Mini-series: Students as sustainability auditors


In this mini-series blog post, Meg McGrath, Communications Coordinator for the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability, discusses the role of student auditors in the annual Sustainability Awards, with input from two of the latest auditors…

I had never been an auditor, but after reading about the program I was impressed by the design of the Sustainability Awards and the framework they provided to guide interested parties to support and illicit change in their workplace.

Charissa, student auditor.

At the University of Edinburgh, students have the opportunity to become Sustainability Auditors as part of the annual Sustainability Awards. The Awards offer an opportunity for staff and students to make a difference and contribute towards our University becoming more socially responsible and sustainable. The student auditors commit approximately 12 hours for auditing a department, including training, follow up, debrief and writing the report. Hongye, a student auditor, explains the training courses that the student auditors attend:

Before auditing, we took two training courses. The first was an introduction of the Department of Social Responsibility and Sustainability, the Sustainability Awards, and social auditing generally. The second training session was about the introduction of the sustainability award online platform and the process of completing an audit.

In order to receive a Sustainability Award, departments must meet a number of criteria across a range of social responsibility and sustainability themes. The Departments can be awarded a Gold, Silver or Bronze award for their work. Charissa describes the criteria for a Bronze Award:

The majority of steps necessary to attain the Bronze Award are not entirely visionary: placing stickers to remind co-workers to turn off lights, think about their printing habits, and consider the thermostat in a bit of a new light being a few. These are things that many people already try to remember. But, in a sense that is something I liked about the Bronze Award: take steps you have known about for perhaps years, and specifically turn them into habits for yourself and your office.

There are four different types of Sustainability Award spanning the breadth of the University so that everyone can get involved. These are: Office, Lab, Student and the Student Residence awards. Each category comes with its own toolkit containing a set of specially designed criteria to encourage action in social responsibility and sustainability themes. Department teams work together to complete the toolkit and track progress using our simple online platform.

Volunteers work with other students, as well as members of the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability, to audit the performance of at least one Department. This involves reviewing evidence submitted by the department, conducting an on-site assessment and interview, providing feedback and, ultimately, advising on whether they fulfil Award requirements.

Charissa explains her role in the auditing process:

I reviewed the choices that the [department] team had made and their documents proving implementation, and then met with my team of auditors to quickly review it all together before performing the audit itself.

At the end of the Sustainability Awards, trained students have the opportunity to meet teams to review efforts made and give feedback on the team’s performance.

Laying out simple steps, offering advice, and providing accountability and a reward, guided these offices to implementing changes they may have thought about making in the past, but never had the motivation or interest in finalizing. – Charissa

Finally, Charissa and Hongye shared their reflections on being part of the auditing team:

I was initially worried because I had limited previous experience in auditing, but the staff treated us as professionals and answered our questions in great detail… As an auditor I was reminded of the power of personal lifestyle choices and how we can come together as a community to encourage one another in our goals, however small or large they might be. – Charissa

The entire interview process was very relaxing and enjoyable. – Hongye

If you’re interested in becoming an auditor, or learning more about the sustainability awards, visit here.

Megan McGrath

Meg McGrath is a Communications Coordinator for the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability. Prior to joining the department, was the Development Officer at the University of Sheffield’s Students’ Union, where she opened an outlet dedicated to plastic-free lifestyles, the UK’s first campus-wide coffee cup return scheme and aided the NUS in the creation of their campaign on plastic pollution.

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