What happens when you take three strangers, put them on a 5 hour train and send them to a sustainability summit
Bristol SU’s Chair of Sustainability Exec, Adela Simonova, tells us about her experiences at sustainability summit.
It could be the beginning of a joke: ‘A lawyer, an engineer and a social policy student meet on the train’, except it wasn’t a joke. Admittedly, the start of the trip was comedic, with three strangers who had no idea what the others looked like trying to find each other in a crowded train station. The trip as a whole though turned out to be good fun and most of all really inspirational.
We were sent as delegates by Bristol SU to participate in an annual NUS Sustainability Summit in Newcastle. The work actually began the night before the summit: a pub with a chandelier makes for a great place to convince that one sceptic that sustainability is the way forward, especially at 1am. We managed to cover a great range of topics starting from vegetarianism, moving on to divestment and ending with reforming the curriculum. After we finally made our way to the hostel we were staying at, we managed to get some well-deserved rest before the big day.
The summit brought together various representatives from universities and student unions from all over the country which was quite interesting in itself. You don’t realise how different the opportunities across the country are until you meet your equivalents from other unis and discover that they have a completely different remit. As we went through the key note speeches and wonderful workshops that varied from careers in sustainability to divestment to how sustainability and liberation link together, we realised that we managed to cover similar topics in our discussion over a few pints. In fact, topics relating to sustainability have probably popped up in most people’s conversations at some point whether it was to do with climate change, recycling, that one mate convincing you that eating meat is wrong or simply just laughing at that crazy person who is going around the pub and switching all the plugs off (yes, I do that).
Doesn’t that demonstrate that sustainability is everywhere? Doesn’t that mean that if three random strangers are able to go grab a beer together and realise that sustainability goes way beyond their engagement with it, everyone should be able to do a similar thing? And maybe they do but maybe they just don’t realise it. And maybe they just don’t know what to do about it.
The whole summit highlighted that students are actually a really strong body of people and, even though sometimes they might feel powerless, they actually hold one of the most important powers in the university nowadays. With universities becoming increasingly marketised, what could be more important than demand? Why shouldn’t the universities adapt to what students actually want? And currently, that seems to be sustainability in all its different forms, be it fair trade clothing, a reformed curriculum to offer you more interdisciplinary open units or divestment.
The whole summit inspired us all and made us realise that there is a chance for us to actually make a change. Despite the popular belief that we are all doomed anyway no matter how many small things we do, there is a chance to change that. And maybe that chance is not in what you can do as an individual to help. And that’s the note I’d like to finish on quoting one of the key note speakers Danni Paffard (for those who don’t know her, do a little google search, she’s really cool): 'There are lots of things you can do as an individual but the most important one is, don't be an individual.'