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We interview Claire Mitchell an member engagement officer for the EUAC, which is the environmental Association for universities and colleges about the Green Gown Awards

by Aimee Rigby/3rd-October-2021

Okay, so welcome to Zero Waste Kode. Thank you for joining us today. Would you like to introduce yourself and your role at the EAUC?

Hi, I’m Claire Mitchell. I am the member engagement officer, the EUAC, which is the environmental Association for universities and colleges, and we’re the Alliance for sustainability leadership in education, based in Cheltenham in Gloucestershire.


Fantastic. Yes. So, one of the awards that you do at the EAUC is the Green Gown awards. So, would you be able to give us a bit of background about that? When you were founded and what your mission vision was for those?

Yep, sure. So EAUC, was launched in 1996. We’re a membership organisation not for profit. And our membership comprises of further and higher education institutions in the UK and Ireland. But we also do have some international members as well. And the Green Gown awards were established in 2004. And they recognise the exceptional sustainability initiatives being undertaken by universities and colleges across the UK and Ireland. As sustainability moves up the agenda, the awards have become more established, and are now one of the most prestigious recognitions of best practice within the FHE sector. So here you see administer the green gown awards, and we have a local cross agency steering group as well. But the awards, as I said, they’re growing yearly, and there’s now an increase in international presence. So, we have, as I said, the UK and Ireland green gown awards, we also now have the Australasian green gown awards, French speaking green gown awards, which covers France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Quebec. And then we also have the international green gown awards, supported by the UN Environment Programme. And that’s open to all universities and colleges from around the world.


That’s fantastic. So, what do you look for in a sustainable education provider? What sort of thing is it that makes a higher education provider sustainable to you?

So, if we take it with regards to the green gown awards, what we’re looking for with our finalists, is that they’re emphasising the institution’s role in enabling and empowering younger people to tackle pressing global issues. So, to ensure that they have a better tomorrow. A lot of the projects in the awards show the power of post 16 education, and the seriousness with which it takes its responsibilities in creating a better world and a new generation of leaders. With the awards, we’re looking for projects that take a holistic approach. So, we want institutions who are promoting and embedding sustainability across all their operations.

So, for example, across research, across education, operations, and community engagement, and we’re also looking for projects that other organisations and institutions can learn from, that’s really quite important so that we’re seeing good examples for others to learn. So, you know, examples, best practice. And really, at the moment, for 2021, how the pandemic has impacted on initiatives and what opportunities this has brought- I mean, obviously, there’s been a huge amount of negative impact from COVID. But that has also led to some opportunities. So, we’re looking for institutions that I suppose are thinking a bit differently at the moment, and they’re finding more innovative and more sort of new, sustainable solutions.


I’m Claire Mitchell. I am the member engagement officer, the EUAC, which is the environmental Association for universities and colleges,

Fantastic. So, in your opinion, what is the best thing or the easiest and most effective thing a tertiary education provider can do to start their sustainable policies?

Well, a shameless plug would be to join the EAUC if they’re not already members. But I mean, there isn’t actually one thing, I’m afraid it’s not quite as straightforward as that. But um, the role of the universities and colleges in the fight against climate crisis is key. So EAUC, we’ve made a call to all post 16 education institutions, and support bodies in the UK and Ireland to declare a climate emergency and also to commit to the Committee on climate change’s recommendation to adopt, as a minimum 2050 net zero target on all greenhouse gas emissions. With Cop26 taking place in Glasgow in November of this year, as a response, we’re asking universities and colleges to join the race to zero which is a global campaign. And that helps sort of demonstrate both the FHE sector’s commitment to net zero agenda. And when we’re looking at institutions, and sustainability, we’d certainly like to see institutions focused in on making sure they have a climate change adaptation plan, and that they’ve embedded education for sustainable development into the curriculum, and that they’re looking at how to move towards a circular economy within the institution. But also prioritising health and well-being, I think more than anything, that pandemic has shown that there’s a huge amount of importance, and that sustainability and health and well-being is interlinked. I think an institution that’s at the start of their journey, the EAUC have produced an HE climate action toolkit, and also FE roadmap, which has set out policies, procedures, and well, as it said, a roadmap. So that would be something for institutions to look at as well.


Absolutely. So why is it so important for the education sector, of all sectors, to get on board with sustainability?

Well, I think of institutions of education, you know, the FHE has a responsibility to its students, to ensure the learning they gain gives them the necessary skills for the working and living environment they’ll be graduating into. The working world they face is very different to ones that have gone before, and it faces a huge global challenge. And young people must have the skills and knowledge needed. In particular, they’ll be working in a low carbon world, so graduates must be carbon literate, enough to understand the implications this has for them. And institutions also have a responsibility to the wider society. And they contain many of the best academic minds. And they must lead the way and set a good example and share research and show foresight and sustainability. They’re also the pipeline to the economy, providing people with the education skills for the changing job market. And I would say finally, that sustainability is key to the institutional success over the long term, because it provides critical opportunities for value creation and risk mitigation at a time when universities and colleges are looking for ways to become more resilient in an increasingly volatile environment.


Fantastic. Yeah. So, for any universities or providers listening, what is the awards process in the UK like?

Yep, so for the Green Gown awards, UK and Ireland, it’s a two stage application process. Stage one involves a short application form. And then we have a judging panel of representatives of sector organisations and/or specialists from a particular area. So, we on our judging panel for 2020, as an example, we had representatives from, obviously the FHE sector, but also from Soil Association, sustainable purchasing and food group, NUS  and SOS UK, so students were represented, and then advanced procurement for universities and colleges, based up in Scotland. After they’ve put forward the application form, then the judges meet, they discuss. And once you’ve assessed the applications, they produce a list of finalists- with regards to 2021 Awards, there’s 15 categories. And the finalists are announced in July, there’s then stage two, where the finalists can submit additional information. And then the awards take place in November and the winners are announced in November. It’s usually a face-to-face event, about 350 black tie, but obviously due to the situation at the moment, it’s virtual. So, the process, the applications would start around April and then the awards ceremony would and winners will be announced in November.

Above images; Some of the themes and work set out by the EAU environmental Association for universities and colleges,

Fantastic. So, as you mentioned at the start, the green gown awards don’t just operate in the UK. Do you see any differences between sustainable practices in the UK and abroad?

Um, that’s quite a hard one to answer actually, because obviously different institutions are on a different phase of the journey. And the same with different countries. What I will say is that not all institutions are necessarily large institutions with huge budgets. And so, the recent international green gown awards applications came from rural parts of Mexico and Brazil, Malaysia, who were working very closely with the local community. And what’s actually really good about, when you look at the International, and they are heavily community-based projects, and these are countries that are facing the immediate effect of the climate crisis right now. So, the blue line nations and the island nations in the tropics, we can learn from them.


Absolutely. So finally, where can our listeners find out more about the green gown awards and the EAUC and donate if they would like to?

Yep. So, we have a website for the green gown awards. So it’s  We also have a Twitter account, and the handle is @Greengowns. But also, our information is on our EAUC website, which is; There are opportunities, as you mentioned, to donate, but there’s also opportunities for organisations outside the FHE sector to get involved with the green gowns by being supporters or sponsors. And all that information is available on our green gown and EAUC websites.


That’s great. Well, thank you so much for sharing all of that and for coming on the podcast today.

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