University environmental group set up to campaign for a greener campus

Image courtesy of: Marianne Martin

The Sustainability Working Group (SWG) is a direct by-product of the school of Anthropology and Conservation and is leading the charge for a greener UKC.

Project Lead Dr Charlie Gardner, a lecturer in conservation science for the university, is hard at work with like-minded students and staff pushing through what he believes is important change at a critical time.

“2030 is widely regarded as a serious deadline in which we have to have achieved serious change. We basically have to have halved our global emissions at the very least.

"This is a series of long processes that need to be started now, and it is dangerous having 2050 deadlines as it allows the government to kick the can down the road. These things need to be dealt with now”.

In May 2019, Keele University was the very first higher education institution to declare a “climate emergency” and since then, universities across the UK have followed suit and declared a state of “climate emergency” themselves.

Since then, the universities of Manchester, Warwick, Sussex, and Canterbury Christ Church University have also declared climate emergencies.

However, the University of Kent is absent from this list, despite Kent Union independently declaring a state of climate emergency.

Vice Chancellor Karen Cox released a statement detailing the university’s intentions concerning the environment: “We fully acknowledge the climate and ecological crisis facing the planet and strongly support Canterbury City Council’s recent declaration”.

Though the university has not officially declared a state of climate emergency, the statement also detailed the foundation of the SWG.

The Sustainability Working Group

The SWG is a group spearheaded by a mutual collaboration of lecturers and students from the School of Anthropology and Conservation, but they stress that this is not a requirement for contribution as the group has adopted a “more the merrier” approach to achieve one of their main goals of “addressing the limited options for environmentalism within other schools”, according to the project leader Dr Gardner.

The School of Anthropology and Conservation (SAC) has declared a state of climate emergency, creating the SWG to achieve two primary emission-orientated goals.

First, they want to achieve a 45% reduction in the school’s total emissions by 2025. Secondly, they want to claim carbon-neutrality by 2040.

They believe that by achieving these goals they can create a repeatable “blueprint for success” for other schools at the University.

Dr Gardener added: “There is an opportunity for leadership via developing working models which would make the transition easier, we can create a blueprint for success that schools across the University can adopt without having to reinvent the wheel”.

When asked about whether the university should do more for the environment, Gardner said, “Yes I do. UCAS polling consistently shows that students across the country feel that universities should be more engaged with sustainability.

"It is important that they do as it is the role of the university to contribute positively to society, we are thought to be leaders in many ways.

"We are overly focused on two ways of learning and changing: training and research — both are important but the world needs to change very fast and universities need to set an example right now.

"They have a responsibility to lead these changes and model them for society."

Charlie Gardner also goes on to detail the benefits for students the SWG offers beyond environmentalism: “The group offers the opportunity to meet like-minded people with shared interest but also improves your employability beyond what your course offers.”

Katie Hargrave-Smith, a 3rd year studying Environmental social science details her experiences as a member of the group since Charlie and Miguel, the original sustainability champions, expanded the group’s missions to capture “as much participation as possible".

“I would never have imagined then that I would be comfortable sitting in a room with academics, PhD students, support staff and fellow undergraduates, joining in a discussion and being listened to as an equal.

"I would never have guessed that I would assist in composing a written Declaration of Climate and Environmental Emergency.

"There was no way I would have been willing to stand up and speak in front of a lecture theatre so full that people were sat on the stairs at the public event where the declaration was announced.

"These are only some of the opportunities that I have been afforded by being a member of the SWG”.

Students and staff who wish to be a part of their mission should get in contact with Dr Gardner directly, or follow the group's Instagram.

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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