The 1st to the 5th March is this year’s Sustainability Week, an annual event that emphasises the importance of making sustainable choices. However, there is one thing that sets this year’s Sustainability Week apart from similar efforts that have been made in previous years: the Societies Sustainability Alliance. At present, this Alliance is comprised of 17 different societies which, collectively and in collaboration with university staff, aim to “improve representation from societies and groups in discussion and decision-making regarding sustainability at the University of Exeter” (Societies Sustainability Alliance Terms of Reference). The member societies range from those that already have a distinct environmental focus, such as Be The Change, to those that have a more academic focus, such as the Exeter Law Society.
According to Be The Change Outreach Officer and founding member of the Societies Sustainability Alliance, Zee Thebault, the impetus for forming this Alliance came from the realisation that “top-down” University initiatives needed to be complemented by grassroot approaches to sustainability efforts. There was also a growing recognition that “there are at least half a dozen, or, if you include Penryn, maybe ten societies who are environmentally-orientated – all doing similar things, but not talking to each other”. Through regular meetings and enhanced channels of communication – both with each other, with the university Sustainability Team and with the Students’ Guild – the societies that are part of this new Alliance are working together to make the University of Exeter a greener place to live and study. This year there are approximately ten different societies running events for Sustainability Week, whereas last year there were only one or two.
One of the societies that is involved in Sustainability Week is the Slow Food Society, which, thanks to the hard work of both its committee and members, regularly hosts events such as cookery classes and food production movie nights. During Sustainability Week, the Slow Food Society is hosting a talk by Claire Liboureau, the Partnership Manager at Fairtrade. William Mirza, Sustainability Officer of the Slow Food Society, calls it a “delight” to be a part of the Alliance, stating that while sustainability is “always at the heart of slow food”, it is “wonderful to be able to learn about what the other societies are doing and to be able to take inspiration from them”. As students, it’s easy to fall into the trap of mindlessly consuming whatever food is most readily available to us. However, as Mirza points out, “a great deal of an individual’s carbon footprint comes from eating and drinking”, and so it’s essential that we consider more carefully the food that we add to our shopping baskets or pile onto our plates. The Slow Food Society will be considering this in more detail during the upcoming “Sustainable Food 101” talk that includes discussions about low mileage food.
The Fashion Society has also been an active member of the Societies Sustainability Alliance since its foundation this January; President Annie Purewal and General Secretary Abbie Brown consider the Alliance to be a “perfect match” for their society, which has more recently been focussed on promoting sustainability within fashion. During Sustainability Week, the Fashion Society will be running a “small business takeover” on their social media channels, as purchasing from small businesses is generally much more ethical and sustainable than supporting larger retailers. Purewal and Brown remain optimistic that students are conscious of the ramifications of their fashion choices, stating that “it’s difficult not to know about the ethical side of the fashion industry, and how bad fast fashion can be”. However, the issue lies in the fact that many people – students especially – expect clothing to be cheap, and to arrive the very next day; these are criteria that can only be fulfilled by the larger, more unsustainable retailers.
There are clearly sustainability-related issues that are linked to both university practices and student behaviour, and the Societies Sustainability Alliance believes that it’s time that we take steps towards rectifying these. If you have a spare hour or two this week, why not attend one of the events that are being run as part of Sustainability Week? Even if you only take away one thing, be it a new piece of information or a helpful tip for living more sustainably, remember that every action adds up and will help to make the university a more sustainable place.
You can find the full list of Sustainability Week events here: www.exeter.ac.uk/sustainability/newsandevents/sustainabilityweek/
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