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Spotlight On – University of Cambridge

April 2021 by William Moody

We hear from Will Moody, a student and trainer at the University of Cambridge, who has pioneered the implementation of Carbon Literacy there, using the MMU Carbon Literacy for Universities Toolkit:

A bit about me

Hi, my name is Will Moody and I am a third-year PhD student at the University of Cambridge, researching immune therapy for cancer treatment. I got involved with Carbon Literacy just over a year ago, and in that time, have created a growing network of over 100 climate-engaged students.

How did you get involved in Carbon Literacy?

It all started when I took an ‘Engage for Change’ course run by the Cambridge Hub, back in early 2020. The programme runs as a series of interactive workshops, which support students to devise and implement their own sustainability initiative within the university. Having been both an undergraduate and postgraduate at Cambridge, I had noticed that sustainability was not well embedded in most of the subjects taught, with formal teaching on the climate crisis only available if you took a specific climate-related course. As a result, I made the focus of my project to improve access to environmental education for both students and post-doctoral researchers. After some research, I contacted The Carbon Literacy Project and was very excited to hear that they were working collaboratively with two universities (Manchester Metropolitan and Nottingham Trent) to develop toolkits for higher education. So, over the summer, I got together a group of 10 other students to be initially trained by Manchester Metropolitan University to deliver their course.

Why do you think it’s important for universities and colleges to train their staff and students in Carbon Literacy?

Universities and colleges are experts in providing perhaps the most important key to understanding the world we live in: education. To me, education is empowerment; not simply memorising facts, but the beginning of a journey and the lighting of a fire that lasts a lifetime. For this reason, I think environmental education is the gateway to a sustainable future that, up until now, universities and colleges have not fully harnessed. Every member of our community has the right to grow up and grow old in a world that is equitable and sustainable, and every decision made now has an impact for the future. Therefore, only when individuals fully understand the enormity and complexity of the challenge facing us can they be inspired to drive for this sustainable future. And only through education, can they turn this inspiration into action, and feel empowered to lead meaningful change.

As the clock ticks, and more and more ambitious net-zero pledges are made by governments and universities, it is more important than ever that there is grassroots action to accompany this. The Carbon Literacy course is a fantastic way to complement top-down decision making; by educating both the workforce and the student population, this collective approach allows us to reach these targets quicker. The more individuals that are Carbon Literate, the more normalised climate action becomes in the university culture, with carbon-reducing behaviours becoming reflex and engrained in all members of the community. This culture shift, along with bottom-up empowerment from the course, allows for a more efficient dialogue between staff, students and policymakers. This results in policy change that is coherently integrated into the everyday lives of all members of the university community, helping realise our vision of a sustainable future.

What have your successes been so far at Cambridge?

At Cambridge, we have been running the course since October 2020, so for almost a full academic year. We were able to secure funding from Cambridge Zero, the central umbrella organisation tackling the climate emergency at the university, which has covered the certification costs of around 130 students. We have our Easter Term training session in a few weeks’ time, but so far we have trained 89 students in total! From the individual and institutional pledges made, we have predicted a saving of close to 86t CO2e/yr and counting, which is helping drive the University towards its net-zero goals!

When setting up the course, I was keen to make sure it was student-led. This is because students understand students the best, and therefore, the most engaging course design and delivery for students would be given by their fellow peers. To this end, I have been very pleased with the success of our student trainers in delivering the course. Our feedback shows that 91% participants were likely to recommend the course to others, which I think showcases a strong positive reception to this teaching style!

Finally, despite everything that has gone on in the world this year, I am so proud of all the student trainers that have come together this year in Cambridge to achieve what we have. We ran sessions in November 2020 and January 2021 – for many, a really tough time in the depths of a very long winter. The level of participation across all the sessions was an incredible achievement, and it was a privilege to witness the range of engaging and inspiring conversations across the breakout rooms.

What would your advice be to other students interesting in introducing Carbon Literacy training to their college or university?

To anyone interested in introducing Carbon Literacy to their university or college, I would say: go for it! There really hasn’t been a better time to get it off the ground, with dedicated Higher Education toolkits designed by Manchester Metropolitan and Nottingham Trent, as well as a growing network of universities that have successfully got a course up and running!

In terms of advice, I would suggest a couple of ideas. Firstly, try and get a group together to run it! See if you can link up with any existing environmentally-focused societies, or suggest it to a group of friends who you think may be interested in Carbon Literacy. You won’t be able to run the training alone, so the more engaged students you can bring along with you, the more time you will have, the more you will be able to share out the tasks and ultimately the more impactful the training will be!

Secondly, try and get those in university departments involved in sustainability engaged with you as early as possible. Not only will they be able to offer advice, official advertising routes and even access to staff contacts, they will also be able to recommend sources of funding to help secure financial backing from the university.

My final piece of advice would be to plan the course so that it is integrated as seamlessly as possible into the fabric of the university or college to ensure its long-term success. At Cambridge, we are really keen to make being certified the start, not the end, of the participants’ sustainability journey. Therefore we have created an online network of alumni, who we keep engaged through regular posts on Slack, and also by offering the opportunity to become trainers themselves. We also share pre and post-course surveys which help us gather a range of metrics to quantify the impact of the course, and hence build a successful case to continue the funding next year.

Looking to the future…

We are currently advertising our final training session of the academic year, as well as preparing for our second year of Carbon Literacy at the University of Cambridge! We are hoping to build upon the growing alumni network we have created in our first year, and use this to achieve some further goals.

For example, we are interested in trying to expand the reach of the course, by working with different Colleges in Cambridge to develop a tailored short course that provides an introduction to Carbon Literacy, which would be delivered as a mandatory part of Freshers’ Week. We are also looking to take student-led climate action beyond the Carbon Literacy course by taking climate education into local schools, and by working together with other student groups and university policymakers to improve the integration of sustainability across all courses taught at the University of Cambridge.


You can also read two fantastic impact reports from November 2020 and February 2021, produced by Will. These reports show the take-up and outcomes of the ongoing delivery of the toolkit at the university.

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