My experience auditing in the Sustainability Awards

Want hands-on experience in a professional sustainability setting? Want to know does being a Student Auditor involve? Marlena Vollmer, a Marketing Masters student, talks us through her experience of auditing in the 2020 Sustainability Awards. 

I am hoping to work in non-profits after I graduate to help promote sustainability and stimulate behavioural changes (shamelessly using my academic background to manipulate people into making better environmental choices). Ever since an eye-opening ‘Reduce-Reuse-Recycle’ Unit at my primary school at age 8, I couldn’t help but start caring – caring about the diversity and beauty of nature, as well as the human destruction and selfish exploitation (excuse the cynicism). It has not only made me more aware of the consequences of my actions but inspired me to find ways to live more sustainably. Yet, there comes a point when you doubt the change one droplet can do when there is a flooding river surging the opposite direction.

This sparked my curiosity in how a huge body like the university takes measures to promote sustainability. Understanding this is detrimental to finding strategies for larger communities to work together in a constructive and rewarding way. This is how I ended up having the opportunity to explore the hidden depths of Old College. I was assigned to audit a team of University of Edinburgh staff who worked in the usually unseen-to-students top floor hallways of the building.

Almost contrasting that grandiosity and architectural charm of the Old College I knew, this section was quite modest and lacking some natural light. And yet, the wonderful team of individuals we met were radiant with their motivation to be sustainable. They were completing the Bronze stage of the Sustainability Awards and took multiple measures to change the stoic attitudes of some of their colleagues. The spirit of this team revealed to me that even huge institutions like this university can move towards more long-term changes if there’s enough engagement. With numerous groups of devoted individuals invested in sustainability (as in the Sustainability Awards), the spark can spread throughout departments and hopefully these rewarded actions will eventually be the expected norm. Nonetheless, even though awareness and action has grown, there is still a long way to go.

What can you do?

It seems to me that the main issue we are facing is accepting that we need to sacrifice the convenience in our lifestyles and make more active choices. But what we don’t realise is that the actions the university promotes are simple: buy local, cycle and walk more, turn off lights and electrical devices, don’t be wasteful and of course recycle![1] Auditing even showed me the extent recycling can go. Beyond paper and plastics, we should also be recycling ink cartridges, pens, batteries, electronic devices, clothing, aerosols and more[2]. So just have a look and see what you can integrate into your life! It takes only a few small steps but if everyone follows them it can go a long way.

Moving forward from this experience, I will not only be more aware of my actions but also try and spread ideas to those around me. Learning about the steps the university takes to promote sustainability was motivating but there still needs to be more engagement from both staff and students. So, if you’d like to experience the university from a different perspective and discover some innovative ideas in how to be sustainable, auditing is a great way to explore!

[1] https://www.ed.ac.uk/sustainability/students/student-sustainability-advice

[2] https://www.recycleforscotland.com/

Find out more about the Sustainability Awards