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As part of the University’s Green Impact scheme, more experienced teams select a particular sustainability topic that they would like to focus on. This year we’re excited to be sharing three outstanding Excellence projects to help inspire your department, building or College to take sustainability action.

Waste to Art and the Living Lab at Wolfson College

Wolfson College won their first Green Impact award back in 2017 and have since gone on to develop their sustainability initiatives far beyond the Green Impact programme. This year, the team focused on developing and trialling the ‘Wolfson Living Lab.’

The project was designed to provide structured avenues for the Wolfson community to complete sustainable projects internally within Wolfson. The team built on the University’s own Living Lab concept and have used the past year learning how to develop an ‘action research’ environment which welcomes contributions from all disciplines.

The project involved fellows, staff, students and alumni alike, with student Charlie Barty-King and staff member Darren Smith leading the way. From the beginning, Charlie and Darren knew that the key to the success and longevity of the project would be simplicity and inclusion.

By working through approval and funding options thoroughly ahead of launch, the team have developed a clear process for applicants to the Living Lab. Interested participants complete an application form in consultation with experienced students and the Wolfson College Sustainability & Conservation Hub. The application is then submitted to the Domestic Bursar for official College consideration and approval. If approved, the applicant will receive £50 towards the start of their project with further self-nominated banded finances available in some instances. Once the project has been completed, applicants produce a ‘Stories Submission’ to share their project and its impact, with the wider Wolfson community and beyond.

The team at Wolfson have not only managed to establish this framework and receive their first funding offer, but they have also run their first complete pilot project. The ‘Waste to Art’ project by Santiago Sottil generated discussion around food waste and over-consumption, whilst crucially welcoming commentary on sustainability from a diverse range of disciplines. It also provided a fantastic development opportunity for Santiago as he says:

“Wolfson’s Living Lab has allowed me to follow my passions and contribute to the sustainability of the College, even during the pandemic. I have been very fortunate to meet many Fellows and students involved in art and sustainability through the Living Lab, and its support has been essential in getting the Waste to Art project off the ground. I would absolutely repeat the process and encourage any member of the College to join the Living Lab!”

You can find out more about the project on the Wolfson College Living Lab website, as well as read interviews with Santiago and more. A recording of a presentation on this project is available on request.

‘What do I do with this?’ Improving waste management in PDN

The Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience have long been sustainability leaders at Cambridge. Last year the team achieved Excellence for their research into antibiotic waste, and this year they’ve come back for their third Excellence award in a row.

The Green Impact team at PDN know how confusing it can be when trying to throw away your rubbish correctly and unclear guidance can lead to contaminated waste streams and unsustainable behaviours. As the Green Impact team is well-established in the department, there is a good recycling system in place with labelled bins for dry mixed recycling, general waste, food waste, battery collection, toner cartridges and more. However, the team were still finding polystyrene boxes ending up in recycling bins, plastic in the general waste and more. So to improve communication and understanding of waste disposal in the department, the Green Impact team started a ‘what do I do with this?’ project.

The first step was to update their departmental waste handbook which is the main source of information for new starters in the departments. The team took this mammoth 13-page document and summarised it into a user-friendly 5-page document with a linked contents page for easy access. Alongside this resource, the team developed an A-Z waste catalogue for both lab and non-lab areas.

Whilst data on how the project has impacted waste streams will take time to collect, the team have already seen progress. The department is split over multiple different sites, with two buildings rarely using waste disposal options in the same way. By working with safety officers, facility managers and principal technicians, the team gathered data to not only understand current waste management difficulties, but to offer unified options between buildings and labs. In particular, they looked into the treatment of hazardous waste and ensuring buildings use the same colour bins to encourage consistent behaviours.

The collaborative nature of the project has been its real strength and has provided a strong foundation for projects going forward. The Green Impact team ensured they had a Green Impact member in every building to facilitate communication, but they also reached out to communications officers and IT staff to make the most of their expertise and support. Dealing with a devolved department is one of the many challenges of making sustainable change at Cambridge. By creating new relationships and adding value to the department as a whole, the PDN team have found this Excellence project to be a really unifying experience.

For anyone looking to undertake a similar project, the team recommend reaching out to your communications officers, safety officers, facility managers and more to get a good overview of what is currently happening. Start small, perhaps with just one area of improvement and then add to that gradually as your capacity allows. And finally, but most importantly - communicate, communicate, communicate!

Revitalising sustainability at the Institute of Manufacturing

The Green Team at IfM wanted to revitalise sustainability practices and attitudes in the department, whilst also helping the IfM community through COVID-19 by supporting wellbeing and resilience. Lockdown meant that this project had to take place almost entirely remotely, but by developing a multifaceted approach, the team achieved far more than they set out to do.

To start with the team focused on three core strands: building resilience; promoting resource efficiency and celebrating biodiversity. Promoting resource efficiency proved very challenging in the remote environment but the team conducted weekly online campaigns and, at the suggestion of a colleague, have begun a Green Marketplace to promote sharing and reuse of items. They have also set up a repair café when regulations permit this to take place. The remaining strands of their project (building resilience and celebrating biodiversity) often went hand-in-hand. The team collaborated with larger wellbeing initiatives and promoted almost 20 mental health awareness events and webinars to help the community through COVID-19. Initiatives to celebrate biodiversity, also supported wellbeing messages. An international biodiversity competition was held in spring, with submissions from the IfM community wherever in the world they were in lockdown. Weekly campaigns and biodiversity tips were sent to the department, from wild about beetles to no mow May, and an in-person event saw the planting of a pollinator-friendly biodiversity garden in support of the University’s Biodiversity Action Plan.

All of the team’s initiatives were supported by the revitalisation of communications within the department. The Green Team created their own official logo to accompany their communications and facilitate a recognisable presence within the department. This was solidified by the new Green Team webpage which sits within the official IfM website. The team have been careful to include their mission statement, short history, as well as past and current initiatives, to publicise IfM’s commitment to sustainability and welcome new members.

The team’s commitment to consistent, regular and engaging sustainability messaging throughout the year had an amazing unexpected impact. The Head of the IfM, recognised the efforts of the team and the need for a formal avenue for sustainability topics relating to the department. Since then, a Green Committee has been established and will play a key role in ensuring sustainability issues are reported to the IfM Council, facilitating long-term change and formally recognising the on-the-ground efforts of the Green Team. It just goes to show what commitment, creativity and inclusivity can achieve, even in a pandemic!