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As the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown came into force, we were in the midst of planning a number of events due to run over the spring months, including a Climate Change exhibition at Chester Cathedral and training for students to carry out waste audits across the University. But we, like the rest of the world, put the brakes on, cancelled events and transitioned to a new way of remote working and online meetings. However, we are not on mute!

Here is just a flavour of the actions we’re taking, the plans we’re putting in place and, most importantly, how you can get involved (either virtually or in person) when you study at Chester.

Our year so far…

The new year started with the first meeting of the new Sustainability Forum hosted by our new Vice Chancellor; this provides students with the opportunity to meet senior leaders at the University and influence the sustainability agenda.

In our 2019 highlights video we shared our plans for the year, which included:

  • 300 pledges confirmed on DoNation
  • Implementation of the “bin the bin” initiative across the whole university estate
  • 25 Green Impact teams to achieve accreditation
  • Increase recycling rates to 65% by 2025
  • Collaborate with the Students’ Union to host Go Green Week
  • Plant 450 trees at Kingsway

We have achieved a number of these already, with many of them continuing even while campus is closed. We had improved our recycling efforts and increased our recycling rate from 38% in March 2019 to 44% in March 2020, taking us towards our goal of 65% by 2025. So, while for now our "bin the bin" roll out and further waste audits are on hold, we know that we can make further improvements in teaching spaces and accommodation, after our waste audits showed that 60% of waste in general waste bins could have been recycled!

In early March we joined up with our Grounds and Gardens team to lead a group of students and staff from across the University, local residents and school children to plant over 400 trees on our Kingsway Creative campus. The native mix of trees, all donated by the Woodland Trust, will provide a habitat for a variety of wildlife.

During Go Green Week, we visited all of our sites with Chester Students’ Union and were inspired by the feedback and suggestions from students. There are so many things they want us to focus on and it was great to hear their ideas. You can read more about what we got up to in this article by current student Lei Chen.

Sustainability in Lockdown

Despite the restrictions placed on our day-to-day lives, we are not deterred from our goals. If anything, we are more determined to improve our behaviours and practices to create a better future. We successfully moved our Green Impact audits online, and trained students at the start of May in auditing techniques. They wasted no time and carried out their audits later that afternoon via Zoom! We’re looking forward to our annual awards event in early June to celebrate their achievements.

We’re always looking for opportunities to connect with our students and staff to generate new ideas. Early on in lockdown, we launched our Digital Climate Cafes. These happen every fortnight and give students and staff an opportunity to discuss a sustainability-focused topic informally over a cuppa. So far, we have contemplated the impact that travel restrictions could have long term for tourism, the future of fast fashion now that people are buying less, and how sustainable a plant-based diet really is. Students who have stayed in Chester have also been able to get outdoors at the University allotment where the strawberries are coming along nicely.

We don’t yet know when we will all be able to get back together and visit our campuses to engage students with our activities, so we tasked a group of Computer Science students to develop an online Escape Room to use during induction. We ran a ‘real’ Escape Room last September which was a huge hit with new students so we look forward to sharing the virtual one with you!  

So what does the future hold?

2020 was always going to be a pivotal year for sustainability and climate action, both globally and locally as climate emergencies are declared and climate strikes happen across the globe. Our current sustainability strategy runs until 2020 and our students’ comments during Go Green week will certainly shape where we go next. We recognise that climate change is an important issue for our current students and for those students joining us in September, so we’d love to hear your ideas too. We know that you want us to be doing more and you want to learn more about the actions you can take and how it relates to your future careers.

For that reason, we will be using the Sustainable Development Goals to shape our activities and measure our impact, we will continue our work with the academic departments to see how sustainability can be embedded within all of our programmes of study.

While some of our work has had to be adapted or put on hold, we do take positives from how we have seen our community coming together, adapting and rising to the challenges we currently face. We have been inspired to be more ambitious with our aims for the coming year and would welcome your ideas and input into shaping a more sustainable future for the University via the Sustainability Forum.

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