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Canterbury University Green Orientation
Josephine Howitt, 24 Feb 08
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Orientation Week is a celebration at the start of each University semester and it's earned a reputation for rowdy parties, messy streets and all sorts of student chaos. In other words, it's a perfect candidate for going green. The University of Canterbury Students’ Association (UCSA) are launching several sustainability initiatives - including making the concerts held in February a carbon neutral event with the carboNZero programme.

Callam Mitchell from UCSA Events first proposed going carbon neutral because “climate change is a serious global problem. Although Orientation itself does not create large scale carbon emissions, we feel it's a positive step to take as it will help raise awareness with our students, and hopefully to other event organisers to take responsibility for their actions, and play a role in reducing carbon emissions.” The university has over 20,000 students.

As a participant of Landcare Research’s carboNZero programme, UCSA is required to measure, manage (reduce) and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions associated with February O’week events. To offset emissions - the majority of which are caused by performers’ air travel, carbon credits will be purchased from Kyoto-consistent renewable energy and native forest regeneration schemes.

The greening of Orientation Week arose from eight summer scholarship students funded by the University of Canterbury, UCSA and the Christchurch City Council to look at how to the campus could be more sustainable, gaining inspiration from international best practice examples such as Harvard and the Australian National University. The students have also been developing guidelines for sustainability in Halls of Residences based on the Natural Step framework, updating the UC sustainability website and helping phase in the university’s new recycling system: all rubbish bins are being replaced with 4-bin recycling stacks.

Students have been given the opportunity to buy Greening Orientation passes whereby the funds raised contribute to buying carbon credits, essentially paying to offset the travel of the bands they queue up to see. Some O' Week prizes are only available to green ticket holders - and the bands are supportive of this. Toga party headliners Tahuna Breaks delivered a message about reading labels and buying green. "Every time you spend money you're supporting something, so buy for the environment and ethical production."

These concepts aren't new at Canterbury, an active student group campaigns for fair trade on campus (fair trade products give a fair wage to workers and help communities with sustainable development projects). Due to popular demand, UCSA cafés have decided to sell only Fair Trade coffee. UCSA vendors have also removed all Nestle products from sale, due to a student resolution that highlighted Nestle’s unsatisfactory working conditions and marketing practices.

UCSA General Manager Andrew Paterson says that "UCSA, like many organisations, has embraced sustainability policies because they make good sense. To be successful and relevant we have to continually question the services we offer and the way in which we operate - greening orientation is just one of our future indicatives that will bring step change to the organisation."

Further Greening Orientation initiatives are ditching plastic bags in favour of recyclable NZ made paper bags, a free biker’s breakfast to encourage healthy and low emissions transport and ‘Bottle Buy Back’, where students can redeem 10 cents per recyclable plastic and glass bottles and cans, supported by Real Recycling.

Incorporating community-based social marketing techniques, the team developed an 'Eco-My-Flat'
competition. It is to be run over March to promote sustainable student lifestyles, with a workshop each week covering the themes of energy, waste, transport and
consumption. Research by Canadian environmental psychologist Doug MacKenzie-Mohr shows that methods advocating change for sustainability need to address specific barriers to behaviour change using a variety of techniques. Therefore, the competition not only gives information, but also guidance from a professional facilitator and a chance to learn from discussion with their peers at the workshops, as well as incentives in the form of prizes.

UCSA President Michael Goldstein believes the competition ‘will help to promote sustainable behaviour in student flats from an early stage in the year.’ This competition should be a hit amongst cash strapped students, as the workshops will give money/planet-saving advice on topics such as how to reduce monthly power bills. It is hoped that the competition will be run at tertiary institutions New Zealand-wide in 2009.

The students hope that more tertiary institutions will follow the University of Canterbury’s lead and challenge them to become more sustainable, both in their operations and teaching. “Our generation is facing many environmental challenges such as climate change and peak oil. Universities have a role to play in giving us the knowledge and skills to deal with these, while also minimising ecological impacts. And by Greening Orientation we’re showing that it can be fun too!”

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