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This year, Wolfson College received a Platinum Green Impact Award – the highest award for sustainable practice within the University. It’s a great accolade – but the College is not stopping there. 

"Climate change is the most urgent challenge of our time,” says Wolfson President, Professor Jane Clarke. “As a College, we are simply compelled to respond.”

And it certainly has responded. Wolfson has put sustainability at the heart of its strategic plan – and set up a Sustainability Committee that’s committed to making Wolfson a truly sustainable college. That means ensuring Wolfson members from across the College community are all on board – students, staff, Fellows, and alumni. 

"This is very much a team effort,” says Professor Clarke, “and I'm extremely proud of what we're achieving as a College community - but we want and need to do more. Our whole community must come together to deliver leadership in innovative education, research, and invention.”

The S&C Hub

One great College innovation is the Interdisciplinary Sustainability and Conservation Hub (S&C Hub), one of Wolfson’s three research Hubs – all designed to bring together the College community and its partners from different disciplines to address the major challenges of the modern world. 

“The President came up with the idea of Interdisciplinary Research Hubs,” says Professor Steve Evans, Wolfson Fellow and Director of Research in Industrial Sustainability at the Institute of Manufacturing, “and I’ve had the luck to have been able to put some energy into it. I think Wolfson is a really good place for this to happen, it’s fertile ground. I do a lot of research on change management – so how do you manage change in organisations – and I can see there’s a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of competence at Wolfson. All we have to do is harness it.”

The S&C Hub has had an incredibly productive first two years, allowing students, Fellows, and the wider community to engage with sustainability issues through events, workshops, exhibitions, and more. This includes the Wolfson Living Lab and associated Wolfson Living Lab Award – a mark of excellence that recognises projects that have a demonstrable green impact on the College community, estate, or wider network –  which won its own University recognition in 2021.

Charlie Barty-King, PhD student in Engineering and former WCSA Green Officer 2019-2020, has played a central role in the success of the S&C Hub. Indeed, Charlie picked up a Student Leadership Award in 2020, followed by the Vice Chancellor’s Social Impact Award in 2021, in large part for his contribution to the Hub. 

“We are making serious and impactful headway in setting up a grassroots movement within the Wolfson community,” says Charlie, “and we have established connections with the wider Cambridge network: Cambridge Zero, Cambridge Hub, the City Council, the central University and other Colleges. Our aim is to help make Wolfson a truly regenerative Cambridge College.” 

COP26 at Wolfson 

One of the S&C Hub’s most successful activities of the last year was in organising a COP26-themed week at the College: an event which brought people together from across the Wolfson community to tackle some of the big questions around sustainability and the environment. 

"The COP26 week at Wolfson was inspiring in many ways,” says Dr Helene Hoffmann, Junior Research Fellow (JRF) and Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Earth Sciences. “I especially enjoyed taking part in the round table discussion about Urgency, Action, Ambition and Adaptation. Being a climate scientist myself, it was really interesting to bring together the science view of the topic with the social and societal impacts and even an artistical approach on communicating climate change issues.”

Marie-Anne Coninsx, Wolfson alumna and recently elected Honorary Fellow, who is a former EU Arctic Ambassador, is a frequent contributor to sustainability events at the College, and was clear about the importance of these kind of discussions within Cambridge:

“What happens in the Arctic, does not stay in the Arctic,” she says. “Indeed, the dramatic warming-up of the Arctic does contribute significantly to global warming and increase of extreme weather events all over. To keep climate change under control, sustainable development of the Arctic is key to the region and to the world.

“As alumna of Wolfson College, I highly appreciated addressing key aspects of climate change at the COP26-Wolfson event, highlighting the importance of sustainability and the need for adaptation - emergency responses to deal with the nexus of climate change.

“During the preparations, I enjoyed working together with a highly dynamic, enthusiast, skilled team of scholars. The outcome was a most refreshing, original set-up of the COP26 at Wolfson, benefiting of the rich, most diverse, academic and/or practical expertise of its participants. I’m proud of Wolfson’s engagement for sustainability and climate action!”

Funding for sustainable projects and research

Things are definitely moving fast for sustainability at Wolfson – helped along by a generous donation from Emeritus fellow, Dr Steve Hoath, who provided funding for a part-time administrator for the S&C Hub, financial support for the Wolfson Living Lab, and student funding awards to encourage young researchers in sustainability.

