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Bristol 2015 - European Green Capital from an academic perspective

Two weeks ago marked the start of a 100 day countdown until Bristol becomes the European Green Capital 2015.  Associated with that, the University of Bristol announced its support for the city, describing how it would contribute to the Green Capital events, build on its existing foundation of green activity and make a step change in our partnership with Bristol.  These contributions span the entirety of the University, from its educational and research missions to its role as one of the largest businesses and employers in the city – and both of the University’s Research Institutes will be major participants.

As such, I wanted to offer the Cabot Institute’s perspectives on the Green Capital and the wider University’s engagement with it.  And how you can become more involved.

We have been involved in Bristol Green Capital from the very beginning, dating back to Philippa Bayley’s (Cabot Institute Manager) role in the Bristol Green Capital Partnership, first in helping with the bid and then serving as co-Director.  Amanda Woodman-Hardy (Cabot Institute Coordinator) serves on the Partnership’s Communications Action Group, Mike Harris (Cabot Institute Knowledge Exchange Manager) serves on the Industry Action Group, and Cabot academics populate many of the other Action Groups: Kath Baldock (Biological Sciences) on Nature, Wildlife and Green Spaces, Jonty Rougier (Mathematics) on Research and Evaluation, Chris Preist (Computer Science) and Caroline Bird (Law) on Energy, Trevor Thompson (Social and Community Medicine) on Health and Wellbeing and Sue Porter (Policy Studies) on Inclusion and Communities*.

We are deeply involved in this exciting event!  And we are committed to making it a success.  We have already committed over 5000 hours of service to the Bristol Green Capital effort and plan to increase that significantly over the coming months.  We want to work, learn and innovate with people from every part of this fantastic city. And we want 2015 to only be the next step in a growing partnership.

University of Bristol, credit UoB
One of our main commitments must be and will be educational.  Nearly 20,000 students attend this University and they go on to important careers all over the globe. The University has signed up to the UNESCO Global Action Programme commitment, in advance of the launch of the next UNESCO strategy for Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), and I applaud Chris Willmore’s and Judith Squires’ vision and drive to secure this commitment.   This education is already underway in many areas, including student engagement projects such as the University of Bristol’s Students’ Union Get Green, which has so far inspired over 800 students to take part in environmental projects.  And even though we are a Research Institute, we will use this framework to expand our engagement with the undergraduate experience over the coming years.  We have put on several events aimed at our student population but we want to do more; in particular, I hope that we can work with aspiring student leaders to make a difference both in Bristol but also across the country and the world, during their studies and throughout their lives.

A particular commitment from the Cabot Institute is to work with the Centre for Public Engagement and the wider University to host or co-host a wide range of events during 2015.  From Julia Slingo’s Cabot Fellowship acceptance talk in February to a major lecture during alumni weekend to a workshop and public debate on the Uncertain World, we will continue to invite inspiring intellectuals from across the globe and engage with local innovators.  But we will also use the numerous opportunities and the thriving creative energy in Bristol to showcase our own academics.

We have been approached by artists (such as the amazing team behind In Between Time), private organisations, businesses and clubs asking for academic perspectives on our changing world, our changing cities and thriving in them.  We are also looking forward to working with the Bristol Festival of Ideas which is taking the lead in organising much of the formal 2015 schedule, including a series of debates focussed on Youth, Business, Faith and Future Leaders. I hope that many of you will be keen to engage with these opportunities – opportunities to share what we have learned but also to initiate new collaborations.  Please contact us if you are interested in partnering or if you have your own ideas!

Finally, it is on this deeper level of collaboration that 2015 has the potential to make a real difference to the city and this University. The Green Capital Year must transcend the lectures, exhibits, debates and other events and serve as a launching point for innovative ideas and new models of working together. The sustainable and smart transformation of the World’s cities is essential to addressing many if not all of the environmental, food, energy and water security challenges we face. Much of the 2015 activity will reflect on the climate change negotiations culminating in Paris at the end of the year; this is also our chance to show that regardless of the outcomes of those negotiations, innovative cities and educational institutions can and will take the lead in transforming our world.

In 2015, the Cabot Institute and its Future Cities initiative will launch a new framework that will allow research to be conducted in partnership with groups from across the city and the world.  This will promote innovations in education, sustainability, creative technology and low carbon energy. Moreover, it will put many of our best students at the heart of the City-University relationship. Cabot and the Centre for Public Engagement are connecting community organisations to academics in order to craft novel masters and final-year undergraduate research projects. This is just one exciting way in which we can work together – our researchers, our students and our city partners – to co-produce new knowledge.

On a final note, I am particularly proud, as an employee of the University, that we have made our own pledges.  Our commitment cannot solely be research and education; we are too large a part of the city, too embedded into its fabric and infrastructure.  The University has already received national recognition for its sustainability work with a Green Gown Award in 2013 for Continual Improvement: Institutional Change and a Times Higher Award for Education for Sustainable Development. But these new pledges will take us further.  They include aiming to become a net carbon neutral campus by 2030; decreasing the University’s transport footprint; and ensuring that every single one of our students has the opportunity to undertake education for sustainable development.  Some of these will be hard to achieve. Others are only a start.  But our commitment is genuine.

Prof Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice Chancellor
at the University of Bristol.
As Professor Guy Orpen, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol said in our press release:
“Bristol European Green Capital 2015 is a great opportunity for the city and the University of Bristol. We are centrally involved as a University, and as part of the city more widely, to show the world what can be done, and what we can do, to make cities happier and healthier places to live and work, throughout 2015 and far beyond.”  
Cabot is excited to be part of this and we hope many of you are also keen to participate.

*In addition to those mentioned above, many Cabot academics and partners of the Cabot Institute have played major roles in winning the Green Capital Award and shaping the current programme. For example, Karen Bell of SPS helped shape the the Inclusion and Communities Action Group.
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This blog is by Prof Rich Pancost, Director of the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol.

Prof Rich Pancost

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