Climate Action Bristol: A Case Study in Collaborative Climate Action

Posted on: 12 November 2021

With COP26, the United Nations’ Climate Change Conference, coming to an end this week, we know that climate action has been on everyone’s minds. It’s been on ours too, with our sustainability events, including workshops in Introduction to Sustainability, Ecological Grief, and our consultation. 

So we thought the time was right to share more about how we are currently working with students to engage them in climate action. Back in February 2021, when we delivered at the Universities UK Climate Conference, we shared a blog about our programme Engage for Change, delivered at the University of Cambridge by our Cambridge Hub. 

Today, we wanted to share about Climate Action Bristol, delivered at the University of Bristol by our Bristol Hub. 

Why Bristol?

Bristol is a city which is passionate about advocating for change and forward thinking, and their response as a city to the issue of climate change has been no different. In 2018, Bristol City Council was the first UK city council to declare a climate emergency, and as a city they committed to carbon neutrality by 2030. In 2019, the University of Bristol also publicly declared a climate emergency, and committed to action in this area. 

Mobilising the city, its organisations and university staff and students is a huge step in tackling the climate crisis, and at Student Hubs, we have been part of this mission through our Bristol Hub, working in partnership with the Sustainability Team at the University of Bristol and NETpositive Futures

Establishing Climate Action Bristol

Our partner and funder at the University of Bristol, Head of Sustainability Martin Wiles, originally approached Student Hubs about the possibility of engaging in a programme relating to tackling climate change in Bristol. 

He had been working with an organisation called NETpositive Futures, who work with universities, businesses and other organisations to engage stakeholders to take practical but meaningful action. 

Working collaboratively, a programme was designed to support students to become free consultants for their local community, similar to our Social Innovation Programme format, with teams of students supporting local businesses. The NETpositive climate action planning tool enabled the organisations to create a tailored climate action plan the students could help take forward. 

The climate action planning tool allows organisations (and students) to explore sustainability in a holistic way, reviewing processes and systems from procurement all the way through to recruitment and staff wellbeing. It suggests appropriate actions and means organisations can start from wherever they are on their sustainability journey.

“I enjoyed being able to help a local organisation in Bristol with their sustainability. Having the Climate Action Tool was also such a useful and interesting tool to use and to be able to create climate action plans for companies [and] made me feel very professional and self-sufficient.” – Climate Action Bristol student

Our Approach

Climate Action Bristol in its current format is a student consultancy project that takes place over two academic terms. This is expertise we have across our network and particularly at Bristol Hub, where we have been running Skilled Placement programmes such as the Social Innovation Programme for over 5 years. 

Students are recruited, selected and trained by Student Hubs for the programme, with student interdisciplinary teams of three created with the aim to support local businesses to develop and deliver Climate Action Plans. 

The Climate Action Plans are created through the Climate Action Planning tool, provided by NETpositive Futures, and used by our students to shape their approach with the local business they are supporting. Students across the programme help organisations make and track progress, as they become more aware and take practical actions that benefit the community.

Our students’ action plans focus on four key areas of energy and efficiency; travel and transport; sustainable sourcing; and people and engagement. 

Our Impact in the Community

Through collaboration with student teams, local organisations develop an understanding for in-built resilience, which should enable future business development with a sustainable perspective.

Feedback from partners involved in the programme also included how it “Help[ed] to add weight/credibility to our climate action proposals” and “Helped us to rationalise and organise our ideas.”

Our student consultancy adds capacity to local organisations, providing the tools and expertise they need to do this important work, and also develop their relationships with their student community in Bristol. All of Student Hubs’ programmes are developed with a dual benefit to the students engaged and the communities they work with through our Theory of Change, and our partners can learn as much from our students as our students learn from the experience itself. 

“I enjoyed the opportunity to contribute to the sustainable action plans of Burges Salmon. I gained exposure to the importance of climate action and innovative ways to reduce home working emissions.” – Climate Action Bristol student 

Our Impact on Students

For students, they have the opportunity to develop real-world experience that puts their interest in climate justice to practical use. They also have access to experts in sustainability through the Sustainability Team at the University of Bristol and NETpositive Futures, providing support for technical questions as well as support on their consultancy approach. 

The programme offers a practical experience for students to implement their learnings from their degree course, and understand the importance of inbuilt resilience and evidence-based actions for a business. Students also benefit from the professional experience of acting as student consultants across two terms, combined with opportunities for personal and skill development which supports the overall employability of our student cohort.

“I really enjoyed participating in the in-depth sustainability training as part of the programme, and putting those new skills into practice while helping the Student Union at University of Bristol with their Climate Action Plan. The highlight was collaborating with my team to create a piece of work that will hopefully make it easier for the Student Union societies to put more sustainable practices in place when they run events and trips.” – Climate Action Bristol student

Students on the programme are given full training by Bristol Hub throughout the programme, meaning they have the support to develop their skills, build confidence and carry out their roles as consultants. Some of these trainings include data collection and analysis, building confidence in using analytical tools (i.e. the Climate Action Tool by NETPositive Futures) and how to conduct themselves in a professional setting. For many students this will be a new experience, as we don’t expect students to have any experience in this area, only an interest in sustainability, social action and a passion to make change in their community. 

“[The programme] was [a] really good experience especially with working with clients and developing my professional skills. The work was also really interesting and I learnt a lot about leadership and working through problems within a team.” – Climate Action Bristol student

From our 2020-21 Climate Action Bristol student feedback, students reported:

Employability Skills
  • 90% of students agreed that they developed professional skills from this activity, with the skills of collaboration/teamwork, time management and interpersonal skills being ranked most highly 
  • 90% of students agreed that participating increased their confidence in approaching challenges, improved their ability to work with others to make change and  to adapt and overcome challenges
  • 70% of students agreed that participating improved their ability to lead others to make change
Sustainability and Civic Engagement
  • 100% of students agreed that they gained useful insight into sustainability careers through their engagement in Climate Action Bristol
  • 90% of students agreed that they better better understand how they can use their skills to support local organisations 
  • 90% of students agreed that their team produced work that will positively impact the organisation they consulted for
  • 80% of students agreed that they are more likely to tackle further social channels as a result of their engagement 
Student experience and belonging
  • 90% of students agreed that participating enhanced their university experience
  • 80% of students agreed that participating enhanced their wellbeing
  • 70%  of students agreed that participating feel connected to their local community
  • 70%  of students agreed that participating feel connected to other volunteers

What’s next for Climate Action Bristol?

With our partners at Sustainability at the University of Bristol and NETpositive Futures, we are exploring how we can develop the programme and continue our impact in the community. 

At Student Hubs, we are also excited to explore more opportunities to work collaboratively with NETpositive Futures in more areas across our network. 

Sustainability is a key agenda for many universities, and our structured and practical programmes are a great way to directly involve students in university strategy in this area and work with the community. Our programme Engage for Change is also a strong example of our work in this area, and you can read our case study about the programme.

If you have any questions about Climate Action Bristol, or if you are a university interested in partnering with Student Hubs to run sustainability programmes or other initiatives, please get in touch with Fiona Walsh, Partnerships and Development Director at fiona.walsh@studenthubs.org

Lydia Green (former Bristol Hub Manager), Sorcha Young (current Bristol Hub Manager), Fiona Walsh (Partnerships Director) and Sheri Leigh-Miles (NETpositive Futures)

Our former Bristol Hub Manager and current Bristol Hub Manager worked together with Fiona and Sheri-Leigh Miles from NETpositive Futures to create this case study, sharing our work at the University of Bristol and Bristol Hub.

Tags: Community, Education, Higher Education, Skilled Placements


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