University College Cork (UCC) has recently been ranked one of the most sustainable universities in the world by the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking (https://www.interregeurope.eu/intensify/news/news-article/10956/ucc-ranked-one-of-the-most-sustainable-universities/).
This remarkable achievement was led by the student body more than a decade ago with the launch of the Green Campus programme, a seven-step programme and a cycle of continual improvement. According to UCC Sustainability Officer Dr Maria Kirrane, “we’ve had a complete institutional transformation over the last twelve years which was completely inspired by the students and enabled by leadership.”
The level of engagement from the student body through the years is truly inspiring and played a key role in leading the green transformation on campus. In September 2019, UCC students joined the global school strike against climate inaction and in support of “a generation working to demand action on an issue too grave to ignore.”
“Students demand of us that we change constantly, that we improve constantly, that we make decisions with environment in mind constantly. We have to deliver change on the ground to them in order to keep them engaged,” Dr Kirrane stated. “You’ll very quickly lose student involvement if you’re not actually delivering change on the ground and that’s the kind of balancing act the Green Campus [has] been working on over the years.”
One of the students’ main interests revolve around carbon emissions produced by the university and the actions that are being taken to reduce them. As a result, the impact of the university’s carbon footprint is being closely examined annually, and the university is active in working towards an integrated approach to reducing carbon emissions as a key to keeping the students engaged. For example, the Saver Saves Scheme developed by the university’s energy manager involves the targeting of significant energy users of UCC’s 130 buildings. With the support of a team, projects are implemented to improve the efficiency of the building and any financial savings made are reinvested in further environmental projects.
Supporting bottom-up activism on campus is an integral approach to empowering and engaging with the transient student body, after all the Green Campus initiative materialised as students wanted to be involved and have a say in the environmental management on campus. Through the many years of the university’s experience in sustainability, they reveal that having real tangible example of changes happening on the ground keep the students feeling empowered. In instance, the UCC Community Gardens is a food-growing initiative independently managed by the students in the Environmental Society open to all students and staff alike. This green space is used to run workshops or courses that respect agro-ecological techniques and promotes DIY problem solving.
The university has received numerous recognitions in the international metrics over the years. UCC is the first university in the world to be awarded a Green Flag from the Foundation of Environmental Education initially in 2007 and consistently ranking in the top ten in the UI GreenMetric World University Rankings for their efforts towards campus sustainability and environment friendly university management. UCC is also the first in Europe and outside of North America to achieve a gold star from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. UCC now joins Princeton, Cornell and UC Berkeley in receiving the highest standard, Gold ‘Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System’ (STARS) for excellence in sustainability.
Visiting students Roisin Cullagh and Amy Noonan from Eglantine Primary School Cork city share their observations on campus sustainability, “we might not be able to stop climate change but we can stop contributing to it. I wish that children fix their own mistakes and not the mistakes made by previous generations.”
To learn more about UCC’s Green Campus please visit: