Enactus – Best Kept Sustainability Secret in Global HE?

Last week I attended, for the first time, the Enactus National Finals in London and was totally struck by the sheer enthusiasm, innovation, sporting and supportive community that has been nurtured by the Enactus UK team and the participating universities.

35 universities groups of active Enactus teams from across the UK competed in showcasing their superb projects and it was hard to not be impressed by any of them. The five finalists (Queens University Belfast, Leeds, Southampton, Sheffield and Nottingham) were, perhaps, standouts in terms of the quality of the projects and the maturity of their thinking. Augmented by slick, well rehearsed and emotive presentations, those five certainly deserved their place on the final stage. Southampton were overall winners with Southampton in 2nd place with some brilliant projects.

I only learnt about Enactus less than a year ago when the president of the Nottingham branch contacted me to develop ideas of how The University of Nottingham might work more closely with them. Within a few minutes it was clear there were plenty of opportunities for us to work collaboratively on local projects and support their ideas for some spectacular overseas projects like Empower Malawi and Aquor.

I would encourage you to investigate further the great work underway across universities in the UK and overseas that are being carried out by highly motivated, smart students on a voluntary basis. They build their Enactus work around their courses of study and add so much value to their CVs they are sought after graduates at the end of it. The impressive panel of alumni who judged the UK National Finals is testimony to that.

Enactus thrives because it has autonomy, imagination and because it empowers students. Every single project they are working on improves the lives of the people they work with by tackling social, environmental and economic challenges. They are making a fantastic difference to the lives of communities all over the UK and globally. Branches across the globe will come together in October to compete in the World Cup and Southampton will be the UK’s representative.

This movement is an incredibly important part of the higher education sector’s contribution to sustainable development and should be recognised as such.

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Stirling Efforts Among Universities 

I attended my first conference convened by The Association of University Directors of Estates this week hosted in the wonderful grounds of Stirling University. Sat in the carved valley of the Forth surrounded by white capped hills and mountains it made for a spectacular setting.

But it wasn’t all about appearances. There was some really good substance to the conference too. Ian Diamond attended to give a timely insight in to his recently published report to universities. There was honesty and inspiration in spades too – some fabulous ‘lessons learned’ sessions in open plenary with both The University of Birmingham and Glasgow School of Arts sharing their stories of recovery from fires which had devastating impacts on their operations spreading over days in the case of the former and months in the case of the latter.

There were sessions that inspired too. I attended a workshop session led by Atelier Ten who gave an overview of the work they have been doing to ‘Green the Ivy League’ with long term strategic planning in the estates of Yale and Harvard Business School where they have developed plans, standards, policies and solutions that will get them to their carbon reduction targets. They are doing this through ensuring new build projects meet the highest standards possible, by identifying how they can invest in larger scale energy infrastructure and, crucially, how they will improve the existing building stock. We know that universities all over the world are well motivated to invest in inspirational, complex, low carbon buildings. It’s equally recognised how challenging it can be to keep older existing stock performing well. The nature of capital rich and revenue poor businesses. The challenge hasn’t gone away but the case study presented at Yale was an excellent example of a deep refurb that creates better, healthier, more productive working environments for staff and students alike. Who wouldn’t want that?

There was some lively debate about the future of sustainability metrics and reporting performance within the sector. AUDE has shown some real leadership on this and is working with Arup to develop ideas in partnership with the EAUC and People and Planet over the coming months. The session was a scene setter for forthcoming regional workshops AUDE are running to which Directors of Estates and sustainability professionals are invited to attend to help shape this further.

On the final day after an fantastically hospitable and enjoyable evening in the setting of Stirling Castle, complete with pipers, haggis and a wee dram, it was left to Philip Ross of Unwork to share his insights into how technology is changing the very nature of society, communities and interaction. It’s profound impact on the type of spaces we require and desire in the future is clear. Generation Z just don’t work generations before them. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) really is just the start. The level of interactivity is only going to increase.

With insight from the current Union of Student President at Stirling and one its more famous alumni, Lord Reid of Cardowan, it was a fitting end it a thought provoking conference, reminding us to take the longer term view, to remain optimistic and resilient and to Kiss with Confidence.