The university you want to study at isn’t far away, writes Samuel Rayfield.
On Friday May 1st and into the weekend, 10 UON staffers between Callaghan and Ourimbah turned off all non-essential equipment in their work areas, saving 1745 kWh, 1.5 tonnes CO2, or $218. It’s not a lot, but if all the work areas in the participating buildings did it, $250,000 is the estimated annual saving.
It was the Blackout Challenge, the results of which demonstrated the resources that a university with students and staff exceeding 30,000 could feasibly save if printers, computers, kitchen equipment and whatever else were switched off when not in use. Too, the effort expended to switch off is small compared to what $250,000 suddenly freed up could provide.
“If everyone does a little, we really would accomplish a lot,” UON Environmental Officer Megan Sharkey said. The Blackout Challenge was the first iteration of the university integrated sustainable behaviour change program, Champions 4 Change.
”I find that a lot of the staff and students have been waiting for something like this … People have been wanting to get stuff done, but have found it frustrating because there’s nobody in the correct area to help them do it,” said Megan.
Stuff, being anything already falling under C4C’s banner (like Active Travel, or the developing What a Waste education campaign) or something entirely of one’s own devising. If there’s anything on any of the university’s campuses that anyone wants to see change, now there’s an avenue to get the ideas from the bottom to the top.
For Newcastle University Student Environment Club (NUSEC) president Brenden Field, a program such as this is “a relief”.
“We were well and truly behind in having such a program, but it’s not just for us to take part – it’s for the whole university, [a way for everyone to] participate and be informed.”
“We don’t have to campaign ourselves as much – we’ve actually got a medium to do it through now.”
But sustainable behaviour change programs require sustenance as well. Rather than prescribing or initially enforcing behavioural change, C4C operates on the discussion of ideas within a participatory community of Champions.
“When you have strong social ties, people want to work together,” Megan said.
“This builds community, and building community is good for the environment.”
Champions also earn points for the C4C-recognised activities that they participate in. There’s no compulsory accrual of points for ‘completion’ of the program, but the points become redeemable for prizes (currently being sourced). Aside from the material reward, Champions who participate acquire unique experience and CV material.
“It gives students something tangible they can bring through into their professional life” and being a university-recognised program, “it’s something that employers will understand”, Megan said.
Ideally, Megan says, from the network of Champions integrated and sustained over time, sustainable minds will flow from the university into workplaces, effecting widespread behavioural change. With C4C, UON sets an example of what social and vocational spaces can become, ultimately for the benefit of all.