Don's diary: A sustainable road

May 30, 2003

Monday

Sustainability Week, an annual demonstration that everyone can act sustainably, has arrived. Weeks of planning for my young colleagues come to fruition. They are keyed up and ready to go. My role is support and encouragement. First lunchtime over and a real success. Quick quizzes designed to test how they decide what to buy are conducted as students lunch and (as I discover) do that last-minute work before the next seminar.

Yes, we caught their attention, but did we get the "Think B4U Buy" message over? Only time will tell.

In the afternoon, our sustainability coordinator and I set off to Edinburgh and the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges' annual conference. How on earth did we manage to be doing both things in the same week? As we drive northwards through the Cheviots and Southern Uplands, I am wonderfully refreshed by the landscapes, shaped through the centuries by man and nature. I wonder should we focus on emotional rather than scientific arguments to get people to take sustainability seriously?

Tuesday

The conference gets going and, welcoming us to Edinburgh, Geoffrey Boulton suggests that throughout time society has lurched precariously from one form of unsustainability to another - an interesting observation. Will this lurch take us over the edge or move us towards safety?

Wednesday

Another conference day. What have we learnt? That transport generated by a university is its biggest single environmental impact. I do not disagree. I am just surprised that it is heralded as news. We said so a decade ago. Another "Here! Here!" for the recognition that incentives can be important and, yes, we do need a common language. The sector still needs leadership and champions.

Thursday

Today's sustainability focus is purchasing by businesses. Great support from invited exhibitors and sponsors, but where are the business people? I recall the old saying about taking horses to water and drinking.

Where did we go wrong? How do we engage them? At least those here enjoyed the evening.

Friday

Thank goodness it dawns dry. It is farmer's market day, the first in Sheffield city centre in living memory, with 26 stalls outside the university's entrance. As I arrive, Bob, our commissionaire, is in his element. Nothing will go wrong when he is in control. It is a big buzz being able to announce, live on Radio Sheffield, that we have achieved one of our aims - the City Council will run three more markets this autumn.

Positive reaction from Sheffielders, and local ostrich burgers make an immediate hit with the university community. I wonder how many students will cook tonight using the recipes on our website?

Saturday

Up early for second market day. The sun is missing but folks turn up to look and buy. Well worth doing. Team pleased with results of all their efforts. All this is a far cry from my teaching and research, but it is great making things happen occasionally.

Off south to Hertfordshire and my annual school reunion. It feels different this year. This year I retire and this is the school that set me on my way, where inspirational teaching made geography the only path I wished to follow. I hope somewhere along the way I have had a similar impact.

Peter Downey is community and sustainability strategy manager, Sheffield Hallam University.

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