Staff join calls for a Sustainability Officer

Photo credit: CARLOS62

Photo credit: CARLOS62

The University has been criticised for showing “a lot of talk but not enough action” on the issue of sustainability, from the Chair of the University’s Sustainability Forum.

The criticism comes amid growing pressure from York’s People and Planet society and the Sustainability Forum for the University to appoint a Sustainability Officer.

Speaking to Nouse, Dr Merran Toerien, a research fellow in the Sociology Department, and Chair of the Sustainability Forum, expressed disappointment with the University’s efforts on sustainability.

She stated that: “There is not enough clear evidence from the top down that the university supports, or is willing and committed to putting sustainability at the top of the agenda.”

She added: “Compared to other strands of the University’s Plan, such as internationalisation, the University’s efforts have been poor… There is a lot of talk but not enough action.”

Elizabeth Heaps, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Estates and Strategic Projects, recently commented that: “The University Plan gives equal prominence to sustainability, excellence, inclusivity and internationalisation.”

However, Toerien stated that while there are lots of “little initiatives” and that there is “stuff going on behind the scenes”, York is “falling far behind other universities in terms of organised effort”.

The criticism comes following Nouse’s recent revelation that Professor Colin Campbell, another member of the Sustainability Forum, had been told that the University sees sustainability as “just eco-bling”. This followed a study, conducted by Professor Campbell, that compared the University’s sustainability with other institutions, where York was ranked 83rd.

The Sustainability Forum, a discussion group for staff and post graduate students, has been “liaising” with students to help put pressure on the University’s approach to sustainability.

The Forum informed People and Planet of a Senior Management Strategy meeting on Wednesday, in which staff, but no students had been invited to ask questions on the subject of sustainability.

Approximately 15 members of People and Planet subsequently protested outside of the event. Phoebe Cullingworth, Environment and Ethics Officer, entered the meeting uninvited and presented a petition, signed by over 250 people, requesting that a permanent Sustainability Officer be elected.

Heaps, one of the University’s ‘Sustainability Champions’, who spoke at the event, said in response to the petition that: “It is something we need to consider. We’ll definitely have a look at it”. She emphasised that the University do already have staff committed to sustainability.

The campaign highlights that while the University has members of staff involved with sustainability, no member of staff hold it as their only responsibility.

Toerien has confirmed that the Forum “very strongly support the campaign.” She added that depending on the outcome of the next Sustainable Development Working Group meeting, the Sustainability Forum and People and Planet may engage in “more formal cooperation”.

Toerien also implored more staff members to engage with campaigning for sustainability in some way.

Andreas Gabrielsen, Campaigns Officer, said: “I believe that there are matters in which staff definitely should campaign with students”.

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