How is the university responding to the climate crisis, and is it enough?
The Glasgow University Environmental Sustainability Team (GUEST) is employed by the University as part of the internship hub to promote sustainability on campus. In their new office space, I met with Katy Homyer, Katrina Wilson-Gowans and Blair Anderson, who are responsible for sustainable laboratories, waste, food, biodiversity, communications and travel on the GUEST team. We had a chat about their jobs, what the University is doing to tackle the climate crisis in the aftermath of declaring a climate emergency, and the level of student engagement with sustainability.
GUEST consists of twelve students who are responsible for different branches of the Team, committed to working as a link between the University and students.
On Thursday 28 November 2019, GUEST will be hosting a general election debate in the Senate Room with candidates from five parties, discussing their policies on the climate emergency. In addition to this, the team has been running workshops whilst trying to encourage student engagement with the university on matters of the climate crisis, such as a recent workshop during Design Week.
In this workshop, both students and staff could come up with ideas on how to improve sustainability on campus.
“It was really productive,'' said Anderson. “We got lots of great ideas, some of them around issues that we’re already working on, other cool new potential ideas like teleconferencing to minimize the flights, and stuff about heating and ventilation and using the building materials, and these were ideas from staff and students. Some of these are ideas we will hopefully be able to put to the university as a whole and make a case for it. It’s really good to see experiences from people across the university, and I think we should be trying to get people as involved as possible."
In recent times, the University of Glasgow has been called out for lacking ambition in its goals for achieving a more sustainable carbon footprint, and the GUEST team acknowledge the frustration that students have expressed in this regard. “The issue is that we are working out how to do more about the climate emergency because it’s not as easy as just turning off all the lights on campus,” Homyer said. A point that Wilson-Gowans builds on, noting that not enough has been done to communicate the efforts and progress made on the sustainability front.
“I understand why people are frustrated because they think ‘declaration one day and then nothing for six months’, or what seems like nothing, but behind the scenes, there is all the groundwork being done,'' Anderson says. Some of this groundwork includes the work of a sustainability working group and the drafting of a new strategy to tackle the climate crisis. There is also a working group of senior academics that are currently rethinking business travel, and GUEST is making efforts to promote sustainable commuting practices among students and staff, such as through their weekly bike hub where students can get their bikes seen and fixed by a mechanic for free.
There are also community and wildlife gardens, which have a steady turnout and are open to students, and Wilson-Gowans states that according to a recent audit done by a zoology student, the biodiversity on campus has improved in recent years.
While the team had a branch on the involvement of sustainability in the curriculum in the past, this ran into hurdles with academic freedom. Instead, they are now hoping to roll out a staff training module about sustainability, but are also encouraging students to directly ask their lecturers to engage with the topic.
“With GUEST, we are more at the smaller scale of things“, Wilson-Gowans states. Although, Hoymer hopes that initiatives run by the team, such as the community fridge in the library, or ongoing efforts to make laboratories on campus more energy efficient, could make a big difference. Nevertheless, they both agree that much of the university's engagement after the declaration of the climate crisis has been slow, and they welcome students being frustrated.
Anderson goes on to say: “I think it’s useful to have students aware and to criticise the University because that actually makes them act. We know what students want, we are all students. We can report this to the SRC or to the sustainability working group, and in that way influence the decision-makers."
With this, it becomes clear that GUEST wants more engagement from the student body, to ensure that their platform is better amplified when it comes to interactions with senior management at the University. The team has made some progress towards advancing the cause of sustainability and awareness at the university, although they acknowledge that the progress thus far has lacked visibility and remains very much at an early planning stage.
The Pre-Election Debate hosted by GUEST will take place on the 28 November 2019 at 6:30pm in the Senate Room. Representatives from five parties will attend, and the event is free, however, they ask attendees to sign up here: