Alessia Gabriele, an MSc Sustainable Development student, wrote this blog about her placement at SOS-UK – an educational charity created by students and staff at NUS in response to the climate emergency.
My interest in choosing the optional Internship module emerged from my desire to gain my first working experience in the field of sustainability. Following the guest lecture delivered by Joanna Romanowicz, director of engagement at Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS-UK), I decided to contact the organisation and apply for a six weeks internship opportunity. SOS-UK is a new educational charity, developed by the National Union of Students (https://www.nus.org.uk/ ), that seeks to engage more students in learning and leading about sustainability in order to harness future generations able to respond to the climate crisis (https://sustainability.nus.org.uk/ ).
After a few Skype meetings organised to discuss my role in the organisation I was given the option to choose amongst four different projects which all revolved around education for sustainable development (ESD). Since I was interested in developing my research and communications skills, I decided to opt for the first project which involved writing a case study report on the 17 best examples of embedding the sustainable development goals (SDGs) into teaching and develop a communication campaign to promote the pledge. I strongly believe in the SDGs and I wanted to contribute to a project which aims at promoting and showcasing the best practices for introducing sustainability in higher education modules.
In the first days of the internship, I was given the task to research about the organisation in order to familiarise with their previous work, campaigns and projects, in particular their most recent programmes. Most of the organisation’s projects entail working with auditing systems, which are an essential tool offered to universities and colleges in order to encourage students to audit their institutions. This is vital in building a strong relationship with SOS-UK and universities but, most importantly, it teaches students to learn about environmental auditing and its relevance in building sustainable communities and cities while also enabling quality education.
I learnt about the company’s campaign on the “Green Impact” project which is a UN award-winning programme designed to support environmentally and socially sustainable practice in an organisation. SOS-UK provides, in fact, an online software which supplies manageable actions on sustainability and trains staff and students, it moreover monitors and measures behaviour change and impact. The importance of the project consists in embedding environmental auditing in universities as a core activity to ensure sustainable working and learning environments, which I believe is an essential tool to achieve success and to integrate auditing systems in teaching and approaching students with these tools. A project that encompasses sustainability in education is the “Switch-Off” campaign which is a non-profit mission to encourage student action in running energy saving and recycling competitions. This project takes place in universities accommodations across the UK, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Greece and Ireland. While Green Impact aims at auditing and monitoring, the Switch-Off campaign directly challenges students to become more sustainable, by changing their habits, during their living at University. I consider the Switch-Off campaign not only engaging for the students but highly impactful since they can, firsthand, monitor and act sustainably while in a the new environment of University which can lead to positive lifestyle changes.
Another campaign that promotes embedding sustainability in the curriculum is “Responsible Futures” which aims at ensuring that all students acquire the knowledge and skills to promote sustainable action through education and global citizenship according to the SDG number four of quality education. Similarly, the “For Good” campaign has the objective of partnering motivated students to collaborate on dissertations, placements, research to progress on the three bottom line of social, economical and environmental sustainability. This project aims at turning students’ education as a force for good making a positive difference.
Pledging directly for a reform of the education system was delivered through the “Teach the Future” which called the government for a review of the English formal education curriculum. Moreover, it asked for teacher training, an English Climate Emergency Education Act, new funds and net-zero buildings. It has been, in fact , discovered through SOS-UK research that 68 per cent of students want to learn more about the environment and that 75 per cent of academics feel that they have not received adequate training to educate students about climate change (https://sustainability.nus.org.uk/our-research/our-research). These figures highlight the importance of embedding sustainability into teaching in order to equip future generations with the knowledge and ability to lead sustainable communities and the important work that SOS-UK is achieving in its mission.
I believe that all the projects that SOS-UK encompasses, aim not only at revolutionizing the education system but at ensuring that the future generation of leaders has a better understanding of the critical global issues which future economists, engineers, teachers, artists will face. Therefore, all projects are vital, as changing behaviours and habits can be changed through the role of training and education.