“Wolfson is a leader,” says Dr Hoath, “and has the opportunity to couple its Fellows and international alumni with student projects to tackle the significant issues in research and education in sustainability.” 

There is certainly plenty of world-class research on sustainability, conservation and climate themes emerging from Fellows like Helen Hoffmann and from students at the College. Indeed, the last Wolfson Research Event - the College’s annual showcase of student research - featured presentations on everything from environmental law, carbon capture, and even energy recovery from human urine!  

The Green Impact Team 


From research on the page to changes on the ground, it’s been Wolfson’s Green Impact Team that has been the driving force of many of the practical steps forward at the College. 

Led by Head Gardener Oscar Holgate, alongside Laura Jeffrey in the Library, Emeritus Fellow Dr Steve Hoath, Food Services Manager, Charles Correa, WCSA Green Officer Millie Race, as well as many others across the College, they are helping to put sustainability at the heart of the College’s operations.

Indeed, this year’s award is the much-deserved outcome of the hard work of Wolfson’s Green Impact Team.

"Oscar, Steve and team have worked incredibly hard this year to finally push Wolfson College to achieve a Platinum Award at the Cambridge Green Impact Challenge," says Charlie Barty-King, "it’s so exciting to have finally achieved the Platinum Award. It shows the efforts of the Wolfson Sustainability & Conservation Hub, as well as the student Green Officers who came before, are really starting to bear fruit as we act to accelerate Wolfson College’s movement towards increasing sustainability and regeneration.”

As Charlie says, there is a historical foundation to the College’s success, and this year’s Platinum Green Impact Award is not the first award Wolfson has received for its commitment to sustainability. The College has a strong history at the awards, with three previous Gold awards and an Excellence Award last academic year for the creation of the Wolfson Living Lab among its accolades.

Making changes – and planning for the future 

What does this mean in practice? Well, it means changes in the big and the small, from the gardens to the bar, the kitchen, and the paint on the walls. 

Wolfson has also recently commissioned a carbon baseline study for its buildings too –  running alongside a complementary Wolfson Living Lab project by PhD student Simon Mathis – which will measure the carbon impact across the entire estate by the end of the summer. The College has also a commissioned a decarbonisation plan, which will establish the priorities for decarbonising the estate. 

And there will be even bigger changes in the future. The College has just delivered a new Masterplan, laying out a bold vision for the future of Wolfson. Using renowned architects, Grimshaw, there are green and sustainable goals at the heart of every phase of the plan.
And there are multiple sustainable steps at every level across the College, from replacing the use of single-use cups at the bar with a reusable cup deposit scheme, to increasing diversity of insects and flowers in the gardens.  

One of the student auditors of the most recent Green Impact Awards praised the Wolfson team as “enthusiastic and committed to achieving sustainable outcomes across college life,” while pointing out that the College has “exciting plans for the future, as well as having made many important changes already.”

Indeed, the Green Impact Team are already looking to take Wolfson to even greater heights for sustainability:

“I am proud of the huge effort the team put in to get us the Platinum Award,” says Oscar. “I am looking forward to the next twelve months when we can grow on what we’ve done. We want to achieve even more changes that will benefit more staff and students and visitors. It’s a huge step to encouraging more and more people to make better lifestyle changes.” 

The impacts have been reflected across the College too, as Laura attests:

“As a new member of the Green Impact Team, it has been a fantastic motivation to improve our working practices in the Library. It has been a team effort, which means that all departments and students need to work together to achieve the award at this level. It reflects consensus across the college that we are eager to embed sustainability in all that we do both now and, most importantly, going forward.”

“Our strategy says it very clearly,” says the President, citing the College’s Strategic Plan: “We will deliver leadership in sustainability through innovative education, research and invention to deliver a better, more sustainable future for all inhabitants of our shared planet. Diversity and inclusion are at the heart of all we do, so our community will actively support actions that help deliver sustainable outcomes for all peoples and the planet.
“It is important that these are more than just words. So we have set ourselves clear targets for delivery.  I am optimistic that we will succeed.  We have a committed community of students, staff, Fellows and alumni all working to the same end.”

Written by: Dr Nick Osbourne, Communications Manager, Wolfson College