Sustainability and climate news can feel overwhelming. In August, the UN Secretary-General called the latest IPCC Climate Report a ‘code red for humanity’, stating ‘The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable’.  

Whilst there is clearly a long road ahead, there is also a lot happening in education, with global initiatives like the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings assessing universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

The upcoming COP26 summit is also a key focal point this year, with opportunities to get involved in pre-summit events like the inaugural Climate Impact Forum, which seeks to ‘identify, share, challenge and inspire the higher education sector to take a more significant role in accelerating the socio-economic transformation required to achieve net zero’.

For a few thoughts on interpreting sustainability a little closer to home, here are three suggested ways you can connect these global issues back to your own learning and teaching context. 

Embed sustainability in your course

As these practical tips for sustainable teaching point out, you don’t need to have a topic called ‘Sustainability’ to include it in your teaching. Look for opportunities to embed sustainability issues as examples and case studies in your learning activities and assessment tasks.

Ranked top in the 2021 THE Impact Rankings, the UK’s University of Manchester has some extensive resources on sustainability in teaching and learning, including guides on embedding sustainability in the curriculum

Do you already teach a subject that addresses climate change or other environmental issues? If you’re concerned about the psychological impact of climate change for your students, earlier this year Tania Leimbach shared a toolkit on staying present, engaged and positive in the face of climate change, with some practical ideas and resources to try out.

Practise sustainability in your teaching 

As the 2020 UTS sustainability report noted, the events of the last couple of years have presented some surprising sustainability benefits for students, teachers and UTS as a whole:

Less time travelling to and from campus meant more time for personal activities and less carbon miles. Working locally supported local economies and communities, and the move to online exams saw a significant reduction in paper usage.  

As the report also observes, we don’t yet know which changes will be permanent, except for the expectation that we may see more remote online working and learning in tertiary education.

With tech firmly embedded in the teaching toolkit, you can also find more ideas in Rhiannon Hall’s post on ‘living your best sustainable tech life‘ – and think twice about whether you need that phone upgrade!

Attend COP26 events and get involved!

There’s plenty going on at UTS, as you can see in this comprehensive guide to living and teaching sustainably at UTS and the UTS sustainability report. UTS also administers the national Teaching and Learning Sustainability website, a tool for academic staff, students and members of teaching units which helps locate sustainability related courses, subjects and teaching resources, including sustainability teaching materials for use in the classroom.

For short, regular insights on sustainability issues, don’t forget to subscribe to the UTS podcast series Think: Sustainability. One recent episode looks at the ‘Not-So-Digital Workforce‘, diving into some of the sustainability-related impacts of the recent shifts in where and how people work.

To get involved with COP26, registration for the THE climate impact forum is free for universities. If you attend, let us know what you heard, and share the experience with the community! If you’ve been building sustainability into your own teaching, we’d love to hear about your successes and challenges in the comments below.

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