With the backdrop of COP26, a panel of students and staff met to showcase their contributions to sustainability at the University of Sheffield.

On the panel were Dr Rachael Rothman, Academic Lead for Sustainability and Co-Director of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, Tomasz Blazejewski, an Engineering student focusing on increasing sustainability of the milk supply chain, Dr Caroline Hart, a Lecturer in the School of Education who is supporting the embedding of Education for Sustainable Development across curricula, and Anesu Matanda-Mambingo, the Students’ Union’s Welfare and Sustainability Officer who highlighted the efforts students were taking to tackle the climate emergency. 

Dr Rachael Rothman opened the event by proposing the University tackles the climate emergency in partnership, by being accountable and acknowledging and addressing key sustainability challenges. With the University of Sheffield having committed to a net zero campus by 2030 and net zero across all indirect emissions by 2038 (including commuting and across supply chains), the University’s targets are being informed by climate science. Reviewed to be sector leading, a live action plan of pledges can be found here, tracking the University’s progress. 

Dr Rothman drew upon previous successes in reducing university emissions, including the conversion to 100% renewable energy, removing beef from University outlet menus, and reducing waste by adopting reusable milk churns. She also cited the institution’s research prowess, across the Leverhulme Centre for Climate Change Mitigation, Urban Flows Observatory, Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, Energy Institute and the Institute for Sustainable Food as just some examples where the University is leading. Together, these are setting the University in good standing by leading by example and researching innovative solutions in combating climate change. 

Dr Rothman was quick to admit that the journey was not over and encouraged students to get involved with ground-breaking work through avenues such as Green Impact, living labs, activism and  research projects.

Tomasz Blazejewski, a chemical engineering student researching life cycle assessments of supply chains, analysed the environmental impacts of using plastic and steel vessels in the University’s milk supply chain. His research found a 65% reduction in global warming emissions in the use of steel churns over that of plastic bottles, as well as potentially saving 87,000 single-use plastic bottles every year when rolled out across campus. This high impact work is being published in an academic journal and has contributed to the University adopting the use of steel milk churns in partnership with local Sheffield dairy, Our Cow Molly.

Dr Caroline Hart from the School of Education is working to embed Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) across curricula along with a team of students and staff. The University is committed to embed ESD into all courses, give students a voice in sustainability decision making and provide a balanced approach to careers advice, all the while equipping students with the know-how to apply sustainability training in their working life. This has culminated in a Five-Step Framework for ESD integration, with a focus on reading lists, work experience and creating projects with a sustainable narrative. Currently, this work is being spearheaded by a new pathfinder internship programme across five departments, with students assessing how ESD can be embedded in their courses. She encouraged student involvement by checking out the Elevate webpage and through contacting the SU’s Sustainability Committee and SU officers.

Rounding off the event, Student Union Welfare and Sustainability officer Anesu Matanda-Mambingo compared the actions students can do both as individuals and as campaigners, ranging from reducing meat intake and adopting a more sustainable lifestyle, to addressing systemic issues through activism. Using examples of the Carbon Neutral Society, UoS Clean Energy Switch and divestment campaigns, she highlighted the successes students have achieved in influencing the University of Sheffield to become more sustainable. Victories such as the selling of the last fossil-fuel shares are reflective of student empowerment through activism, something she is keen to encourage.