The Aston Go Green Awards were designed to give staff at Aston Business School the opportunity to get involved with efforts to improve environmental performance and awareness at the university. In its first year in 2010, 15 teams signed up on behalf of their departments, and the numbers have been growing ever since. Each year, departments create teams that receive a workbook for completion, which helps them focus on easy steps that they can take to improve sustainability in their department. These workbooks are then graded against a list of criteria, with Gold, Silver and Bronze prizes awarded. The Environment Team provides support for the teams along with a range of workshops. I recently had the chance to speak with Victoria Johnsen from the Environment Team about the project.
- Why did you decide to start the Awards, and how did you go about starting them?
We launched the awards because, whilst in the past we had run some successful student engagement projects, we hadn’t run any campaigns specifically aimed at staff. We wanted to do more to involve staff in our projects and to raise awareness of ‘green’ issues, and we felt that incentivising them would help to bring forward volunteers. At the beginning, we looked at other similar schemes in the sector and took inspiration from the ‘Green Impact’ awards, which is run by the National Union of Students (originally started as a student union campaign). We took the basic principles from this but adapted the scheme to fit in with Aston, drafting a series of criteria specific to our organisation and then promoting this heavily to encourage sign-ups.
- What were some of the challenges, and how did you overcome them?
The main challenge was in engaging staff, but we found that, by combining different communications (online, print and face-to-face) with direct requests from the University Executive team, we had a reasonable number of sign-ups. It was also challenging to maintain interest in the scheme, but we ran a series of workshops to try to make sure that staff remained engaged and, in the second year, launched an online ‘module’ so that staff could share ideas and pick up tips throughout the year.
- What have been some of your successes?
The awards have been well received, and we have recently been asked by the University Executive to extend the scheme to ensure that every department has its own champion, as they feel that this has proved to be an effective method of changing attitudes and behaviour. In general, feedback from the staff volunteers has been positive, and we have had the same volunteers signing up over both years, which has shown great commitment to the project.
- What are your plans/hopes for the programme moving forward?
We are now developing the scheme to ensure that there is a wider network of champions in place and that we offer them more support throughout the year. There will still be a ‘workbook’ of some description to complete, but there will be more events and training on offer and more social occasions for volunteers to get involved. We are also working on a series of ‘quick guides’ on topics like saving paper, heating FAQ’s, etc. that champions can share with their colleagues more easily.
- What would you recommend to other schools thinking of putting in place a similar programme?
Do it! Although the scheme has taken some time and effort to put in place, it has been well received and has really helped to raise awareness of ‘green’ issues, events and projects at the university. You need to be willing to put the time and investment in place to run the scheme actively, as volunteers need to feel that they are being offered support and that they are getting some benefits out of the scheme. It’s not always easy to engage people, so don’t expect the first year to be perfect but, with time, the scheme will grow and improve.