Students joining forces to address climate change

Three months ago, a group of engineering students at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) came together to discuss actions on how to mitigate and adapt to climate change on campus. A few weeks ago, this initial brainstorming meeting culminated in a Climate Week at the university campus. The goal of the week was to raise awareness about climate change and strengthen the community engaged in environmental issues at the university.

An initial idea of a movie projection to raise awareness on climate change was discussed among a handful of students in late winter. Some of these students were EIT Climate-KIC Master Label students, who had also participated in the Climate-KIC Journey the summer before. But instead of going ahead with their idea of a movie projection, they decided to call for a meeting to give students with the same mindset an opportunity to join the planning. Around thirty students welcomed this chance and showed up to the gathering, and that is how a lunch meeting between a group of students at the Technical University of Denmark in Lyngby evolved into something bigger.

Starting small

Climate Action DTU is a student led organisation with the common goal of taking action and fighting climate change. The recently formed group currently has a focus on small scale projects that can be implemented on the DTU campus area, but ideas are already in place to extend their reach by collaborating with other universities in the region. Many of the organisation’s projects are related to waste and how resources can be used more efficiently. One project, for instance, aims to implement organic bins in the library and another is focused on developing a Recycling Bible, a user-friendly manual for making waste sorting clearer. While these projects might seem like small steps to take, they can result in something much bigger.

“Big impact will come from people. We need to start from individually taking responsibility on the way we act in order to take care of the environment”

says Tamara Perez Guillemette, a chemical and biochemical engineering student at DTU. “The members of our group come from very different pathways, but we all share the same values and have one common goal”, she continues.

The various backgrounds of the people in the organisation is seen as a vital strength. The group has received a lot of valuable input from a variety of perspectives, which has helped to serve as the backbone when creating Climate Action DTU. The strong international community of students at the university helped to create and push the group in the beginning, but the interest and activity in the group’s work is increasing as the word-of-mouth is spread across campus.

“The idea of protecting the climate and fighting for it is an idea that everyone can have, and in Denmark people have this mindset to begin with”, says Paul Didier, an acoustic engineering student.

Cooperation across campus

There has been a number of administrational aspects to consider when implementing the various projects of the group, which has been a challenge the group has had to overcome. However, the administration at DTU has been very supportive and interested in the groups work, and they have readily informed the group on sustainability measures already being taken on campus. One of the bigger projects the group is currently working on with the administration is including re-usable coffee cups in the goodie-bag all new students receive at the introduction week at the university.

Another prime example of students and staff working together is the engagement of university professors at the Climate Week in giving talks at various sessions. Many of these professors have already shown a keen interest to participate in future events. This sense of community is essential for Climate Action DTU, as knowledge sharing, communication and cooperation between the administration, staff and students is necessary when tackling big issues such as climate change.

Now that the Climate Week has come to a close, the group is turning their attention forward in order to structure the group’s processes so the next generation of students can carry on and develop the groundwork that has been done by the founding members of the group.  Today, they are focused on setting up a clear structure for the organisation, incorporating their ground values of tolerance and respect as well as putting forth suggestions on how to provide an inclusive space for discussions, creation of ideas and the setting up of various projects.

Providing tools for the future

When the discussion turns towards the future, the students feel that their experiences with creating Climate Action DTU will help carry on the mindset of doing something about issues they encounter. There is also a consensus that both the Technical University of Denmark and EIT Climate-KIC have, through their focus on educating a new generation of change makers, supported the students in their ideas of creating a community focused on fighting climate change.

Tamara and Anjila Hjalsted both participated in the EIT Climate-KIC Journey last summer and are currently enrolled in the Climate-KIC Master Label programme. Both the Journey and the Label are focused on climate innovation and designed to deepen and extend students’ knowledge in the fields of climate change, innovation and business.

“The Journey and the Label Programme have given us some very specific tools on how to facilitate projects, such as the world café concept, brainstorming exercises, reflections etc.”

– Anjila Hjalsted, engineering student at DTU.

Particularly the Journey has a strong focus on reflection, by focusing and reflecting on the feelings that were experienced throughout the day. These became very personal, but both Anjila and Tamara found the exercises important, as we are all people with feelings who process things differently – and thereby also learn differently.

While the students participating in the EIT Climate-KIC programmes gain valuable knowledge through activities such as workshops, SPARK! Lectures and exposure to various business opportunities, the knowledge they share with their peers is equally important.

“Label students have helped in sharing knowledge and background on climate issues to students that are not studying in the field of environmental sciences. This pushes you and gives you a shoulder to lean on and people that can help you if needed”

says Paul. For him, it was the world café concept Tamara and Anjila had learnt at the Journey that motivated him to continue engaging with the activities of Climate Action DTU.

As a highly interdisciplinary summer school, the Journey provides a platform for students to gain new perspectives to conversations and encourages them to think outside the box. It is this sense of community and engagement that inspires peer-to-peer learning and that served as a stepping stone for the creation of Climate Action DTU. As the students’ own Journey slogan from the summer cited by Anjila so rightly puts it;

“Alone you go faster, but together you go further”.