Is Your University Sustainable Enough?

We’ve handed the blog over to our students today! Jacques writes about his impression of the SU’s Ask Your University event last Monday where students and staff got the chance to debate sustainability with senior managers at the University.

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After it was confirmed that our university continues to fall behind the trajectory needed to meet the 2020 carbon reduction target set for the sector by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), many of us environmentally minded students were outraged, and rightly so; did you know our university currently spends £200,000 a week on energy – WHAAAAT? With time effectively running out for our institution to act, the “Ask Your University” event provided a space in which us students can directly challenge the university on issues we are concerned with, and have our say (finally…)! That being said, only about 0.15% of enrolled Sheffield students bothered coming, and I have to say I did initially have doubts whether these attendances were fuelled by a genuine environmental concern, or simply the free pizza on offer in the half-time break.


These personal reservations however were quickly put to rest when the event started kicking off. Everyone became quickly engaged in the issues at hand and were asking the right sorts of questions. As you might expect, frustrations were running high and the atmosphere was initially a bit icy, but the tone of the meeting generally fell into a positive place; yes, we all know our uni could do better, but what can we do about it, together- staff and students alike? Whilst definitive solutions and answers were not always available from staff, we were generally encouraged by the undeniable fact that their commitment hadn’t changed.


To give you a low down on the proceedings, the important conclusions of the key-areas discussed are outlined below:

University sustainability Strategy

  • Delays in the submission of the sustainability proposal to the University Executive Board (UEB) have been frustrating, but we should rest assured that this is to ensure it is the most efficient it can possibly be
  • The current submission timeline of the proposal to the UEB is tentatively mid- to late- November
  • The current policing of the university’s ability/inability to meet sustainability targets by a council formed of lay members of the community is probably insufficient, and us student would like to see stricter penalties in place in accordance with a failure to reach set-out sustainability goals

Sustainability of university buildings

  • Sustainability of building design and maintenance is constrained due to regulations associated with the conservation areas in which they are in
  • Plans for the future however do include zero carbon buildings and heat recovery systems


  • Sustainability shouldn’t just be associated with classic sciences, and there is a real need for less traditional environmentally-minded departments to be encouraged to contribute. Discussions loomed over whether there should be a mandatory university-wide sustainability module; should this hold credits? Is there such thing as a one size fits all module, or should modules be tailored to each respective department?
  • The university needs to be more transparent in publicising its data associated with sustainability


With all finger-pointing said and done, us students can undeniably help shape our uni’s trajectory towards reaching, or indeed failing, its outlined sustainability targets for 2020. It is clear that events such as this which bridge conversation between students and staff are important, and emphasise the key-point that we all need to support, and even sometimes challenge our university. If you care about the environment, maybe get involved in future, even if it is just for the free pizza…

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