Is UOY’s Sustainability Plan Enough?

The University of York has recently been ranked 8th in the UK (36th globally) regarding its ‘social and environmental sustainability performance’ by QS Top Universities. 

(Image: YUSU)

Over the past few years, the University has invested in many projects in order to create a campus for the future, ranging from the Environment Building, a place for ‘collaborative research between environmental, ecological and social scientists’ to the Chemistry F Block whose upper floors hold the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence, promoting chemistry that is sustainable and kind to the Earth. All of UOY’s current development plans consider sustainability, efficiency, social impact and carbon footprint (or more simply being green). The University has an extensive 10-year (21-30) plan with five key goals to maximise its sustainability from 17 set by the UN, but how achievable are all these goals and are they enough?

One of the biggest problems concerning students nowadays is the mental health crisis and COVID. With people being house ridden for over a year, mental health saw a rapid deterioration as regular everyday life began to dissipate. To combat this problem post-lockdown the ‘Strategic Goal’ of the UOY is to bring the whole university community together to ‘deliver the aims of the Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy.’

On its own this may not be achievable but paired with the target of incorporating Student Wellbeing officers within departments so everyone studying has someone to talk to about their problems, the departments can now come together as a whole to discuss and find ways to improve student mental wellbeing. As for helping overcome COVID there are hand sanitiser stations spread throughout both campuses and there is a walk through Covid testing site in the Wentworth Way car park should students start to fear the worst. As for quality education the University of York is a Russell Group university as it has excellent education methods and students looking to develop their skills can attend seminars or look to the skill guides on the VLE; this idea of being able to attain the information to improve online or in-person will hopefully continue for the university in the years to come. 

Sustainable Communities

The University colleges and societies regularly hold social events for inclusivity and have their own security team to make sure everyone is safe. The University also promotes recycling, even starting up a YORCUP scheme which has ‘saved over one million single use plastic cups from being thrown away’ therefore sustainability and environmental ethics are quite notable for the University. Plus, the University aims for the ‘Creation of inclusive facilities and shared spaces (both real and virtual) on campus and beyond, to stimulate creative and innovative interactions, skill sharing and partnerships’, which is a wonderful idea for bringing the city together for the better. 

The University has targeted becoming entirely carbon neutral by 2050 and with its constant actions to create a greener environment this is an entirely achievable and realistic goal, but this is still a long way away and in the meantime a lot of damage may be done to the climate. Moreover, the University aims to be a leader in ‘ecological management, demonstrably improving biodiversity on campus. Becoming a leader would put some responsibility on the University as smaller operations may look to them for ideas, but the University must worry about what other companies do, e.g., where they buy food, electronic and other items from as they may be unknowingly supporting unethical practises if they didn’t take on the responsibility of researching their suppliers. With the packaging for the products bought by the University, there’s an air of responsibility as with poor waste management becoming a growing problem globally, in order to be green the University would have to ensure it’s recyclable and as minimal as necessary, and as it aims to reduce waste by 33% for 2030, this goal is one well suited and achievable in modern times with consumer patterns changing toward more environmentally friendly packaging.

How is this performance overall?

In the University’s five key goals for sustainable development, they are excelling majorly, being notably environmentally positive in comparison to other similar institutions around the globe. But what about the other goals? Well, it seems the University is still working very hard to be ethical and green regarding almost all of the other targets. The University should be an example to most other universities on what to strive for, and how to be the best you can be environmentally, socially and educationally.