Embedding sustainability in college life

Embedding sustainability in college life
Date5th Dec 2022AuthorJane DicksonCategoriesPolicy and News

Above: Principal William Baldwin and students with their Carbon Literacy certificates

Brighton Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College won the 2022 Sustainability Award from SFCA for their work with Greener Sussex.

In the Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS UK) 2021 survey in advance of COP26, 90% of the 1,200 respondents in FE and HE said that they were concerned or very concerned about climate change.  Our students want us to make a commitment to addressing the climate crisis in a visible, active, and effective way, and to have a voice in that themselves, both in terms of their skills development for the green economy and in terms of climate emergency awareness.  As part of meeting our responsibilities to our young people, every educator, whatever their role in college, can make the most of naturally-occurring opportunities to embed sustainability and climate education into their work, as well as making the more obvious connections.  

In October 2020, BHASVIC’s principal, William Baldwin, invited Varndean and Greater Brighton Metropolitan Colleges to join together to pledge commitment to the FE Climate Action Roadmap, with the aim of becoming ‘leading’ institutions by 2023 and a NetZero ambition of 2030.  There was significance to this joint pledge, as this is not about being in competition with other institutions – it is about providing a joined-up city-wide approach, showing unity and commitment to an urgent cause. They jumped at the chance.

Clothes swap 22[35] copyIn summer 2021, BHASVIC collaborated with the Association of Colleges to adapt Manchester Metropolitan University’s Carbon Literacy Award for FE students. We piloted this short Level 3 award (10 GLH) alongside Varndean and Plumpton Colleges (as a self-guided, self-selecting short course with online introductory and plenary sessions at BHASVIC) which saw almost 200 of our students become certified carbon literate that term. The launch of the award at BHASVIC led to the formation of our student-led Climate Action Society, who have since initiated clothes swaps, canteen takeovers and become advocates and changemakers both locally and nationally. 

Our joint pledge in Brighton having gained traction, our five other partner colleges in FESussex (Bexhill, Chichester, Collyer’s, East Sussex and Plumpton Colleges) joined, leading to a successful joint DfE Strategic Development Fund Bid to improve green industry technology and skills locally. This was a great opportunity to develop new and interesting practice around skills for the green economy and to enrich collaboration across different colleges. With our experience in effectively integrating sustainability both strategically and practically, BHASVIC developed and led the Carbon Literacy workstrand - the only activity to involve all eight colleges, providing a vital underpinning of knowledge for all other workstrands in the project, led by a Carbon Literacy Project manager, with a Carbon Literacy Coordinator in each college. Since winning the SFCA Sustainability Award 2022, DfE funding for the project has come to an end, with impressive results across FESussex partners:

  • Carbon Literacy: Across our colleges, over 1,000 students engaged directly with carbon literacy via the short award course, with many more involved in teaching and learning that embedded sustainability and climate education. They therefore not only understand the science behind climate change but have also reduced their individual and group carbon footprint as a result of the course, removing tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere!
  • Masterclasses: Eight employer-led masterclasses (including hydrogen technologies, wind power, sustainable architecture and theatre-making) made students aware of the skills needed by industry in the local green economy.
  • Students: We measured a positive impact in attitude and engagement, as students reported feeling more knowledgeable about climate change and more confident in speaking to others about the topic.  
  • CPD: 13 INSET sessions developed the confidence of over 475 staff to understand and begin to embed sustainability into their work, sharing examples between college partners.  
  • Curriculum: This led to over 120 courses embedding sustainability, meaning even more students engaged through their curricula, with these materials shared across the colleges and reflecting the power of the collaborative approach. These went far beyond geography and STEM, with exciting developments in social sciences, music, business, metalsmithing and automotive courses, for example - be it scientific, emotional or artistic responses to this important topic.
  • Influence: BHASVIC Principal, William Baldwin, was a member of the DfE Sustainability and Climate change working group and fed our experiences into the recently launched DfE strategy.
  • Collaboration: BHASVIC has helped college leaders and governors nationally to navigate this space and share resources to ensure we aren’t all re-inventing the wheel.

Sustainability is central to BHASVIC’s ethos and a key commitment in our 2021-25 Strategic Plan, with student voice driving much of this work.  FESussex continue to support sustainability as a key priority, appreciating the value that this collaborative networked activity brings individually and collectively.  Continuing this work will enable us to build on the successes we’ve had already and to learn from the challenges.  

Top Tips 

  • Listen to students – they are driving this agenda and expect us to step into this space. It is our civic duty to do so
  • Get governors on board and integrate this into your Strategic Plan
  • Audit your college carbon footprint and have a costed action plan to achieve NetZero
  • Sustainability isn’t all about buildings and plastic bottles in the canteen – we can educate thousands of students each year around climate change and the need for urgent action!
  • Put the capacity in place – if necessary, have someone overseeing the sustainability of your estate and someone else overseeing education for sustainable development. They need two very different skill sets
  • Start small – can each course provide one resource/naturally occurring opportunity each year to engage students with climate change and sustainability? 
  • Can each department have one Champion overseeing this?
  • This isn’t about competition or being better than other colleges - it is about working collaboratively to ensure we can all help drive the behavioural change needed to meet local, national, and international targets and limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.

Jane is education for sustainable development manager for FESussex. Email her here. Look out for more blogs from award winners in the coming weeks; this is the sixth in a series, and you can find the first here.

You can find BHASVIC online here, on Twitter, and on InsBhasvic green logo2 auto x2tagram.

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