Words || Ashley Regan
We’re in a period of undeniable awareness of the damage humans have inflicted on our planet and time short time we have left to alter the destructive course we’re on. The responsibility to help is not only at the hands of the world’s decision makers, but also with each of us. A group that understands this and is taking action is Macquarie’s student run Sustainability Squad. I met up with the green activists on our campus to chat about sustainability and environmentalism, showing that one person can make a difference, and you too can join them.
The Sustainability Squad was birthed out of a class project in 2017, where three passionate environmental students recognised the need for such a group. “We wanted to take the words we were talking about in the classroom and put them into action,” Mitchell Kirsch, the founder of the Squad says, “This group is a way to say we are here, we are taking action, and now so can you”. Coming into its third year, the group has fifteen leaders and is changing the lives of the 40,000 students on our campus. In its first year the Squad won ‘Best New Student Group’, and in its second year it won ‘Best Student Group’ as well as being nominated for the Green Gown Awards within Australasia for ‘Sustainable Campus’.
“We are not just a group on campus, we are a part of the whole movement for sustainability. What we do at Macquarie is implementing change around Australia,” said Emelia Corvette the current President. And she is determined to keep this impactful momentum going for 2019. The Squad’s name was carefully curated to spread their message, “We are the Sustainability Squad, not a society, because we wanted to make it fun and entertaining and not so like the planet is dying. We wanted to have a fun inclusive community and it has been!” The name also reflects the Squads major intentions of “communicating with people on a progress basis not a perfectionist basis.”
This year the Squad is focusing on three key issues of ethical consumption, plastic waste and food including health and wellbeing, with their main goal to “sink roots into Macquarie even more, we want to make our voices heard even louder”. They plan to achieve these goals by expanding their student engagement, hosting more events and implementing more initiatives.
The educational and fun events you can look forward to this year include larger and more frequent clothes swaps, trivia competitions with sustainable prize packs, pizza events at Ubar, more regular movie screenings (which have previously featured Chasing Coral and the True Cost) and my personal favourite – Box Divvy through Harvest Hub, giving students and staff cheap access to organic and locally grown fruit and veg.
Specifically, the Squad is trying to make events more inclusive, “making sure individuals who know nothing about sustainability can feel welcomed to join”. Make sure to follow Macquarie University Sustainability Squad on all social media accounts to get notifications on upcoming events, progress on initiatives, interesting research and volunteering opportunities.
From a simple class project to a community with international recognition, it is easy to activate change. “Especially for first year students, put yourself out there and you’ll be amazed of how much you can achieve with just a little bit of courage. Don’t be afraid to come talk to us in passing at uni or hang out at O-week. We are just a big group of friends who just love talking about the environment. Don’t hesitate to start or communicate”.
Zara Bending is the David Attenborough of Macquarie. She is an amazing teacher, researcher and associate at the Centre for Environmental Law. Zara has been studying and teaching at Macquarie for over a decade. Instead of becoming a full-time lawyer she is a full time academic because teaching is what she loves to do. “I always teach my students that wellness is important. Find something you can do with your hands that doesn’t require a screen”. Some of the sustainable activities Zara has led with her students include making candles out of old wine bottles to support Earth Hour and making vegan makeup whose profits went to hygiene kits for women in Uganda.
“As professors we are more concerned with the time we have with students, because the power lies with the students. When students on campus take issues more seriously it’s a very powerful thing, this collective action is when the higher ups take more notice. Students at Macquarie have been at the forefront of so many things that you probably don’t even realise. We were the first campus in the southern hemisphere to ensure that all of their coffee was slave labour free and that was decades ago. This is because students led that movement. I believe our students today can do even more amazing things. I get inspired by what my students do, from talking to parliaments about environmental litigation strategies to running climate justice student boot camps. We are a hub of activity, any student that comes to us with a pitch we will help them with it.”
The Centre for Environmental Law, led by Zara and other professors, is a faculty of Arts research centre with a focus on demonstrating leadership in areas of international and domestic environmental law. They are the only research department on campus that has an active student volunteer program, for postgrad, undergrad and distance students, to experience how researchers engage with issues as well as student run research projects.
“These volunteer students get to learn the law in a lot more depth than in a classroom, where students get to work directly with NSW environment court”, Zara explained. The Centre is jam-packed with experts and international connections and there are always interesting cases available for students to choose from. Even though research is at the core of their practice, the Centre also leads capacity building programs in developing countries, such as Bangladesh and India. They work with governments to improve the country’s sustainability and environmental laws, specifically with high risk industries such as textiles, agriculture and pharmaceuticals.
Twice a year the Centre runs a mobile phone recycling project to raise awareness of the impact of mineral mining and the initiative they are pushing is the Plastic Ban for Macquarie, focussing on removing single use plastic from campus. The campaign is led by student Ashley Avci, she encourages everyone to sign the petition on change.org as it approaches 3,000 signatures. Universities in Canberra and Brisbane joined the ‘Plastic-free Campus’ movement, banning plastic straws, bottles, coffee cups and helium balloons. The centre is trying to follow in their footsteps, by sending their plastic-free policy to the Vice-Chancellor after they reach the signature goal.
Students outside of law can get involved too at the Centre, “We have a need for people with all sorts of skills”, the easiest way to get connected is to inbox their Facebook page, celmacquarie. “I’d recommend anyone who wants to make the most out of their time at University to apply”.
The Popular Table
Before 2017, Macquarie had a small amount of casual researchers who were studying the sustainability field within Business, until Professor Martina Linnenluecke established the Centre for Sustainability and Environmental Finance. Linnenluecke created a hive mind of fiery sustainability and environmental academics, whose passion is to give businesses simple solutions to the big environmental problems our world is facing, whilst still maximising profit.
Their main focus is publication of in-depth research into top priority environmental issues, which are transformed into easy, digestible essays for major decision makers. However, at the heart of all their decision making is student engagement. Their research teams include PHD students completing thesis’, hosting PACE projects, implementing Masters of Research projects and running several courses for both post-grad and undergrad students with more units commencing this year.
The Centre also hosts campus events, with the Centre’s social media pages, website and newsletter detailing upcoming events. Some already planned for this year include international lecturers, and movie nights screening environmental documentaries. If you are interested in academic researching in environmental sustainability surrounding business, this is place that will get you published! “We’re really trying to create change and promote growth”, Linnenluecke encourages like minded students to connect with the centre, send in your ideas and pitches for campus activities or research to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Without a doubt, Macquarie is passionate about supporting sustainability and environmental campaigns, but this appears to be only on a student level. The higher ups of Macquarie haven’t heard our concerns yet, and their funding priorities don’t lie with sustainability initiatives. Zara explained that a lot of the time proposal initiatives they get declined because “the uni already has outsider sources to deal with the particular issue”. Although no one knows who these “other sources” are so whether or not these businesses are sustainable in their practices or ethical at all is unknown.
Corner-cutting behaviour is common for all big decision makers, and it’s not hard to recognise the environment is an afterthought for Australian state and federal governments. The plastic filled Great Barrier Reef and Macquarie Lake are both evidence of that.
This is why getting involved with student and community groups, implementing our own environmental campaigns and undertaking research projects is so important. We have to let the higher ups know where our values lie and what we want to be changed. Follow the wise words of our local Attenborough, “Individual action is a great motivator, it’s great for the soul and gives you a sense of agency to tackle big issues. But what we really need is to mobilise together and act collectively for action.”