Students Organising for Sustainability: Youth-led action for climate justice
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Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS-UK) is an educational charity created by students and staff at the National Union of Students (NUS) in 2019 in response to the climate emergency and ecological crisis. We exist to help students to learn, act and lead for sustainability, to support students to be the change that society urgently needs to get us out of the climate crisis and to deliver climate justice. Our vision is for the education sector to equip students with the knowledge, skills and understanding required to create a fairer and more prosperous society for everyone.
How do we contribute to this ambitious vision?
We run a variety of campaigns and behaviour change programmes with a broad reach across society. In the past year, nearly 1,000 organisations took part or funded our work, resulting in us reaching nearly 200,000 people and saving over 3,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide as a direct result of our work.
Green Impact is one of our most widespread and long-standing programmes, designed to support environmentally and socially sustainable practice within organisations through encouraging teams of staff and students to take positive actions. The programme has spread to a diverse range of organisations, from Universities and Student Unions to NHS trusts and Councils, as well as expanding internationally across Europe, Canada and Australasia. Over 450 organisations have run Green Impact and over 4,500 students have been trained as auditors and project assistants, which contributes directly to our vision of students gaining invaluable skills and experience in leading for a sustainable world.
We work with students and staff at colleges and universities to create a more equitable food system by putting healthy and sustainable food at the heart of campuses across the UK through our Student Eats programme. In the last eight years, we have supported over 65 social enterprises to trade sustainable food as well as helped students to grow food on campuses at around 100 universities and colleges across the UK. Recently, we received funding to launch Farming for Carbon and Nature which aims to enable farmers on university and college-owned land to transition to more carbon and nature-friendly farming practices using university offset payments from unavoidable Scope 3 emissions.
Additionally, we’re proud to partner with organisations to take action on the most important issues. The environmental sector is the second-least racially diverse profession in the country, after farming. This is a real problem, because it is Black and Brown communities around the world that are suffering the most from the climate emergency and ecological crisis. We think it is essential that the organisations leading this fight represent the communities they serve and protect. We are proud to be working with over 30 environmental charities across the UK through Race For Nature to tackle this.
How do we directly support young people to take action?
Teach the Future is our urgent student-led campaign to repurpose the education system in response to the climate crisis and works across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The campaign has three core aims for the education system: teach students about climate change, include green skills in vocational courses and make educational buildings climate-friendly. According to their research, 70% of teachers feel they haven’t received adequate training to educate students about climate change.
Last November, we supported the youth-led, youth-run online conference Mock COP26 – which aimed to fill the void of the postponed COP26. The event was run by young climate activists and was attended by 330 delegates from 142 countries, culminating in a powerful deceleration and treaty with 18 policy recommendations. Our team of student staff are now continuing to work to get the declaration to every head of state and are shaping the implementation of Phase Two of Mock COP26 which will run until November 2021.
How do we know students share our vision?
In addition to programmes and campaigns we carry out specialist research into sustainability and social responsibility focused on the education sector in the UK and internationally. For example, since 2014 we have been asking students from across the tertiary education sector how concerned they are about climate change, 90% of students said they were fairly or very concerned this year, compared with 80% of the UK public. All of the data from this survey and our other research is available online and covers a broad array of sustainability topics including nature and biodiversity, education, the Sustainable Development Goals and more!
Interested in our work?
Get involved! You could take part in Green Impact to encourage sustainable practices to be embedded throughout your organisation. You may also be interested in joining our For Good programme as a member to develop meaningful research, practical projects or placement opportunities that will be mutually beneficial for your organisation and the students you partner with. You could register for events through our Learning Academy which offers training sessions to all, and covers a variety of topics, including Carbon Literacy, Developing a Theory of Change and Starting a Sustainable Food Social Enterprise. Or get in touch to discuss how we can work together! We look forward to creating a fairer and more prosperous society with you.
Further information please head to our website: www.sos-uk.org