Programme Manager Matthew Lawson reflects on attending the EAUC’s 20th Annual Conference – hosted by the University of the West of England in May 2016.
The theme for the conference was “Learning and Legacy: The Role of Education in Creating Healthier, Happier Cities”, promoting the important role universities and colleges can play in influencing the way our cities and communities are designed.
Hosting the event in Bristol provided an excellent opportunity to explore the legacy of the city’s European Green Capital Award in 2015 and the significant contributions made by staff and students from both the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England.
The first keynote talk was a panel discussion with key stakeholders involved in the European Green Capital initiative. This provided an insight into the impact of the award, with students providing over 100,000 hours towards volunteering, the development of “Skills Bridge” an initiative linking students with hundreds of businesses and community projects, as well as contributing towards a sea change of opinion on environmental issues within the students’ unions based in Bristol.
Conference attendees dispersed across a broad range of sessions. I was delighted to facilitate a workshop on sustainability reporting with colleagues Sarah Lee from EAUC Scotland and Jackie Beresford from Dundee and Angus College. The workshop provided attendees with an insight into the introduction of mandatory climate change reporting for public bodies in Scotland. There was a lively discussion amongst the fifty four attendees on the opportunities and challenges that sustainability presented, along with recommendations of support the EAUC could provide to the sector on reporting.
The second keynote speaker of the first day of the conference was Mike Barry, Head of Sustainable Business at Marks & Spencer, who is responsible for overseeing Plan A, the name given to their environmental and ethical strategy. Mike delivered an inspiring talk on the challenges of climate change and the need for new sustainable business models. Towards the end of his talk, Mike highlighted the valuable role educational institutions play in our cities and the skills that graduates will need to have in a changing world – leadership, joined up systems thinking and project management.
The second day of the conference provided another opportunity for the University to share its experience to attendees, specifically on sustainable procurement and responsible investment. Liz Cooper, Research and Policy Manager from the department was part of a panel featuring academics and procurement experts which discussed how social responsibility and sustainability can be embedded in procurement, featuring topics such as conflict minerals, modern slavery, circular economy and the opportunities to link academic research with practice. The session highlighted the important role sustainability professionals have in embedding sustainability and social responsibility into procurement practices, especially through collaborative work.
Dave Gorman, Director of Social Responsibility and Sustainability provided workshop attendees with an overview of the University of Edinburgh’s approach to responsible investment. A key theme throughout Dave’s talk was the importance of stakeholder engagement and the commitment to transparency, as demonstrated through the University’s membership of the United Nations Principles of Responsible Investment. Very few institutions represented at the conference had made progress in the area of responsible investment, so many were very interested in Edinburgh’s approach.
During the course of the two day conference there were extensive opportunities to network with fellow sustainability professionals and to meet the diverse range of exhibitors. Reflecting on the conference during the train journey back from Bristol, the opportunity to share and learn about best practices from colleagues within the sector was again one of the main benefits of attending the EAUC Conference. No other conference brings together so many colleagues working on sustainability within the further and higher education sector. I look forward to new opportunities to engage with colleagues from the sector, including the upcoming EAUC Scotland Conference in 2017.