UWE lecturers recognised for including sustainability into their curriculum

Last month, The Students’ Union at UWE celebrated the outstanding achievements of our community, who work hard to enrich students’ experience. The university awarded students, lecturers and non-academic staff for their dedication to diversity, innovation, leadership and teamwork. 

This year, we added a new award category; the Teaching for Sustainable Development Award. Education for sustainable development is a part of UWE Bristol’s 2020 strategy, which strives to incorporate green issues across all courses and faculties.

According to the Sustainability Survey 2017-18, most of you (in fact, 90%!) already agree that universities should promote sustainability across their campuses and 77% would like to learn more.

Over the past few years, The Students’ Union and UWE Bristol have launched numerous initiatives, like The Green Team, Sustainability Coursework Prize and The Green Ambassadors Project for those who’d like to take their interest in green issues further.

However, we need to recognise that there is still a large proportion of students who require elementary education on the issues like energy, transport, recycling or consumption. Sustainability is not only a domain of Geography and Conservation students, it permeates everyone’s everyday lives. It is also a key consideration for numerous professions including engineers, entrepreneurs, designers or nurses. 

Therefore, this year six lecturers across three faculties (FET, FBL and HAS) were shortlisted in recognition for their dedication to teaching sustainability.

Here are the nominations received for the Teaching for Sustainable Development Award:

Ian Brooks, who teaches sustainable IT:

“Ian has been astoundingly kind, knowledgeable and informative from day one of the course and throughout everything he teaches he has intertwined sustainable development principles, and taught us how they would be used in practice. Ian has knowledge around everything he teaches and always comes to lectures so well prepared. I feel like I could go out in to the world and make a difference.“

Phil Gilbert, who teaches about the links between pollution and housing:

“Phil is a character that is not to be reckoned with, his wit, charm and quirky manner is enough to make the class laugh and embrace the subject knowledge that he has to offer. Embracing sustainability, Phil continues to inspire students of all backgrounds with his expertise in pollution management, housing management and sustainable living (…) Keep it up Phil!”

Dr Sarah Hills, who runs MSc Sustainable Development in Practice:

“Sarah has made my MSc experience really positive. Without a first degree, and returning to education after 40 years, I was very daunted. Sarah has built my confidence and challenged me simultaneously. She's been the best thing about the course!”

Dr Farnon Ellwood

“Dr. Ellwood is part of a research team studying the potential of birds nest tree ferns to improve the biodiversity of palm oil plantations in Borneo (…) Farnon has striven to engage students from other faculties about sustainable palm oil, and is in the process of building a permanent exhibition in S block as a means of achieving this. In terms of dedication to encouraging students to live in a more sustainable way, I cannot think of a lecturer more deserving of this award.”

Dr Svetlana Cicmil, who teaches responsible management:

“As an MBA student, always learning about business throughout my education, I had little to no exposure to sustainable developments. Very little to no knowledge of any of the theory, perspectives, models or initiatives that were in this field. Not only has Svetlana shun a light and provided knowledge of sustainable development and the great crisis we are facing now, she has provided me the space to develop my own growing perspective, interpretation and definitions.”

Rachel Wood, who teaches mediation and litigation:

“Rachel is a hard working engaging lecturer who should be recognised for going above and beyond. Rachel dedicates and volunteers her time to this project, which creates and improves sustainable skills for students, of which they can use in their future careers.”

The shortlisted teachers shared with us how they incorporate sustainability into their teaching and why this is important across all the disciplines:

How do you include sustainability into your teaching?

Sarah: I try to make my teaching relevant to the students’ everyday experience. For example, they do an assignment where they look at the sustainability impacts of a product such as shampoo or a laptop or an item of clothing. This really brings home the hidden health, human rights and environmental costs of things we use every day.

Svetlana: As I am a business and management educator, including sustainability into my teaching has been a natural thing to do. I believe that you cannot develop global leaders without addressing in the curriculum some of the most pertinent issues of our time, such as: ecological crisis, global ethics, and corporate responsibility related to human rights and just sustainable development. These topics are relevant and can be linked to every aspect of the business and management curriculum.

How would you encourage staff to teach sustainability across the faculties?

Sarah: I’d encourage staff to play to their strengths. If you are a statistician or you teach design or business leadership, you don’t suddenly need to try and be an expert in climate science or industrial pollution. Simply bring in some sustainability-relevant examples to help the students develop the core knowledge and skills for your discipline. So if you are a statistician get the students to look at the data on the impact of bringing in the 5p charge on plastics bags. Likewise the success of the recent campaign around plastic pollution would make a great case study for our creative media and journalism students.

Svetlana: In my view, teaching sustainability-related topics is a reflection of responsible practice in Higher Education. It is a complex and multifaceted concept, a mixture of technological, moral, political and sociological concerns, which mirror the UWE syllabi at large. In my view, the UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a useful framework within which specialist from every subject area taught at the University can find an inspiration.

Finally, congratulations to Dr Sarah Hills for winning the Students’ Experience Award! We wish you and your colleagues more positive and rewarding teaching experiences and generations of alumni, who are ready to make the world a better place.