Jessica Gordon-Calvert joined the team recently as sustainability education and engagement officer and, here, she introduces herself, shares five tips for becoming an environmental and social justice champion, and casts her eye to what tasks she will be getting stuck into in the near future…
Hi, I’m Jessica and I’m the new sustainability education and engagement officer at UCEM. I’ve been working in higher education for about six-and-a-half years now, with a particular focus on student experience and engagement.
I’ve always been interested in topics around the environment and sustainability and, in my most recent role at another institution, I co-created ‘green’ initiatives with students and promoted them to the wider university community.
When I was applying for this role, I was very impressed by UCEM’s vision and bold goals around sustainability and corporate social responsibility. ‘It’s time to disrupt’ [the slogan on the sustainability webpage] really resonated with me and my own views on what a higher education institution should be striving to achieve in this area. I am thrilled to join UCEM’s community and sustainability journey.
I have a background in psychology and am particularly passionate about behaviour change and how this can be achieved through various campaigns. Some of my favourites are Meat Free Mondays, 30 Days Wild and Environmenstrual Week. I believe getting involved in these types of campaigns and activities gives people the chance to broaden their knowledge, expand social and community networks and, often, try something new.
As well as campaigns, I love sharing tips and ideas about the things we can do to help and support our planet and communities. There are so many different routes into being an environmental and social justice champion. Here are my five favourite tips:
Be in the know
Whether this is keeping up to date on developments within your discipline, catching up on the news or understanding the ethical and sustainability credentials of a company, it’s important to be informed. It gives us – the consumer, the individual and professional – the power of knowledge to challenge, influence and make changes in where we shop and what we buy.
Be a challenger and a champion
There are plenty of ways to challenge and champion for change so find something you’re comfortable with and go with that. Examples of this could be in the home, in the workplace, at UCEM, in the supermarket or on social media – we’re all part of making a change and sometimes individuals, governments, companies, etc., just need that little push or idea from someone to make a difference. Similarly, it’s just as important to praise and champion things that are working well or if improvements have been made.
I like to share my thoughts by writing letters to my MP, signing petitions and posing questions to companies on social media. There are many templates available online to help you with things like this. If this is something you’re interested in doing, try to be constructive and solution-based where possible. Challenge should not equate to rudeness or aggression.
Try something new
Speaking as a parent and working professional, sometimes it can be hard to find the time or brain space to try something new as it can go against your regular routine, but it doesn’t need to be big, drastic changes. For example, if you grab a ‘cuppa’ on the go, you could try having it with a dairy milk-alternative.
One thing that I’ve tried at home is introducing meat-free and occasionally plant-based meals into our diets every week and gradually experimenting with different flavours and products. It’s best to start off small and grow from there.
Go out and vote
If you’re a student, consider applying to be a student representative or student ambassador when a post becomes available and champion sustainability. If that’s not something for you, make sure to engage with the students who are reps and ambassadors so that they can voice your thoughts and ideas to staff from across UCEM.
Outside of the university, (perhaps more importantly) go out and vote. Your voice in local and general elections matters greatly. Get to know who is standing in the elections, which party they’re running for and what their stances are in terms of protecting our people and planet.
Show kindness and compassion
The world has been a turbulent place these past two years with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only exacerbated the challenges that people and our planet face. It’s important to remember that not everyone is in the same boat. Not everyone is able to take individual climate and social justice actions.
We need to show kindness and compassion to our neighbours and to the nature around us. If we, as a collective, can offer support, not judgement, for the small steps those around you do take then I think we have a strong chance in breaking down barriers and increasing the likelihood of a more sustainable future.
My first focus as sustainability education and engagement officer is UCEM’s work for SOS-UK’s Responsible Futures. This involves linking up with students and staff from across UCEM and collating the brilliant work that’s been happening. I am particularly excited to work with students on the Responsible Futures Working Group to support the upcoming audit.
Collaboration is a huge part of my work ethic and I believe it is a core component when advocating for social and environmental justice. I can’t wait to get stuck in and collaborate across UCEM to support its goal of becoming the most sustainable university in the world.