Quarter 1 highlights for 2021/22

An overview of what the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability did during August to November 2021, including highlights, lessons learned and future priorities.

The start of the new academic year was an opportunity to welcome new and returning students to the University of Edinburgh, introducing many to the learning and training opportunities through the University-wide Student Leadership for Sustainability Programme, with over 60 students joining the Sustainability Leadership and Skills initiative, and a further 321 students volunteering as Sustainability Champions.

This programme aims to empower students to take action to address climate and sustainability issues, through grant funding, learning and professional development opportunities, and volunteering.

Student Leadership for Sustainability

The start of the new term also provided colleagues within the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability the opportunity to move to hybrid working, returning to our office, the wonderful Boilerhouse, for the first time since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

It was brilliant for colleagues in the department to work with each other in person and again experience the energy of campus. Challenges with hybrid working and coronavirus remained, however much has been achieved over recent months, with the University’s efforts being recognised in the Green Gown Awards.

The below provides a snapshot of just some of the work the department has progressed over the last few months, in particular around climate action and community impact.

Climate action

Sector leading initiatives

Green Gown Awards 2021: 2030 Climate Action - University of Edinburgh - Winner (large institution)

The University won the 2030 Climate Action category in the Green Gown Awards UK and Ireland, which recognise the exceptional sustainability initiatives being undertaken by colleges and universities. The University’s whole institution approach to address the climate crisis was recognised as sector leading.

This approach was further strengthened, when the University announced a commitment to sequester one million tonnes of unavoidable carbon emissions, including a multi-million-pound commitment, long term commitment to restoring peatlands and expanding forests in Scotland.

University wins award for Climate Action

University commits to sequester over one million tonnes of unavoidable CO2 emissions

COP 26

Colleagues in the department worked collaboratively with University partners to ensure the University played a key role in COP 26, with staff and student delegates participating in more than 70 events, providing expert advice to national delegations and launching new University-led initiatives, such as the Edinburgh Earth Initiative.

A key outcome of this work for colleagues in our department has been to see climate and sustainability increasingly incorporated into University-wide communications. A key learning for our department has been to use important large scale events such as COP 26 to further generate momentum for climate and sustainability issues in the University.

University at the heart of key climate summit

Edinburgh Earth Initiative

Supporting action for staff and students

The department has continued to work with staff to progress carbon reduction projects through the University’s Sustainable Campus Fund and provide online and in-person accredited Carbon Literacy Training to staff and students. Over 20 sports clubs and student societies are participating in a pilot of a new sustainability awards framework, to help students embed sustainability in their sports clubs or societies’ activities.

A list of priority actions has been developed for Sustainability Champions, developed in collaboration with some of the 653 members of the network. A revised sustainability framework for academic schools is being developed to help staff address the climate and nature crisis, with a pilot due to take place in early 2022.

Clubs & Societies Awards

Sustainability Awards 2022: Office Awards replaced by new Sustainability Framework

Community impact

Young people share their ‘positive imaginings’ during a children’s assembly
Young people share their ‘positive imaginings’ during a children’s assembly

In the run-up to COP 26, the University supported 17 different community organisations and charities based in Edinburgh and the surrounding region to address the climate and nature crisis in their local communities, with more than £15,000 being awarded through the Green Micro-Grant Scheme.

This included the fantastic Rowanbank Environmental Arts & Education's ground-breaking circus show, which has helped young people in Craigmillar learn about the environment.

A further round of the Community Grants Scheme was run in October, generating applications from a wider pool of areas within Edinburgh and the city region, reflecting efforts of colleagues to expand the outreach and impact of the scheme.  

The Edinburgh Community Engagement Forum continues to go from strength to strength with over 300 members. The forum is an informal, cross-University network that brings together University staff and students who are interested in engaging with local communities. This has resulted in the sharing of best practice and improved awareness of community engagement initiatives from across the University and beyond.

Green Micro-Grant Scheme

Rowanbank Environmental Arts & Education's ground-breaking circus show

Edinburgh Community Engagement Forum

Looking forward

In the coming months, we look forward to welcoming new colleagues to our department, bringing new energy and added capacity to help the University achieve its climate and sustainability goals, such as reviewing the University’s Climate Strategy and further developing how we deliver social impact through our community engagement programme.

We will also be providing further support, such as professional development opportunities, and grant funding, to empower the University’s community of staff and students to take action and help us achieve positive change. 

Matthew Lawson 

Senior SRS Programme Manager 

Written December 2021 , originally published January 2022