Here’s a guest post by Phoebe Cullingworth about the University of York’s shocking Green League Result.
It is the season of university league tables, and students are paying attention to every slip down the ladder and every climb. Next year new undergrads will be made to shell out three times as much money as before to pay for their higher education, and as a fair exchange for this drastic hitch in prices, students expect to receive more bang for their buck. They will choose their university place with more precision than ever before, basing their decision not only on academic status but also on increasingly important factors to young people, things such as graduate employability and environmental sustainability. The latter is covered by People and Planet’s thorough and award-winning Green League, which ranks universities according to various criteria of environmental responsibility, ranging from ethical procurement to the extent to which sustainability features in the curriculum.
I am not at all surprised that my university, The University of York, has plummeted down the Green League this year, having seen first-hand the near absence of a sense of environmental responsibility by the university’s Senior Management Committee. We have fallen down the league by 43 places this year, scoring 126th out of a total of 145 universities and attaining a poor third-class degree. I am disheartened, but it does not come as a surprise because I have grown increasingly frustrated with the the attitude displayed by what I expected to be an institution of forward thinking, a role model to its students. We have no full-time member of staff dedicated to and experienced in issues of the environment or sustainability to coordinate efforts to improve our campus impact on our surroundings. Staff and student concerns about sustainability therefore go unheard by uncommunicative University management. There is no sense of an urgent problem, when students and teaching staff see that there quite clearly is one.
I arrived three years ago with the (possibly naive) expectation that, at such a renowned institution, one filled with world experts on various subjects and the home of the Stockholm Environment Institute, environmental sustainability would be ingrained into every aspect of university life, seamlessly incorporated into every decision. It mattered to me and to many of my peers, and I don’t even study the respected Environmental Science or Biology degrees! Of all places, I thought that Universities would be the first to take the lead, to respond to the scientific evidence of climate change and to begin to make the transition from a fossil fuel dependant society to a carbon neutral one. As celebrated hubs of education, of innovation, and of the support of young people’s intellectual creativity I took it as a given that when the world needs to sit up and respond with urgency to a global crisis, Universities would lead the way.
Unfortunately I was bitterly disappointed. At York there are people making a huge difference to the environmental and ethical impact of such a large institution, but it comes from the hard campaigning and dedication of students and the teaching staff in their spare time, not from the top down. No decision is made with environmental sustainability seamlessly woven into it like I expected. In fact I know that it is simply seen as “eco-bling”, a quote from a pro-vice chancellor describing what she sees as an unnecessary and superfluous expense. (http://www.nouse.co.uk/?s=Eco+bling) I have sat, incredulous, in meetings where York’s recent Sustainability Strategy has been drafted, the words “financial sustainability” added to every sentence as a loophole to avoid making real targets for commitment to ENVIRONMENTAL sustainability.
What I can’t quite believe is that the excuse of tight finances always rears its ugly head as a response to student and teaching staff campaigns for the university to show some environmental responsibility. This argument just doesn’t make sense. One staff member has complained that their building looses so much precious heat in the winters through old windows and doors. Why wouldn’t the university invest in proper insulation? The reply from the pro-vice chancellor for estates was that it was not a financial priority. To insulate a building properly so that heat does not escape and become wasted would save money, surely thats obvious?To invest in renewable technology would also save the university money, but our recent £750 million campus expansion has been left powered by fossil fuels despite the promise of wind power or biomass fuel. The fact that it was built on Green Belt land just adds salt to the wound, and frankly, is something I learnt about the negative effects of in GCSE geography. Come on University of York, show some, intelligent, forward thinking PLEASE!
Upon hearing the result of the Green League, Spin Pitman, a second year Chemistry student said “I chose York because they seemed to be heading in the right direction by promising to build two wind turbines along with Heslington East. I hope this result gives them the wake up call they need so they can get their act together. I find it ironic that at the same time as producing world leading environmental research, management can continue to show such blatant disregard for sustainability.”
So come on York, wake up, smell the coffee and catch up with all those universities above you in the Green League making environmental progress. Your staff and students are waiting.