This week the Sustainability Team headed north to York University for the annual conference of the Environmental Association of Universities & Colleges (EAUC). The conference is the main event for bringing together sustainability professionals from across the UK higher and further education sector and is a brilliant event to network, reflect on what the sector is achieving in sustainability and pick up on best practice from across the sector and the wider sustainability world.
- An example of the modernist architecture at York University where the EAUC Conference took place
The conference started with an opening address from Paul Roland from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) in the USA and Leanne Denby from Australian Campuses Towards Sustainability (ACTS) which gave the conference a good global perspective from the outset. As a result of linking up cross continents all EAUC members (University of Greenwich included) now has access to the resources from AASHE and vice versa allowing us to share the good practice we are doing here with our colleagues across the pond. At the conference AASHE, ACTS, the EAUC and a whole host of other national and international environmental education bodies agreed on a statement they will be signing to represent the global educational sector for the Rio 2012 Earth Summit.
The first keynote speaker was Dr Peter White; the Director of Global Sustainability from Proctor & Gamble (P&G), who gave us a perspective of sustainability from the private sector. He told us how P&G had worked out their greatest environmental impact related to their products was in the high use of energy used by their customers washing their laundry in hot water. Therefore designing a product that effectively washes clothes at 30 degrees was a key way in which they could reduce it. After developing such a washing powder P&G found the next challenge was to persuade customers to try it. While the majority of customers will say that they are keen on sustainability and green products in surveys and focus groups – they’ve found that the actual shopping practices are different. Around about 15% of P&G customers will happily buy a green product, 10% don’t care, but there is a 75% potentially sustainable mainstream who will go for a green product as long as it works well. This philosophy is one that P&G are rolling out across a range of products with significant environmental impacts.
Dr. White went on to give a background on sustainability at P&G, he emphasized how important a long term vision was for the company. Procter & Gamble have existed for 175 years and have aspirations to still be going strong in another 175 years time. He was unashamedly honest about the company’s reasons for wanting to do ‘sustainability’ well – for P&G it makes good business sense, he used an example of a water sanitiser product they had developed which is used in areas during disaster relief whereby one sachet can turn a dirty barrel of water into a clean, drinkable one. Why was this good for business? Despite this arm of P&G being a not-for-profit, the long term view behind this is that once these people who have used their products to create clean, safe drinking water are in a more comfortable situation they are then more likely to use P&G products (such as shampoo and toothpaste) in the future.
When asked by an audience member on what it takes to get consumers to be more sustainable Dr. White’s reply was – first make a really good sustainable product and make sure it works better than the previous products. Once you have that product, sell the fact that it works and then give the sustainability message after. Put in practice when advertising washing powder that works at 30 – start the advert with a clean shirt, then finish with the sustainability message after.
While the idea of sustainable products is better than unsustainable products the whole ethos of large scale global consumption and the resource use and waste creation that goes with this, is still something that is ultimately unsustainable. The question of sustainable consumerism and whether there is such a thing is a debate that does not have a clear answer. P&G’s vision is to reach the global population with its products, while a good long-term strategy for them, it is questionable though whether this is truly sustainable from a global perspective.
The rest of the day was filled up with workshops and networking. John Bailey headed to the workshop led by Daniel O’Conner from Newcastle University, Tom Yearly from Reading and Neil Smith from Southampton and Helen Cutts from Wigan & Leigh College on ‘Scaling Up Sustainability – The Importance of Environmental Co-ordinator networks’. With Sustainability Champions in mind the groups discussed what could be done to counter-act fatigue in staff sustainability networks and keep staff energised and performing. Tom Yearly was particularly keen on getting champions involved in energy data – he had run a pilot study with a sophisticated method of electronic data collection that champions were able to use to eliminate wasteful electrical equipment. The study had given the Reading champions the data to recognise what was using the most energy in their department resulting in the elimination of two vending machines and a significantly reduced energy bill!
Following the workshop was a presentation from the NUS Green Impact team’s Jamie Agombar who presented on the Green Impact Team’s plans for setting up as a separate entity from the NUS and expanding Green Impact across sectors. Certainly it is exciting to think that soon there could be organisations all over the country / world filling out Green Impact workbooks and improving their environmental impact. Following the Green Impact event John headed to have a ‘tweet-up’ with some of the more prevalent ‘tweeters’ in the higher education sustainability world. One viewpoint shared by all of those using twitter was how brilliant the twitter feed is for keeping up to date with stories and best practice from across the sector.
If you want to follow the Sustainability Team on twitter you can find us at: https://twitter.com/#!/Sust_Greenwich
More to come on day two and three of the EAUC Conference next week!