Sasha Beswick shares how volunteering for Green Impact as a student has influenced their journey to work in the sustainability sector. Sasha currently works as a Sustainability Analyst with the creative consultancy, Radley Yeldar.
Why did I get involved as a student?
As a previous Environmental Science student, I always had an interest in sustainability and often thought about the sustainability of the buildings I lived in and studied in at university. I found myself becoming frustrated at the lack of influence I could have in my first-year accommodation in implementing simple ideas, such as recycling bins and energy saving lightbulbs. I then realised it wasn’t just the environmental scientists and the geographers raising these concerns, but sustainability was on most of the student’s minds.
In my second year of university, I moved in to a Unite Students accommodation and signed up to volunteer with the Green Impact programme (Positive Impact) and work with staff involved.
What did I learn from volunteering on Green Impact?
It was 2016 for me, so quite some time ago. But I vividly remember a training webinar with SOS-UK and Unite Students staff, and the ‘lagom’ concept. This was a great introduction for the students and staff in my team. We knew a lot of the technical information about sustainability and environmental issues, but we were very new to ideas around behaviour change. Applying technical knowledge to the workplace is something that is very rarely done at university level, unless you take part in work experience or placements.
We started looking at some of the key dates coming up and what we wanted to get involved in. Whilst learning about implementing sustainability strategy, we also got to grips with some logistical planning too when we arranged our ‘Student Switch Off’. This was a great opportunity to test our engagement skills, so we held a pizza evening at one of the new student accommodation buildings with battery-powered fairy lights and glow in the dark face paint.
Working and communicating as a team was a useful skill that for most of us, was our first experience applying such knowledge in a semi-professional setting. We were very quick to establish a natural leader and further distribute tasks fairly. It’s safe to say that as students in a voluntary role, there are going to be some communication and commitment issues. However, with the support of others, we quickly passed through those rough patches and were able to deliver some great initiatives and communications as a team.
How has my involvement in Green Impact benefitted me?
During my second year of university, after the Green Impact awards, I decided I wanted to get stuck straight into the sustainability sector and move cities to work within an environmental behaviour change organisation. I was successful in finding a job and I asked for feedback from my boss on why they chose me out of candidates much more qualified. They said what really stood out was my commitment and understanding of applying environmental issues to the real world, and my experience in delivering this information. I went on to work on the UK’s first ever Clean Air Day between my second and third year of university.
From that first job back in 2017, I have continued to engage with sustainability programmes and educational development initiatives in Nicaragua, Germany, Georgia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic. I then returned to university to complete my final year, where my experience and perspectives had totally shifted and my grades reflected this, increasing from a 2:1 in second year, to graduating with a first.
Now, I work as a Sustainability Analyst for creative consultancy Radley Yeldar, collaborating with some of the world’s largest organisations. This is probably the greatest achievement of mine to date, as I have the ability to influence sustainability actions on such a large scale. Looking back at the work I did with Green Impact, I don’t think I would’ve ever entered this industry if it wasn’t for that project.
Would I recommend get involved with Green Impact to others?
The Green Impact scheme, and other environmental or sustainability related projects are not just for those studying environmental-related subjects. Since gaining this experience, I wish more students from other subjects would have gotten involved.
Sustainability effects every industry. If you go into any job with a background in sustainability, you’re offering something they need, additional to your technical expertise.
When we are now faced with the world’s worst environmental catastrophes, we need people from all backgrounds, fields and industries taking steps to influence positive change.
Looking back at how I felt in my first year of university, voiceless and frustrated, to now having an opportunity to potentially influence some of the world’s biggest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, I am so grateful to have had that opportunity to develop and broaden my knowledge on the challenges and opportunities of implementing meaningful and impactful initiatives.