Andrei Stanciu is running to be UoN’s Students’ Union Environment and Social Justice Officer for the 2020/21 academic year. Impact caught up with Andrei to ask him a few questions.
In what ways do you plan to reduce the university’s carbon footprint?
My manifesto (also posted on my campaign website: andrei4esj.rf.gd) contains five pledges for the environmental agenda (and five for social justice). Of the former five, the first two specifically target the carbon footprint problem, and the other three also address the carbon footprint, alongside other problems.
The first point in my manifesto is: Get our own house in order and quickly, before we go out and change the world! The SU has endorsed the Climate Emergency Declaration at the end of 2019, with a tentative goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2028. This is great news! As Environment and Social Justice (ESJ) Officer, I will push for this deadline to be brought forward to 2025, and frontload measures aimed at delivering it. This improved commitment and the detailed action plan to achieve it will strengthen our case to ask other stakeholders to join our efforts to reduce the carbon footprint.
Secondly, of course, the SU is not the main producer of the University’s carbon footprint. Therefore, its significant reduction will depend on engaging with the wider community on our campuses. The second point in my manifesto is to actively campaign, alongside the ESJ network of students, to increase the awareness and engagement of staff, students, and visitors in reducing the carbon footprint.
“The carbon footprint is a serious problem, and we need a well thought out plan to address it.”
Thirdly, the University management has a big role to play, too, and points 3 and 4 on my manifesto propose lobbying the University to increase the funding for its Environment Initiative Fund (which funds environmental schemes on campus) and to actively promote the scheme to students. Currently, students can apply for funding under the scheme, and implement their ideas on reducing the University’s environmental impact (including the carbon footprint), but there are very few student-led projects. A greater awareness of the scheme, as well as workshops and online discussion boards are just some of the cost-effective ways in which we can engage the creativity, energy and determination of our large student body in addressing the carbon footprint problem.
Finally, point 5 in my manifesto, is a pledge to promote Student Environmental Champions. We are fortunate to have a very large and diverse student body, and many students are very active, some perhaps silently, in taking big and small steps for reducing their environmental impact. I want to help students take pride in their environmental credentials. Maybe somebody is obsessive (as we all should be) about switching the light off when leaving last from a common area to save electricity, or closing the door behind them when leaving a building to save thermal energy. Maybe somebody is politely but persistently reminding colleagues to sort out their recycling, reduce waste and adopt other environmentally friendly behaviours. Whatever their actions, big or small, I want the students who take pride in looking after the environment feel appreciated, promoted and supported. The scheme already runs for university members of staff. It is high time we identified and recognised our Student Environmental Champions, too. This scheme will stimulate and encourage positive change in many ways, including reducing the carbon footprint.
The carbon footprint is a serious problem, and we need a well thought out plan to address it.
How would you go about addressing the huge amounts of waste the university produces every day?
In contrast to the carbon footprint problem, the University’s waste and recycling management system is rather better scored in university comparison tables. We also have a new zero waste shop in the Portland building (Portland Zero: @portland.zero), of which we can all be proud, and which deserves a lot more visibility and promotion. Of course, this does not take away from the fact that the university still produces a lot of waste. I know best the situation in the School of Medicine, where a lot of waste is produced, and in particular plastic waste. I have been active in a number of student groups looking at ways to reduce the plastic waste in Medicine, and I know how complex and difficult this problem is. The same is likely to be the case in other departments across the university. From studying this issue and trying to address it with my colleagues, I learned that top-down, directive or “one-size fits all” approaches (such as lobbying, setting targets, trying to stop people from doing certain things) are very counter-productive. We need a more considerate and personalised approach for dealing with waste. Of course, some waste is outright unnecessary, and should not be made, but this is a minuscule amount of the total. Most waste is a result (be it, direct or indirect) of our complex, high-performing academic activities (be they, study or work). However, there are ways to reduce this waste, too. Much of the focus needs to be bottom-up: we need to engage with the people using and producing the waste. We need individualised, specific and practical solutions, before we talk about targets and campaigns. Points 3, 4, and 5 in my manifesto will directly help with this. Increasing the Environment Initiative Fund, advertising it more actively to students, and promoting Student Environmental Champions will enable those of us who are environmentally-minded to develop innovative ways to reduce waste, and make our solutions known to all who could benefit from them. We, the students, are often closest to this problem, notice it, know it, experience it, and indeed are having to produce a lot of the waste on campus. Thus, we are best placed to find solutions to reduce waste, and many of us do so already. As Environment and Social Justice Officer, I will use the Environment Initiative Fund and the Student Environmental Champions schemes to support the many students who are active and passionate about reducing waste on campus, and promote and encourage the scaling up of their ideas.
“The ethos of my manifesto is to identify, promote and support the passion, energy and ideas of environmentally-minded students on campus.”
The reduction of the selling of meat products has been called for by many students. Do you plan to work towards providing a greater choice of vegetarian and vegan options on campus? If so, how?
