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Now is the time to take climate action

Judges from all over the UK and Ireland met recently to select the Green Gown Awards winners. It’s an inspirational and hope-filled task when we find that even in the face of the disruption and trauma of the Covid 19 pandemic, universities and colleges have, as ever, stepped-up to sustainability.

A who’s who of leading names from the education, business, governments and sustainability bodies, judging day is a unique opportunity to ask what more can the Awards do to lead the sector in its recovery and to further advance climate action.

The 90 judges were joined by a lunch-time Panel of cross-sector experts to inspire our thinking:

Chris Dunford, UKRI Head of Environmental Sustainability (Chair)
Sally Wilson, Head of Publishing, Emerald Publishing
James Longhurst, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Environment and Sustainability, UWE and Chair of the Board of Trustees, EAUC
Imelda Phadtare, Visiting Research Fellow, Global Sustainability Institute of Anglia Ruskin University
Richard Murphy, Managing Director, TEC
Jon Greenwood, MBE, Director of Commercial Services at the University of York/CUBO Exec for Partnerships and Sustainability

The Panel were united in their view that the pandemic offers unique opportunities for sector innovation, change and leadership, saying that “now is the time to look forward and consider whole-institution ways of working”. The Panel encouraged us that this is especially an opportunity for collective and collaborative change and especially change to ensure universities and colleges are not tempted back to the “old normal”. With more institutions committing to Net Zero emission targets, our sector needs support to identify institutions are on their sustainability journey and to set the bar higher.

Emphasis was particularly placed on having climate adaptation plans and the tools created by the EAUC and the Climate Commission, particularly the HE Climate Action Toolkit (launched on 4th February) and the FE Climate Action Roadmap will further support institutions. Specifically, the Panel felt that a multi-layered approach to tackling climate change was needed. Embedding environmental understanding and skills into the curriculum, taking cost-effective environmental campus actions and showing the value and impact on cost-savings. Now is the very time to vision and plan net-zero strategy and action plans, re-evaluate operational processes, train staff and use the current disrupted time ready for a new chapter of enhanced delivery and achievement when the pandemic lifts.

To recover from the pandemic, the Panel recognised the power of the Green Gown Awards in recognising and celebrating the great civic work institutions are doing during the pandemic – much of which will continue long after the pandemic ends. We are a sector that is versatile, collaborative and forward-thinking. We are at the forefront of much of the research and collaboration that is leading to wide-scale global change. The Green Gown Awards have a vital role to play here in not only recognising and celebrating this fantastic work, but also disseminating and scaling it - by sharing good practice between institutions and highlighting Award-winning approaches that can be embraced internationally and outside of academia.

The Green Gown Awards occupy a very special place. They force us to ask what our institutions are doing well, and, of course, what they could be doing better. They raise the bar. And right now,  importantly, they are the opportunity, in the months and years to come, as we recover from the most shocking pandemic in living memory, to tell the story of how UK and Irish institutions have collaborated to build back better and play a pivotal and leading role in tackling climate action, in even these most challenging of times. We are united as a sector to take climate action now.

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