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Students & Sustainability

Posted on 2 Mar 2016

Student Volunteering Week celebrates the students who choose to give up their time to help others alongside their studies. Thousands of students give their time to a huge range of causes, with more and more of them choosing to support sustainability initiatives either on campus or in their local community.

What is behind this trend? We asked some of them to find out…

Student Switch Off Ambassador Aiya Aljabiri does it “to take part in something that makes out planet a better place” and Najma Salan Hassan agrees that “the betterment of the environment is something I wholeheartedly believe in”.

Sofia Salah-Ud-Din recognises that many students volunteer to “feel like they are making a contribution to society”. This perfectly describes Molly Chivers, who got involved simply to “help promote a good cause”, as well as Himadri Singh Raghav who says that “the cause is so good that I couldn't resist working for it.”

These are all really inspiring reasons to take action on one of the most critical social justice issues of our time. To tackle the climate crisis, we need to reshape values, and that’s what we’re seeing happen through student volunteering.

Sure, volunteering on green issues can give students some of the skills employers are looking for, and that’s great. But it’s exciting to see so many volunteers getting involved because they genuinely care about the issues, as well as their CVs.

Last year, students contributed nearly 8,000 volunteering hours to NUS’ flagship sustainability campaign Green Impact. Working across campuses, curriculums and communities, they helped hundreds of people to make positive lifestyle choices that cut carbon and boost wellbeing.

From auditing the energy efficiency of buildings, to growing and selling their own food, to managing and delivering behaviour change projects – the breadth of volunteering opportunities across sustainability is huge. This allows students to proactively participate in the sustainability agenda, and shape the solutions we need to see across all of society.

This is a crucial part of creating the sustainability leaders of tomorrow, and NUS is really proud to have worked with students’ unions to build such vibrant and varied volunteering around green issues.

Green Impact began in students’ unions about ten years ago – helping them to manage their own facilities more efficiently. Soon after, it made a natural translation to universities and colleges, while broadening its scope. Now, students deliver the programme in countless locations throughout the community – from hospitals, to schools to museums and theatres.

Organisations love the energy and expertise of student volunteers. Lauren Rowe at Unite said that “it has been great to get our students involved in improving Unite's environmental sustainability”, and Katherine Sugg from Health Education South West thought that student volunteering “worked extremely well. The students were very professional and enjoyed their experience”.

And of course, as with all good volunteering, the benefits flow in both directions.

It provides organisations with a more efficient workplace, with higher morale and lower carbon emissions. But it also provides students with meaningful experiences, deepening their connection with the issues they’re addressing. This allows them to get a stronger idea of what they want to achieve after their time in education, and shapes the values which guide them through the rest of their lives.

That’s the most exciting thing about Student Volunteering Week for me. It’s about more than the impact students are making on society. Don’t get me wrong - that is massive, but the benefits go even further than that. When students volunteer through programmes like Green Impact, they aren’t only improving an organisation and helping other people. They’re transforming their own lives too.

If you want student volunteers to drive sustainability at your organisation, get in touch.

Charlotte Bonner

Charlotte is the Communities Programme Manager at NUS

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