Featured, University Life

Environment: Leicester students campaigning earns national recognition

Written by Toby Cray

Carla Field and Meggie Eloy have been nationally recognised by the Green Gown awards, where they have been nominated for the ‘Student Sustainability Champion of the Year’. They have created a zero-waste shop on campus and remarkably, managed to get the university to divest from fossil fuels too.

Their passion for the environment is quick to see and it was inspiring hearing them speak so eloquently about the positive changes that they have brought to the university.

Their close bond of friendship was clearly apparent throughout the interview. This was evident when Carla burst out into a smile as Meggie started off by joyfully reminiscing how the zero-waste shop began:

“Carla and I met for the first time in Costa. We said a zero-waste shop would be so cool, but it was literally one of the things you think you say but it will never happen.” Behind Meggie’s speculative “let’s see if we can do it” there was an obvious determined drive, that led the zero-waste shop to become a reality.

They put an incredible amount of effort into the zero-waste shop, starting back in February 2018, as Carla recollects:

“We ran this as a pop-up. […] We ran it, we ran it a few more times, we kept going with it, developing it, changing it, running it at events, and we collected all this data around what works, what doesn’t, what students like to engage with, what they don’t.

“Then we presented that as a business case to Leicester Services Partnership, who run all the food outlets on campus. We had a meeting with them and proposed this business case and they were essentially like yeah, you’ve proved that it works, it’s different, it’s something other people don’t have.”

Unfortunately the shop is currently closed, as Carla states: “The pandemic was a real shame for it, because it had just really started, the ball had been rolling for a good year and we got to this amazing point when everything hit.”

When it gets the go-ahead to open again, you will be able to find it in the SU, and it will stock a range of items including, straws, shampoo bars, soap, reusable water bottles, oats, pasta, rice, dried fruits and snacks like banana chips.

The origins of their campaign to get the university to divest from fossil fuels once again started in a coffee shop:

“I can remember sitting in a coffee shop scribbling down loads and loads of notes about what we were going to do,” Carla said. “We called it an ethical investment policy campaign and it was the idea that we wanted the investments that the university makes to be sustainable and socially thoughtful.”

Their hard work was soon to be rewarded:

“It was really successful, it took about six months […] They fully divested from fossil fuels in all of their endowment funds, so that is a large chunk of their investments,” said Carla.

This achievement was considerable, given how important investments are to the fight against climate change, as Meggie states:

“If you change that investment, so that it is only investing in sustainable initiatives or renewable energy companies, it is actually 27 times more effective than not getting flights or going vegan.”

The magnitude of this achievement becomes more apparent as Carla told us that in the UK:

“They are the first university to actually do that, which is awesome, it proves that you don’t need to be making pledges, you don’t need to make ten-year plans, you can do this like that.”

Even though they had brought about such important changes to the university’s investments, they still felt that there was more to do as Carla added:

“We wanted to expand it more, where the investments were making a positive impact and not a negative one. I think that is something that they are looking into, we have handed over the reins, so it is up to other people now.”

They wanted to keep the society open to everyone:

“Throughout the whole of plan-it change, we never wanted it to be a society, which is exclusive to a certain type of person, your typical environmental person, who might be a hippy. We didn’t want it to be about that, you don’t have to be a type of person, you just have to be a person, because it impacts everyone,” Meggie said.

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However, they were prepared for radical action to push the university to change its investments:

“We had this whole action plan, but they were really co-operative with us, so that was good.” She added how quick the university got back to her: “Originally we sent a letter to the Vice Chancellor and we got a response.”

Meggie reflected joyfully on her parent’s reaction to her nomination:

“I don’t think my parents fully understand what I do, they are foreign, they are not like your typical doctor or lawyer, but I said to them look the university put me in their emails and my mum put it on Facebook, so it was quite exciting.”

After Carla saw them on the university’s social media, she happily added:

“We got put on the Twitter page, we have made it in life.”

Toby Cray is a second-year journalism student at the University of Leicester. You can find him on Instagram here: @toby5.c