Charlotte, who is one of YPTE's Young Trustees, attended the SOS UK Student Sustainability Summit, which took place in Lincoln Students' Union in early February. Here, she writes about her experience of the Summit.

Last week I was able to attend the SOS-UK 2023 summit in Lincoln with Cambridge Climate Society.

SOS-UK (Students Organising for Sustainability) is a student run education charity, advocating for collective student action to improve environmental education for all ages.

The SOS-UK summit involved several workshops and discussions on topics ranging from intersectionality in the climate movement to the issue of military links in higher education. Most importantly, the summit provided a platform for students to share ideas and knowledge about environmental action.

Meeting student officers at the summit was an amazing opportunity to hear more about sustainability initiatives across the UK!  For example, Student Union officers from Keele University introduced me to the success of their “Hedgehog Friendly Campus Group”.  As part of the group, students maintain their campus as a safe habitat for hedgehogs, by arranging regular litter picks and topping up food and water sources for hedgehogs. 

Another student project I learnt about was the Edible Campus at Lancaster University, a site where students are able to practice sustainable small- scale farming.  The site includes many raised beds, a polytunnel, a wildlife pond and even an orchard.  The students at Lancaster are involved in managing the area, growing produce to harvest later in the summer and sell locally.

As well as successes in their respective universities the summit allowed for students to share some of the struggles they faced in taking action. As part of Cambridge Climate Society I helped run their “Climate Anxie-TREE” workshop, involving a group discussion about the difficulties students encountered in addressing sustainability. Some of the recurring problems students faced included :

  • burnout,
  • eco-anxiety,
  • resistance to change and a
  • apathy in the student body.

However, the workshop also starred a handcrafted recycled cardboard tree – which helped provide some hope!  After bringing our recycled tree on the train, we gave all the attendees at the workshop a paper leaf, to write something that gave them hope in their work.  We then glued all the leaves to the tree and were then left with a very inspiring tribute to the motivations of students at the summit!

The Department for Education also hosted a workshop on environmental education in secondary and primary schools – titled “Implementing the Department of Education’s Climate and Sustainability strategy”. It was another group-based discussion workshop, where students could share their experience of climate and environmental education. Listening to students from across the UK revealed the huge lack of consistency in environmental education, with some students having had little to no interaction with environmental education whilst others had much more positive experiences. One of themes that came up often, was the influence of having just one passionate teacher, with students noting that if it weren’t for an individual teacher their environmental education at school would have suffered.

Despite being run by the DfE, the event strongly suggested an urgent need for an improved standardised version of environmental education in the national curriculum. Similarly, many talked about the lack of education about their local environment, with climate change often being framed as a phenomenon that happens “far away”. Students at rural schools, near lots of green space, reflected on the fact that they had never visited local habitats such as nearby ponds and forests with their school. Opportunities for young people to engage with their local area are clearly being missed, with not enough emphasis on environmental education in the curriculum and teachers interested in sustainability not receiving enough support.

Overall, attending the summit was a really positive experience and highlighted the importance of collective action and value of knowledge sharing events.

Charlotte – YPTE Young Trustee

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