Mobilising Bristol’s students to create a greener future

International Green Gown Award Winner

International Green Gown Award Winner

UWE wins International Green Gown Award

Prof Jim Longhurst, Prof Chris Willmore and Dr Billy Clayton

A joint project between Bristol’s two universities and the local community has won an International Green Gown Award in recognition of its work to pave the way for a more sustainable region and provide students with work experience that holds weight in the real world. 

Food wastage, water scarcity, carbon emissions – these are just a few of the hurdles we need to overcome to ensure a sustainable future. So what better way to achieve this than by mobilising students to engage with the community, charities and with businesses to tackle some of these issues?

Two universities in the South West are doing just that. As part of Bristol’s year as European Green Capital in 2015, the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and University of Bristol, along with their respective Student Unions, teamed up to create ‘Green Capital: Student Capital – Unleashing the power of Bristol’s Students.’ This project was supported by a Catalyst Award from Hefce and with resources from the partners.

As lead for the project, I was keen to ensure that it sets ambitious goals for engaging students and offers them the chance to get involved in sustainable activities that could have long-lasting impact for both themselves and the place in which they study and live. Over the past few years, we have opened up opportunities for thousands of students which help to develop their skills and understanding. At the same time, they get to learn about the city of Bristol, its sustainability challenges and opportunities. This is important as approximately one in ten Bristol residents is a student.

Student Capital project

More than 8,000 students have so far given some 130,000 hours of their time for the Student Capital project through activities such as volunteering, placements, internships and projects in over 200 local organisations, including wildlife conservation groups, schools, local businesses, charities and healthcare providers.

Work has included conducting waste and energy audits to help companies develop sustainability strategies. Many volunteers have also collected surplus food to help create meals for people who experience food poverty in the city. Finally, the project has teamed students up with schools to help deliver workshops on climate change, sustainability and energy.

In March, the project won an International Green Gown award for Student Engagement. The Awards recognise exceptional sustainability initiatives in higher and further education institutions. The judges described the winning entry as a dynamic city-wide project with a direct impact on graduate employability.

Chris Willmore, the University of Bristol project lead, and I are delighted with the recognition the project has received but winning such a prestigious global award is the icing on the cake. The success of the project is very much due to the enthusiasm and commitment of the staff team, and collectively we are so impressed with the effect this project has had on our students and the organisations they work with.

For example, Eleanor Lynch worked with a school while studying for her BA in Geography at UWE Bristol. She said: “Apart from gaining valuable experience working with children, I learned a lot about how to inspire and encourage young people about the world around them from a variety of different organisations and teaching professionals.”

Student Capital project

International student Yi Zeng, who was studying for an MSc in nutrition, physical activity and public health at Bristol University volunteered at Walk For Health Bristol and other organisations involved in the project. Zeng said: “Volunteering exceeded my expectations. It has helped me learn a lot more about Bristol as well as enriching my student life in the UK.”

Growing Support, a not-for-profit community interest company (CIC) that enables the elderly to get involved with gardening, received several volunteer students. “Having students involved in our project has been great because they bring a real diversity to what we do,” says Ruth Baker, who has worked with the volunteers. “We work with older people and so having young volunteers is just fantastic for everybody involved.”

Now we are thinking about the future – in particular to perpetuate Student Capital’s effectiveness. One of the ways  we are achieving this is through Skills Bridge, an online platform we developed that makes it easier for organisations to find volunteers via the two universities for environmental projects.

Student Capital can be adapted for any group, institution or community. As European Green Capital in 2015, Bristol produced “The Bristol Method,” a best-practice document for sustainability to help other cities.  One of its modules is about the Student Capital experience, which provides guidelines for others who want to set up a similar framework to engage students in tackling sustainability issues.

Student Capital project

Read more information about Green Capital: Student Capital.

As well as the International Green Gown Awards joint win for Student Engagement, UWE Bristol won an unprecedented second International Green Gown Award for Continuous Improvement, which recognises higher education institutions’ sustained and successful activities to improve social responsibility and environmental performance.

Further reading