, economic and environmental issues, and how it isn’t “just” about “the polar bears dying” (which I honestly don’t understand why it isn’t enough to make people take this more seriously, I mean, look at them!)


But it does concerns so many other things, and in a lot of cases, it will be the most vulnerable people who will end up living the consequences. Actual human lives are at stake here, and something needs to be done.

Learning about all about these things and much more, made me want to act; Sustainability affects everyone everywhere, and it is our responsibility! We must do something about it. Thinking about what is happening and how preventable it is, is to me as hopeful as it is infuriating. But I do have hope, and I do think that bit by bit, we can encourage more and more people to change the way they see sustainability.

Which goal am I passionate about and why?

While I consider all 17 goals to be of great importance, since they are so strongly interlinked with both sustainability and the things I am personally passionate about, one of the goals I find the most relevant at the moment is that of climate change this is because when we have leaders, whether in the government or in other positions of power bluntly stating that our actions are not indeed contributing to climate change, knowing that the majority of the scientific community agrees that that is actually what is happening, is not only unbelievable but also discouraging.

People in such positions believing and spreading such ideologies are dangerous, especially knowing that a lot of the times their only aim is to score political points and being on someone’s side. It’s beyond me how they do not seem to look at this problem as the unfortunate threat that it actually is, and how things such as carbon emissions, animal endangerment or natural catastrophes are not enough to alarm them about the prospect of such a dangerous future for the generations to come.

My ambitions for the role:

My main aim with this role is to motivate and encourage a group of people to change how they choose to think of sustainability, regardless of how big or small that group is; I would like to help fix that disconnect that people feel between themselves and the idea of sustainability, and help them get rid of the notion that their actions don’t matter, and that whatever they do will not make a difference.

Also, because there is already an increasing number of sustainability friendly businesses running which are very successful, and I would like to help promote them and not only learn from them myself, but hopefully help to reinforce the idea that sustainability is not only possible, but also economical and leads to a world where everyone benefits from.

There are so many things I still do not know and have to learn about, but hopefully this is a journey that I can take together along with everyone else and help people be more proactive when it comes to these issues!

Sarah

My name is Sarah, I am from Libya. I am a postgraduate student, studying architecture and the sustainable environment. I am also a youth activist working with the NGO ‘Makers of Hope.’

I am interested in sustainability because it is the only way to ensure our future generations have a healthy life. I believe that sustainability is very crucial and that every person should carry a sustainable lifestyle. Leading a sustainable lifestyle will reduce the chronic problem of climate change.

I am passionate about goal number 7, 11 , 12 and 13. Personally I believe all the goals are important however these goals stand out to me as an Architect. Firstly, these four goals are connected for instance by being responsible in terms of consumption whether it’s food or plastic production, the less we consume or rather when we consume exactly the amount we need, this will lead reduction in climate change effect. Furthermore, one of the most important issues of our generation and the upcoming is the non-renewable energy therefore we should advocate more the use of renewable clean energy which is also a parameter effecting climate change. Lastly, with the ever-increasing population of the world, more cities will be designed roughly around 2000 more to host the increasing number of people. These people need to live in a inclusive sustainable cities that can provide comfortable acceptable living standards.

My ambition as an ambassador is that every student on campus is aware of the sustainable development goals. Furthermore, that they are aware of their responsibilities as individuals on this planet. I want the students on campus to be more compassionate towards the problems that occurring in the world and to take action.

Michael

Hi, I’m Mike! I’m a fourth-year student who has recently come back from a year abroad placement in Hong Kong. I am currently volunteering as a Radio Presenter, School Representative, Global Officer, and co-organising this year’s TEDxUniversityofKent event.

Outside of university, I am an avid traveller, highly interested learning about different cultures and traditions when meeting people from my personal travels.

 

My first spark of interest becoming more sustainable was seeing the alarming rates of extinction surrounding animals. I began becoming more attentive to the huge realm of sustainability and realised how unaware we truly are as citizens of how impactful our day-to-day lifestyle choices are. By becoming interested in sustainability, I want to learn how to become more sustainable in my lifestyle choices and how to reduce the impact we have on the world.

Although I am deeply passionate about all 17 UN sustainability goals. I have particularly worked on Goal 4, Quality Education in a start-up. Recently my team and I have founding an app “Ins-Tutors” aligning with the goal of providing Quality Education. This proved successful in the KentAppChallenge taking 2nd place. With this app, we plan to provide education in developing parts of the world and provide education for everyone and anyone.

From this role, I want to deepen my knowledge around the realms of sustainability and what measures I can to become more sustainable. From this, I hope to and educate myself and students to become more conscious when making their day-to-day decisions.

 

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 …