Master’s students suggest actions for a sustainable campus
During the course Transition towards a sustainable society, master’s students in environmental science have challenged Umeå University’s work with sustainability beyond environmental issues like recycling waste and effective use of energy.
Text: Anna-Lena Lindskog
Students in the course Transition towards a sustainable society have looked at how Umeå university can become more sustainable, especially when it comes to social sustainability. From left Helen Mkandawire, Vicky Phiri and Whitney C. Vlahakis.
“As an institution that is transitioning into a more sustainable university, we have to make sure our efforts in going in that direction are not only inclined towards being economically or environmentally stable. We also have to address the social aspects of sustainability” says Vicky Phiri, one of the students in the course.
The course is included in the first year of the Master’s programme in Environmental Science with a focus on sustainable development. Nine students representing nine different nationalities are studying the programme, which makes for different aspects and ways of introducing sustainability, associate professor Tom Korsman notes.
Among the UN sustainability goals are equity, equality and inclusion. With Umeå university’s action plan for sustainability as a base, one of the groups in the course looked into representation of minority groups in decision making processes.
Language is one barrier, they conclude. In a country like Sweden where the Swedish language is most common, many people transitioning into the society can find themselves left in the periphery. Umeå University could have more information on its website and social media channels in English and maybe one other foreign language, they think. It is also difficult for people who don’t speak Swedish to take place in boards, committees and student unions.
Minority groups should be better represented
The master’s students note that Umeå University has come a long way into achieving gender equality in decision making, which shows that when you have a pronounced strategy change will take place.
“Gender equality has taken precedence when it comes to representation and participation, but every discrimination ground is of equal importance” emphasizes Vicky Phiri.
“If we address the ecological aspects it’s going to be a challenge, because we need the social aspects to really address the ecological ones” says Vicky Phiri.
Aspects like race, ethnicity and disabilities needs to be taken into account as well, the students argue. They suggest that the university adopts strategies and monitoring systems to make sure that these minorities are represented in boards and committees.
“The university also has to see to that these groups are supported with the tools and strategies which bring them to the spaces where they need to be” says Vicky Phiri.
Suggests “green office”
Another group in the course focused on student involvement in sustainability issues on campus. Today there are few, if any, activities for students interested in these issues to engage in, they noted. Initiative often comes from organizations outside the university, like Fridays for future. They suggest that the university creates a “green office” with staff dedicated to work on sustainable development, where students can participate as volunteers.
“The students make up a majority of the university and in order for sustainability to be achieved, we feel student involvement should be a priority” says Whitney C. Vlahakis.
“Another thing is the presence of greenery in the environment” says Whitney C. Vlahakis. There is a lot of greenery on campus, but not much within the buildings. Research shows that greenery can influence how a person feels in terms of stress levels, so class rooms and office could be greener. Even if it’s just a green wall that makes a difference.
At a green office many activities can be delegated to students. It could also be a place for the community to come in.
“At a green office many activities can be delegated to students” Helen Mkandawire adds. “It could also be a place for the community to come in and see what is happening and to be involved in sustainability activities, thereby building a culture that is sustainably conscious.”
“It is also important to have responsible personnel” says Helen Mkandawire. “In the current action plan is that there is not designated personnel to tackle those actions, then you can always think someone else should be addressing them.”
A third group looked at supply to restaurants at campus and the information you get as a customer about the ingredients used in food. They noted that it is easy to for example buy fair trade coffee, but other items often lack information about what has been used to make them and where it comes from.
“Restaurants on campus are often franchises, so it needs to be very clear in the agreement between them and the university about things like supply and waste management” says Helen Mkandawire. “It has to be clear what the university wants, like meatless Mondays, so that you are only given a contract if you execute A, B, C etcetera.”