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During Lent Term 2020, a group of volunteer students, staff and Fellows at Fitzwilliam College came together to take part in the University’s Green Impact challenge. The aim was to use the scheme to capture the good work that’s already being done, as well as to set aspirations for further sustainability improvements.

Fitz, as we call it, has a track-record of keen commitment to sustainability from those in all sectors of College life. Back in January, the JCR organised a series of Green Week events, including discussions, talks, bat and birdbox building, a well-being walk in the Botanic Gardens and a Green Formal Hall. Beyond these special events, many people are dedicated to making the College as environmentally-friendly as possible on a day-to-day basis.

The College grounds continue to play a key role in Fitzwilliam’s efforts to become more sustainable with the Gardens Department facilitating student allotments and supporting participation in the Hedgehog Friendly Campus scheme. The scheme is run by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and, a bit like Green Impact, teams work towards accreditation by completing a number of actions – in this case, ‘hedgehog-friendly’ actions! These could include introducing feeding stations and ‘hog hotels’ as has been done in the grounds of Fitzwilliam College. 

Speaking about the scheme, Alex Nikolin says that the team of 15 volunteers are

‘thrilled to be Oxbridge’s first Hedgehog Friendly Campus. We’ve seen two hedgehogs that we rehomed from Shepreth Wildlife Conservation Charity (SWCC) around and about…It’s great to know that we are playing our part in helping this vulnerable species and raise awareness of the difficulties facing hedgehogs due to habitat loss.’

See more details on the scheme and team’s fantastic award here.

With staff working hard on the ground to implement environmental improvements, high-level action is also important to the College. The Environmental Committee – made up of representatives from a range of departments (Catering, Housekeeping, Maintenance, Gardens) along with the Domestic Bursar, JCR and MCR representatives and Fellows – has a brief to oversee sustainability issues guided by the College’s Environmental Policy and Environmental Action plan. In a landmark step, the College has recently adopted new investment principles which prioritise environmental, social and governance behaviour as part of its ongoing commitment to sustainability. Protection of the global environment and promotion of human rights, good business ethics and employment practices are fundamental tenets of the policy, which was developed following a series of consultations with students, Fellows, alumni members and staff of the College.

Since 2016, the College has not invested directly in high-impact fossil fuels, tobacco manufacturers, or weapons manufacturers. Fitzwilliam has now taken the next step, placing ESG (environmental, social and governance) principles at the heart of the College’s investment policy, so that indirect investments in these areas will also be minimised and kept under constant review.

The news follows the launch of an innovative programme to offset the carbon emissions stemming from all Fitzwilliam-supported travel. This year the College voted to support a project in the Jacundá Forest Reserve, Brazil, through Cool Effect. This reserve intends to improve conservation of the rainforest while improving the lives of those who live there and those whose livelihood depends on extraction of rubber.

On the waste and recycling front, the Catering Department has removed all plastic cups from water coolers and the coffee shop with an additional charge of 10p for a disposable takeaway cup. Meanwhile, the JCR organised recycling for crisp packets and biscuit wrappers alongside the existing recycling schemes already pursued (print cartridges, batteries, paper, cardboard, books and clothing). In addition, the Housekeeping Department have been working with students to trial kitchen compost bins on the College site.

Finally, an ongoing refurbishment of the oldest student rooms on the College site is underway and this has allowed Fitzwilliam to put in place energy-saving measures such as window replacements.

Green Impact has presented the College with plenty of ideas about further positive changes which can be made in the future and as Sue Free, Graduate Officer at Fitzwilliam College and a keen member of the team says:

‘working on Green Impact across all departments with staff, Fellows and students combined has given a sense of community in a completely different way. I’ve enjoyed collaboration with other departments, and between us we’ve found it’s often easier to see the impact when it’s not our main area of work.’

Green Impact continues to offer staff new opportunities and ways of seeing and we’ve very much enjoyed being part of the initiative.  

As Fitz looks to the future, we hope to refine our recycling of large items (such as furniture and mattresses) as well as exploring whether we can use Terracycle, or equivalent schemes, to recycle some of our smaller items. A further goal is to phase out single-use plastics from all our catering and events operations and encourage higher take-up of keep-cups and re-usable containers for take-away food bought at the Buttery.

A huge number of people have worked with commitment and passion to make these important environmental changes a reality. We’re proud of how far we’ve come but we’re also looking forward to challenging ourselves and seeing what else we can achieve in the coming years.  

Written by Hero Chalmers and Nicola Collenette