Matthew Says

My Year As Ethical and Environmental Officer

It goes without saying that when I was elected in February 2020, none of us could have anticipated the year that was to come. It has been a challenging time for all of us, but I have loved every minute of my time as the Ethical and Environmental Officer, and remain very grateful to all those who voted for me back in 2020 – which seems like a lifetime ago. 

In spite of the challenges, I am proud of my achievements this year and I hope that I have made a positive impact. Coming into the role, my top priorities were to raise awareness of the climate crisis and see the University acknowledge the climate emergency. It is hard to put into writing the level of peril that the world is on track to experience- and indeed is already experiencing, especially in the Global South- with the climate crisis being the gravest issue that the world has ever faced.

As a result I ran a campaign to lobby the University to declare a climate emergency, featuring a video, a launch event and an open letter. I was pleased that the campaign was run in solidarity with Birmingham UCU, reflecting the sentiment that this is an issue that will affect all of us. While the University is yet to declare a climate emergency, the campaign has been a success in raising wider awareness about the climate crisis. While more lobbying is required, I’m happy that progress is being made. Furthermore, as the sole student representative on the University’s Sustainability Steering Group (SSG) and Sustainability Task Group (STG), I have voiced the concerns of the student body, and sought to involve students further, i.e. with the opportunity for students to input into the new sustainability pillar of the Strategic Framework.

 

Divestment from Fossil Fuels

Perhaps the moment I am most proud of in my time sitting on various University committees was when I delivered a report on divestment from fossil fuels to the SSG.

Divestment from fossil fuels has been another priority for me and it has been a real pleasure working with the re-formed ‘Fossil Free UoB’ group who have made a sterling effort on this issue, as thanks to the work we’ve done, the University has reduced its investment exposure to fossil fuels. Greta Thunberg even retweeted a tweet about fossil fuel investment at the University of Birmingham! I have been really pleased to play a role in this positive step, with fossil fuel related companies being represented in only 0.5% of the University’s investments.

This is not a total divestment, so the divestment report which we hope to publish soon, outlines the reasons why further steps must be taken to divest from fossil fuels. Not only was I able to deliver this report to the SSG, but the report has also been read by members of Council (the highest governing body at the University) and I hope that Council will heed our advice. 

 

Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill

I also believe that as an important lobbying institution, the Guild of Students has a responsibility to step into the political arena when it comes to protecting our planet. As a result, I have worked to support the promotion of the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill (CEE Bill), a private members bill that MPs and environmentalists hope to pass through Parliament. This is to ensure that the UK Government acts on the climate emergency it declared in 2019. I am proud to say that the Guild has become the first students' union (to my knowledge) to publicly support the Bill, a huge step in raising awareness.

Furthermore, during Go Green Week (2021), we organised two events to promote the Bill and the Citizens Assembly, with the former event including panelists such as Selly Oak MP Steve McCabe and City Council Representative Maria Dunn. 

 

Go Green Week

I am especially proud of my efforts during Go Green Week.  In February 2021 we held a series of online events, covering issues such as the climate crisis, fast fashion and sustainable periods. With notable names such as Baroness Jenny Jones of the Green party, former MEP Dr Ellie Chowns, Tolmeia Gregory and Dominique Palmer, almost 250 people attended across the week. As well as covering issues through events, I also wanted to offer guidance for students, so we created resources, including a recycling guide, a sustainable travel guide and a sustainable cooking guide.

I am very grateful to everyone who contributed, promoted and attended during the week, which I think was a real success. One of the most popular events about period poverty and sustainable periods, which actually inspired me to take further action on this at the Guild. Since then, I’ve helped organise a workshop on sustainable periods and a popular giveaway of sustainable period products. I have learnt a lot about this issue and have a growing appreciation for the need to destigmatise talking about periods. 

 

Working to improve the environmental impact of the Guild

Improving the environmental impact of the Guild has been one of my top priorities and I have worked on a lot of projects to support this. Many of these conversations have started and I’m looking forward to seeing further progress made.

  • I have worked with ‘Plastic Free UoB’ to try and introduce reusable cups at Fab ‘n’ Fresh and Sports night events, to reduce the amount of single use plastic thrown away.
  • I have spoken with Joe’s Bar about increasing the number of vegan and vegetarian options available, to make the food more inclusive and sustainable.
  • I wrote a policy proposal to reduce the number of freebies that the Guild gives away at events to reduce the Guild’s contributions to a growing global waste crisis.
  • I also worked with societies to try and reduce their impact and encourage collaboration. For example, through the ‘Sustainability Society Working Group’ and by improving sustainability committee training (thank you to Amie (AEO), student groups and two committed students for your support with this!),

As recognition of the hard work we have put in this year, we are on track to receive ‘excellent’ accreditation in Green Impact and potentially beat our previous record total, which is a fantastic achievement!

 

What about the wider University?

One of my priorities this year has been to encourage sustainable travel where possible, which inspired an event about the issue of air pollution in Birmingham, in collaboration with Sustrans as part of the #Brumbreathes campaign. With further communications on the Clean Air zone, I was able to contribute to the University’s messaging as part of #BrumBreathes, which reached 3 million people online!

As part of encouraging sustainable travel, I was really pleased to contribute to the introduction of Voi e-scooters across some areas of campus, and then proud to have worked on the introduction of the West-Midland Cycle hire scheme on campus. As part of my efforts towards this, I was invited to the launch event, where newly re-elected West Midlands Mayor Andy Street was present. As a strong initial advocate for the scheme to be implemented at the University, this was really an amazing step. I think that the bikes are a wonderful addition to campus and I use them regularly myself!

Another area of on-campus projects that I am especially proud of is the introduction of the community compost scheme. Food waste is a serious issue- if food waste was a country, it would be the third highest emitter of carbon emissions- so the University now has two compost bins at the ‘Grow with Joe’ Community Garden for students and staff to deposit their food waste (watch my video to see where it is!). All food waste that’s composted there goes towards supporting the community garden, which is a fantastic gem on campus and brilliantly run by the Conservation Volunteers.

Another fantastic society that I’ve worked with is the Hedgehog Friendly Campus group, who support the hedgehogs we have on campus. This year the group received silver accreditation as recognition for their efforts!

Finally, I have been able to support on the aspired introduction of the ‘Birmingham Cup’ onto campus, which is a new reusable hot drink cup scheme being led by a PHD student. The project has received a £1,000 grant from Unilever and we hope to use the money to launch a trial on campus come September. I am really excited about having contributed to this and it is definitely something to look out for next year! 

 

And now, onto some thanks...

It has been a fantastic year that has genuinely changed my life (trying not to get too emotional) and I couldn’t have done it without the support of so many people. Firstly to the Officer Team; I am very grateful to the full-time and part-time teams, who have supported my efforts continuously and made it a pleasure to work at the Guild. I am also thankful to all those at the University who have supported my projects and given me unforgettable experiences. Not forgetting the incredible supportive work of the Guild staff, from the student groups team to facilities, the Community Wardens and the Ethical and Environmental Committee. My friends and family deserve a mention too.

 

I hope that I have made a positive difference this year and I am excited to pass the role onto Rachel, who I know will do an amazing job.

Matt

 


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