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Operation Global Goals helps students to be part of the sustainability solution

Friday, 11 March 2016 10:48am

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University of Otago Sustainability Manager Dr Hilary Phipps (left) is joined by students Susie Campbell, Annabelle Weston and Hannah Overton during the launch of Operation Global Goals during O-Week last month.

An ambitious, new sustainability initiative will help University of Otago students do their part to address the most significant challenges facing the world today.

Operation Global Goals is a campus-wide initiative engaging the student community with the UN’s 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development, providing a platform for students to imagine and implement social action projects linked to one of the goals.

The 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) are part of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by world leaders last year. The SDGs aim to address issues such as poverty, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, infrastructure and responsible consumption and production, among other climate, food security, education and health-related issues.

“Sustainability is a complex issue, which can seem a bit abstract to many people. Too often, challenges like addressing climate change, are presented in a way that is paralysing for people – they only see the problem and not that solutions are possible and we each have a part to play in helping those come about,” explains Dr Hilary Phipps, University of Otago’s Sustainability Manager.

She came up with the idea of a campus-based programme to complement the UN sustainability project after attending an Australasian conference on sustainability in the tertiary sector last spring.

“Sze-En Lau, University Volunteer Centre Coordinator, and I met and recognised some exciting potential to use these ‘global goals’ to help build awareness amongst the university community about the sustainable development goals, to challenge and support students – and staff – to think and act in a way that supports shared action for people, planet and prosperity.”

Launched during O-Week in February, Operation Global Goals is a collaboration between the Sustainability Office, OUSA and UniCrew Volunteers.

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In its initial stage, students are introduced to the goals and asked to indicate which area interested them most, with the objective of getting them thinking more broadly about sustainability and how their interests – academic and personal – align with the big picture SDGs.

“We want to refresh the conversation about sustainability,” says Ms Lau. “Young people prefer to volunteer based on cause first – that is, what they are passionate about – rather than organisation first. And these 17 goals represent 17 causes they can get behind.

“Importantly, connecting with the SDGs help students see how they can be part of the solution by tapping into what they are most passionate about.”

Two Sustainability Interns – Commerce student Hannah Overton and Annabelle Weston, who is in the third year of the Applied Sciences programme – are leading the charge to drum up interest in Operation Global Goals.

“Sustainability encompasses more than just planting trees and conserving water,” says Hannah. “I feel passionately about this project because it is a way of showing students that everyone can be involved in some small way to make a difference. They don't have to be aid workers or policy makers.”

As a Clothing and Textiles major, Annabelle says she became aware of how clothing production and consumption can be damaging to the environment and she wants to look at ways to change that and to help other students to be similarly inspired.

“The launch of Operation Global Goals at O-Week went really well,” she says.

“We got people to stick Post-it Notes on the goal they felt aligned closely to their study interests so they could see how wide the application of the goals were. It was all about getting people aware of the goals which we hoped we did.”

In the next stage of the initiative individuals and groups can apply for funding, provided by the Sustainability Office and the OUSA, to support projects that address one of the 17 goals.

“There is a great deal of opportunity here and we are looking forward to seeing what creative plans and projects students come up with,” Dr Phipps says.

“We’d like to think this will be another way that the University of Otago is helping our students to become global citizens.”