ECO DU: Durham’s New Climate Group

Image by Ninette Harris showing members of ECO DU at the Freshers’ Fair.

ECO DU, or the Environmental Community of Durham University, is Durham University’s newest student climate group. Formed in February of 2019 by a group of climate-conscious students, it aims to target environmental issues at an institutional level. ECO DU defines itself, as taken from the public Facebook page, as ‘a group of students looking to hold the University of Durham accountable for its decisions regarding sustainability and climate; aiming to educate students and professionals of Durham University and to positively influence development plans.’                

What makes ECO DU different to other student climate groups?

The main distinction lies in the methodology and focus of the group. ECO DU, whilst acknowledging the important and indispensable work of other established climate bodies within the student community such as Greenspace, aims to focus on working with the University to implement policy change. The students behind the group are dedicated to positively influencing the future emissions and sustainability of Durham University in accordance with the recent IPCC report, or The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which stresses the potentially catastrophic impacts of ‘global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’ and which presents ‘ambitious mitigation actions’ as ‘indispensable to limiting warming to 1.5°C while achieving sustainable development and poverty eradication’ (IPCC, Chapter 1). Therefore, ECO DU as a group emphasises the scientific evidence in reports such as that of IPCC and uses this to influence its actions and aims in advocating institutional adherence to limiting warming to below 1.5°C.

Evie Hill, a current member of ECO DU, summarises the responsibility of the group as follows: ‘every environmental group within the University is doing a really important job, but ECO DU was set up specifically to hold the university accountable in regard to its environmental policies. Many students began to realise that Durham University was not reaching the targets it should have, and had let environmental concerns take a back seat. This is way ECO DU was created- to make sure there is always pressure on the university to remember their important environmental promises and carry them out.’

What has ECO DU achieved so far?

Since it formed in February of this year, ECO DU has focused on creating and publishing a policy document which assesses the current status of Durham University in terms of its response to climate issues and sustainability. It outlines a variety of pressing issues from ‘urgent action points’ and ‘current initiatives’ within the University, to developing long-term ‘sustainable travel plans’ and the ‘decarbonisation of estates and buildings’ (taken from the ECO DU Policy Document on University Sustainability).* The aim of the document is to highlight areas which need to be improved if Durham University is to begin to successfully adhere to the sustainability aims suggested by the IPCC report and the Paris Agreement of 2015 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The ECO DU policy document also contains a section which discusses the University’s Sustainability Action Plan of 2017 (SAP) and the intention to make the Durham ‘one of the most environmentally sustainable universities in the UK’ (Greenspace Policy). ECO DU states within their document that ‘as of March 2018, out of 110 targets evaluated after the first quarter (in the SAP), 74% were not on target to be achieved by 2020’.* Whilst it is acknowledged within the text of the document that this evaluation was ‘relatively early on within SAP implementation, and this result may be from a lack of staff updating these documents for the public’ (ECO DU Policy Document),* it is also suggested that a lack of updates and information regarding the University’s SAP highlights its potentially contradictory status to the written commitment to make Durham University ‘one of the most environmentally sustainable in the UK’ (Greenspace Policy).

How can you get involved?

If you’re interested in issues regarding achieving sustainability on an institutional level and would like to find out more about the movement behind ECO DU contact the group via their Facebook page. Alternatively, you can visit the stall at the ‘Make A Difference Fair’ on Saturday 12th October at St. Aidan’s College from 2-4pm. 

What to take away from this article?

In essence, the Environmental Community of Durham University is an initiative willing to work with the University in order to ensure that environmental issues obtain a central position in the University’s discourse and infrastructure. It wants to challenge the University of Durham to become a leader, not only in its academic excellence as a Russell Group university, but also in paving the road to a sustainable and equitable future for the world. The emergence of the group emphasises the need for a positive and efficient communication between professionals and students in order to achieve environmental sustainability within the community and institution of Durham University.

‘Although the University has a suggested plan for sustainability, and has reduced some of its environmental impact, there are many targets that have not or will not be met, and some easy yet vital changes that can be made to improve. We believe that we can and will do better.’*


*Please note that this quotation is taken from the ‘Policy Document on University Sustainability’, which was written and published by the Environmental Community of Durham University (ECO DU) on 5th June 2019. Any questions or inquiries regarding the document and its sources should be forwarded to the ECO DU group. 

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