November 28, 2017

Finding the fun in sustainability

The highest daily rainfall in 50 years didn’t stop members of the Lancaster Environment Centre’s new Sustainability Group putting their principles into practice

The launch of the Group, which aims to support staff and students at the Lancaster Environment Centre to put sustainability into action, started indoors with presentations about the environmental and social impact of American cannabis, Arctic oil and UK pensions. Some of the hardier attendees then went outdoors to the Lancaster University Ecohub to help Green Lancaster with their growing projects. This involved pruning raspberry canes in torrential rain, during a period which the University’s Hazelrigg Weather Station measured as the wettest 24 hours in more than 50 years.

Research co-ordinator Dr Ali Birkett, one of the new Group, described the activity as “extremely soggy: “I think everyone discovered the weaknesses in their ‘waterproof’ attire. It was fun though and nice to do something practical.”

Finding the fun in sustainability was also emphasised by Dr Jess Davies, a lecturer in sustainability at the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business and the head of the new Sustainability Group. She told staff and students attending the launch that: “Confronting the sustainability challenge can be daunting and depressing, but we want to promote the positive and fun side.

“As educators we are interested in spreading the skills of sustainability, but we also want to look at what we are doing as an institution and a community and this is what this Group is about. It’s a safe space for talking about radical ideas, so if you have ideas about sustainability we want to hear them.”

Senior teaching associate Dr Emily Heath encouraged those present to take some radical action on their pensions in a talk titled: ‘How our retirement savings are wrecking the planet – and what we can do about it.’

“£3 trillion is invested by private pension schemes in the UK, a vast resource we could be putting to good use,” Emily explained.

Currently much of that money is invested in environmentally damaging industries, Emily said, pointing out that the Universities Superannuation Scheme, which provides pensions for academic staff, invests in oil, mining and tobacco production. Staff can lobby the Scheme to change its investment strategy, and can also opt to put any additional contributions into an alternative ethical fund, which has performed better on average than the main funds over the past seven years.

“We can change the world if can divert money from bad things to good things,” Emily said.

Two academics presented their research at the launch. Research fellow Dr Kirsti Ashworth talked about her work measuring the environmental impact of legal cannabis production in Colorado. Production has only recently been legalised, so there is very little research done in this area.

While it is known that commercial cannabis production demands large inputs of energy, water, pesticides and fertiliser, Kirsti’s research looked at some of the less desirable outputs from production, in particular emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) which can increase ground ozone with damaging impacts on human health.

Julia Loginova, a PhD student from the University of Melbourne, spoke about her research into the impact of oil drilling in the arctic regions of Russia, including the area where she grew up.

Administrative assistant Ann Brooks then talked about how she and other members of the Sustainability Group had taken up the challenge of reducing their personal environmental impact during No Impact Week in the autumn.

She involved her partner, two children and lodger in the challenge, which encourages people to reduce their impact in a series of areas from waste and energy to food and transport.

She discovered that “it is possible to have fun and do creative things without having a negative effect on environment.” In fact her children, aged 6 and 9, enjoyed having more time with their parents on trips to the beach and park, making decorations and holding a Powerdown party.

Finally Green Lancaster Coordinator Darren Axe talked about Green activities on campus before leading volunteers out into the pouring rain.

The Sustainability Group is open to any member of the Lancaster Environment Centre. It plans to hold monthly meetings and other events to support both individuals and the department to take action to reduce their environmental impact.

Read Dr Rachel Marshall’s blog about the Sustainability Group’s experience of No Impact Week.

Article source/image credit: Lancaster University