Students joining forces for a more sustainable future

Sustainability has long been a fundamental part of Victoria University of Wellington, especially when it comes to student activities.

The Victoria University of Wellington Students Association (VUWSA), has a dedicated Wellbeing and Sustainability Officer, who is responsible for coordinating the many groups across campus that are working towards improving the immediate environment and looking at the bigger picture, too.

VUWSA’s former Wellbeing and Sustainability Officer and now Welfare Vice-President Michael Turnbull, says Toitū te Ao—Sustainability Week is a great chance to focus on the issues around climate change and the environment.

“We work with the many environmental groups on campus to create an inclusive, engaging week for students focusing on sustainability issues around the University and also Wellington as a whole. It’s really cool – we get a lot of student engagement,” he says. “We also work with different conservation groups in and around Wellington, such as Conservation Volunteers NZ, as well as a whole range of other sustainability-focused businesses who are coming in to campus during the week.”

Michael says the crossover between Sustainability Week with Te Wiki o te Reo Māori brings a new perspective to environmental issues.

“In the face of huge climate impacts, this will help highlight the indigenous voice and perspective on sustainability,” he says. “Including that kaupapa this year is really important to show that this is a community problem as well as a cultural one, and that there’s more than just one perspective about how we can solve this.”

The hard work on sustainability won’t stop when the week is done, says Michael, who helps lead the University’s Sustainability Supergroup.

“The Supergroup is a committee of sustainability-focused groups from around campus which meet fortnightly and discuss initiatives and how to get people engaged,” he says. “It has really helped open a dialogue between the different groups. The big thing with clubs at the University is that can so easily be siloed into their own activity, whereas the Supergroup allows organisations to communicate and cross collaborate, especially when their main cause or focus is so similar—it allows awesome cohesion, which has been really cool to watch.

“These groups include Victoria Development Society, Veg VUW, Generation Zero, Pacific Climate Warriors, the Climate Clinic, as well as representatives from Ngāi Tauira and form the University’s Sustainability team,” explains Michael. “It also means that when we do have events like Toitū te Ao—Sustainability Week we have a huge pool of volunteers to call on.”

He says one of the most pressing sustainability issues the University faces is waste, with the results of a recent audit set to be showcased as part of the week’s events.

“I had my hand in a few trash bags and I can tell you we do need to reduce waste! It is a huge issue—we have roughly 22,000 students which is more than some towns in New Zealand, so they produce a lot of rubbish that has to go somewhere,” he says. “We also have a lot of cafes and food outlets on campus and that equals a lot of plastic, so another big issue the Supergroup is working on has been trying to get different businesses to reduce the amount of plastic they use—Vic Books café for example has been able to reduce the amount of single use coffee cups it uses by selling keep cups and introducing a cup borrowing scheme too.

There’s always room for the University to improve on environmental issues, but I think we could definitely be a leader if we keep pushing and keep having a strong sustainability voice.”