Teaching programmes help to raise sustainability awareness

18 May 2017
Group photo of the Faculty of Science Sustainability Network at the Vice Chancellor's Excellence Awards evening.
Faculty of Science Sustainability Network members join with Chancellor Scott St John (right) to celebrate their award. Back row L-R: Timothy Wade, Penny Brothers, Gerald Weber, Joseph Fagan, Sandra Anderson, Mark Costello. Front row L-R: Niki Harré, Veema Lodhia, Kharmin Sukhia, Margaret Francis, Janice Choi, Margaret Coe, Anoma Ratnayake, Scott St John.

The role staff and students play in building a sustainable future was recognised in the recent Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence.

The Faculty of Science Sustainability Network took out the award for Excellence in Environmental Sustainability, for its continued success with a range of teaching, research and operational projects that are helping to make the Faculty and University more sustainable.

One important awareness-building project involves a collaborative teaching case study on the clothing industry, which is worked on across courses in Psychology, Sociology and Chemical Sciences. Psychology and Sociology students studied considerations behind consumer demand for clothes whose production may involve environmentally harmful processes or payment of very low wages, while Chemistry students studied the technologies to make dyes less toxic.

Andrea Mead, Professional Teaching Fellow in the School of Psychology, says the students then came together and exchanged ideas, with those from her School providing insights on psychological theory, and in turn learning from their counterparts about green chemistry.

“The feedback from students is that they gained a great deal from the experience, with concepts they could apply to incorporate sustainability into the way they think about important topics,” she says.

Another engaging initiative, introduced by Senior Tutor David Seldon of the School of Biological Sciences, sees students reusing food waste by growing fungi from coffee grounds obtained from cafes on campus. The result is a more engaged class, working together to explain their findings.

Also nominated for the Vice-Chancellor’s award was the team from the Faculty of Business and Economics who teach INFOSYS110, a core paper taken by about 2,200 Business School students each year.

Sustainability is embedded into the course content, assessments and operational delivery – which has boosted the performance of the course itself, and lifted awareness of all dimensions of sustainability among students.

Sustainability is explicitly addressed in each of the course’s four modules and interwoven into all topics.

The main deliverable of the course is a project where students must identify a problem related to sustainability in their communities, propose how to use technology to solve it, and create an environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable enterprise to do so. The problem they select must relate to one or more of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Andrew Eberhard, Professional Teaching Fellow in the Department of Information Systems and Operations Management, says: “As a result of these activities, both staff and our students – who are our future business leaders – have an increased awareness of sustainability, and, more importantly, are actively engaged in looking for ways to develop environmentally sustainable solutions to real world problems.”

The course materials and assessments are all fully digitised, reducing its physical environmental impact as well.

“It’s a privilege to offer congratulations to the nominees for the award,” says Dr Lesley Stone, sustainability and environment manager. “Both show innovations in the way staff and students are engaged in learning about and applying sustainability principles. We encourage other faculties to take inspiration from their leadership.”