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March 23, 2009 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Environment Column

Kia ora and welcome to the first official environment column of the year. This column will be coming to you fortnightly with a brief look at different environmental or sustainability issues, along with a few pointers for budding ecowarriors. Or actually just for anyone who gives a shit about the world and the people around them—you don’t have to be a hippy to make the planet happy, and not shaving your legs is not a prerequisite to saving the world.

This week’s Salient focuses on possible changes within VUWSA that will have consequences for all students. With this focus on student organisations, this column looks at the role of student groups in environmental leadership.

With changes at VUWSA, tertiary funding now being based on research rather than teaching, and the apparent transformation of universities from being centres of learning to degree factories, it is easy as a student to feel like you don’t matter all that much. And in some ways, in the grand scheme of life on Earth, you don’t. Which actually means that you do.

In other words, we are all part of a mysteriously interconnected universe in which humans’ perception that we are the most important species on the planet is causing us problems on an immense scale. (Extinction rates estimated by experts to be between 1000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate, climate change, pollution of our fresh water…you get the picture.) In the face of this, what can a student do?

The answer is—lots. To start with, as a uni student, you are part of one of the largest institutions in the community. Universities suck in an enormous amount of resources to function every day, and pump out a whole lot of waste. They also pump out graduates who will go on to fill important roles within the community. Ensuring that this intake and output is as sustainable as possible can reduce a significant amount of environmental damage being caused by our community, as will ensuring that future graduates understand the importance of living more sustainably (which means, basically, living in a way that does not impede the ability of future generations of people to have a standard of living equal to or better than us).

Furthermore, universities have historically been both centres of new thought and exploration into new frontiers, and centres of reactive thought, resistant to change (aka your lecturer who panics at the idea of using PowerPoint). As students, you have a big role to play in ensuring that our university is an innovative leader in tackling the environmental issues facing us instead of being a crusty reactive institution that decides to bury its head in the sand and ignore these issues. Both options are equally possible, and many universities seem to be torn between the two.

Students around the world have set up networks to work towards making their voices heard, such as the Sierra Youth Coalition in Canada which now reaches over 65 campuses throughout Canada. Some of their successes include getting their universities to create fulltime positions for environment or sustainability coordinators, creating university gardens and reducing the energy and water use of their universities by 20%.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, student groups have been successful in establishing university vegetable gardens, running programmes to help students make their flats more ecofriendly, at pushing to get a recycling system in place here at uni and publishing a sustainable living guide for students. All these actions send a message to university management that sustainability is a key concern of their students, and help influence universities to use their resources and influence to tackle the environmental issues facing us.

So to get involved in this worldwide movement, there are several options. You can join a group such as Gecko, Victoria University’s student environment group (, or Greens at Vic (

If joining a group is not your thing, there are many other ways your actions can contribute to lessening our impact on the environment. Students are often involved in many different groups—their families, their flats, their friends, fellow students and workplaces. Such wideranging involvement means that in every one of these groups, you can create change by suggesting that you compost at your flat or put in energy saving light bulbs at your work.

For more information on how to do this, check out the Urban Living Guide, a guide for sustainable living for students, available from VUWSA or from

And as a closing thought, here are two good environmental things to do this fortnight:

1. Only buy Skipjack tuna. The way this type of tuna is caught is much less environmentally destructive than those used to catch other types. See Greenpeace’s Red Fish List or Forest and Bird’s Best Fish Guide for more information about the environmental issues around fishing, and for more details on which fish and seafood to buy.

2. Put a ‘no junk mail’ sticker on your letterbox. It saves heaps of waste, and not having the catalogues and fliers around tempting you to buy stuff you don’t really need will save you money too.


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Comments (2)

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  1. Kirstie says:

    Nice column Salient team. Cheers for the plug on the Best Fish Guide.

    So people have a wee bit more information:

    The Best Fish Guide was first produced in 2004. The 3rd edition has now been published and the 4th is due out later this year. The Guide has been internally peer reviewed and is considered one of the most honest and robust guides currently available worldwide (Wards and Philips 2008).

    Using the latest Ministry of Fisheries data, the guide represents an evalusation of 6 assessment criteria – the status of a stock, impacts of the fishing method, biology or risk of overfishing, effectiveness of management (any management plans etc), threatened species bycatch and effectiveness of management unit (single species focussed or wider species complex / stock management).

    For more information please download the wallet card, report one (detailed species assessment) or report two (assessment methodology) from our web site: and click on the quick link tab on the right.

    Cheers and keep up the great job.


  2. Kirstie says:

    Oops – that should be ‘internationally’ peer reviewed.

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