The ethos of my manifesto (as explained above) is to identify, promote and support the passion, energy and ideas of environmentally-minded students on campus, and to use the position of Environment and Social Justice Officer to bring these ideas to the fore. Indeed, the issue of meat consumption is very personal to many of us. And among the greatest frustrations is a relative lack of high quality vegan and vegetarian options. Again, points 3, 4, and 5 of my manifesto encourage a solutions-focused approach, where the best student-led ideas are put forward, supported and promoted. “A greater choice” is not necessarily guaranteed to satisfy anybody – but a “particular choice“ of vegetarian or vegan food, which students already eat, enjoy, and would like to see on campus is likely to produce a better outcome. Thus, my solution is to encourage students to express their views and choices, and promote those ideas that have the greatest positive impact for us all.
In a university specific context, what is social justice and what are your plans to improve it?
Five of my ten manifesto pledges are on social justice issues, so this is a very important domain for my campaign. Just as we have a responsibility as a civilised society to protect the environment, we have a responsibility to fight injustice. And social inequality is one of the greatest forms of injustice we face today. Social inequality immediately brings to mind economic (or socio-economic) inequality, and rightly so, because a lot of social inequality has an economic dimension (either as a cause or consequence). But social inequality affects many more aspects of life, which are often subject to discrimination, stereotyping, different opportunities and challenges. Without being overly academic or exhaustive, these aspects include race, gender, nationality, religion, sexuality, health, education, parental background, and everything else that defines our diversity (however fluid these definitions may be). All these aspects are very specific to life on campus. And it is very easy to fall in the trap of believing that one aspect is less important than the others, because we have had less personal experience of it. This is why, all these forms of social inequality must be considered when addressing social justice.
Being such a complex topic, the issue of social justice spans several UoNSU Officer roles, and indeed, it should concern us all. Thus, the bulk of the work on social justice, must be carried out working collaboratively with other UoNSU Officers, student groups, individual students and outside organisations. Moreover, my manifesto contains 5 specific and actionable pledges on social justice.
Firstly, point 6 of my manifesto states that I will seek to increase the fundraising for social justice (and also environmental) schemes, in particular from the community. As students and graduates we make a great contribution to the local community. In particular, large local businesses should manifest a greater social responsibility and make a greater contribution to improve student life. There is a lot more lobbying and campaigning we can do to remedy this problem, and my marketing experience in the commercial sector, as well as my connections in the local community from the last few years of being an active campaigner on social issues will help us achieve this.
Secondly, points 7 and 8 of my manifesto talk about the importance of the Living Wage. As university students (undergraduate and postgraduate), we are the most educated members of society. Thus, we have the greatest responsibility to promote progressive social and economic policies, which help develop a more equitable and socially just society. Similarly, the SU and the University should be positive agents of change in society. Not only should they adopt the Living Wage for all their employees, but should challenge their suppliers to do the same. As Environment and Social Justice Officer, I will support energetic lobbying efforts to review the social equity of companies working for the SU and University and challenge them to adopt the Living Wage.
Thirdly, the financial hardship of students is under-recognised and often stigmatised. The University’s student welfare schemes are inadequately promoted and difficult to access. Students in stressful and challenging situations often find that they do not fit the criteria, or are not able to access critical financial support, when they need it. Point 9 of my manifesto pledges to strongly lobby the University to actively promote its range of welfare schemes, indiscriminately, to all students (so those in greatest need are not missed) and to combat the stigma of accessing the schemes. As much as possible, bureaucratic red tape should be reduced and promotion increased to make sure the schemes reach all those who need them.
“The success of the ESJ Officer depends on communicating and collaborating effectively with many different people across the SU, the university and beyond.”
Finally, but not least, we should look to the future. The vast majority of us will go on to get a job after finishing our studies. And social justice and inequality continue to be an issue in the workplace and in the society at large. Often students enter the workforce without the knowledge and insight into the activity and role of workplace organisations in protecting their rights, and promoting progressive change in the society as a whole. Point 10 in my manifesto pledges to promote the activity and role of workplace organisations, such as labour unions, which can support students after graduation, and throughout life.
Why should students vote for you as their Environmental and Social Justice Officer?
The success of the Environment and Social Justice Officer depends on communicating and collaborating effectively with many different people across the SU, the University and beyond. As a veteran campaigner on environmental and social equity issues in the community, I bring to the ESJ Officer role a comprehensive set of marketing and public relations skills, as well as strong connections with outside organisations. Over the past two years, I have worked alongside student groups across University campuses to promote environmental and social issues, both online, and through live events, such as film screenings and discussion forums.
I like to think that the environmental and social justice issues I mentioned above and in my manifesto resonate with many fellow students; and likewise for the detailed and specific plan I have put forward. Please visit my campaign website: andrei4esj.rf.gd and continue to get in touch with your ideas! Oh, and please give me your vote in these elections, so we can deliver on the above points together.
Voting for the 2020 SU elections closes at 3pm on Monday 11th May.
The link to vote for the 2020 Students’ Union candidates is here.
Featured image courtesy of Nina Sasha.
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