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Excited about sustainable living

The student experience is a strong part of the University’s sustainability story, writes Catherine Elliott.


I am lucky enough to be the coordinator for our Sustainability Integration Program for Students (SIPS) – an international award-winning program. Each year I work directly with around 60 students from across the full breadth of the University as well as hundreds more students and staff through our activities, and I find it exciting to work in a place where we can see change happening.

I support students studying in fields as diverse as microbiology, chemistry, economics, ecology, history, and languages. They each bring different ideas about the challenges we are facing, new research they are learning in class, as well as their own life experiences. The diversity of students and staff, expertise, backgrounds, and languages allows us to explore and reframe challenges we face in new ways.

Sustainability does include the tangible; the projects to redesign night lighting, bike hubs and bus stops; projects for biodiversity; those to improve energy efficiency; and waste management. As sustainability is much broader than this, we also focus on how to communicate and engage with a large and diverse community of people and help create the places that people work and study in every day.

“What I learnt on the ground through the internship is that people who are committed and passionate about sustainability make these changes happen,” says Ellen-Rose Sorensen, SIPS intern and fellow 2020-2021. “It’s not just about bringing your bag to the shop or using a reusable cup, although these things are important. “It’s about everybody working together towards a common goal…the reason why we do all these things is so that we have a future planet to inhabit. It’s about everyone being involved, following their passions… and I think it's incredible.”

Through SIPS “you get to be a part of sustainability on campus in a way that other projects really can’t match. You can finish the SIPS internship and say I made that happen…and it is really important for students who are working on projects like this to know that their work is being used, and to know that they have made a massive contribution to sustainability at the University,” Ellen-Rose says.

It is important to know that we are part of a much larger story of people who have shaped the University's advances in sustainable practice. Recently, our predecessors successfully campaigned for the University to achieve full divestment from fossil fuels, to take real action for climate change.

2,298 students across all study areas have participated in SIPS since 2010

They used their engineering skills from the classroom to design transport hubs, environmental management skills to create water-sensitive gardens, undertook research into best practice on-site composting, and translated sustainability communications into multiple languages. They mapped the best bike routes to campus, created videos to teach people new to Tasmania how to use public transport, and designed ‘Climate Cafes’ for sharing climate change experiences.

On a larger scale, education has been happening here for tens of thousands of years, and our campuses begin to feel alive when we see this; when we talk about the depth and wealth of understanding of the Palawa/Pakana people and respect their ways of knowing the world.

We are fortunate to have expertise at the University on our living environment: from the well-known spotted handfish, spotted tail quolls and swift parrots to various threatened plant species as well as those invisible to the human eye, such as the microscopic insects. Working collaboratively, we bring this expertise to help us look after places both on campus and in the wider community.

“Universities are mostly human-made landscapes in urban settings. Animals perceive this as habitat too and they are constantly adapting to the changes we make in the world, … so it is important to recognise that as humans we can build structures that work for us and wildlife and plants too,” says Kawinwit Kittipalawattanapol, contributor to the Draft Natural Area Management Plan for the University and SIPS intern and fellow 2019-2020.

“Being able to directly transfer the knowledge from my Environmental Management unit into an actual report that is making an actual impact, it’s not just something I learnt as part of undergrad, that is pretty cool. And now I know that what I learned works, in practical settings, and I can use that in my future career.”

It is exciting to know that the number of people who are passionate about sustainability is growing. Recently, the University’s online sustainable living courses, the Certificate and Diplomas, received a Green Gown Award Australasia. To achieve this, more than 100 academic staff from 19 different schools/centres across the University were involved in creating content and teaching units.

The impacts of these courses reach across Australia, and since 2018 the courses have been undertaken by more than 5,000 students, with exceptional uptake in both regional and urban areas.

“The courses in sustainability have been a fantastic success in terms of their accessibility,” says Greg Jordan, Diploma of Sustainable Living coordinator.

The growing number of people getting involved in sustainability gives us hope.

“In the climate crisis, three of the big things are loss of biodiversity, pollution, and greenhouse gases. Reducing your waste to landfill affects all three of those things.” says Eve Poland, co-founder of the University's zero waste society and SIPS intern 2022.

“It’s been really encouraging for me coming to the University of Tasmania to learn that a student can do something, can make a difference, and that there are a lot of people working towards this goal to become more sustainable. This gives me a lot of hope for the future that we can actually do this.”

Working in sustainability, we face the complexity of challenges today. We explore, learn, research and design new strategies. Being a university, we have resources to tackle complex challenges and we do this well when we value the people and communities with whom we work.

Catherine Elliott is a Senior Sustainability Officer and Coordinator, Sustainability Integration Program for Students.

Main image: SIPS meeting at Source Community Cafe, Hobart

This story features in the 2023 edition of It's in our nature - a collection of stories that celebrate and highlight the unique work being undertaken by our institution, and the people within it, to deliver a more fair, equitable and sustainable society.

Explore sustainability at the University of Tasmania and how you can get involved.

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