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In June Sue Henderson from the Department of Chemistry won the University’s Green Impact Environmental Hero award. We interviewed her to find out how she did it, and find out more about the plastic bag monster...

‘Green Impact’ is a national initiative established by the National Union of Students. Participating university departments are given access to an online workbook outlining the criteria they need to meet in order to win a bronze, silver or gold award.

Chemistry won a gold Green Impact award for the department, and a silver award for its labs. I was nominated for the Environmental Hero award because I help staff in the department to realise the importance of taking action on our environmental responsibilities. I lead a group called the Green Meanies which meets fortnightly to discuss how we can improve environmental sustainability in the department.

We held a Green Week in March. We made a plastic bag monster to raise awareness that plastic bags are such a dreadful environment hazard to wildlife. People had to guess how many bags the monster was made of and there was a prize.

We also had a cake sale to raise money for the Woodland Trust, and a waste game with cut outs of all sorts of waste and asked people to stick them on a board according to where they thought they should be disposed of. It was interesting to see the results!

When we joined the scheme I said to the Environmental Sustainability Team in Estates that I didn’t know how we were going to meet the Green Impact criteria. We create a lot of waste in Chemistry, some of which is hazardous, and we have strict environmental temperature control criteria for laboratory and scientific instrument areas. It’s also a challenge that there are so many research groups in our buildings.

Estates said that we needed to explain these things in our workbook. You have to persuade people to act in a more environmentally friendly way, but you don’t have to prove that they have all taken action as a result – which is good, as there are more than 1,000 people in the Department! Hopefully over time people will think about the issues and change their behaviour.

We have worked with the café staff to change the packaging that they use – from Styrofoam to compostable boxes, and cutlery - as well as introducing Fairtrade and healthy options on their menu.

We encourage people to use public transport and cycle. We want to refurbish an abandoned cycle and let staff use it to get around Oxford for meetings. The 'bike doctor' operates very close to our building in term time and we promote this.

We encourage staff to travel by train when going to meetings and events outside Oxford. We use Skype as much as possible: for meetings and when interviewing international students. IT set up a screen on the table so it looks like the person on Skype is in the room with us!

I encourage people to have plants in their offices. Plants make people feel happier. They help remove carbon from the area and release oxygen. We have ferns outside the atrium. It’s nice for visitors and for people when they are sitting having a coffee. I would like to have ivy on the staircases and fish in the atrium but I don’t think that is going to happen!

We’ve committed to reduce our energy consumption by 2020. Our facilities colleagues have agreed to make reductions on top of the ones we were already committed to. We have already reduced our utility consumption by 10 per cent over the last two years. The Green Impact team and its initiatives have been a major factor - engaging staff and raising awareness are all major contributors to the year on year reductions.

Next academic year I will have the opportunity to speak to new students during their induction. We will move Green Week to November so it’s closer to when new students join the department. It would be good to have more students in the Green Meanies group too.
Many MPLS departments won Green Impact awards this year. It would be great to share ideas and also to encourage other MPLS departments to get involved.

The Environmental Sustainability Team in Estates oversees Green Impact at Oxford. To find out more or to sign up your team, visit the Green Impact Oxford website or e-mail the Environmental Sustainability Follow the team on Twitter @OxfordEnvSust

Find out more about the other MPLS departments winners here